Del Mar Racetrack: High-stakes, High-society

Luxury Gaming: From the prize-winning thoroughbreds and high-stake races to the flamboyant hats and free-flowing hemlines, the Del Mar Racetrack boasts a pageantry all its own. Since its inception in 1937, the Del Mar Racetrack has served as a playground to some of the world's most recognizable faces. Back in their heydays, notables such as the legendary Bing Crosby and the infamous Jimmy Durante helped put the track on the map and ultimately turn it into what it is today—a place where young and old, middle and upper class can partake in some all-American festivities.

While the racetrack is accommodating to all walks of life, it is the behind-the-scenes action and lavish lifestyle, which we know appeals to our readers. So this year rather than battling the crowds at opening day, throwing elbows to place bets, or missing an entire race while stuck in an endless restroom line, we decided to experience the track in a way that would make Bing himself proud.

We knew we had arrived as the smell of freshly-cut cigars blended with the (surprisingly pleasurable) aroma dé equine lingered in the crisp coastal San Diego air. If I had been anywhere else—say a rustic farm—the pungent odor of horses and their stables wouldn't seem nearly as appealing. However, something about the smell of the racetrack ignites a feeling of excitement and anticipation; and if I could bottle it up, I'd wear it everyday.

While making our way to the O'Brian gate, the plethora of valeted cars seemed strategically parked as to prepare us for what was ahead. The range of Bentleys, Phantoms and Roll Royces was few and far between, and with an ambiance reminiscent of a collector's garage, the myriad of luxury vehicles signified all that I loved about racing season.

Perched high above in the thoroughbreds' elite social society, the Turf Club represents a more refined setting, where the well-heeled crowd sips martinis and hobnobs with their own. To keep the beer guzzling rough necks at a safe distance and to ensure proper etiquette and attire is maintained, the Turf Club's door is heavily armed with a veteran watchdog. Don't get me wrong, everyone is extremely accommodating and exceptionally polite—a tasteful glimpse of civilization at its finest. The Turf Club's walls are sheathed in soft overtones; the furniture as plush as the highly trafficked carpet; and the bar as popular as the day's favorite.

As the maître de pencils his way down his coveted list, my anxiety soon turns to relief as he graciously tells one of his lackeys to show us to our table. Though the parade of oversized hats had already flooded the gates earlier in the week and the blushing Big Hat Contest winner had already been crowned, there were plenty of elegantly tailored oversized brims to be seen. Behind its private doors, the Turf Club serves as a stomping ground of sorts for those of old money, new money, and those who pretend to have money. Amidst its distinguished members, I noticed the occasional grandparent instilling their infinite wisdom and bestowing the secrets of their sophisticated lifestyle upon their unknowingly privileged heirs.

After our server—who looked like he fell from the pages of GQ Magazine—took our order it was time to start picking some winners. Engulfed in my race program, with every form sold on the grounds spread before me, I hardly noticed how long it took to get my first drink. However, when the 20-something server returned with my drink in hand, flashing those pearly whites of his, my mind went elsewhere. Okay, back to my picks. Should I go with favorites Michael Baze and newcomer Joseph Talamo even though Victor Espinoza has always proved profitable? And what about Corey Nakatani? I've heard he's one to watch. My concentration was interrupted as the voice behind the loud speaker announced the day's scratches. Oh no, Sunday Dress is scratched in the fifth. I had big plans for that gelding.

As it turned out, I ended up doing pretty well thanks to the help of several phone calls to friends, who provided me with their extensive handicapping knowledge and insider information. It may have been a blessing in disguise that Sunday Dress was scratched because in that same race I won a trifecta (a box actually), and the pay out was an unexpected chump of change. Now with even more cash to place bets, I ran to the teller and found myself laughing at the sign, which read something along the lines of, "If you feel you or someone you know has a gambling problem...." Of course this didn't apply to me—perhaps those in the large transaction lines—but not me. However, temptation does surface its pretty face when you see how a $2 bet can payout on a longshot.

While the Turf Club, located on the fourth and fifth floors, provides a sweeping panoramic of the ponies, there are even more exclusive places to watch your favorite filly. Within the Turf Club, there is one Luxury Suite available daily, which can accommodate a group of 25. If you make your way though its waiting list, you can spend the day at the races in style with your own private cocktail bar, food service, stand-alone mutuel machine, television monitors, and more. The Luxury Suite can be booked for $1,200 per day.

For the most elite and avid track-goers, the Skyrooms and Celebrity Suites can be reserved for the entire racing season. These posh suites can accommodate your entire entourage and feature balconies overlooking the track, buffet menus, a private mutuel clerk, an abundance of television monitors, and not to mention air-conditioning.

With a history so vast and varied, Del Mar's prestigious surfside racetrack has earned itself a reputation as being among the top racetracks nationwide. From Bing Crosby's celebrated rendition of "Where the turf meets the surf" to its monumental $1 million Pacific Classic (instituted in 1999) the Del Mar Racetrack has been a staple in San Diego for as long as one can remember. These days, the introduction of the new $9 million polytrack, comprised primarily of silica sand, fibers, recycled rubber—and a secret ingredient known only by the developer—has created quite a buzz in the world of racing. Del Mar is the fourth racetrack nationwide to install the synthetic surface and now meets the California Horse Racing Board's guidelines just in time for the 2007 season.

The 7-inch high polytrack is said to provide a more firm footing, making it safer for the horses and jockeys. While in the Winners' Circle, I inconspicuously used my heel to test its density and found that the substance, resembling recycled waste, was in fact as loose as packed dirt. An insider shared a secret she described as being so helpful it should be sold. For those fortunate enough to get so close that the composite sticks to your heels, the hot air from a blow dryer is the perfect remedy to melt away the clinging rubber.

Whether you make it to the Turf Club or better yet a Skyroom, the Del Mar Racetrack remains a choice locale for not only San Diegans but race fans worldwide. And with a slogan like "Where the turf meets the surf," nothing compares to Del Mar with its seaside gaming, beautiful people, and old Hollywood essence.

Christina Stewart

In her role as managing editor, Christina has developed a keen eye for all things luxury and is considered by many to be an expert within her field. Christina has covered a wide range of luxury lifestyle topics and finds passion in international travel, fast cars, and fabulous handbags. She graduated from San Diego State University in 2005 with a degree in both journalism and English. While attend...(Read More)

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