Bing Crosby opened the seaside track named Del Mar back in 1937. Now, 73 years later, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club’s summer meet has become one of the premiere horse racing meetings in the country.
When my sister, Emily (far right) showed me the above photo, it brought back so many memories of the place where “the turf meets the surf”. Grandpa Howard (left) loved Del Mar. He loved the long drives so he could tell us stories about the races and the people and his father, who I was named after, who was a big-time New York bookmaker. Grandma Rudee (between me and Em) loved getting dressed up and wearing her hats and fancy dresses and betting on ONLY grey horses (I forgot to mention this in last weeks “gambling” blog).
When we arrived at the races, Gramps would give each of us $10 to gamble with. My sister would bide her time, bet small, and generally not only turn a profit, she would return the original $10 to Gramps. Not me. I’d bet all $10 on a daily double (they only had two daily doubles back in the day) and if I lost the first, I’d be right back in Gramps pocket begging for another $10! I remember the anticipation of a trip to Del Mar. Reading the Form until I couldn’t keep my eyes open.
To this day, Em and I still handicap. She loves the Pick five now (thank you Andy Asaro) and loves putting in pretend tickets and then telling me how she went four for five. She’s actually a good handicapper and comes up with nice value bets from time to time. She constantly makes fun of me because of the conviction I have for my own selections. I always tell her, “right or wrong… if you speak with conviction, people will listen.”
I find myself getting teary eyed when I speak about the golden days of Del Mar and of family. Now that my racing family, Little Red Feather, has become one of the leading horse partnership groups in the country, there are even more memories, family memories, that stir my emotions.
In the summer of 2003, trainer Don Chatlos brought an inexpensive son of Sultry Song to the Opening Day at Del Mar Oceanside Stakes. Singeltary was his name and – as many of you remember – the colt would go on to win the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Lone Star Park. It was a picturesque day on Opening Day at Del Mar in 2003 and one of our partners, Barry Fadem, was staring up at the tote board in the paddock. I caught him looking around and I caught him wiping his eyes. I walked up to Barry, put my arm around and him and asked him if he was ok? He put his arm back around me and he said simply, “I’m fine. I’m just so happy. I never thought this would happen to me.” That moment right there, standing in the paddock on Opening Day, that memory, will last forever and makes me appreciate how lucky I am.
Last night, we had dinner with McCall Rounsefell, daughter of the late great Mike Mitchell. Mike is Del Mar’s all-time winningest trainer and he loved Del Mar. Mike had a passion for everything… especially racing at Del Mar and, like McCall, I miss Mike’s presence. Late in the summer of 2011, we debuted a grey, almost white daughter of Alphabet Soup named Egg Drop. Mike loved this filly. She had a spirit just like his. She shared his passion and she loved to run. On this Labor Day weekend, I stood right next to Mike as watched Egg Drop dual on the lead, fend off one challenger, then fight off a Bob Baffert filly (who would later win a GI race) named Contested. When Egg Drop crossed the Del Mar finish line in front, Mike and I embraced and both of us started crying. My son, Walker, was with me and he couldn’t understand why we were crying. I tried to explain that sometimes you cry when you are happy too. Today will be the first Del Mar Opening Day without its all-time leading trainer but I know Mike is up there looking down on all of us. I hope he knows how much he is missed.
If you are not at Opening Day at Del Mar today… you have eight more weeks to get out to Del Mar and make some memories of your own. I promise, they have a chance to be very special ones.