The trip to Del Mar, the latest stop on the 1995 McChump Racing Tour, got started out auspiciously enough. On the flight to San Diego I got to catch up on some reading, and noted to my satisfaction that the maligned Layton Hill had followed up his recent 2nd with a win in his next outing at Del Mar, a CLM20000 event in which he was taken by trainer Mike Mitchell. I also noted that another graduate of the Arizona racing circuit, Hayden Lake, had also won at Del Mar, the same week, for CLM10000. Hooray for the cheap horses! Finally, I found additional cause for good spirits in a totally insane letter to the Bloodhorse editors in which the author attempted to make the point that a terrible country like America that would give Baby Richard back to his biological parents should take a lesson from the sheer democracy of the mutuel pools. At least I think that was the point.
Things only got brighter when I got off the plane early Saturday morning and McChump #2 informed me that a spectator had jumped the fence at Del Mar two days before and raced down the track in front of the horses, in an attempt to commit suicide. How outstanding! I was sure this was going to be a good trip now!
We had a leisurely Mexican breakfast in a small Del Mar cafe, and then spent an hour or so handicapping in a park overlooking the beach and the surfers. I was told that 80 degrees made it hot that day by San Diego standards, but after this miserable hot summer in Illinois, the ocean breeze and relatively humidity free air was a cool treat for me.
At first sight, the Del Mar racetrack is indeed impressive, what with the fairgrounds facilities and all. The track grandstand structure itself, especially the backside overlooking the paddock, is beautiful - tan stucco, and tiled roofs everywhere, a terraced Spanish style construction with lots of small balconies for people to view the paddock from, all sporting an impressive array of flowers, a clock tower that is muy, muy groovy, and a very pretty paddock. Much different from the modern glass and marble of Arlington, and a far cry from the battleship superstructure of Sportsmans. And a mariachi band playing as we entered. Ole!
But as we got closer and closer to actually being *inside* I slowly came to the realization that I was entering every Derby Lister's nightmare - The Racetrack of High Prices. $3 parking. $6 clubhouse admission. $1.50 for the little programs; $2 for expanded. $3.25 DRF's. $3.75 small beers. $4.25 large beers. $5 sandwiches. Some ridiculous price for hotdogs which I did not buy because I was warned off them - "super sodium dogs". Hamburgers in the $4 range. Etc. In other words, everything anyone on this list has ever complained about. And oh yeah - no free seating anywhere on the clubhouse side, and only one small free grandstand section, with the rest of the freebies being out in the sun. Not even much of an apron to walk around on, clubhouse side, and even if you could, the track is a little above the apron, so you end up staring right at the rail, eye level. Not a good spot to watch from, at all. At first, all these things were small aggravations, and well worth the price of admission to one of the premier meets of American racing. But as the weekend went on, the aggravation built up.
And some other things bugged me, too:
Enough whining. Things I liked:
-Employees - generally friendly and helpful. Since I was mostly using machines I
cannot estimate the Surly Teller Quotient.
The Classic - We got a great spot by the paddock and got a good view of the horses (that is, as good as we could get through the 200 or so connections - of 6 horses - who jammed the paddock). John Mabee was looking quite dapper. Concern is a smallish horse, and looked rather uninterested and not at all well muscled up. He looked like a beatable 6/5 fave. Tinner's Way was awesome in the paddock, big, and sharp, and well muscled. Soul of the Matter wasn't far behind, with as nice a healthy sheen to him as I've ever seen on a horse. I played Tinner's to win, and my buddy played Soul with an added Tinner's/Soul exacta box. All paddock inspection - it does work. Well, that coupled with having tossed two of the other three horses earlier.
Our Betting - Winning the Classic didn't make us rich of course. By the end of Sunday I was down $70 for the weekend and McChump #2 was worse. He got a little healthy with a big win bet on Track Gal to beat Lakeway, but by the time Sunday's 10th, and our final, race rolled around we were desperate. I took my voucher to the machine with the intent of either scoring big or walking out with a voucher so small it would only interest Steve McNatton. I boxed some horses I liked in a quinella and then dumped what was left on a 10-1 longshot being ridden by Gary Stevens. My buddy boxed that same longshot up with a couple other horses in an exacta. The race went off and our horse, the 8, was locked up in a speed duel on the front end of a route. "Too fast", we were saying, and "Too fast" from everyone around. But Stevens took the horse home, a photo produced one of my buddy's horses in 2nd. I left Del Mar with 1.5 times as much (betting) money as I'd brought. And I left in a much happier mood.
Bottom line on Del Mar:
-It's pretty, but I think there's prettier. Paddock area is definitely the best
All in all I rate it above average, but certainly not this wonderful something that I expected, which I'm not even sure what that was - maybe the Land of Oz or something. I guess if you're rich and famous and can go to Del Mar for the whole season and get into the whole social scene it might be something special. Our social scene was a Saturday eve trip to the much touted Belly Up bar only to find it was Big Band music night and the cover was $7.50 - hardly inspiring a desire to return. I don't think I would spend the money to fly across country to do it again. Nice place to visit, once.
At least we got free hats.
They were kinda small, though.
Mosey on back to the McChump Tour main page or the 1995 Tour