Opening Day of the 2012 Del Mar Racing Season promises to be better than ever

By Kelley Carlson

Whether your ideal Opening Day experience is sitting and seriously studying the racing program or parading around the Plaza in your high-fashion hat, there’s something for everyone at one of the biggest social events in town.

Katy Helen Stockinger dazzles at a past One and Only Truly Fabulous Hats Contest. Photo: Benoit Photo

Set for July 18 this year, this premier party regularly draws crowds of more than 40,000 people. Attendance has been up for seven years in a row, with the last three record-breaking, according to Craig Dado, senior vice president of marketing. Last year’s crowd totaled 46,588 people.

“Hopefully, we’ll beat it again this year,” Dado said in an interview. “We hope it sets the tone for the whole season.”

Festivities will kick off with the Coors Light Opening Day Party at 11:30 a.m. in the Seaside Cabana and Seaside Stage area. There will be music by a DJ, games and activities, along with private wagering windows and a big-screen video board. Food and drinks will be available for purchase. Tickets cost $30; Dado recommends buying them ahead of time to be guaranteed a seat. He added that the party has sold out in previous years. Go to

At the same time, entries will start being taken for the annual One and Only Truly Fabulous Hats Contest near the fountain in the Plaza de Mexico. Judges award prizes based on hats’ creativity and style in five categories: Best Racing Theme, Funniest or Most Outrageous, Most Glamorous, Best Flowers/All Others and Best Fascinator, a new category that features headpieces attached by a clip or headband.

“The hat business is booming,” said Julie Sarno in a news release, who began the contest in 1995 and continues to coordinate it each year. “More women are daring to wear hats and fascinators. Wearing a fascinator is like dipping your toe in the water. It completes the outfit but is not as big a commitment as a hat. A well-designed hat or fascinator completes an outfit, adding to its appeal and allure.”

In an interview, she added that hot pink is the trendy color this season.

Entries will be taken until 3 p.m., which will be the start of the hats parade.

In all categories except Best Fascinator, first place will win $300, while second place will receive $200 and third place will get $100. The winner of Best Fascinator will be given $100.

The Bing Crosby Grand Prize recipient — chosen from the winners of each category — will be awarded two round-trip airline vouchers to anywhere in the U.S. aboard American Airlines. Also, the winner in the Most Glamorous category will be presented with a gift from The Diamond Boutique in Del Mar.

All hats contest entrants will receive two free admission passes for a future visit to the races.

“Hat competitions abound, but none is greater or with more spectacular hats than the opening day hat contest at Del Mar,” said Los Angeles-based hat designer Alakazia, who creates hats for celebrities, including Lady Gaga, in a news release. “The world is my oyster and hats are my passion! The array at Del Mar is simply astounding.”

Other planned activities at the track include a performance of the national anthem at 1 p.m.; the Hippity-Hop Derby, in which Camp Del Mar participants bounce on large balls in a race down the stretch; and a special guest’s rendition of “Where the Turf Meets the Surf” as part of Sing With Bing.

The feature race of the day will be the $100,000 Oceanside Stakes for 3-year-olds on the turf. It will likely be one of the later races on the card.

For those who prefer to be away from the crowds, they can head to Del Mar’s satellite wagering facility, Surfside Race Place, which is adjacent to the track. The second-floor Saddle Club will be open, which features dozens of LED flat-screen TVs and live tellers. Food and drink will be available for purchase.

“We heard from a number of people ... that as much as they love Opening Day, it’s hard for them to make a bet, find a seat (etc.),” Dado said.

Tickets are $20 per person, and include table seating. They can be purchased on Opening Day through the Del Mar ticket office at (858) 792-4242 or at


Fast Facts

• Gates open: 11:30 a.m.

• First post: 2 p.m.

Opening Day Pre and Post Parties

The Opening Day parties don’t just stop at the track. Here are a few other pre- and post-parties being held around the area:

• A “Turf Meets the Surf” themed kickoff party will be held July 13 at Club M inside the Grand Del Mar Resort, 5200 Grand Del Mar Way, in Carmel Valley. It will begin at 4 p.m. with happy hour and continue late into the night with a DJ and other entertainment. A best-dressed contest is also scheduled. Men should wear Turf Club attire, and women are asked to dress trendy and sexy with a SoCal beach flair. The cost is $20; go to For more information, go to

• Jimmy O’s Sports Bar and Restaurant, at 225 15th St. in Del Mar, will host a Pre-Opening Day Party from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. July 17. There will be a DJ and dancing, taco and drink specials, and a chance to mingle with Downtown Dolls and racing enthusiasts. Wear your favorite race-inspired attire. There is no cover charge, but guests are asked to go to and print out a ticket. For more information, go to

• The inaugural “Jockey for a Cause” Charity Event, hosted by local racehorse owner Jeff DeHaven, is set to start at 6 p.m. July 18 at the DeHaven Estate in Rancho Santa Fe. Tickets cost $100 if bought in advance, or $200 if purchased the day of the event. Proceeds will go to The Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF) and The Jockey Club Safety Net Foundation, which assists riders and others in the industry facing a financial crisis. Go to or

•L’Auberge Del Mar’s “party of the year” is one of the most popular tickets in town after the races on Opening Day. The event is held Wednesday, July 18, from 5-11 p.m.

Tickets are $100 per person and include delicious tastes from talk-of-the town Executive Chef Scott Thomas Dolbee of Kitchen 1540, killer cocktails from the hotel’s mixologists and music by three-time winner of the San Diego Music Award for Best DJ, DJ Gabe Vega who blends in his local San Diego roots to create the sweetest sounds. The hotel’s stunning ocean views add to the excitement of the evening.

Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased from L’Petite Boutique online at For a more intimate experience, private cabanas and tables are also available. Please call 800-245-9757 or visit for more information.

L’Auberge Del Mar is located at 1540 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar, 92014.

• Burlap will hold the “Official After-Party of Opening Day” for guests age 21 and older, beginning with music from DJ Decon at 5:30 p.m. July 18. DJ Cobra will spin the evening’s main set. Tickets are $20, plus there is a $2.50 service charge; go to Burlap is at 12995 El Camino Real, Suite 21, 92130, in the Del Mar Highlands Town Center.