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2016 Del Mar racing season offers something for everyone

The paddock at Del Mar.
Photo by Kelley Carlson
The paddock at Del Mar. Photo by Kelley Carlson

Summer racing at Del Mar once again promises to be a flashy affair, with big hats, colorful silks, musical stars, and the return of the popular racehorse “Chrome.”

California Chrome is expected to return to Del Mar this season.
Photo by Kelley Carlson
California Chrome is expected to return to Del Mar this season. Photo by Kelley Carlson

The 39-day season kicks off July 15 and runs through Labor Day, Sept. 5.

“This year, there is especially something for everyone,” from family-oriented activities to food and drink events, music and a new discount program, said Chris Bahr, director of events and promotions. “Everything is back from past years, and we’re doing some experiments. We’re really happy how things have turned out for this year.”

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Among the highlights is the expected return of California Chrome. The 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner last appeared at the seaside oval almost two years ago, when he won the Grade I, $300,000 Hollywood Derby in his first try on the turf. In 2015, the chestnut horse spent much of his time overseas and took time off to recuperate from injuries, but he seems to be back to his winning ways this year. California Chrome won the Grade II, $200,500 San Pasqual Stakes in his seasonal debut, then traveled to Dubai, where he won the Grade I, $10 million Dubai World Cup, en route to becoming the richest racehorse in North American history.

According to California Chrome’s connections, the next stop is the Grade II, $200,000 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on July 23. If he does well, he could return in the Grade I, $1 million TVG Pacific Classic – and possibly face the champion filly Beholder – on Aug. 20.

Bahr said that if all goes according to plan, the public will be able to watch California Chrome work out around 7:45 a.m. July 16, just before the start of Donuts Day at 8 a.m.

California Chrome likely won’t be the only Kentucky Derby winner on the grounds, however. This year’s victor, Nyquist, is expected to train at Del Mar, although his next start was undetermined as of press time.

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Center stage

While much of the attention will be focused on horses during the day, performers from a variety of genres will be in the spotlight on Friday and Saturday evenings.

“Hands down, this is the best and most diverse lineup in our 20-year history (of concerts),” Bahr said.

Rock band 311 and reggae vocalist Matisyahu are expected to be among the most popular acts, and they’re slated to take the stage on Aug. 13. There will be other reggae artists during the season, as well, including Ziggy Marley (July 30), Pepper (Aug. 26) and The Wailers (Sept. 2). The country music scene will be represented by Chris Young on Aug. 12, while Grammy Award winner Brian Setzer will rock the house on Aug. 6. Several Electronic Dance Music (EDM) acts will energize the crowd, such as Girl Talk (Aug. 5), Thievery Corporation (Aug. 19) and Chromeo (Sept. 3). Alt-rock band Cold War Kids, whose songs include the hit “First,” will entertain fans on July 22, while returning indie pop group Fitz and the Tantrums will perform their soul-influenced tunes on July 29.

The concerts will be held in the Seaside Stage area and are free with racetrack admission; however, the cost goes up to $20 for those who enter after the last race. The performances are restricted to attendees ages 18 and older.

Each Friday, the track will host a weekly pre-concert party at its Cabana tent just outside the concert area. Radio station 91X will be broadcasting from the tent, and a warm-up band will provide live entertainment.

Fan fare

Food-centric affairs have proven to be a big hit at the seaside oval, and in 2016, there will be more than ever before.

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The first one for foodies is the Del Mar BBQ State Championship, set for July 17. More than 50 chefs will compete for cash prizes, and people will be able to buy four, 2-ounce “competition-ready” samples of chicken, brisket, ribs, pork and steak for $10.

Next will be a combination of two favorite events from past years – the San Diego Craft Beer Fest and Gourmet Food Truck Festival, to be held July 23. More than 40 food trucks and 100 local and international varieties of brews are expected to be on site. To save 15 percent, patrons can buy Beer Fest wristbands – good for five, 7-ounce samples plus racetrack admission – for $22 through July 17, at www.dmtc.com. The wristband will be $20 after that date and not include track entry.

The Western Chili Cookoff will also be back again this season, on Aug. 6. Guests can receive free samples from the cooks throughout the day and vote for their top choices, then meander to the Classic Car Show. About 20 vehicles will be on display, including the world’s most famous unrestored woodie.

