Opening Day at Del Mar

| August 2, 2011 | 1 Comment

Excitement was in the air as Race Season has come back to Del Mar “where the Turf meets the Surf.” Opening day is so much more than just “watching the ponies run.” The season of racing at Del Mar has become a full-blown entertainment extravaganza.

First let’s get to the nuts and bolts…. congratulations on the largest opening day crowd in the history of Del Mar racing. The biggest stories are Chantal Sutherland the female jockey, the larger prize money the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club has kicked in to attract the best horses and jockey’s, the poly track and the full entertainment packages for the season.

Opening day began while you were sleeping. At 2 a.m. television crews began setting up for the morning broadcast and activity had already begun in the barns. The horses came out for their first exercise walks at 4 a.m. The grounds looked magnificent. You could just tell it was going to be a spectacular opening day.

The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club began racing in 1937. In 1991 they invested $100 million dollars to do a complete renovation on the grandstands and the facility. It paid off because the grounds are beautiful. Many people talk about Hollywood coming to Del Mar because of the Hollywood star history of Jimmy Durante, Desi Arnez, Bob Hope, and of course, Bing Crosby who sang the original “Where the Surf meets the Turf at Old Del Mar” jingle. They still use it today.

The Hollywood tradition continues today as actor – comedian Tim Conway was on hand for opening day. Many people know about the Hollywood connection, but not everyone knows the behind the scenes story. Yes horse racing, fun and celebrities go together but Del Mar has a much bigger connection. Joe Harper, president of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, is attending his 35th Opening day. Most people know Harper as the guy who runs the track. What most people don’t know is he is the true Hollywood connection. His grandfather was the great movie director Cecil B. DeMille. As a matter of fact, Harper, as a kid made a small appearance in the movie “The Ten Commandments” with Charlton Hesston and the “Greatest show on Earth.” Harper fell in love with horses by working on the set on the “Ten Commandments.” He also shot footage of horses as a cameraman for the movie “Black Stallion.”

Lucky for San Diego Joe Harper took his love for horses and his entertainment background and joined the team at Del Mar for the last 35 years. He’s the reason this year has more entertainment then ever before. According to Harper, “We are in the business of entertaining people. It’s all one big show.” This year look for special Kids Days, with activities and entertainment designed for the entire family. And of course, the Del Mar Friday Free Concert series is back with a great line up.

As far as the actual horse racing, this year will be exciting as the prize money has been increased to bring in the best horses and jockeys in the business. Part of the reason for the added purse is to off set the controversy of the poly-track. When it comes to the poly-track some people love it and some people hate it. Studies show that the poly-track is safer and better for the horses. That’s why Del Mar installed the track because they are “animal friendly.” Even the whips the jockeys use have been designed to have the sound of the “crack of the whip” without the sting of a whip. The horses are safer and run faster. Some of the owners don’t like the toly-Track surface on a two-year-old horse. When you talk to Craig Dado about horse safety at the track he points out two things; first, “The poly-track surface isn’t really that much different than a natural dirt surface.”And, second, “the only ones who complain are the horse owners who don’t win. You never hear a complaint from someone who just won the race.” We have to wait and see what the long-term outcome will be, but after the three years of having the poly-track installed horse injuries have gone down. And as an animal lover myself, I have to say, Del Mar did the right thing putting horse safety first.

The other big horseracing story is female jockey Chantal Sutherland. You might have seen her on the TV series “Jockey’s” on Animal Planet. Not only is she beautiful, she knows how to ride. One of the big entertainment races this month is when Sutherland will race her former fiancée Mike Smith. The race is being billed at as the “Battle of the Ex’s”.

Now everyone looks for fashion on opening day. That tradition continued with the hat contest and this year you’ll see that fashion got kicked up a notch. Jockey Chantal Sutherland added a little hat flair on her jockey helmet and then tweeted about horse skirts and designer fingernails. Yes, you would have to say opening day 2011 at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club was spectacular.

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