New mural ups artistic ante at track

Horsemen featured in artwork

By Julie Sarno


Del Mar Thoroughbred Club President and General Manager Joe Harper has bumped up the wow factor for this year’s race meets. Just as theme parks stimulate interest through adding a new ride, Harper is unveiling something spectacular at Del Mar this season - a mural.

Two years ago, Harper, a Del Mar resident, commissioned the work of art, which depicts racing and entertainment personalities who have attended the races at Del Mar through its long history. The vivid, colorful mural, painted in acrylics by artist Pierre Bellocq (known as Peb), surpassed even Harper’s expectations.

“When I saw Peb’s mural at Gallagher’s a couple of year ago, I was very impressed,” Harper said.

Bellocq, now 82, began as a political cartoonist in his native France, then worked for years for the Daily Racing Form before taking on mural painting full time, spurred by the acclaim received by his mural of famous sports and entertainment figures for Gallagher’s Steakhouse, a celebrity haunt in Manhattan’s theater district.

Harper has run Del Mar for more than 30 years. As the grandson of famous movie-maker Cecil B. DeMille, Harper led a storied childhood. Before he came to the seaside track, Harper had met a star or two.

“My first year here, 1977, I met Bing Crosby,” said Harper, who lives in Del Mar with his wife, Barbara. “He said, ‘My the track certainly has changed,’ and that was before we built the new grandstand.”

While standing in front of the mural, which hangs in the Clubhouse lobby, Harper said: “The birth of Del Mar is right here, with Bing Crosby, Pat O’Brien and local businessman Bill Quigley. I never met Pat O’Brien, although his daughter, Mavourneen O’Brien, still comes to Del Mar each year to present the trophy for the (Pat) O’Brien Stakes (this season on Sept. 6). Then you see two horses racing neck and neck, Seabiscuit in his Aug. 12, 1938, match race with Ligaroti.”

Seabiscuit, whose story came alive for new audiences in the 2003 movie, is sticking his tongue out as he edges past his rival. And, of course, Del Mar regulars are there - Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Famed FBI director J. Edgar Hoover is in the mural, too. Hoover never wanted it known that he visited the racetrack, and now he’s there for all to see.

On the right side of the mural is Del Mar’s recent history. There is a chestnut horse, lounging back, smoking a cigar. The horse is Dare and Go, trained by Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella, who is also depicted in the upper-right section of the mural. Also featured is well-known trainer Bob Baffert. Nearby is Bruce Headley, Ron McAnally, Bobby Frankel, Jack Van Berg, Julio Canani and many others still active in the Del Mar training ranks.

On July 25, many of those in the mural will be at the track and in the winner’s circle for a special midafternoon ceremony. According to Harper, distance is no barrier to attending the ceremony. Those who have accepted invitations include jockey Patrick Valenzuela, now riding in Louisiana, and former jockey Ken Church, who lives in Reno, Nev.

Posters of the mural will be sold at the track’s Silks gift shops for $19, including tax. Artist “Peb” will spend time signing posters on July 25 at the shops.