Del Mar Racetrack History
Del Mar Racetrack is located in Del Mar, California, on the 340-acre Del Mar Fairgrounds about 20 miles north of San Diego. However, the track actually has its roots centered a bit farther north in Hollywood.
Singer and actor Bing Crosby founded the track and served as president, while his brother Bob was vice president. Fellow actors Oliver Hardy – best known as one half of the Laurel and Hardy comedy duo – and Pat O’Brien acted as officers while other prominent Hollywood stars such as Gary Cooper and Joe E. Brown served on the executive committee.
The small, and today affluent, town of Del Mar, located in San Diego County, soon became the “Playground of the Stars” as celebrities flocked to the seaside track during the summers.
Crosby greeted the first patron through the gates on July 3, 1937, and was a constant presence at the track. That first card attracted close to 15,000 fans.
Over the years, the likes of Don Ameche, Barbara Stanwyck, Betty Grable, Ava Gardner, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Elizabeth Taylor, Charlie Chaplin and Red Skeleton – just to name a few – passed through the track gates.
Just two years after opening, Del Mar hosted the famous Seabiscuit—Ligaroti match race on August 12. During the race Seabiscuit’s jockey, George “The Iceman” Woolf, and Ligaroti’s rider, Noel “Spec” Richardson, began hitting each other with their riding crops as their mounts dueled down the stretch.
Del Mar shut down from 1942 through 1944 as the U.S. entered World War II. The Del Mar Fairgrounds were used for training Marines and then as a manufacturing site for B-17 bomber parts.
In addition to Hollywood stars, Del Mar has showcased such racing celebrities as Bill Shoemaker, John Longden and Charlie Whittingham. In fact, Longden became the world’s winningest rider at that time on September 3, 1956, when scoring at Del Mar.
Records have come and gone at the seaside track, but one that has stood the test of time is the $263.40 win payout that bettors received when they placed a $2 wager on the Argentinean-bred filly Cipria on September 1, 1955.
South African race caller Trevor Denman took the mike at Del Mar in 1984, and has been calling the races there ever since.
One of Denman’s more memorable calls probably came on August 10, 1996, when the mighty Cigar tried for a record-breaking 17th straight victory but instead was upset by the outsider Dare and Go in the Pacific Classic. A crowd of 75,201 in attendance that afternoon still serves as a single-day record at the track.
Denman also presided over the Polytrack era at the track that began in 2007 and ended in 2014. A new dirt track is being installed at Del Mar for the 2015 season.
Del Mar has preserved its rich history, as evidenced by the crowds who follow the advice Crosby laid out in his “Where the Turf Meets the Surf” – which is played before the first race and the last race every racing day – to “take a plane, take trainer, take a car,” and easily overwhelm the track’s 14,304-seating capacity each year.