The Torrie horses are coming.
Final touches are being put on the 20 life-sized statues that will commemorate the Breeders’ Cup’s first-ever running at the Del Mar Race Track and, in the next few weeks, will make their way to their perches throughout San Diego County, standing guard as an emblem of equine excellence until the two-day extravaganza in November has come and gone.
For more than 30 years, the Breeders’ Cup has crowned the ultimate champion of the sport of kings, with the victors of the cup’s top-tier races receiving trophies based on the famed “Torrie horse” statue that has for nearly two centuries resided at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
Those trophies measure a mere 11 inches high. For the first time in the race’s history, life-sized copies of the Torrie horse have been made for this year’s cup, part of the campaign that San Diego’s horse-racing community is rolling out to promote the seminal event, which is expected to draw as many as 100,000 visitors and generate more than $75 million.
The “Art of the Horse” campaign put 20 Torrie horse statues up for sponsorship. Those sponsors chose the location and the artist to paint their statue. Some of the Torrie horses will go up for auction after the Breeders’ Cup, others will remain with their owners.
“We hope to make this a really special Breeders’ Cup so that they want to come back again and again,” said Craig Dado of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, which is sponsoring one of the statues. “So we’re doing everything we can do to do the extra stuff. The Art of the Horse is one part of that.”
The 150-pound fiberglass replicas — 87 inches tall, 87 inches long and 33 inches wide — were made in Chicago then brought to Del Mar last month, where they were picked up by their appointed artist. Once painted, the statues went to a Los Angeles warehouse to be sealed in a special coating that will protect them for generations to come.
Two of the statues will go up at the race track. Other locations include Cedros Avenue in Solana Beach, the Fairmont Grand Del Mar hotel in Carmel Valley, downtown San Diego, the Lodge at Torrey Pines, The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe and Birch Aquarium. Closer to the race track, statues will go up at Red Tracton’s and Pamplemousse Grille, and the Solana Beach Chamber of Commerce is placing one along the 101 corridor.
As Bing Bush, Jr., director of a committee promoting this year’s cup, was recruiting those sponsors, he decided to pony up the $15,000 with a few friends — Dan Sbicca, Kenny Baca and Jeffrey Stoke — and donate a statue to the City of Del Mar in perpetuity.
“It felt to me like Del Mar, as the host community, should have one of the horses. It just felt like a good fit, a natural fit, for our community,” said Bush, a local lawyer and horse owner. “We’ve never had anything on the scale of what we’re having here with the Breeders’ Cup. This is a truly national and international event. So we’re taking unprecedented actions for an unprecedented event.”
The Del Mar City Council last week approved the statue’s temporary spot in Seagrove Park, at the end of 15th Street. Its design — dubbed “Gold Coast” by artist Cheryl Pelly, a dressage competitor and former Del Mar resident — is meant to evoke Del Mar’s coastline both at sunrise and sunset. On one side, its color goes from aluminum to 24-karat gold flake, representing the morning sun as it breaks through a cool, coastal fog. The gradation is reversed on the other side, representing the sun’s descent into the Pacific.
Three, and possibly four, more Torrie horses will make their home in downtown Del Mar. The L’Auberge Del Mar hotel and Del Mar Plaza have each sponsored a statue, and the Del Mar Village Association has secured a sponsor for one at the intersection of Camino del Mar and 15th Street. A sponsor for another statue at the same intersection — in front of the Tasting Room — is still being sought.
The history of the Torrie horse reaches back to the late 1580s, when the sculptor Giovanni da Bologna (also referred to as Giambologna) — widely considered the second-greatest of his century, behind only Michelangelo — crafted a horse statue in solid bronze. Its style — écorché— depicts the horse as though it has no skin, capturing every sinew and muscle fiber in exacting detail.
Only four known copies were ever made. One of them was purchased by James Irskine, baronet of Torrie, around 1803 in London. By 1836, the statue had made its way to the Museum of Fine Arts at the University of Edinburgh, where it rests to this day.