By Kelley Carlson
There’s twice as much to look forward to at the Del Mar racetrack this year.
For the first time, the seaside oval will host summer and fall meets.
“Our fall meet is drawing a lot of buzz and looking very exciting,” said Joe Harper, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club’s president and chief executive officer. “But first we’ve got a classic summer season full of big purses, good horses, and more Del Mar fun than you can shake a stick at.”
The season kicks off on July 17 — a Thursday, which is not the traditional Wednesday opening day.
Chris Bahr, director of events and promotions, explained that this is because of the San Diego County Fair running later than usual this year: Turnaround time is needed to accommodate the large Opening Day crowds and allow horses to acclimate.
Yet as much action as ever is planned during the 36-day summer meet, which runs through Sept. 3. Forty-three stakes races are scheduled, with some on the newly expanded turf course. The main event will once again be the $1 million Grade I TVG Pacific Classic, slated for Aug. 24. Among the possible entrants are the 2013 winner, Game On Dude; last year’s 2-year-old champion, the undefeated Shared Belief; and top stakes runners Imperative, Clubhouse Ride, Medal Count, Dance With Fate and Toast of New York.
Once again, Del Mar has assembled quite a concert lineup for its Four O’Clock Fridays and the occasional Saturday performances. First-timers include the Counting Crows and Electronic Dance Music (EDM) DJ Steve Aoki, along with returning favorites such as Weezer and Ziggy Marley. Concerts are free with racetrack admission, or $20 after the last race.
Microbrews and gourmet foods
Nearly every weekend will feature some kind of event related to food or drink. The fun starts with the San Diego Beer Fest on July 26, where patrons can sample from more than 100 local craft brews. A week later — on Aug. 2 — will be the Western Regional Chili Cook-off, where people can get free tastings and vote for their favorite cook to advance to the 2014 world championships. The Del Mar Grill Fest follows on Aug. 9, highlighting cuisine from more than 25 barbecue professionals. Next will be the Gourmet Food Truck Festival on Aug. 16, which will boast fare from about 50 trucks, ranging from gluten-free crab cakes to unusual grilled cheese sandwiches. Finally, there’s the International Beer Fest on Aug. 24, with a lineup that includes Irish reds, German pilsners and Belgian wheats.
Every weekend, parents and their children can head to the infield for free fun. Among the activities: pony rides, a giant scramble slide and obstacle course, magic shows, a caricature artist, face painters and a visit by the track mascot, “Pony Boy.”
A “super-sized” Family Fun Day is set for July 20, where guests can meet jockeys and an ex-racehorse, enjoy baseball clinics with the Lake Elsinore Storm, and take part in a Webkinz plushie giveaway for kids 12 and younger.
“(Del Mar) is a low-cost alternative destination for families during the summer,” Bahr emphasized.
Besides the Webkinz giveaway, visitors can plan to take home Del Mar beach towels — with the track’s signature blue-and-gold jockey silk pattern — on July 26, and T-shirts on Aug. 24. Items are free with paid admission.
Something for everyone
Yet another event that is back this year is Donut Days, which will be held from 8 to 10 a.m. July 19 and Aug. 23. Patrons of all ages can listen to track announcer Trevor Denman quiz jockeys and trainers as they observe horses working out and savor free coffee, orange juice and doughnuts.
Similarly, there’s Daybreak at Del Mar from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday during the meet. Guests can enjoy a meal while viewing the thoroughbreds on the track and listening to former jockey Jeff Bloom provide behind-the-scenes info and racing tips.
And the crowd can cheer on the fastest “wiener” dog in the county Aug. 30 during the Wienerschnitzel Wiener Nationals-San Diego Finals. The victor will move on to the national competition.
Getting in on the action
Those intrigued by racehorse ownership can attend the Paddock Sale on July 20, and auction company Barretts is hoping to have as many as 40 race-ready thoroughbreds on the block. Success stories from the 2013 sale include sales topper Oscar Party ($510,000), second in the Grade II Indiana Oaks. According to Bill Baker of Barretts, this summer’s auction will include stakes runners Heir Kitty and Handsome Mike. Prospective first-time owners are encouraged to contact the Thoroughbred Owners of California (toconline.com) and/or research ownership through The Jockey Club/Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (www.ownerview.com).
For bettors, handicapping seminars are at 12:45 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and Labor Day, and at 11:45 a.m. Pacific Classic Day. Newcomers seminars are held an hour before the start of the first race in the Plaza de Mexico.
Looking for a deal
To save on admission, sign up for the Diamond Club for free. And every Wednesday, club members receive free Stretch Run admission, a program and seat, along with half-price domestic beers, sodas and hot dogs. Seniors 62 and older can also get in free on Thursdays with their club card.
To avoid parking hassles, anyone can take advantage of the $11 “Pony Express” deal. It covers round-trip fare on the Coaster, Sprinter and Breeze; a shuttle from the Solana Beach North County Transit District station to the racetrack; and Stretch Run admission.
As is tradition, Del Mar will close out the summer season with a Party in the Paddock on Sept. 3, with live music.
But it won’t be long until racing returns. The 15-day fall meeting will commence Nov. 7 and run through Nov. 30.
Del Mar racetrack 2014 season
Dates: July 17-Sept. 3
Location: Via de la Valle and Jimmy Durante Boulevard
Post time: 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays; 4 p.m. Fridays; 1 p.m. Pacific Classic Day (Aug. 24); 2 p.m. Labor Day (Sept. 1)
Admission: $6 Stretch Run ($10 Opening Day); $10 Clubhouse ($20 Opening Day); free for children 17 and younger
Parking: $10 General, $15 Preferred, $25 Valet
Information: 858-755-1141, www.dmtc.com
Del Mar concert schedule:
July 18: Jurassic 5
July 25: The Cult
Aug. 1: Neon Trees
Aug. 2: Weezer
Aug. 8: Steel Pulse
Aug. 9: Counting Crows
Aug. 15: MAGIC!
Aug. 22: The Local Showcase-Silent Comedy, Transfer and Vokab Kompany
Aug. 29: Steve Aoki
Aug. 31: Reggae Fest featuring Ziggy Marley