Yep, I was at Opening Day at Del Mar on Wednesday with 44,906 others, which was the track’s largest and likely best-dressed crowd of all time. Although it was sunny, the weather wasn’t too hot, as a refreshingly cool Pacific Ocean sea breeze acted as our natural air conditioner.
Coming from roasting Las Vegas where the wind blows hot like a convection oven, I appreciated the climate change.
You won’t find another Wednesday crowd like this at any horse track on planet Earth. Opening Day obviously has become one of San Diego’s annual social occasions, as the horse races have become a side show to partying and people watching. Women in wide-brimmed hats, tight dresses and spiked heels come looking more like they’re ready for a night on the town, rather than a day at the track. Randomly pick any 100 of them and you’ll get 10 who could be Sports Illustrated swimsuit models and another 25 that are better looking than your favorite movie actress. And one thing Las Vegas teaches you is that where women go, men follow.
Guys rolled up to Del Mar’s door in Cadillac Escalades and large Mercedes sedans wearing expensive suits, designer sunglasses and lots of hair gel. Of course, maybe 1 in 1,000 of these people will be found within a mile of any horse track in America on any other day.
But that’s beside the point. I overheard one guy in his 30’s describing the atmosphere to his friend on his cell phone saying, “You won’t believe this place. I’m in love with horse racing.”
So it’s safe to say that some were converted. But if the new fans come back next Wednesday seeking the same experience, they’ll likely be disappointed when they look around and see nothing but middle-aged men studying racing forms in their work clothes.
During the day, I roamed around Del Mar like I owned the place. I took my camera out to the paddock area where the owners, trainers and jockeys all gather while their horses get ready to compete. Or as one young woman said “It’s where the horses go to show off before they race.” I’ll publish some of the photos over the weekend.
Tragedy struck in the third race when Mi Rey broke his right front leg and dumped jockey Rafael Bejarano. The rider was then kicked in the face by Senor Afortunado and Bejarano was treated at Scripps Memorial Hospital for a broken jaw, a broken nose and several fractured facial bones. As Mi Rey was loaded onto the horse ambulance, security allowed me onto the track to photograph the solemn scene.
On Thursday, I plan to drive to Huntington Beach with a side trip to the off-track betting parlors in Ventura and Santa Barbara. Then I’ll come back to Del Mar on Friday to watch the horses go through their early morning workouts.
The horses I’m eyeballing in Thursday’s second race include #1 Wunderpferd and #6 Roman Charity. Both need to be 10/1 to 19/1 for a bet. In the fourth, I probably won’t bet anything because the Florida-bred first-time starters that I like — #2 Mytigernosissy and #4 Pico Pico — both have morning lines below 5-to-1 and I need at least 10-to-1. But in the nightcap, it’s likely that I’ll be on #7 Pacific Halo and #11 Waves of Honour at 2/1 to 7/2 and I also like #8 Moral Hazard at 3/1 to 9/1.