In Vegas, being hot is only fun at the gaming tables

Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers attended Del Mar's opening day with Kyler Boller of the Oakland Raiders and 2009 Miss California Carrie Prejean

It’s one trip that never disappoints. 

This time of year, the painful Las Vegas sun scorches any fool who dares venture from the 72-degree chilled air of the casino. Most organisms aren’t made to live in this overwhelming desert summer heat. 

That’s why the area surrounding Las Vegas looks like the surface of the moon: aside from a few cactuses and a lizard or two there’s nothing alive out there.  Only God knows how wild horses survive here. 

Certainly, human beings weren’t made for this. Our bodies are mostly composed of water.  We like drinking water, looking at water and submerging ourselves in it. A little humidity and a cool breeze is nice every now and then, too. 

Water makes us happy. Don’t you find it curious that people at the beach always seem so relaxed and good natured, while the residents of  the desert climates of the warring Middle East are often angry and downright hostile? 

Even if Del Mar’s Opener wasn’t one of the best days of the year at any track in America, all arrows were pointing to San Diego for me last Tuesday.  Walking the aisles at a Las Vegas-area Costco, I found $100 coupons for sale at the Hyatt Marina Bay that Costco was selling for $80. And when I booked the room on Costco online, they knocked off another 10 percent and threw in a $25 gift certificate upon arrival. So, this $200-a-night room – right on breezy, 65-degree San Diego Bay – ended up costing just slightly more than the La Quinta Inn built under the screaming, soot-spewing jet engines swooping down at LAX. 

I rented a car – not that my 2002 Acura wouldn’t make it or anything — but if a car depreciates by mileage, then why not put the miles on the one Enterprise owns and not mine? Then I pointed the vehicle toward Del Mar and pulled away, noticing that my car’s temperature gauge read 113-degrees. 

As I drove through State Line, it was baking.  And in Baker, it was roasting. By the time I hit Barstow, I was cooked. 

But gradually, after I passed San Bernardino the temps started to cool down and when I finally got to San Diego five hours later, it was all worthwhile. I was greeted with a cool breeze of heavy, oxygen-rich humid sea air, chilled down to 65 degrees. 

Go ahead, take a deep breath near the ocean in San Diego and you’ll feel like you can run a 26-mile marathon or fight for the Heavyweight Championship of the World. In Las Vegas, you take that same deep breath, and all you do is cough up desert dust or get a mouthful of  second-hand cigar smoke. 

Before going to Del Mar’s Opening Day, I worked up a sweat by running a few miles through the misty Mission Beach air, then I dove into the frosty Pacific Ocean. Ahhhhh. 

When I got to Del Mar, things just got better. I was allowed to go into the paddock area where former movie stars like Bo Derek were chatting with owners and race fans. While in the winner’s circle, a young woman who was Miss California 2009, was with two NFL quarterbacks. 

Bo Derek was named to the California Horse Racing Board in 2008

Horse racing’s own celebrity of sorts — trainer Bob Baffert — seemed to be everywhere. But mostly he stood not too far from the saddling area, eyeballing his Thoroughbreds while entertaining the partners in the expensive animals that he likely persuaded the men to buy.  

Looking around, a record-setting crowd of 45,000 showed up. And everybody seemed to be dressed up and wound up. As the gates shot open for the first race, the customary huge Opening Day cheer went up from the overflowing grandstand. 

And in the second race, the same thing happened. Only fewer people cheered. But then somebody must have said something because the third race went off without much fanfare. 

As the day went on, drinkers sipped their cocktails, TV personalities interviewed trainers and jockeys, and others just soaked in the tremendous atmosphere. 

Yeah, Del Mar, California. This is the kind of place where human beings thrive. 

TVG's Christina Olivares interviews Bob Baffert after Go On Babe dead heated to win the 7th

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Plenty of peacocking at Del Mar

Ah, Opening Day at Del Mar

paddock

Horses parade in the paddock for Wednesday's ninth race. I attended Opening Day at Del Mar. Check out the scene below and click on picture for more detailed view.

At the front gate

This is what it looks like when 45,000 people all show up at once

This is what it looks like when 45,000 people all show up at once

Not your typical racetrack crowd

two blondesblonde in paddock

Partying and people watching trump racing at Del Mar’s Opening Day

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.

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