By David Nelson
What to wear to the fair is never the issue. How to star at Del Mar always is.
Of the 365 days each year that make San Diego the best place on earth, there is precisely one on which sartorial success really matters: Opening Day at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, that wonderfully horsey place where the surf meets the turf (and from which you may venture forth after the races for surf 'n' turf...if you bet right. See "Mane Course").
The thing to keep in mind? Hats. Not baseball caps. Real hats, with brims, bands, feathers, flowers and other whimsical decorations, like baby pandas in cute poses, and working windmills that generate electrical power. You get the idea.
You can buy a hat, of course, which most guys usually do, as do women who plan ahead by shopping at chic London milliners in the spring. Otherwise, construct your own daffy bonnet. On Opening Day, lots of homemade hair-raisers float above the crowd.
Upwards of 45,000 fans of "the sport of kings and the king of sports," as thoroughbred racing likes to be known, are expected to turn out on Wednesday, July 18-not just for fast action on the track, but also for festivities like The One and Only Truly Fabulous Hats Contest.
The Turf Club is the place to hang, if you're the Turf Club type, but there's plenty of party just about everywhere else. For example, spending $30 per person grants entry to the Coors Light Opening Day Party, offering private betting windows and bars, first-come table seating under the tent and DJ-spun music.
The 2012 season runs 37 race days through September 5, including the 75th Anniversary celebration on July 21. On this occasion, every 75th person through the gates will receive a $75 voucher for track expenditures; and every other person entering will be given two passes for a return visit.
On July 22, the first-ever Paddock Horse Auction will offer ready-to-run thoroughbreds priced from $10,000 to $100,000 (bring cash). Also new this year, the "Del Mar at 75" book of track photography by Jay Privman will tempt memorabilia hounds; and the new 17 Hands Pub (horses' heights are sometimes measured in hands), serving gourmet tacos and local beers.
Favorite events returning from past seasons include the Miss Cougar Del Mar competition on July 27; the Summer Concert Series, with performers including Ziggy Marley, Cake and Ben Harper; beer festivals; and the August 4 Western Regional Chili Cookoff and Salsa Contest. A top national race, the $1 Million TVG Pacific Classic, will run August 26 and star top owners, top jockeys and the fleetest fillies.
Unless you're a jockey, just Say "Neigh" to work on Opening Day. See you at Del Mar.
Del Mar Track Info
Del Mar race season
Wednesday, July 18, through Wednesday, September 5.
(The track closes Mondays and Tuesdays; exception on Labor Day.)
Post Time: 2 p.m., except on Fridays, when the first race commences at 4 p.m. (Gates open 2 hours prior to post; 2.5 hours prior on Opening Day and Pacific Classic Day.)
Del Mar Thoroughbred Club
2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar
Opening day after parties
12995 El Camino Real #21, Del Mar
DJs Decon and Cobra spin into the night amidst koi ponds and fire pits; dinner served indoors and under the stars.
GUESTHOUSE AT STINGAREE
454 6th Ave., Gaslamp
After the "Go, Baby, go!" at Del Mar, it's hot go-gos going all night at GuestHouse; free shuttle service from Pacific Beach for those who attend the Bar West preparty (see below).
1540 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar
Keep the day classy with bites from Kitchen 1540 and delicious cocktails at this gorgeous waterfront resort and spa.
HILTON DEL MAR
15575 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar
Lose, win or place, this party promises to be the show after the races. Sfinx and LED Entertainment are teaming up to bring 1,100 people and big-name DJs (yet to be announced as of this magazine's printing) to the Hilton Del Mar.
959 Hornblend St., Pacific Beach
One day in the hay is never enough, so get started early at the Bar West preparty, offering shuttle service to and from the track and an afterparty at GuestHouse at Stingaree.