THE DELIGHT THAT IS DEL MAR BEGINS
A Triple Crown champion has been crowned and a nation has rejoiced, but the Thoroughbred racing calendar is just now reaching one of its best stretches.
Way back in 1937, entertainment icon Bing Crosby helped open the gates at Del Mar Race Track just north of San Diego, California. With partners like Gary Cooper, Pat O’Brien, and Seabiscuit owner Charles S. Howard, the multi-talented star had the big-hitting backers to make this Seaside Oval something special. Located literally right beside the Pacific Ocean, Crosby crooned it as “where the Turf meets the Surf”. Now, as the 76th summer meet opens, fans will flock to a place that still would have Bing bellowing with joy.
When the first ponies go to post on July 16, 2015, it will mark the beginning of another “special” time in the Thoroughbred season. The Del Mar meet that runs Wednesday through Sunday until September 7 and features 43 stakes races will once again be a highlight for horsemen. Races in all divisions will prepare runners for Breeders’ Cup glory and beyond. Three-year olds, older horses, and the two-year old stars of tomorrow will all get opportunities to strut their stuff on a fresh dirt track and a recently revamped grass course. Long considered the straw that stirs the competitive California drink, trainers point ponies to this meet.
“Del Mar has always been a place to showcase your horses,” says top West coast conditioner Bob Baffert. “We game plan to have horses ready to run at Del Mar and that is a meet we always shoot for. I especially like it for my up and coming two year olds.”
Success (425 wins in 26 seasons) at the Seaside Oval has been synonymous with Baffert over the years, especially in the “bigger” races. Just last year, American Pharoah provided Baffert with his 12th win in the last 19 runnings of the grade 1 Del Mar Futurity for two-year olds. Winning that “stepping stone” race along with 7 wins in the Best Pal Stakes for two-year olds, 7 wins in the Pat O’Brien for three-year olds and up and 4 wins in the center piece million dollar Pacific Classic means the former Arizona Wildcat has his claws out at the shore.
“Being at Del Mar is like a working vacation for us,” observes Baffert who currently ranks third in all-time wins at Del Mar. “A lot of my clients like to be there because it is such a beautiful place. That means sometimes we work a little harder because they are there, but it is a good work. We want the success for them because winning always makes it more fun. The location and the way the community embraces the sport makes it the place to be.”
Other horsemen certainly agree with Baffert in his theories. That makes for great competition on the track as top runners from California and across the country make their way to this “playground for the stars”. The 2015 season may see an increase in “shippers” as a newly installed dirt course may entice others to take a shot at seaside glory. A synthetic surface had been present on the main track since 2007. Now, the re-dirting may put Del Mar on the radar for others. Kentucky-based Dale Romans brought Dullahan to the coast in 2012 and won the Pacific Classic. All tracks play a little differently, but guys like Romans may consider the ship and win philosophy now that a more traditional main track is in place.
“I would much rather run my horses on dirt,” says Romans. “We shipped Dullahan because he was a synthetic track specialist and the idea of running a horse in a race like the Pacific Classic at a place like Del Mar was an offer we couldn’t refuse. There are grade 1 races and then there are grade 1 races if you know what I mean. The Pacific Classic is one of those races that everybody wants to win and for us to ship in and win at Del Mar was really special for us. Now that they have a dirt surface it has us thinking for sure.”
With stables for 2000 horses, top trainers, jockeys, and personalities all present, Del Mar will look to add to it’s long and illustrious history. The slogan says “Cool as ever”. If you don’t believe it, go visit and see for your self.