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Del Mar’s racing season to begin July 17

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McKinzie (left) and Gift Box are two potential contenders for the Grade I, $1 million TVG Pacific Classic on Aug. 17.
(Kelley Carlson )

There’s something for everyone at Del Mar this summer.

The seaside oval’s 80th season is slated to run from July 17 through Sept. 2, and its calendar is jam-packed with activities.

“This summer will be the most events and special promotions we have planned in one season,” said Chris Bahr, director of events and promotions. “With that, it also offers the biggest variety (we’ve had).”

There will also be plenty of horse racing, with 40 stakes races worth nearly $7.4 million scheduled during the 36-day meet.

After Santa Anita racetrack in Arcadia experienced 30 horse deaths this spring, Del Mar announced that it is taking additional measures to ensure safety. In fact, Del Mar was recognized as one the safest racetracks in the U.S. in 2018, according to The Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database. It had a rate of 0.79 fatal injuries per 1,000 starts in 2018, while the national average of tracks reporting was 1.68.

Some of the steps being implemented this year include medication reform; enhanced stable security; additional veterinary protocols during morning training; an entry review panel that reviews horses’ medical, training and racing history; prohibition of the use of riding crops during morning workouts; increased out-of-competition testing; and a stakeholder advisory committee to discuss track surfaces, safety practices and operations.

The biggest day of racing during the meet will be Aug. 17, which will feature five stakes races, including the Grade I, $1 million TVG Pacific Classic. The Pacific Classic could end up being a rematch between two of the top older horses in training, Gift Box and McKinzie. The two horses faced off in the Santa Anita Handicap earlier this year, with Gift Box besting McKinzie by a nose.

“This is expected to be the best race day we’ve ever had,” Bahr said, and pointed out that many of the horses who run will be trying to qualify for the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Santa Anita this fall.

“It will be a serious day for racing — the fans will not want to miss that one,” he said.

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An aerial view of the Del Mar racetrack
(Courtesy of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club)

Those who are interested in handicapping the day’s card can participate in the Pacific Classic Betting Challenge, which has a buy-in of $750. From that fee, $500 will be designated for a live bankroll for betting, and $250 will go toward the prize pool. The winner is expected to receive $10,000, plus $10,000 entry to the 2019 Breeders Cup Betting Challenge. Go to www.dmtc.com.

The track will also have a beach blanket giveaway that day for Diamond Club members. The club is free to join and provides 50 percent off admission with each visit, along with other perks such as an “Appreciation Day” on Aug. 10; Free & Easy Wednesdays; and free admission for seniors ages 62 and older every Thursday. Sign up through the Del Mar mobile app or outside the Stretch Run admission gates.

The beat goes on

Del Mar’s Summer Concert Series is back, with concerts slated every Friday, along with a few weekend performances.

“We’re loaded with reggae again,” Bahr noted, with artists such as Grammy-winning artist Ziggy Marley (July 20) and Iration (Aug. 3).

Country will also be well-represented by two of the genre’s rising stars, Midland (July 27) and Chase Rice (Aug. 16).

Concert entry is limited to ages 18 and older, and is free with the purchase of standard racetrack admission. The cost is $30 for those who enter the gates after the day’s final race.

Those who desire an upgraded experience can buy South Terrace VIP tickets for $50, which includes an enhanced view with seating, private cash bar and racetrack admission.

The track will also celebrate Closing Day this year with a Military Salute and a performance by Wayward Sons in the paddock after the last race. Tickets are $50, and include party entry, track admission, a racing program and light appetizers. Each ticket purchased will allow an active military member to enter the party for free.

Snacks and sips

Opportunities to sample foods and beverages will be plentiful, with events on tap every weekend.

One of the new ones is the San Diego Taco & Beer Festival, from 2 to 5 p.m. Aug. 3. More than 25 restaurants and food trucks and 100 breweries are expected to be represented, and there will be lucha libre wrestling, an interactive photo booth, DJs and games. The $35 general admission ticket includes entry, a racing program and tip sheet, two tacos, five 5-ounce beer tasters, and a souvenir beer mug. For an additional $10, patrons will receive a third taco and early event entry at 1 p.m.

Another occasion that’s new on the calendar is the Country Beer Jam on Aug. 24, in the Seaside Concert Area. For $12.50, patrons can sample five beers while listening to country artists who will be playing throughout the day.

From noon to 6 p.m. Sept. 1, visitors can get a Taste of New Orleans, with fare ranging from red beans and rice and jambalaya to shrimp po’boys and beignets. In addition, there will be drink samplers, Cajun bands including headliner Cowboy Mouth, a kids area, and art and craft vendors. The cost is $25, which includes track admission, a racing program, tip sheet, and five beer tasters or mini-cocktails. It’s free for children 14 and younger.

