Though it is sometimes overshadowed by more famous tracks back East like Churchill downs and Belmont Park, Del Mar Racetrack in Southern California has a rich and fascinating history. Located 20 miles north of San Diego and known for its iconic slogan “Where The Surf Meets the Turf”, Del Mar has not only hosted the best horses and jockeys on the planet but a ‘who’s who’ of show biz elite.
The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club was founded by a group of well heeled enthusiasts in the mid’30s, and they immediately turned their attention to building a world class horse racing venue. The names that were instrumental in the creation of Del Mar include a whos who of American entertainment–most notably Bing Crosby, Oliver Hardy (of Laurel and Hardy) and Jimmy Durante. At the time the facility opened thoroughbred horse racing was the second most popular sport in America behind major league baseball, and Del Mar quickly gained a reputation for being a player in the industry.
Additionally, the star power involved with the project also provided a trendy cachet that the tonier race courses back East lacked. Bing Crosby himself greeted patrons at the gate on opening day, and during the late’30s and early’40s it became a place to be seen for Hollywood A-listers and those who aspired for celebrity. In addition to known gambling enthusiasts like W.C. Fields, Edgar Bergen and Red Skelton, the Del Mar patrons during that time also included some of the top female stars of the era including Ava Gardner, Paulette Goddard and Dorothy Lamour.
Del Mar was the site of the’38 match race between Seabiscuit and Ligaroti. Seabiscut won the $25,000 winner take all challenge by a nose, and this race set Del Mar betting and attendance records and remains one of the most famous races in history. The racing at Del Mar continued to flourish until the start of WWII, when the track went ‘dark’ for racing.
After the war, Del Mar reopened with a bang. Following the surrender of Japan, President Harry S. Truman declared a national holiday for August 15,’45 and on that day Del Mar attracted over 20,000 fans through its gates who wagered what at the time was a record $958,476. The postwar prosperity was also a boon to Del Mar, which also benefitted from the Santa Fe Railroads daily Racetrack Special that brought bettors down from Los Angeles to enjoy a day at the track. During the latter part of the decade a new crop of Hollywood glitterati would flock to Del Mar, including Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Mickey Rooney and Jimmy Durante. Durante would become such a regular that the turf course at Del Mar would later be renamed in his honor.
Even though the popularity of horse racing among the mainstream populace would ebb over the years, Del Mar remains a viable part of the thoroughbred community to this day. Theyve updated their facility, with a state of the art grand stand and most recently a synthetic polytrack surface that was installed in 2007. The racing season at Del Mar begins in mid July, and hosts crowds of 20,000+ on a daily basis throughout.
Ross Everett is a freelance sports writer and respected authority on sports betting odds comparison. He writing has appeared on a variety of sports sites including sports news and sportsbook directory sites. He lives in Southern Nevada with three Jack Russell Terriers and a kangaroo. He is currently working on an autobiography of former energy secretary Donald Hodell.