Wednesday was opening day at the Del Mar Race Track, and you know what that means…
Stylish hats? That’s right, The Del Mar Race Track’s Opening Day Hats Contest has been a staple for years, with five categories: Most Glamorous, Best Racing Theme, Most Outrageous, Best Fascinator and Flowers/Other. Some take the opportunity to celebrate their favorite San Diego hot spots; others spend hours learning a new skill to create the perfect homage; or you can go simple and just make a hat out of betting slips.
The hat contest brings a bit of extra fun to the race track, and it’s all part of the massive rebranding the Del Mar Race Track accomplished in the early 2000s. With the tag line “Cool as Ever,” their marketing and programming goes way beyond its celebrity-driven heritage: they made it cool and accessible.
For example, one of the hardest things about an activity like horse racing is that you tend to attract the same crowd, and newcomers who don’t understand the rules might not be inclined to return. Enter Del Mar’s Newcomers’ Seminar. One hour before the first race, you can get a crash course in all the terms and techniques, then go directly to the track and take a pop quiz. Lucky for you, horse betting expert Frank Scatoni also teaches money management.
As a parent, their fantastic Camp Del Mar caught my attention and immediately raised my respect level for DMRT quite a few notches. For only $24/day, parents and guardians can leave 5-12 year-olds in the hands of trained counselors to enjoy miniature golf, playing outside, crafts, tournaments, and whatever else makes for a fun day while you’re nearby at the races. Not only does the low cost make a day at the track more affordable, but your kids can experience the excitement of the setting.
It isn’t just what they offer in the present day that makes Del Mar Race Track a great destination; you are also in the midst of history and trivia.
At 44,000, Del Mar boasts a capacity that makes it the second largest horse-racing venue in the western United States. Santa Anita Park can host almost double that, at 85,000, and that isn’t even ⅓ of how many racing lovers can fit into the number 1 track in Japan, The Tokyo Racecourse. It may be small in comparison, but Del Mar Race Track is mighty, especially when it comes to style.
The Del Mar Race Track is a showcase in Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. Of course we love that! Architects Hamill and Jackson wanted to evoke old Spain and the homelands of Arabian and Andalusian horses. In the spirit of the early Spanish colonization of the Americas, each of Del Mar Race Track’s buildings was modeled after one of California’s missions. They built an 8 foot wall entirely out of Spanish Colonial’s signature dried adobe bricks, made on the premises. Its grandstand is truly grand, taking full advantage of Del Mar’s location by resting on the Pacific Ocean.
Bing Crosby, a Del Mar resident, used $100,000 against his life insurance policy to complete the Race Track and gave it celebrity clout. He brought other high profile investors into the fold like actors Pat O'Brien, Gary Cooper, Joe E. Brown, Charles S. Howard and Oliver Hardy. They used the Race Track as their regular meeting place, a club where they could also host other stars. Crosby didn’t just stay in the stands, however; he often worked with the announcers, even trying to act as announcer once.
The famous horse Seabiscuit won against the top horse in the country, War Admiral, at Del Mar. There are contradicting accounts concerning a brawl that seemed to break out as they reached the finish line, but it was winner-take-all, and Seabiscuit took it. He went on to “star” in a famous movie which tied Seabiscuit’s success to America’s hope during The Great Depression.
As part of their rebranding to be “Cool as Ever,” Del Mar now shows movies periodically and has live music every Friday night after the race They attract headliners like Tribal Seed, Violent Femmes, Billy Corrigan, Ludacris and Steve Aoki. You can see their full lineup here.
Photo Courtesy of Locale Magazine.