Almost every summer for as long as my wife and I have been married – more than 20 years – we’ve made a trip to the Del Mar Race Track made famous by Bing Crosby, Pat O’Brien, Jimmy Durante, Charles Howard and others in the ‘30s and ‘40s. We’ve come with our friends from Northern California or met up with our friends in San Diego.
Now that our son is with us, we also go to Legoland and visit his “Toy Grandma,” a longtime family friend in Carlsbad who earned her name famously. She helps fill the void of his real grandparents, who have died in recent years, and she has visited us in Nevada City.
Our son goes to “Camp Del Mar,” a fun day-camp at the track for children, while my wife and I typically borrow the box seats that belong to some family friends, who owned horses and whose father was appointed to the California Horse Racing Board when George Deukmejian was governor.
Even if you don’t like betting, or horse racing for that matter, Del Mar is a quintessential California experience.
The track is located at the Del Mar Fairgrounds “where the turf meets the surf,” and the weather, views and people watching is ideal. There are black-and-white photos displayed with Bing, Pat and Seabiscuit, who raced there. The first race doesn’t begin until 2 p.m., so you can go to the beach.
Despite the sluggish economy, Del Mar reported a record crowd and handle for opening day on Wednesday. Opening Day is a site to behold – with the crowd dressing up to the nines, complete with big, floppy hats – but we like to go the day after on into the weekend.
On Saturday, we attended the morning workout event, which featured winning trainer Doug O’Neil, the popular female jockey Chantal Sutherland and legendary track announcer Trevor Denman in a Q&A for coffee and donuts.
Then we attended the races, watching from our seats and the paddock. We won two races and ended up about $10 for the day – fine. (Our bets are limited to $5.) But win or lose, it’s always a fun, memorable trip.
The crowd of owners, trainers and their friends in the paddock always intrigues me. Here’s a video, where you can see trainer O’Neil, announcer Denman, jockey Sutherland, as well as another award-winning trainer John Sadler (alone, with his hand on his waist in the paddock at 1:08 in the video) and a favorite local character, Betrand of Mille Fleurs restaurant at 1:04, who is always dressed to fit the part. He’s with Jenny Craig and her family and their race horse. Each town has its own social structure, and I enjoy observing this one – at least from the fence in the paddock. Bing’s “Where the turf meets the surf” is played at 1:32 as the horses come onto the track.