My husband and I recently travelled with friends to Del Mar Race Track in Solano Beach for a day at the races. Had a great time; and with the help of one of my tipsters, I won a few dollars.
Why do I mention Del Mar on a classic movies blog? Because Del Mar Race Track is very much a creation of the classic movie colony in Hollywood.
Until the early 1930’s, California betters had to rely on the Agua Caliente racetrack in Tijuana, Mexico for gambling, drinking, and good times. In 1933, the California State Legislature passed Proposition 3, which allowed for the regulation of horse racing in the state of California. With the implementation of Prop. 3 and the removal of Prohibition that same year, California got the green light in terms of building race tracks throughout the state. Within the next few years the construction of Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, and Del Mar made the “sport of kings” available for all Southern California racing enthusiasts.
In 1936, Hollywood star and singer Bing Crosby and stockbroker William A. Quigley founded the Del Mar Turf Club. The race track’s board featured luminaries from the world of Hollywood: Crosby was President, actors Pat O’Brien and Oliver Hardy were officers, and actors Joe E. Brown, Gary Cooper, and other major players within Tinseltown made up the executive committee.
Crosby worked tirelessly to promote the new racetrack, and personally oversaw the construction and design of the Del Mar Turf Club. He even created the Del Mar catchphrase, “Where the Surf Meets the Turf,” from a song that he and other actors sang on the radio to promote Del Mar. On July 3, 1937, Crosby was at the front gate to welcome the first betters into the racetrack area.
Hollywood personalities like Betty Grable, Dorothy Lamour, W.C. Fields, Paulette Goddard, Don Ameche, Ava Gardner, Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Taylor, Dick Powell, and countless others visited the track both pre- and post-WWII.
In 1938, Del Mar Racetrack hosted a notorious match race between the celebrated Seabiscuit (owned by Charles Howard) and Argentina-bred Ligaroti (owned by Howard’s son Lin). I use the word “notorious” because according to writer Laura Hillenbrand, the two jockeys literally engaged in hand-to-hand combat all the way down the stretch. (Remember, this was before extensive video coverage kept athletes on their best behavior.) At one point, Ligaroti’s jockey grabbed onto Seabiscuit’s saddlecloth and locked his leg over the other jockey’s leg. The skirmish finally ended twenty lengths from the end, when Seabiscuit broke free and plunged under the wire, one split second ahead of the other horse.
Decades later, after at least one grandstand re-build, Del Mar is still going strong. You can visit the racetrack this summer for meets that run from July 15th to September 5th. See dmtc.com (Del Mar Thoroughbred) for details.
Williams, Amy. “The Del Mar Race Track: 75 Years of Turf and Surf” sandiegohistory.org/journal/v58-3/v58-3williams.pdf. Web. Accessed 7 August 2016.
Hillenbrand, Laura. Seabiscuit: An American Legend. Ballantine Books, New York. 2001.
Del Mar Thoroughbred website https://www.dmtc.com/
Image of Bing Crosby obtained from Wikimedia Public Domain.