Hirsch wins huge one at home track at Del Mar

Victor Espinoza rides Ce Ce, owned by Bo Hirsch, to a win in BC Filly & Mare Sprint.
Victor Espinoza rides Ce Ce, owned by Bo Hirsch, to a win in BC Filly & Mare Sprint.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Ce Ce wins Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint in mild upset


In August 2020, thoroughbred owner Bo Hirsch entered one of his prized horses, a filly named Ce Ce, in the Del Mar Grade I race he covets more than any other. The Clement L. Hirsch Stakes, annually the top competition for older females in the summer meeting, is named for Bo’s father, who organized the group that took control of the seaside race track in the 1960s and continues to operate it today.

Ce Ce didn’t fire that Sunday and finished a distant third, leaving Bo Hirsch still winless in his father’s namesake race. “That would have been like winning the Kentucky Derby!” he says.

More than two years later, on a crisp fall Saturday, the defeat didn’t seem so painful, because Hirsch achieved what was probably position 1-A among his horse racing dreams. On the same Del Mar track, the now-5-year-old Ce Ce and her 49-year-old jockey, Victor Espinoza, burst into the lead at the top of the stretch and stunned heavy favorite Gamine to win the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.

In the five-horse field, CeCe was the third betting choice and paid $14.40. Her win halted Gamine’s five-race winning streak — all of which came in graded stakes, starting with this race last year. The Bob Baffert-trained 4-year-old had won nine of her 10 career starts, but she faded in the stretch and finished third behind runner-up Edgeway.

“The caliber of that group she beat today … holy moly!” a beaming Hirsch said.

“This just means a great deal,” he added. “To win at your home, it’s special.”

Hirsch doesn’t use the term “home” lightly. He is 72 years old and said he’s been coming to Del Mar for that many years. Each summer, his family arrived from Los Angeles and rented a house near the race track. As children, his brother Greg worked the Del Mar backstretch for trainer Farrell Jones, while Bo said of himself, “I was a little lazier. I was more of a frontside guy. I loved the horses. I’m a two-bit gambler, but I love the game. It’s wonderful.”

Bo Hirsch, who has homes in Pacific Palisades and Rancho Santa Fe, was able to get a financial stake in the game after his father supported him in founding from scratch the Stagg chili company, which was later sold to Hormel. The senior Hirsch, who died in 2000, made his fortune in pet food, eventually selling his company to Mars Inc., and it still lives on with the Pedigree label.

Clement Hirsch was a big player in racing beyond the ownership side. When Del Mar decided to abandon fall racing in 1968, Hirsch was part of a group that formed the Oak Tree Tree Racing Association at Santa Anita. It operated as a non-profit, and that became the model for Del Mar when Hirsch and others took over here.

At the entrance to the Del Mar turf club, there is a giant painted mural of caricatures of people who have been instrumental in the track’s history. Clement Hirsch is center stage, amid the likes of Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, WC Fields, Lucille Ball, Ava Gardner and Jimmy Durante.

Bo Hirsch said he isn’t shy about showing it off to guests.

“I’ll tell ’em, ‘That’s my dad,’” he said. “I loved my father and I’m proud of him.”

At their beloved Del Mar, Dad was no doubt returning the sentiment on Saturday.

— Tod Leonard is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune