Del Mar - Opening Day

And the're off!

O Glorious Del Mar. O Glorious opening day. Before a paid attendance of 40,046 eager fans, top class horse racing provided many human interest stories on this, the first day of the 43-day meeting, marking the 66th renewal of equine competition, originally inaugurated on July 3rd, 1937, when legendary crooner and co-owner of the racetrack, Bing Crosby personally welcomed patrons at the front gates with a cap on his head and a lit pipe in his mouth. 

The paddock

While almost all major race tracks around the country are posting declining attendances, Del Mar just keeps going from strength to strength.  Joe Harper, grandson of the legendary film producer, Cecil B. DeMille and president and general manager of the seaside track a few miles north of San Diego states the following: 'Attendances for the last 43 day meet was at an all time high at 733,237 and on-track pari-mutuel handle reached the very satisfactory, $102,242,996.'  It will be a very bold individual who would suggest that this record will not be broken this year. For example, Wednesday's crowd was the third highest in Del Mar history and the second highest ever on opening day.

Everyone had a great time!

Traditionally, the feature race on this day, The Oceanside Stakes for 3-year-olds on the turf, is split into two divisions, due to the large number of entries received, and this year was no exception.  The first leg was won by longshot Becrux who was bred in Italy and expertly trained by transplanted Englishman, Neil Drysdale, who knows a thing or two about the game having trained the winner of the Kentucky Derby 5 years ago with the Japanese-owned Fusaichi Pegasus.  This victory provided a welcome return to Del Mar for the jockey, Garrett Gomez, who was a leading rider at the recently concluded Hollywood Park meeting, but who had been absent from Del Mar for two years, due to drug-related problems.  The winning co-owners Team Valor have not been seen much in the winners enclosure in California recently and as they have the misfortune to lose the Kentucky Derby by a nose with Captain Bodgett a few years back, perhaps this will signal a return to form for them. 

The ladies really enjoy Hat Day

The second leg was taken by the Richard Mandella trained Roblar ridden by the always reliable Alex Solis and who won comfortably as a favorite should, at just over 2 to 1 odds.  Dick, a fellow Hall of Fame trainer of Drysdale's, always presents his horses in an immaculate condition and is known to set very high standards of integrity. He joined the ranks of a select band of American trainers who have won top class races in other countries by annexing the Grade I Dubai World Cup in the Arab Emirates in March of last year with Pleasantly Perfect.

Beautiful ladies in beautiful hats everywhere

Finally, I would be remiss in concluding this account of opening day without a personal tribute to Mr. Crosby.  I had the great good fortune to be introduced to him by a friend of my father's when I was just out of high school at Longchanps racecourse just west of Paris in October 1966 on the occasion of the running of the premier race in Europe, the Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe and it was, and still remains one of the greatest regrets of my life that I was not able to take advantage of his very kind offer to visit him at his home in Rancho Mirage, not far from Del Mar itself before he passed away three decades ago. Bing died while playing of a round of golf in Spain, doing the thing that he loved the most apart from going to the racetrack, that is. A gentle courtly man, he always deserved and received the very highest respect and admiration from everyone, not to mention courage, because along with his very dear friend, actor Pat O'Brien, the pair took loans out of their respective life insurance policies to get the whole Del Mar enterprise off the ground. We all owe these two men along with different contributors such as entertainer Jimmy Durante after whom the turf course is named a monumental vote of thanks.  Hopefully, Bing and Pat were once more looking down on the highly competitive racing scene on opening day, Wednesday, July 20th, to put it mildly, with a great deal of satisfaction.

Photographs by Lawrence Davis

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