Del Mar Racetrack

The 2021 racing season begins Friday, July 16th, and runs through Monday, September 6th and will be at 100% seated capacity. This November also features the return of the prestigious Breeder's Cup.

del mar racetrack

The Del Mar racetrack has the distinction of being North America’s Number One track in terms of attendance and handles for more than a decade. Daily average attendance has been in the 30,000-plus level for the past few years and improvements to the track are expected to boost this number even higher in the future.

Daily average handles are estimated to be near the $13 million mark and growing.

Check the schedules at, or click the link at the bottom of this page for exact details.

Tens of thousands of people come to Del Mar each race season to bet on the thoroughbreds. They can bet on the races taking place at the track, or they can go over to the Del Mar Surfside Race Place for year round betting on tracks around the world. While many are seasoned horse players and gamblers, many are also new to racing or occasional bettors and are more interested in the ambience and beautiful scenery of the historic Del Mar Racetrack. For those new to thoroughbred horse racing, there are many resources for the handicapper to learn. The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club's website offers everything for the beginner to learn handicapping, how to read the program, evaluating the horses and their history, the jockeys, even the type of track they run on and how that affects their performance. You can do all this without losing a dime! For those who are looking for other gaming options, there are many casinos within a few hours’ drive that offer slots, video poker, blackjack, poker, roulette and many other gambling choices. These casinos also offer some excellent entertainment, lodging and dining. Some of the larger casinos include Barona Resort & Casino in Lakeside, Sycuan Casino in Escondido, Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, Harrah’s Rincon Resort & Casino in Valley Center & Viejas Casino in Alpine. Unlike horseracing, where you can learn how to play without losing your money, going to the casinos is the real deal. No play money, the real thing.

Del Mar Race Track Opening Day

Del Mar

From its opening, Del Mar quickly established itself as a playground for the stars. Among the Hollywood icons who spent long hours in the Del Mar racetrack were such luminaries as Dorothy Lamour, W. C. Fields, Paulette Goddard, Edgar Bergen, June Haver, Ann Miller, Don Ameche, Ava Gardner, Red Skelton, Bing Crosby, Pat O’Brien, Desi Arnaz, and Lucille Ball.

Del Mar racetrack is home to a host of riding greats. Arguably the most notable of them was the legendary William Lee “Bill” Shoemaker. He was the very first apprentice to claim the track's riding title in 1949 and went on to achieve record-breaking feats at the Del Mar racetrack for forty years. Johnny Longden is another pillar of Del Mar racetrack’s distinguished history. He became the world's winningest rider in 1956 and was passed only by Shoemaker in 1970. A recent riding hero is Laffit Pincay, Jr. Notable trainers who have made big marks in Del Mark racetrack include Charles Wittingham, Farrell Jones, Robert Frankel and Bob Baffert.

Horse racing is as wonderfully compelling
and complex as you want to make it.


Some people come specifically to watch the horses run and do not bet. No Thoroughbred can start at a recognized pari-mutuel track unless it is registered with the Jockey Club.

Before a Thoroughbred foal is approved, the registry requires that the color and all markings be clearly set forth in the application, such as a star, blaze, stripe, snip and stocking. A lip tattoo is also necessary. The tattoo is required before the horse ever races.

Many fans love the pageantry and attend the races to visit the paddock where the horses are saddled. In this area, the owners gather to watch their horses and the horses are led around so that everyone can see their condition.

Some handicappers do not miss watching horses in the paddock. They want to know if their future wager is walking well, looks healthy and is relaxed enough to win a race. It is here that the jockeys come out, get instructions from the trainers and then are booted up onto the horse.

Del Mar Racetrack History

In the 1930's, the Depression affected Del Mar, as well as the rest of the country. However, in 1933, in spite of the grim times, the eight members of the 22nd Agricultural District had a vision for a county fairgrounds to be located in Del Mar, which set the town on its current path. These eight intrepid visionaries were successful in purchasing the current site with a $25,000 grant from the State Department of Fairs & Expositions and the first county fair was held in October 1936. Even before the first fair was held, it was felt that the addition of a racetrack to the fairgrounds would be an asset and would be self-supporting.

