I've made no secret of my love for Southern California's Del Mar racetrack. Located on fair grounds property leased from the state's 22nd Agricultural District 20 miles north of San Diego and a few furlongs from the Pacific Ocean, it's the only North American track whose theme song's lyrics tells you how to get there. You know the drill: “Take a plane, take a train, take a car.” The song was recorded by track co-founder Bing Crosby in 1938, the year after the popular crooner greeted fans streaming through the gates for the first time. Crosby's version of “Where the Turf Meets the Surf” is played daily before the first race and again after the finale.
Please note: I would especially recommend for those visiting Del Mar for the first time on Wednesday's opening day program, do NOT take a car – unless it's an Uber or Lyft. If you don't know where you're going, it can be more of an adventure than you need.
The preferred way to go for opening day is an Amtrak train from Los Angeles or a San Diego County light rail Coaster from north or south to the Solana Beach station just north of the racetrack. You can then take a short open-air bus ride to the track. You'll thank me later.
Throughout this 2019 meeting, which offers live racing on a Wednesday-Sunday basis and closes on Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 2, I'll offer my weekly “best bets” for Del Mar: where to find the best breakfasts, lunches and dinners, where to celebrate wins and lick your wounds after losses. I'll make some suggestions on what to do when the horses take the afternoon off on Mondays and Tuesdays. I might even offer a wagering tip or two.
My first visit to Del Mar was 40 years ago. Some things about the track and town haven't changed much. Del Mar itself remains a sleepy little village where most of the sidewalks are rolled up by 10 o'clock each night (with the exception of the post-race parties around town opening day). The racetrack's grandstand, rebuilt in the early 1990s, remains true to its original Spanish Revival architecture but with amenities that are modern enough to have successfully hosted the Breeders' Cup championships in 2017 (and will again in 2021).
For this first installment of Ray's Best Bets, I'm going to stick with the essentials.
First things first: If you're in town for opening day, you can find the Daily Racing Form at several locations, including the Del Mar Hilton Hotel across from the racetrack on Jimmy Durante Boulevard.
Durante, like Crosby, was a Hollywood celebrity and Del Mar regular who was known for his rather prominent nose (the “schnozzola”) and a raspy voice harkening back to his Vaudeville days.
Not only is the main road running past the track named after Durante, so is Del Mar's turf course and an annual stakes race at the seaside oval. He must have invested heavily at the betting windows.
You can also find the DRF (and a pretty good meal) at Milton's delicatessen just to the east side of Interstate 5 on Via de la Valle (pronounced vie-yay). That's the main interstate exit for Del Mar and the name of the road that runs along the north border of the track,
Closer to the Pacific Ocean is the Qwik Corner liquor store and deli on Camino Del Mar (the coast road) and Del Mar Liquor in downtown Del Mar. Both carry Daily Racing Forms and other handicapping products.
While Daily Racing Form past performances remain the “horseplayer's bible” to me and many others, one way to supplement your handicapping is through clocker reports, including one from Daily Racing Form, that add valuable analysis of workouts. One of the most respected clockers is Andy Harrington, whose workout reports can be purchased at www.nationalturf.com.
Wear comfortable shoes and bring sunscreen. I've seen plenty of folks leaving red as a lobster on opening day and feel for the women whose stylish spiked heels wind up in their hands as the walk out of the track on hurting, bare feet.
Once on-track, especially on opening day with so many non-racing regulars clogging up pari-mutuel lines, I highly recommend becoming a Diamond Club member, downloading Del Mar's mobile app, putting money into an account with a pari-mutuel teller and using your smart phone to bet directly into the racetrack's tote system. You can get more information about the benefits of Diamond Club membership here.
Of course, you can always bet using your preferred advance deposit wagering account, but I've found Del Mar's mobile app to be a great way to play without ever having to stand in line.
For handicapping beginners, I highly recommend the daily seminars presented by the knowledgeable Frank Scatoni and Today's Racing Digest, a valuable information source that has stood the test of time over many decades. Those seminars are held daily one hour before first post in the Plaza de Mexico behind the grandstand near the west end.
Mark Aug. 17 on your calendar for the biggest racing day of the Del Mar meet. That's when the Grade 1 Pacific Classic, Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks and three other graded stakes races are run. The major prep for the Pacific Classic comes up on the first Saturday of the meet, July 20, with the G2 San Diego Handicap.
July 20 is burgers and brews day, too, where you can get a sampling of burgers and some of San Diego's world famous craft beers. But don't overdo it because one of the summer meet's most popular musical attractions, reggae artist Ziggy Marley, will put on a show following the races.
If you're going opening day, be sure to get there for the first race, or tune in from afar, to hear track announcer Trevor Denman once again exclaim as the horses break from the starting gate in front of the grandstand: “There's the roar from the Del Mar crowd.”
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