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Del Mar racing: Where the turf meets the surf

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Bing Crosby would be glad to see his beloved Del Mar Thoroughbred Club is celebrating 71 years. In honor of its birthday, racing fans gathered Wednesday, July 21 “where the turf meets the surf” to begin the annual race series for the 2010 season. Throughout the summer, Del Mar will race five days a week — Wednesdays through Sundays, with Mondays and Tuesdays dark days.

The premier race of the Del Mar season is the Grade I, $1-million Pacific Classic at 1 1/4 miles on the main track and is likely to draw defending champion Richard’s Kid and the veteran Awesome Gem, who could be making his fourth start in the race and is fresh off a come-from-behind victory in the Hollywood Gold Cup. Other runners considered candidates for the headliner are 3-year-old ace Sidney’s Candy and current grass champion Gio Ponti.

A sidelight to this year’s Pacific Classic is the fact that the inaugural winner, Best Pal in 1991, will be inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame August 13 at Saratoga Springs, N.Y. The Golden Eagle Farm homebred had a career record of 18 victories, 11 seconds and four thirds in 47 starts and career earnings of $5,668,245; still good enough to be second all-time among all California-breds behind two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Tiznow’s $6.4 million. Also being inducted is Azeri, 2002 and ’03 winner of the Clement L. Hirsch. She was America’s three-time champion older filly or mare (2002-04) and Horse of the Year in 2002.

Del Mar will welcome back a coterie of fine trainers who perform at the highest levels, including Hall of Famers Bob Baffert, inducted last year; Ron McAnally, Neil Drysdale, Richard Mandella and Jack Van Berg. Add to that quintet defending champion John Sadler, trying for his third straight Del Mar training crown; three-time leader Doug O’Neill, and other seasonal champions Jeff Mullins, Mike Mitchell, Bill Spawr and Bob Hess Jr., and fans can count on a cast of top-notch conditioners.

The seashore track’s riding colony boasts three of the most promising young riders in the country in Joel Rosario, last year’s local riding champ; 2008’s top winner Rafael Bejarano, who was injured on the second day of the 2009 meet and was out of action until the closing days, and Martin Garcia, who won the 2010 Santa Anita Handicap with Misremembered and the 2010 Preakness Stakes aboard 2009 Del Mar Futurity winner Lookin At Lucky. In addition, Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, regular rider of Zenyatta, leads a large contingent of veterans that includes Tyler Baze, Del Mar’s 2009 runner-up; Joe Talamo, fourth among last season’s riders; former champions Victor Espinoza and David Flores, and the returning Corey Nakatani, a three-time Del Mar riding champ who is also the track’s active leading stakes-winning jockey with 96 victories.

A Del Mar rider from the past — Don Pierce — will bring more honor to the seaside track as he enters racing’s Hall of Fame, also, this year. Pierce, leading rider at Del Mar in 1966, rode in an era that included such other giants of the turf as Bill Shoemaker, John Longden, Darrel McHargue, Fernando Toro and a young Laffit Pincay, Jr. Pierce’s Del Mar career.

This season one the highlights could be an attempt at a third straight victory in the track’s Grade I, $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes by super race mare Zenyatta. Zenyatta is currently a career perfect 17 for 17 and the only female to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. That victory came last November at Santa Anita which pushed her past the standard of 16 consecutive wins set by Citation, Mister Frisky and Cigar. The Hirsch, at 1 1/16 miles, is set for Saturday, August 7.

If the 6-year-old daughter of Street Cry wins her third Hirsch, she’ll join Native Diver, Flawlessly and Track Gal as the only horses to win the same Del Mar stakes race for three straight years. Native Diver won the San Diego Handicap 1963-65, Flawlessly was perfect in the Ramona Handicap (now the John C. Mabee Stakes) 1992-94 and Track Gal captured the Rancho Bernardo Handicap 1995-97.

The racetrack is located at the Fairgrounds in Del Mar, west of Interstate 5, 20 miles north of San Diego and approximately 100 miles south of Los Angeles.

What You Need to Know To Go:

POST TIMES: First race 2 p.m., except on Fridays when racing begins at 4 p.m. (first four Fridays of the meet) or 3:30 p.m. (last three Fridays of the meet); 1 p.m. post time on Pacific Classic Day, Saturday, August 28.

WAGERING: $2 Win, Place and Show; $2 Rolling Double on all races except last; 50-cent Pick Four on final four races; $1 exacta and $2 Quinella on all races; $1 Trifecta on all races with at least six betting interests; $1 Superfectas require at least eight betting interests and are held on all races except the first in the Pick Six sequence; 10-cent Superfectas; $1 Rolling Pick Three starting with first race; $2 Pick Six on day’s final six races; $1 Place Pick All; $1 Super High Five, requiring eight betting interests, on the day’s last race.

Early bird wagering is offered on track from 9 to 11 a.m. on all racing days except Fridays, when it is available from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Simulcast wagering commences each racing day at 11 a.m. Mondays and Tuesdays are dark.

PRICES: Admission to Stretch Run (includes Infield) $6/ Clubhouse $10 (all paid admissions receive a free program, a $2 value); Admission to Stretch Run for active military with ID free every day; Stretch Run reserved seat and Clubhouse reserved seat $5 Wednesday and Thursday; same seats cost $8 Friday, $10 Saturday and Sunday and Labor Day, $15 Opening Day and Pacific Classic Day.  General and Early Bird parking, $8, Valet, $20. Diamond Club members receive a 50% discount on Stretch Run and Clubhouse admissions every day. Sign up is free at Customer Service locations inside and outside the track.

INFORMATION:  www.delmarracing.com.

TICKET OFFICE: (858) 792-4242; hours, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday; 9 a.m. to noon, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.

Photos from Ewen and Donabel and kunstorm via Flickr

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