The most popular song of the California summer for horse racing fans, heard every day during every summer for seven decades right before the day’s first race, goes like this:
“Where the turf meets the surf
Down at old Del Mar
Take a plane
Take a train
Take a car.
There is a smile on every face
And a winner in each race
Where the turf meets the surf
At Del Mar.”
The words and the melody are one of many signals that it’s that time of year every racing fan looks forward to, where the legions of the faithful make annual treks to their favorite meccas, due north out of New York City to Saratoga Racecourse or due south out of Los Angeles to the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. And each year the faithful participate in some light-hearted debate about which is better, from the quality of racing to history and tradition, to location, local eateries and watering holes — basically just about everything that can be compared is debated by racing fans and handicappers everywhere.
Mostly, favoritism is drawn along geographical lines — those entrenched in East Coast racing preferring the laid back town atmosphere of Saratoga Springs and, well, the 18 mineral springs, while the Westerners lean to the “beachy” weather and pleasant seaside climate while watching their racing at Del Mar.
Since it opened for the first time on July 3, 1937, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club has been the summer destination for the best horses and horsemen on the West Coast, and often has drawn large stables and top horses from the East. While the seaside oval doesn’t carry as lengthy a history and tradition as its sister summer track Saratoga, it does offer some of its own customs, including a rich stakes schedule and some of the sport’s top runners listed in the record books as previous winners.
The facility is quite literally where the turf meets the surf and, legend has it, track conditions vary depending on the tides, changing the surface dramatically from the morning to the afternoon. The facility itself is the second-largest racetrack west of the Mississippi River and was built by celebrity crooner Bing Crosby, who penned and sings the track’s theme song and his actor friends Gary Cooper, Pat O’Brien, Oliver Hardy, Joe E. Brown and Seabiscuit’s owner, Charles Howard. Mostly the group just wanted to have a summer racing retreat where the weather was good and the tourist population was high, all of which was found on an ideal spot just yards away from the Pacific Ocean in Solana Beach.
This year a total of 43 stakes worth $7.55 million are on tap over the 39-day season, led by the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic (G1) on Saturday, August 20. The 1 1/4-mile fixture will be run for the 26th time and is one of the five Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” qualifying events held at Del Mar, guaranteeing the winner a spot in the gate for the now $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Santa Anita on November 4.
This year the Pacific Classic is expected to feature a great matchup of champions as 2014’s Horse of the Year and current North American richest Thoroughbred of all time, California Chrome, is likely to square off against three-time champion mare and last year’s Pacific Classic winner Beholder. B. Wayne Hughes’ now six-year-old daughter of Henny Hughes is the only filly to have won Del Mar’s signature event and attempts to become the fourth repeat winner in the race’s history.
California Chrome is the reigning Dubai World Cup winner who now races for the V Foundation for cancer research, his connections announcing a portion of his earnings will go to the organization named for the late Jim Valvano, the legendary North Carolina State basketball coach and ESPN commentator.
The other five races offered as “Win and You’re In” events this summer are the $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (GI) on Saturday, July 30, the $300,000, Bing Crosby Stakes (GI) on Sunday, July 31, the Del Mar Handicap (GII) on Saturday, Aug. 20, and the Pat O’Brien Stakes (GII) on Saturday, Aug. 27.
As always, juveniles are a major part of the summer racing scene at Del Mar and several stakes for next year’s Kentucky Derby (GI) and Kentucky Oaks (GI) hopefuls are on tap, the first being for California-breds on July 29 in the CTBA Stakes for girls, and on Aug. 3 in the Graduation Stakes for boys.
Fillies get their first chance in open company in the Sorrento Stakes (GIII) on Aug. 6, a prep for the Sept. 3 Del Mar Debutante (GI), and the colts and geldings will get their chance in the Best Pal Stakes (GII) on Aug. 13, which is a prep for the Del Mar Futurity (GI) on Monday Sept. 5.
Some amazing runners in history have brought home the win in the big Del Mar two-year-old races, including Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in 2014 and notable names Best Pal, Bertrando, Gato Del Sol, Silver Charm, Declan’s Moon and this year’s Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist. Hall of Fame Trainer Bob Baffert has won the event a whopping 12 times and is odds-on to have another talented runner this year attempt to give him his 13th.
Champion Songbird won last year’s Del Mar Debutante and joined a roster of winners that reads like a who’s who list of some of the best fillies in California racing history, including Althea, Terlingua, Landaluce, Brave Raj, Sardula, Sharp Cat, Halfbridled and Stardom Bound.
A total of 20 of the stakes this summer will be contested over the new, wider turf course, which was replaced and expanded for the 2014 season. The other 23 stakes are on a main track that was returned to dirt for the 2015 season.
Opening day is July 15 and, after the first three-day weekend, Del Mar will run on a five-day schedule, Wednesday through Sunday through closing day on Monday, Sept. 5. Post time every day is 2:00 p.m. PT except on Fridays after opening day when post time will be 4:00 p.m. PDT.