Del Mar Horse Racing
“Where the Turf Meets the Surf”
Del Mar Thoroughbred Club is an American horse racetrack at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in the seaside city of Del Mar, Calif. Founded in 1937 by Bing Crosby, Pat O’Brien, Jimmy Durante, Charles Howard and Oliver Hardy. Del Mar has had the distinction of being North America’s Number Two track in terms of attendance and betting for more than a decade. Officially known as Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, this charming horse racing haven hosts exciting thoroughbred races from July to September and a winter meet in November.
Del Mar Race Track History
The Depression in the 1930’s 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.
Film stars were frequent visitors due to the climate and the seclusion the area offered. Among these famous people 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 race track enjoyed moderate success from its opening. But in an era when horse racing ranked second in popularity with Americans to Major League Baseball, the match race was much written and talked about and was the first nationwide broadcast of a Thoroughbred race by NBC radio. In the race, Seabiscuit was ridden by jockey George Woolf and Ligaroti by Noel Richardson. In front of a record crowd that helped make the fledgling Del Mar race track a success, Seabiscuit won an exciting battle by a nose setting a new record for the distance in that race.
The track became a playground to many famous Hollywood stars by 1940. The first Bing Crosby Handicap was held at Del Mar in 1946 and that same year the Sante Fe Railroad began offering a racetrack special bringing spectators, bettors and horses to Del Mar from Los Angeles. Throughout the late 1940s and 1950s the track became the Saratoga of the West for summer racing. The track had large purses for many stakes, over half of which were won by the legendary jockey, Bill Shoemaker.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Del Mar continued to offer high quality racing to become one of the premier racetracks in the country. The track attempted to run a fall meet in the 1960s but later canceled it after getting uninspired results. This allowed for the creation of the Oak Tree Racing Association at Santa Anita race track.
In the 1980s the infield was opened to spectators and the track still offered the best summer racing in the West and continued to grow in purses, handle and attendance. In the 1990s the track underwent a major renovation. The grandstand of the Del Mar Fairgrounds was demolished and replaced. In 1991 the track ran its richest race to date, the Grade 1, $1,000,000 Pacific Classic Stakes. The first Classic was won by an impressive 3-year-old named Best Pal.