Remembering ...The incredible horses that made Del Mar
Presented by Joe Jelley
The first Chula Vista Handicap was held in 1937 with a distance of 5 1/2 furlongs. The winner was High Strike, owned by Bing Crosby. The first winner at Del Mar, he and jockey Jackie Burrill christened the Del Mar finish line on July 3, 1937. High Strike would later win the 1938 Oceanside Stakes.
The 1938 racing season also contained a race that drew national attention on Aug. 12. Seabiscuit and Ligaroti engaged in a match race, with Seabiscuit and jockey George Woolf winning by a nose.
Some of the horses that raced at Del Mar became trivia answers when jockeys set all-time records for winning mounts.
On Sept. 2, 1956, Johnny Longden rode Arrogate for Longden’s 4,871st victory. That passed the previous world record. Longden would retire with 6,032 career victories, a record that stood until Sept. 7, 1970, when Willie Shoemaker rode Dares J to victory at Del Mar for Shoemaker’s 6,033rd career win.
Shoemaker’s record number of Del Mar victories was broken by Laffit Pincay Jr. in 1998, when Pincay broke Shoemaker’s mark of 889 wins. That year, Ron McAnally also became Del Mar’s winningest trainer with his 375th career win, passing Farrell Jones.
Pincay retired with 1,011 Del Mar wins, while Shoemaker still holds the single-season record with 94 wins in 1954. Shoemaker also holds the record for seven riding titles, while Jones set a track standard with 11 training titles. Golden Eagle Farm has been the leading owner six times.
The largest track attendance in the history of Del Mar (until this year’s Opening Day attendance of 44,907) was when 44,181 spectators convened at the track on Aug. 10, 1996. Much of the rest of the nation also watched the Pacific Classic that day. The famous thoroughbred horse Cigar entered the race with 16 consecutive victories, tying the 20th century record and seeking to set the record with a win in Del Mar’s sixth race that day. Five other horses stood between Cigar and his 17th consecutive win.
Cigar was second, behind Siphon, for the early part of the 1 1/4-mile race before taking the lead at the one-mile marker. But Dare and Go, ridden by jockey Alex Solis, moved to the inside and took the lead in the stretch. Dare and Go kept expanding his lead before winning by 3 1/2 lengths to end Cigar’s streak.
This article, written by Joe Naiman, is reprinted from the “Del Mar Picture Book,” published by Joe Jelley. Contact him at