By Linda Thompson
"Opening day (July 21) is the epitome of the Del Mar racetrack," said Craig Dado, the venerable institution's senior vice president of marketing.
Last year, he said, the attendance record was broken with some 47,000 visitors coming through the turnstiles. Dado said he was surprised by the number in the sluggish economy, but stopped short of making any predictions about attendance for 2010; however, "I would not be surprised if attendance is higher."
Today's marketing plan is to attract the younger crowd by establishing Del Mar as "the place to see and be seen," much as it was in the 1940s and '50s, when Hollywood stars came to ol' pal Bing Crosby's horse racing track. History shows Crosby standing at the turnstile taking tickets on the inaugural July 3 opening day in 1937.
The Hollywood crowd's attendance was so important that the Santa Fe Railroad hosted a special racetrack train to transport the movie stars from Los Angeles to Del Mar.
Like most fan-based industries, the horse racing industry has also succumbed to falling attendance. About eight years ago, Del Mar realized it needed to reassess the stagnant state of affairs. The evaluation team started with the track's assets and location.
On the plus-side of the equation were the ocean view, great weather, activity-oriented residents and a rich Hollywood history. The downside was a stagnant industry supported mostly by men.
The result of the brainstorming session was to make the track "sexy" to young adults and women, and change from publicity based on the horses to publicity marketing Del Mar as "The Social Scene."
Del Mar's female fan base is now 40 percent female, furlongs ahead of the typical 20 percent to 25 percent seen at other tracks.
One of opening day's biggest traditions is women sporting large hats for "The One and Only Truly Fabulous Hats Contest." The track works with two women who specialize in millinery, designer Diana Cavagnaro and Andrea Zeidell of The Village Hat Shop in Seaport Village.
The impressionable dressing continues into the season for many of the spectators, especially for those seated in suites and box seats.
Dado said horses and jockeys are not normally emphasized in the marketing campaign, but 2010 will prove to be the exception. Del Mar is going all out to advertise female Canadian jockey Chantal Sutherland's visit; she has previously been named one of People Magazine's "100 Most Beautiful People."
Dado said Del Mar has also transitioned into more of a family entertainment destination by focusing on young families. Sunday is dedicated to families. Camp Del Mar is also part of this focus.
The camp is a summer program for kids ages 5-12, similar to a YMCA camp.
The $24 camp includes activities, lunch, snacks and a T-shirt, but parents must remain at the track while their children participate. It ends 30 minutes after the last race.
Dado said that Camp Del Mar also offers employees an opportunity to bring their kids to work. The camp provides pony rides on Sundays.
The track's Newcomer Seminar is one of its most important features. The free daily class, which explains wagering, terminology and how to place bets, is always filled, Dado said. It also provides guests with information about horses and jockeys.
The track has been offering free Friday concerts since 1994 to help attract a younger crowd. Attendance jumped from 14,000 in 2000 to 17,000 per day by 2009. The concert location will change this year to the Seaside Terrace at the west end of the grandstand. Music lovers can now enjoy a picturesque ocean view while rocking with their favorite band.
For the first time, Del Mar is hosting the finals of the Wienerschnitzel Wiener Nationals dog race on Sept. 6. Fans will watch the top 16 dogs that advance from the 300 dachshunds competing at the Aug. 28 regional at Qualcomm Stadium.
The Western Regional Chili Cook-off and Salsa contest is set for Aug. 7. Entrants are eligible for $2,000 in prize money. Chili sampling begins at 1 pm.
The Craft Microbrew Festival on Aug. 28 will give spectators a chance to experience some 75 flavors of beer from local and international breweries.
Race season 2010
- July 21-Sept. 8
- (858) 755-1141
Summer concerts at the Del Mar racetrack
Del Mar racetrack will offer 11 summer concerts to accompany its horse racing program. Shows are Fridays and select Saturdays during the 2010 season, July 21-Sept. 8, at the Seaside Terrace at the west end of the grandstand, which provides a scenic ocean backdrop.
Concerts are free with racetrack admission bought before the last race and $20 for concertgoers entering after the horses have left the gate for the last race.
- July 23 — Pinback
- July 30 — Common Sense
- Aug. 6 — The B-52s
- Aug. 13 — The Soft Pack
- Aug. 14 — Reggae Fest featuring Jimmy Cliff and Matisyahu
- Aug. 20 — Ozomatli
- Aug. 21 — Weezer
- Aug. 27 — Super Diamond
- Aug. 28 — Craft Microbrew Festival with a local music showcase
- Sept. 3 — The English Beat
- Sept. 4 — ZZ Top