“We’re very excited for (this) one,” Bahr said .

And every Friday night, patrons can “Sip In Style” in the Turf Club. For $80, guests will have access to a Turf Club table and experience live music, the featured drink of the week, and complimentary sampling from 4 to 6 p.m. The beverages will have a different theme each week - one week may be vodka, another may be wine, and so on.

“We’re trying to make the Turf Club more festive on a Friday evening,” Bahr said.

Several food- and beverage-themed events previously held at Del Mar will be back, including Burgers and Brews (July 20), Uncorked: Del Mar Wine Fest (July 27), Food Truck Festival (Aug. 10), Turf & Surf BBQ Championship (Aug. 18), Happy Hour (half-off signature drinks from gate opening until 6 p.m. Fridays), Daybreak at Del Mar (breakfast from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. weekends in the Clubhouse Terrace) and Taste of the Turf Club (Sundays).

Bahr recommended buying tickets sooner rather than later, as the price often increases closer to the event date. Go to www.dmtc.com.

Family-friendly fun

The track is bringing back Family Weekends, which start at 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays in the infield. There will be face painters, a game zone, an inflatable slide and obstacle course, pony rides and visits from Del Mar’s mascot, Pony Boy.

Opening weekend will have extra festivities. From noon to 1 p.m. July 20, jockeys will be in the Plaza de Mexico to sign autographs and pose for pictures. And July 21 will be Family Fun Day - a “super-sized” version of Family Weekends, with a plush racehorse giveaway for children 12 and younger, bungee trampolines, caricature artists, rock climbing walls and more.

This year’s Donuts Days are planned for 8 to 10 a.m. July 27 and Aug. 10. Participants can enjoy free coffee, orange juice and doughnuts in the Seaside Cabana while watching the morning workouts and listening to track announcer Trevor Denman lead a question-and-answer session with jockeys and trainers. There are also entertainers, prizes for kids, face painting, and chances to meet Pony Boy.

Charitable causes

Del Mar will host a couple of events that support charities this summer.

The LRF Cares Handicapping Challenge is set for July 20 in the Pacific Classic Room. It’s a $500 buy-in, with $250 designated for a live bankroll for betting and $250 for the entry fee. Sixty percent of the prize pool will be returned, as a portion of the entry fee will benefit LRF Cares, a charity that provides care for thoroughbreds after they are retired from racing. The contest winner will be awarded an $8,000 entry to the Del Mar Handicapping Challenge on July 27-28.

Also, the CARMA Hoedown for Horses will be held in the paddock after the last race on July 21. This country-western-themed evening will include line and square dancing, music by Jake Parr, a photo booth, a silent auction, a mechanical bull riding competition, a barbecue-style buffet and a mashed potato station with all the fixings, and a no-host full bar. The cost is $125, and money raised will benefit retired racehorses.

For more information on both events, go to www.dmtc.com.

Picking a winner

Racegoers who need a little extra help with placing bets can get some free tips. Newcomers’ Seminars are held one hour before the first race daily in the Plaza de Mexico. There are also Weekend Handicapping Seminars at 12:45 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays in the Seaside Terrace.

Those who are interested in taking their bets to another level - racehorse ownership - may attend a New Owner Seminar from 9 to 10:30 a.m. July 21 in the Veranda Cafe. A panel of experts will speak about partnerships and syndicates. Afterward, Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) will provide a short tour and question-and-answer session. Call (626) 574-6620 or go to www.toconline.com.

Del Mar Racetrack

2019 Season

• Dates: July 17-Sept. 2

• Location: Via de la Valle and Jimmy Durante Boulevard

• Post time: 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays; 4 p.m. Fridays (special first posts at 3:30 p.m. Aug. 23 and 30); 2 p.m. Labor Day (Sept. 2)

• Admission: $6 Stretch Run ($15 Opening Day); $10 Clubhouse ($30 Opening Day); free for children 17 and younger

• Parking: $10 General, $15 Preferred, $25 Valet ($40 Opening Day)

• Information: (858) 755-1141, www.dmtc.com

Concert lineup

Fri., July 19: The All-American Rejects

Sat., July 20: Reggae Fest with Ziggy Marley

Fri., July 26: J Boog

Sat., July 27: Midland

Fri., Aug. 2: Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue

Sat., Aug. 3: Iration

Fri., Aug. 9: TBD

Fri., Aug. 16: Chase Rice

Fri., Aug. 23: SOJA

Fri., Aug. 30: Steel Pulse

Sat., Aug. 31: Angels & Airwaves

Mon., Sept. 2: Wayward Sons