Because of the climate and the seclusion the area offered, film stars were frequent visitors to the area. Among them was Bing Crosby, who was a racing enthusiast, and he turned out to be instrumental in the development of the Del Mar Racetrack.

He and the fair board agreed on a lease arrangement with the newly created Del Mar Turf Club for $35,000. Serving on the Turf Club's first Board of Directors was Bing Crosby as President, Pat O'Brien as Vice President, with Oliver Hardy, Joe E. Brown, Gary Cooper, Leo McCary and others serving on the executive boards.

The initial funding met with repeated setbacks and Bing Crosby and Pat O'Brien put up personal loans against their own life insurance to the fair district without interest at one point. When the Del Mar Racetrack opened on July 3, 1937, it enjoyed a very successful opening day.

The track enjoyed moderate success from its opening, but the race that put Del Mar on the map was a race pitting Seabiscuit, from Charles Howard's stable, against the best thoroughbred of the day, Ligaroti. Seabiscuit won and set a new record for the distance in that race.

Crosby & O'Brien's money and influence are what made the modern day Del Mar racing season so successful, and as a tribute to Crosby, his corny song title, "Where the Turf Meets the Surf" is played before post time each day. By the way, the City of Del Mar adopted that saying for its motto. To listen, click here...(requires Real Player software to play)

Bing's Where the Turf Meets the Surf

My Racetrack Memories

Ahh – the racetrack! Memories of the track are very strong. I spent all my summers near or at the Del Mar Racetrack. Back then, the slough was pretty smelly - in fact at night, when the wind blew offshore, the stench was overpowering! I recall the smell vividly, and the muck when we slipped off of the planks crossing the end of 23rd St to get to the track. Lost a few tennies to that muck - your foot would sink so quickly and deep that pulling it out meant your shoe would remain there forever after.

racetrack memories

Then there was the time as a young boy my friends and I built a raft out of driftwood planks and ‘poled’ across the slough, imagining ourselves as modern day Tom Sawyers & Huck Finns.

We used long bamboo stalks, and glided under the old railroad bridge during our Huck Finn years, instead of taking the (long gone) pedestrian bridge that emptied out near Bing Crosby Hall; riding our bikes around the parking lot, dodging the track security guards (who were almost all local teachers working for the summer.)

One year my brother Bruce, who was 12 years old , set up a lemonade stand outside the main entrance to the track and was soon on the front page of the local paper. He became quite a celebrity, with his little white sailor hat and the sign “Bruce’s Juices” bringing in tons of quarters until the local food service union at the track had him shut down.

This was during the years Burt Bacharach and Angie Dickinson lived on the beach at 26th St. Burt was an avid horse racing fan as well as a thoroughbred owner, and Burt and Angie became friends with Bruce. He was often visiting them and I remember taking him to the Hollywood Bowl for his birthday present one year. We saw Burt and his orchestra in concert, then went backstage to his dressing room after the show. I was impressed that Burt was genuinely glad to see my little brother, and invited us back to spend time with him as he received all his well wishers after the show.

Many years later, I ended working at the fair, then the racetrack, working as a Teamster parking cars for a ridiculous hourly wage (probably 3 times more than I’d ever made at other jobs) plus tips!

What a great job that was – and I have some great stories that I’ll share later! This was the early 70’s and the times were – ahhh – different.

The parking lot was run then by Jack “Big Daddy” Lyons, beloved by all, and each year the boys in the lot (eventually there were a few women, too) held a tribute to Jack, called “Big Daddy Night”.

One "Big Daddy Night", very late, I remember sitting in the bar of the old Steakhouse Restaurant in Solana Beach with some of my co-workers (located right about where Solana Beach City Hall is now), and at the piano was Hoagie Carmichael, playing "Stardust" for Jack and some of the older guys. Hoagie had seen better days and also had a bit to drink, but I’ll never forget the song. It really didn’t mean much to me then, but now as a huge jazz fan, it was an historic moment.

del mar racetrack 2006
Del Mar Thoroughbred Club

SD Union Tribune's Nick Canepa on Del Mar

Here's a classic article from Nick Canepa

DEL MAR – Since 1937, when Bing Crosby shook the hand of the first paying sucker, they have been coming to this racetrack to bet the ponies and be seen outside Max Factor's digs. You know, the stars, starlets, followers and the false hopes trying to get their names spelled right, and everyday Joes and Josephines with stars only in their eyes.

