As a kid growing up, I was lucky enough to call Saratoga one of my family’s regular vacation destinations. Many an August week in the seventies and into the eighties we spent hunkered down at an idyllic little spot called Lake Paradise. Less than an half an hour’s drive from Saratoga, it could not have been a better place for a racehorse loving family to spend part of their summer. It was truly a slice of heaven on earth for a very young Zipse at the Track. Unfortunately, Lake Paradise is no longer, and my days at Saratoga are less now than they used to be. Luckily, our nation is full of great racetracks to enjoy. Nowadays, I get to spend many of my racetrack getaways with my wife, Candice, and my daughter, Kendra. They have already visited more racing venues than Candice could have ever dreamed about before we met. Few of these places can quite stack up to Saratoga, though. Perhaps there are only a couple that can rival the Spa for the combination of quality racing with the total fan experience. I am happy to say, for my family and I, one such place is Del Mar. While the grandeur of Saratoga was reality for me in the early years, the wonderful mystery of Del Mar was more like the great white whale. I knew it was out there, but it seemed like a place I might never find. As you can imagine, the build-up in my mind was pretty fantastic. I was 22-years-old, when I decided to go on the ultimate solo road trip. It was just me, my old Dodge Daytona, a few summer weeks to kill, and a dream to find the new Saratoga. I traveled through the endless plains; saw a little snow in the Rockies, and made it through 125 degrees in the Las Vegas sun. I finally made it to “Where The Turf Meets The Surf” for the first time in the summer of 1991. With these kind of unreasonable expectations, Del Mar was sure to fall short. It did not. Bing Crosby really knew what he was doing when he founded the seaside track back in 1937. When it all began, Bing collected tickets at the turnstile to get the place going. Crosby and his Hollywood pals created Del Mar as the ultimate summer place to hang out, have fun, and watch great racing. Those simple goals are as true now as ever, and that is exactly what my family and I found last summer.
Let’s face it, while most of the country suffers the heat and humidity of the dog days of summer, Suburban San Diego is an ocean oasis. The greatest summer climate in America runs from the city right up the coast through the doors of Del Mar. A cool Pacific breeze welcomes all past the picturesque paddock, through a historic grandstand, and into a lively and entertaining infield. What is it about tracks that allow fans into the infield that I enjoy so much? If your mind strays away from the business at hand, all the wonderful horses that run at Del Mar every Wednesday through Sunday, it is an easy place just to have a good time with other fun loving fans and the Pacific Ocean just across the street.
If you’ve already done the math, you know that this is Del Mar’s Diamond Anniversary. Embarking on year number 75, the good folks at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club intend to make the most of a milestone summer. The meeting begins this Wednesday and will continue through September 5, including a special race day on the Monday of Labor Day weekend. Seven grade I races will highlight the meet including this Saturday’s Eddie Read Stakes and the meet’s cornerstone event, the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic on Sunday, August 26. Last year, you might remember the Eclipse Award winning Caifornia-bred, Acclamation completed an unprecedented sweep of the two big races. The now 6-year-old California-bred, honored with an Eclipse Award in the Older Male division for last year’s accomplishments is back with one win under his belt in 2012, and ready to try to match the feat again this year. Adding to the unique experience that is Del Mar, will be Friday night post-race concerts, with such performers as Ben Harper and Ziggy Marley. And if you are still worried that all this, the horses, and sipping cocktails and eating the best fish tacos in the world are not enough to entice the family, remember the world class city of San Diego is less than a half hour drive away. Last summer when we weren’t at the track, or eating fantastic food, my family and I enjoyed daytrips to Sea World and Coronado Island. I still have not made it to Torrey Pines for one of the most scenic days of golf in my life, but that is also just minutes away, and will happen for me sooner than later. If you’ve never been to Del Mar yet, I urge you to not wait too much longer to get there. It is truly worth the trip. And if you are thinking about going this year, again don’t wait too long, because it only lasts for 37 days, starting with a Wednesday card that features two divisions of the Oceanside Stakes. And then it is gone again, just like that great white whale.