Opening Day of the 2012 Del Mar Racing Season promises to be better than ever

By Kelley Carlson

Whether your ideal Opening Day experience is sitting and seriously studying the racing program or parading around the Plaza in your high-fashion hat, there’s something for everyone at one of the biggest social events in town.

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Katy Helen Stockinger dazzles at a past One and Only Truly Fabulous Hats Contest. Photo: Benoit Photo

Set for July 18 this year, this premier party regularly draws crowds of more than 40,000 people. Attendance has been up for seven years in a row, with the last three record-breaking, according to Craig Dado, senior vice president of marketing. Last year’s crowd totaled 46,588 people.

“Hopefully, we’ll beat it again this year,” Dado said in an interview. “We hope it sets the tone for the whole season.”

Festivities will kick off with the Coors Light Opening Day Party at 11:30 a.m. in the Seaside Cabana and Seaside Stage area. There will be music by a DJ, games and activities, along with private wagering windows and a big-screen video board. Food and drinks will be available for purchase. Tickets cost $30; Dado recommends buying them ahead of time to be guaranteed a seat. He added that the party has sold out in previous years. Go to www.dmtc.com/season/tickets/.

At the same time, entries will start being taken for the annual One and Only Truly Fabulous Hats Contest near the fountain in the Plaza de Mexico. Judges award prizes based on hats’ creativity and style in five categories: Best Racing Theme, Funniest or Most Outrageous, Most Glamorous, Best Flowers/All Others and Best Fascinator, a new category that features headpieces attached by a clip or headband.

“The hat business is booming,” said Julie Sarno in a news release, who began the contest in 1995 and continues to coordinate it each year. “More women are daring to wear hats and fascinators. Wearing a fascinator is like dipping your toe in the water. It completes the outfit but is not as big a commitment as a hat. A well-designed hat or fascinator completes an outfit, adding to its appeal and allure.”

In an interview, she added that hot pink is the trendy color this season.

Entries will be taken until 3 p.m., which will be the start of the hats parade.

In all categories except Best Fascinator, first place will win $300, while second place will receive $200 and third place will get $100. The winner of Best Fascinator will be given $100.

The Bing Crosby Grand Prize recipient — chosen from the winners of each category — will be awarded two round-trip airline vouchers to anywhere in the U.S. aboard American Airlines. Also, the winner in the Most Glamorous category will be presented with a gift from The Diamond Boutique in Del Mar.

All hats contest entrants will receive two free admission passes for a future visit to the races.

“Hat competitions abound, but none is greater or with more spectacular hats than the opening day hat contest at Del Mar,” said Los Angeles-based hat designer Alakazia, who creates hats for celebrities, including Lady Gaga, in a news release. “The world is my oyster and hats are my passion! The array at Del Mar is simply astounding.”

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