By Julie H. Sarno
Once again, fans will clamor for the gates to open for the 70th Del Mar race meet, which starts at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, July 22. Opening day fans will enjoy colorful hats and great racing in this annual tradition, conducted by the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club.
The biggest change this season is the switch to a five-day racing week from a six-day week, cutting the total number of racing days from 43 to 37.
The new five-day race week will run Wednesday through Sunday through Sept. 9. The only exception to the new schedule will be the races taking place on Monday, Sept. 7, Labor Day.
"We're cautiously optimistic about our season," DMTC President and General Manager Joe Harper said. "Like everyone else, we're swimming upstream in this economy. But we're pretty good swimmers and there are some good signs starting to appear."
Harper said DMTC has some bargains in the works to lure fans to the races. For example, Diamond Club cardholders will receive 50 percent off admission and the concerts are free with admission. "Those sorts of things should resonate well with most everyone," Harper said.
"And then, in the end, we've got good old Del Mar just likes it has always been. Some sun, some fun and some very fast horses that you can invest in," Harper, a Del Mar resident, said. "It's been a winning combination for 70 years and it'll be a winner again this summer."
According to Promotions Manager Chris Bahr, "Free & Easy Wednesdays" offer racegoers a free Stretch Run admission with their Diamond Club cards, as well as a free program and free seat. Family Fun Days will also be held in the infield each Sunday.
Bahr said that at the first Family Fun Day, July 26, children under 12 will receive a Pony Boy Del Mar mascot plush toy for free while supplies last.
Other early season highlights are the Craft Microbrew Festival and Chili Cookoff in the infield on Aug. 1. This event will include a local music showcase in the infield hosted by FM 94.9 during the races. A long-sleeve T-shirt giveaway is scheduled for Aug. 8.
The opening day $100,000-added Oceanside Stakes usually attracts so many horses it runs in two divisions.
Other stakes races scheduled during opening week include the $350,000 Eddie Read Stakes, a prestigious Grade I test for runners three and older at 1 1/8 miles on turf. It is scheduled for Sunday, July 25.
Opening week also features the Osunitas Stakes on July 26 and three races for runners bred in California: The CTBA Stakes on July 24, the Fleet Treat Stakes on July 25 and the California Dreamin' Handicap on July 26.
This season, Director of Racing Tom Robbins has clustered 11 stakes races over Labor Day weekend, Sept. 4 to 7 and called it the Pacific Classic Festival. The $1 million Pacific Classic, the richest race of the season, will run Sunday, Sept. 6.