Opening Day at Del Mar Racetrack 2017: Big Hats & Fast Horses

Del Mar Opening Day 2017 (All photos by Rachel Ganz for the LA Brat)

The 78th Opening Day at Del Mar Racetrack took place last week on a hot, sweaty Wednesday. Whereas last year over 40,000 people swarmed together, this year the numbers were down to a little over 34,000 people. Perhaps the competition from the opening of the San Diego Comic-Con and several concerts diminished the attendance this year.

Opening Day is traditionally an enormous party scene, where all the glamorous, handsome, pretty and want- to-be-pretty people come from all over the United States to see and be seen, overindulge in good food and wine, socialize with friends, and place a few bets on the thoroughbred horses.

The Del Mar Racetrack was first opened on  July 3, 1937 by Bing Crosby and some of his friends, like Jack Dempsey, Al Jolson, Lucille Ball and Jimmy Durante. It was Bing Crosby’s vision to create a majestic horse castle and racetrack by the ocean, where anyone could party, play and enjoy the festivities.

Since 1995, Opening Day is also known for “The Opening Day Hat Contest,” where thirty to forty contestants ( mostly women) strut around in the most ornate, flamboyant, lavish, and opulent hats that they could create. This splashy competition took place from 11:30am to 3:00pm at the Plaza de Mexico.

The hopeful contestants paraded around first one by one, and then in a group, circling around for half an hour while the winning hats are being chosen. There are five categories where the contestants are judged on originality and style, “Best Racing Theme”, “Best Fascinator”, “Most Glamorous”, “Funniest/ Most Outrageous” and “Flowers/ All Others”. There was more than $5,000 worth of prizes. I don;t know how the judges could decide — I have never seen so many outrageous, dramatic and stunning hats!

The first race of Opening Day 2017 was won by “Our Nation,” ridden by jockey J.F. Prat. The trainer was Cerin Vladimir, and owner Wilson, Holly and David, at 3-1 odds. Trainer Cerin Vladimir had a second winning horse, “Geologist’ in the second race at 11-3 odds. Cerin must feed his horses well.

The most exciting race was the 8th Race, the “Oceanside Stakes,” a one-mile turf race for 3 year-olds that is perhaps the most popular tradition of Opening Day at Del Mar Racetrack. The $120,660 purse was won by “Bowies Hero” ridden by jockey J.T Pereira, trainer D’Amato Philip, and  owner Agave Racing Stable. It really was a surprising last minute win for “Bowies Hero” as he rushed from the outside, pushing through all of the fleshy horse traffic, and finally past runner-up Pioneer Lad to to win by 1 1/2 lengths. It was a very emotional and intense race for anyone with a stake in it!

After the last race, I joined the trainers to hand feed the hungry horses baby carrots. The horses were extremely sweet and affectionate, nuzzling their mouths gently into the palms. of my hands They were as friendly as puppies! While I was feeding the horses, the happy crowds, who were mostly tipsy, left the racetrack entrance by car, limo or Uber to attend post Opening Day parties in Delmar.

The Delmar Racetrack is located at 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd, Del Mar CA 92014.  If you are coming from Los Angeles and do not want to drive, you can  take the Amtrak train from Union Station to the Solana Beach Station in San Diego for $30-45  or you can splurge and take an Uber for $132-150 . The important thing is that you will have a fabulous time at The Del Mar Racetrack, whether you win or lose!

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