Del Mar, the scenic seaside oval "where the turf meets the surf," first opened its gates in 1937. The man at the turnstile collecting tickets that sunny July 3 afternoon was none other than the fellow known as "Der Bingle" or ''The Crooner," the original laid-back Californian himself, Bing Crosby.
Bing and a bunch of his Hollywood buddies hatched this marvelous idea for a horse palace by the ocean where you could play all day, party all night and leave the cares of the world behind.
That first day 15,000-plus came for a look and, when word got around, there were more than 18,000 on hand for the second afternoon. The little horse course hard by the blue Pacific had made its mark and 75 years later continues to draw equine fanciers from near and far to its seven-week swirl of high-class hoofbeats by the sea.
Out on the track itself, Del Mar has had its share of magic moments. Drawing on its Hollywood connection, the sun-splashed plant was the first to make use of the photo-finish camera at its inaugural meet in 1937. The camera, an invention of Lorenzo del Riccio, an optical engineer who headed Paramount Pictures' technical research laboratories, was designed to produce a strip photograph of the passage of time at a fixed point, in this case the finish line. In 1938, Del Mar hosted the historic match race between the American handicap champion Seabiscuit and the South American import Ligaroti. It was for $25,000 winner-take-all, drew 20,000 to the track and was heard coast-to-coast on the NBC radio network.
At the end of a ferocious battle that saw the horses trading head bobs and the riders trading whip slashes, 'The Biscuit" won by a nose in 1:49, breaking the nine-furlong track record by four seconds.
Del Mar was also the place where John Longden became the world's winningest rider on Labor Day of 1956 when he rode his 4,871 $I winner to surpass the Englishman Sir Gordon Richards. Fourteen Labor Days later in 1970, Longden's title of "winningest rider of all" fell to a tiny Texan named Bill Shoemaker when he booted home Dares J for his 6,033rd victory. There to shake The Shoe's hand in the Del Mar winner's circle was Longden himself.
In recent times the track has been a fertile proving ground for many of the nation's best horses and horsemen. Its 2-year-old program has shone the first spotlight on many of the sport's stars-to-be and its 3-year-old grass stakes series is among the most popular and competitive high-profile events in the country. In 1991, the track inaugurated its richest and most prestigious offering, the $1 million Pacific Classic. The Grade I feature quickly became one of the nation's top summer prizes while being offered at the classic American distance of a mile and one quarter.
In 2012, Del Mar continued its run as one of the nation's top tracks in the key categories of daily average attendance and handle. Its on-track count of 17,623 put it in the forefront of North American meets, and its daily handle of $12,393,240 placed the shore oval among the cream of the country's racing crop.
During the 2012 season, when the track again raced five days per week, horsemen received $25,437,439 in purses, fees, and awards during the 37-day stand for a record daily average of $687,498. The totals included 33 major stakes worth nearly $7 million.