An outstanding 10-race card, led by the traditional opening day feature, the $100,000 Oceanside Stakes for sophomore turf runners, kicks off the 2017 summer meet at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in Solana Beach, CA, on Wednesday.
Running for the 78th season, the track where the turf literally meets the surf and one that Hollywood legend Bing Crosby built in 1937 with his pals, fellow actors Pat O’Brien, Gary Cooper, Joe E. Brown, Oliver Hardy and car dealer/leading thoroughbred owner Charles Howard (of Seabiscuit fame) has been a summer sanctuary for fans and horsemen looking to escape the heat of the North and vacation while racing by the seashore.
The most popular song of the California summer for horse racing fans, sung by Bing himself and heard every day during every summer for seven decades right before the day’s first race and after the last every racing day is classic in its simplicity:
Where the turf meets the surf
Down at old Del Mar
Take a plane
Take a train
Take a car.
There is a smile on every face
And a winner in each race
Where the turf meets the surf
At Del Mar.
While the seaside oval doesn’t carry as lengthy a history and tradition as its sister summer track Saratoga in Saratoga Springs, NY, it does offer some of its own customs, including a rich stakes schedule and some of the sport’s top runners listed in the record books as previous winners.
This year a total of 41 stakes worth $7.3 million are on tap over the 36-day season, led by the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic (G1) on Saturday, Aug 19. The 1 1/4-mile fixture will be run for the 27th time and is one of the five annual Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” qualifying events held at Del Mar, guaranteeing the winner a spot in the gate for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Del Mar on Nov. 4.
Nineteen of the stakes will be run on the grass with the other 22 on the main track. The turf course, which was expanded and totally replaced prior to the 2014 season, will be in full use all summer long while the main track was returned to dirt after an eight-year run with the synthetic Polytrack in 2015.
This year, the Pacific Classic is expected to feature racing’s current superstar and North America’s richest racehorse of all time in Juddmonte Farms’ Arrogate. The once-defeated son of Unbridled’s Song, who currently ranks third on the list of all-time richest racehorses with $17,084,600 in the bank, will prep for the main event in Saturday’s $300,000 San Diego Handicap (GIII) in his first start since winning the March 25 Dubai World Cup (GI). Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert also sent the big gray colt out to win the Travers Stakes (GI), the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) and the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup (GI).
The other four races offered as “Win and You’re In” events this summer are the $300,000 Bing Crosby Stakes (GI) on Saturday, July 29, which guarantees admission to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint; the $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (GI) on Sunday, July 30, assuring a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff; the Del Mar Handicap (GII) for the Breeders’ Cup Turf; and the Pat O’Brien Stakes (GII) on Aug. 26 for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
As always, juveniles are a major part of the summer racing scene at Del Mar and several stakes for next year’s Kentucky Derby (GI) and Kentucky Oaks (GI) hopefuls are on tap, the first being for California-breds on Aug. 2 in the CTBA Stakes for girls and on Aug. 6 in the Graduation Stakes for boys.
Fillies get their first chance in open company in the Sorrento Stakes (GIII) on Aug. 5, a prep for the Sept. 2 Del Mar Debutante (GI), and the colts and geldings will get their chance in the Best Pal Stakes (GII) on Aug. 12, which is a prep for the Del Mar Futurity (GI) on closing day Monday, Sept. 4.
Some amazing runners in history have brought home the win in the big Del Mar two-year-old races, including Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in 2014 and notable names Best Pal, Bertrando, Gato Del Sol, Silver Charm, Declan’s Moon and this year’s Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist. Hall of Fame Trainer Bob Baffert has won the event a whopping 13 times and is odds-on to have another talented runner this year in an attempt to give him his 14th.
Del Mar will run on a five-day schedule, Wednesday through Sunday through closing day on Monday, Sept. 4. Post time every day is 2:00 p.m. PT except on Fridays after opening day when post time will be 4:00 p.m. PDT.