By Kelley Carlson
Hold on to your hats for an extra day this year — Del Mar will open on a Thursday, instead of the traditional Wednesday.
One of the area’s biggest social events, Opening Day is set for July 17. It’s a feast for the eyes, from the colorful parade of fancy hats and jockey silks, to celebrity sightings. And parties are happening everywhere, on and off the track, all day long and well into the evening.
The centerpiece of the seaside oval’s celebration is the Opening Day Hats Contest, now in its 20th year. Officially established in 1995 by Julie Sarno as “The One and Only Truly Fabulous Hats Contest,” it brings out the most serious of hat aficionados, who spend months perfecting their headgear for prestige and prizes.
This year’s categories are Best Racing Theme, Funniest/Most Outrageous, Most Glamorous, Best Flowers/All Others and Best Fascinator. In each category, first place wins $300 and a $100 Studio Savvy gift certificate; the runner-up receives $200; and third place is awarded $100. The Bing Crosby Grand Prize recipient — selected from the winners of each category — will receive a two-night getaway at The Grand Del Mar and dinner for two, valued at $1,500, plus a $500 gift certificate to hat sponsor The Village Hat Shop.
Contestants must sign up between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. at the large fountain in Plaza de Mexico, located inside the Stretch Run admission gates. All entrants will receive two free admission passes to the races for a future visit.
Another event to help kick off the start of the summer racing season is The Party on Opening Day. A $30 ticket will grant a person Stretch Run admission and special access to the Seaside Cabana on the west end of the grandstand, where there will be disc jockeys, a microbrew garden, gourmet food trucks, private areas for wagering, photo booths, interactive activities and prize giveaways.
“It’s a party within a party,” said Chris Bahr, director of events and promotions.
Tickets can be bought at the gate, but it’s suggested that they be purchased ahead of time at www.dmtc.com/season/tickets/.
Other traditions planned include the singing of the national anthem; “Sing With Bing,” when a special guest croons Crosby’s “Where the Turf Meets the Surf”; and the Hippity Hop Derby, consisting of Camp Del Mar participants bouncing their way down the stretch on large, inflatable balls.
The racing highlight will be the Oceanside Stakes for 3-year-olds on the newly expanded turf course. It serves as a key prep for Del Mar’s sophomore championship race, the Grade II Del Mar Derby, on Aug. 31.