They have come to Del Mar. And they continue to come. Not so many stars anymore, although the choo-choo from Hollywood still runs south, but that's OK, too, because there aren't so many stars anymore. What we get now are those who have it made, those who have had it made for them, those who have made it, those who act as though they have, and those who have what they have – just enough to risk too much of it.

Opening day at Del Mar may be our most eclectic sporting event. It is so much of what we are and so much of what we are not. Opening day offers a spectacular melting pot, from limos to Yugos, minks to finks, earls to Earls, spiffs to stiffs, touts to louts. Damn, it's a great day.

At a time in horse racing history when handle is up and attendance is down, when tracks have to find other ways to draw (slot machines), Del Mar remains a great lure. All it has to be is itself. It's more than opening day. It's Del Mar, and that works like a long shot winning in a hand ride.

There is no one more qualified to discuss the lure than Joe Harper, now in his 29th year as the track's boss. He's Southern California-smart, not a bad thing. A child of Hollywood, where Harper grew up, his grandfather was legendary film director Cecil B. DeMille. I can't see Harper without starting our conversation with the great line from “Blazing Saddles,” when the Waco Kid deadpans: “I must have killed more men than Cecil B. DeMille.”

“I think it's a mixture of nostalgia and Hollywood and beach and sunshine,” Harper says. “Once you sprinkle enough pretty people in here it begets more. We've done as much as we can to promote it for a little bit of everyone, not just the old-time handicappers, but ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages. And it's worked.

“You have to get an identity. You have to market yourself so people go for a broad reason, and hopefully keep it. Santa Anita was such a grand old dame, art deco, with a martini-and-Cole Porter feel to it. And it lost it. The perception here is that it's a place to party and maybe see a celebrity or two. I think it's pretty much what Bing had in mind.”

Der Bingle had a good time in mind when he and Pat O'Brien opened Del Mar as a summer place to attract their fellow Tinseltown swells, the horsey set and the players. But Del Mar and Saratoga are the hearty among the endangered species. This is an off-track game now.

“Maybe 20 percent of bets take place at the track,” says our ace handicapper, Bob “Eisenhower” Ike. “Eighty percent is bet at either simulcast locations, phone betting or Internet accounts. Hollywood Park is like a morgue now.”

But Del Mar is aces

The gates are scheduled to open at 11:30. The mob begins to enter at 11:27, jumping the start. Immediately there are 10 people in line for margaritas. There is the annual The One and Only Truly Fabulous Hat Contest, featuring more feathers than there are in Arkansas. One woman has a hat that is a hot air balloon. Makes for an easy escape when you tap out.

Here's fabled gatecrasher Dion Rich, wearing the worst jacket in opening day history. “It is terrible,” he admits, not caring, as usual. Sartorially, he's a boil on the neck of this crowd.

Jerry Tarkanian swings by. Someone recognizable. “The Chargers are going to be good,” Tark says. He said the same thing in 2004. Dead on. One optimist who wasn't a Spanos.

Time to head down to the Turf Club, where the elite meet on opening day to show off their finery and chapeaus and drop names of their plastic surgeons. But there is plenty enough of what Mother Nature has wrought to suit me.

It is a beauty pageant, only with more beauty – and money and pageantry. And it's jammed. The hats are more stylish this year, classier, not as outrageous, although there are a few. I get brushed in the face with tentacles hanging from a wild hat. I'm fine. I've had my shots.

On opening day, the Turf Club at Del Mar is up there with Yosemite, Niagara, Yellowstone and fall foliage in New England – if you're into viewing beautiful things.

You can get fat (and hopelessly sick) from so much visual confection, so it's back upstairs for the first race.

Horses don't like me, although I like them, as everyone knows. I can't ever recall winning the first race on opening day. Hard to remember winning a race. To me, betting on the nags is a complete waste of time, and – much worse – money.

I box a trifecta. Pays $105. It's an easy game.

Del Mar loves me, after all. Nick Canepa: (619) 293-1397;

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