In the late 1930’s, famous movie star and singer Bing Crosby set out to follow his dream of building a horse track at Del Mar in the cool Pacific Ocean breezes. Bing wanted a club where he and his friends could bet the horses all day and party all night. Thus was the Del Mar Horse Track born and built.
When the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and race track opened, Bing himself took tickets at the gate and welcomed race fans to what was to become one of the most famous race tracks in the United States, visited by race fans, horse owners and sports enthusiasts from all over the world.
In August of 1938, the famous-to-this-day race that put Del Mar on the map took place – the match between Seabiscuit and Ligaroti. Remember, this was a time when only baseball was more popular than horse racing in the American sports psyche. The race was major front page news in the sports sections of major daily newspapers all across the country. Seabiscuit won this hugely important race in front of a record crowd. The Del Mar Race Track went on to become one of the most famous racetracks in the world.
The following years brought even more stars and celebrities to Del Mar and the race track: Red Skelton, Douglas Fairbanks, Lucy Ball, Desi Arnaz (“Lucy, you some ‘splainin to do!”) and Ava Gardner. The track was also frequented by Joe Frisco, a softly stuttering comic of the day, who would relate his success at “Bing’s” racetrack thusly: “I came by the racetrack yesterday but it was closed, so I just sh-shoved the money under the front gate.”
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Del Mar was closed for the duration of the war. The fairgrounds were initially used as a U.S. Marine training facility, then altered again and used to produce parts for the B-17 bombers that helped win the war. When the war ended, President Truman declared August 15, 1945 a national day of celebration. More than 20,300 horse racing fans showed up at the Del Mar track and bet an enormous (in those days) one million dollars.
Shortly thereafter the railroad started a special promotion. The “railroad/racetrack special” brought race patrons from Los Angeles to Del Mar. Meeting the train and “star watching” became popular sport for track patrons and locals. Today, more than 70 years (and nearly $60,000,000 in improvements) later, the racing season will once again begin on July 22, 2009 through September 9.
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