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Where the Turf Meets the Surf

Summer is synonymous with the word vacation. Most of us dream of romantic walks on a tropical beach, umbrella cocktails or maybe just hiding away with a great book. The months of July through August in Del Mar, California, spell out quite a different experience for about a million spectators and dozens of the most finely tuned athletes in the world.

I am not talking about pre-season football or the incredibly talented surfers that blanket the coast of southern California all year long. No, the athletes I am referring to have four legs and a tail. They are a very specific breed of horse known as the thoroughbred.

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The Del Mar Race track has been the place for horseracing since 1937 when Bing Crosby greeted the first fan through the gate and opening day still brings visions of ladies in hats and gentlemen dressed in tailored suits and ties. Most days though, you’ll find San Diegan’s in beach casual enjoying the beautiful sunshine at the track where the turf meets the surf.

Begin your day with breakfast at the Americana Restaurant, located at the corner of 15th Street and the 101. This adorable, bustling, cafe provides a generous selection of entrees ranging from an assortment of freshly baked muffins, and breads, to my personal favorite–the Casey’s Call–two substantially-sized toasted pieces of sourdough with two perfectly poached eggs, goat cheese and spinach. It’s a lovely mixture of tastes. All of the ingredients are fresh and rich with flavor. After breakfast take a stroll along the sand and take in the beauty, but don’t take too long because you will want to make sure you’re not late for the first post time, otherwise known as the start of the first race, at 2:00pm.

Make your way to Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, but before you place your bet, you’ll want to walk over to “the paddock” and observe all of the horses that will be participating in the first race. The paddock is where the race horses are brought out by someone mounted on what is called a lead pony, and assists in keeping the thoroughbred more calm and comfortable while he or she is being previewed by their owners and the public. The paddock is also where the jockeys mount their horses and are led out to the track to enter the starting gate. Head to the betting booths to place your bet and then to the stands to watch the horses line up and wait for the infamous words “and they’re off” as they dash out of the gates. It’s just about impossible not to cheer your horse on as they make their way around the track to the finish line.

If you are lucky enough to have a winning ticket, head back to the paddock area, which also serves as the winner’s circle, and thank the jockey and horse in person. It’s here the owners of the winning horse are able to come onto the grass and participate in placing a large, beautiful, wreath of roses around the horse’s neck and where the winning jockey will be given a large gold cup.

Time to place your bet for the second race. Don’t get too intimidated by all the regulars hanging out by the betting booths. They’ll stand aside as you take your chance at placing money on the table. Then, grab a beer or soda or some snacks from one of the many concessions and head as close to the track as you can. Check out the ever changing scoreboard in the center of the track that continually updates odds on every horse as well as information about any scratches (a horse and jockey that have dropped out of the race) or jockey changes.

Once all of the horses are in the gate, no more bets may be placed, and the crowds fall silent as a few tense moments go by before the race begins. Watch in amazement as the blur of colorful silks and manes fly around the track. From here you can hear the thundering hooves,and heavy breathing of the horses as they go by in mere seconds. Often times the winner of the race must be decided by what is called a “photo finish.” This is just what it sounds like, and may literally come down to one horse’s nose being an inch ahead of another’s to determine the winner.

As your day winds down at the track, head south along the train tracks to the main drag of downtown Del Mar. There, you will find several decadent choices for dinner and drinks. One of my personal favorites is Pacifica Del Mar located at the Del Mar Plaza. Sit outside on the patio where you can enjoy a full ocean view. Pacifica offers a creative selection of seafood creations, steaks and pasta. They also have a full bar with several flavorful martinis. Make sure to save some room for dessert. Pacifica’s “burnt cream” dish is fantastic. You may also wish to add caramelized bananas for an added twist of flavor.

After dinner, you can sit back and enjoy the ocean view and reminisce about your time at the track. Whether or not you were a winner, nothing beats a day at Del Mar’s infamous track and soaking up the San Diego sun.

Details: The 2008 horse racing season at Del Mar runs from July 16th to
September 3rd. There are nine races Tuesday through Sunday of every week.
The track is closed on Mondays.

What & Where:
The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club (2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd; 858-755-1141)
Americana Restaurant (1454 Camino Del Mar; 858-794-6838)
Pacifica Del Mar (1555 Camino Del Mar; 858-792-0476)


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