DEL MAR, Calif. (AP) “The Turf Meets the Surf” at Del Mar this weekend, the crowning moment for the track founded by Bing Crosby, Pat O’Brien and their Hollywood pals in 1937.
Nestled in a seaside resort north of San Diego, Del Mar will be hosting its first Breeders’ Cup. The $28 million, 13-race season-ending championships start with four races Friday followed by nine more on Saturday, culminating with the $6 million Classic.
Crosby wrote and recorded the ditty “Where the Turf meets the Surf”, the track’s signature theme, still played before and after each racing program.
Del Mar was the West Coast answer to Saratoga, a getaway for racing fans to trade the big-city summer heat for the cooling ocean breezes.
The track made a first big splash in 1938 when Seabiscuit, a national hero in the depths of the Great Depression, beat Ligaroti by a nose in a match race.
The track is home to several prestigious races, including the $1 million Pacific Classic. But the Breeders’ Cup will elevate Del Mar to another level as an international showcase for racing’s biggest stars.
“We’ve had many wonderful racing events and thousands of special racing people be part of our rich history,” Del Mar President Joe Harper said. “But bringing the Breeders’ Cup horses, horsemen and their worldwide fans to our seaside showplace just might be our show of shows.”
It took a lot of work, and a major investment, to finally land the Breeders’ Cup.
Southern California is frequent stop for the Breeders’ Cup. Until now, the venues have always been in the Los Angeles area.
Hollywood Park was the site of the first Breeders’ Cup in 1984. That track played host twice more before it closed in 2013. Santa Anita has had the Breeders’ Cup a record nine times.
Del Mar was never under consideration until it widened the turf course. The $5 million project, completed in time for the 2014 summer season, now meets the Breeders’ Cup requirement to accommodate 14 horses in grass races.
“We were basically a nonstarter until we got the turf course widened,” said Craig Dado, vice president and chief marketing officer. “Before that, we could only run 10 on the turf. Widening the course not only made us eligible for a Breeders’ Cup, but also allow us more runners in turf races in general.”
That was the clincher. Del Mar had everything else going for it: history, good weather in early November and an excellent reputation.
“Del Mar is the place where a trainer goes when he dies and goes to heaven,” said trainer Mark Casse, a three-time Breeders’ Cup winner.
The track will be spruced up for the weekend with temporary “chalets” to expand dining options and the facility decked out to accommodate a full house.
Attendance will be capped at 38,000 for both Friday and Saturday. Only a few tickets remain for Friday, according to Dado. Saturday is sold out.
Roughly 75 percent of the tickets were purchased by fans from outside Southern California. Visitors will find a different kind of Breeders’ Cup.
“The element we’re adding here is the beach,” Dado said. “The whole beach lifestyle, the beach culture that you see throughout Del Mar and the surrounding cities. You’ll see that in all the events leading up to the weekend.”
Not surprising, for the track “Where the Turf meets the Surf.”