New to the Del Mar scene is Tacotopia, in which attendees will help determine the top taco in Southern California and Tijuana on Aug. 13. The cost is $25 per person and $20 per child (ages 3 to 10), which covers unlimited tacos from more than 40 vendors and racetrack admission.

Another event making its debut is the Pizza & Beer Festival on Aug. 20. Mobile vendors will be on site to serve a variety of pies that can be paired with more than 100 craft brews. Visitors can buy five, 7-ounce brews for $20, or purchase full-size beers.

During the meet’s final weekend, on Sept. 3, there’s Spirits & Sliders, featuring more than 20 cocktails and spirits, a cigar lounge and live music. Patrons can buy 10-tab wristbands for $20; 5-ounce cocktails are 2 tabs, and quarter-ounce spirits are one tab.

Finally, there’s the Taste of the Turf Club every Sunday, beginning July 24. The $150-per-person fee includes Turf Club seating and admission, a choice of appetizer, entrée, dessert, and bottomless mimosas or bloody Marys.

Going for the giveaways

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The track will hold several giveaway promotions this summer. Kids ages 12 and younger will be able to take home 9-inch Webkinz plush horses on July 17, as part of the “super-sized” Family Fun Day in the infield. On Aug. 27, men and women will be able to walk away with Cobian Aqua Jump sandals that feature a custom Del Mar logo. Finally, on Closing Day, Sept. 5, Diamond Club members will receive free canvas bags.

Familiar favorites

Quite a few activities will be returning, from Daybreak at Del Mar on weekends (morning workouts and breakfast) to the daily Newcomers’ Seminars that offer free handicapping tips and selections. Race fans can meet their favorite athletes at Jockey Photo Day, from noon to 1 p.m. July 16, and enjoy free coffee and confections during question-and-answer sessions with riders and trainers during Donuts Days, from 8 to 10 a.m. July 16 and Aug. 13. Also, free family activities such as pony rides, inflatable obstacles, face painters and a magic show will be held every weekend in the infield.

People who aspire to own racehorses can attend the annual Paddock Sale, which will begin after the last race on July 23. About 30 to 40 “race-ready” equines will be offered. Potential new owners are encouraged to attend a seminar that morning; RSVP at (626) 574-6620 or www.toconline.com.

Those who prefer to spend their money placing bets can participate in the 13th annual Handicapping Challenge on July 23-24, which offers $300,000 in prizes. There is a $7,000 buy-in, with $5,000 designated for a live bankroll and $2,000 toward the prize pool. For more information, contact Bahr at chris@dmtc.com.

Del Mar discounts

As in the past, Del Mar will continue to offer reduced prices on admission, through Diamond Club promotions (signup is free), season passes and books of parking tickets.

But this summer, there will also be deals on food and beverages.

“We surveyed our fans, we did focus groups, and we had personal contacts, and they primarily pointed us toward wanting lower prices during a day at the races,” said Craig Dado, Del Mar’s chief marketing officer. “So we’re doing it. We’re offering discounts on all fronts – food and beverage especially, along with other price values for all.”

The “50% Bonus” program allows visitors to buy $30 worth of script for $20 each day they are at the races. The script – distributed in $10 chits – can be used for both food and beverage anywhere at the track, and throughout the season. To be eligible, guests must be Diamond Club members and be on their third visit to the track.

Also, during “Happy Hour(s) Fridays,” from 2 to 6 p.m. every Friday (except Opening Day, July 15), patrons will be able to buy the track’s signature cocktails for half price.

Sunny outlook

Track President Joe Harper has positive predictions heading into Del Mar’s 77th season.

“We had some circumstances go against us last year, but I see better times ahead,” he said. “We’re opening for the first time on a Friday in forever, and I think that will kick off a terrific starter weekend. We’ve got great racing lined up once more, and a ton of additional events and happenings set to go. You can’t beat a summer at Del Mar, and I can just feel that this one is going to be a winner.”

Del Mar racetrack 2016 season

• Dates: July 15-Sept. 5

• Location: Via de la Valle and Jimmy Durante Boulevard

• Post time: 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays; 4 p.m. Fridays (special first posts at 2 p.m. July 15, 3:30 p.m. Aug. 26 and Sept. 2); 2 p.m. Labor Day (Sept. 5)

• Admission: $6 Stretch Run ($10 Opening Day); $10 Clubhouse ($20 Opening Day); free for children 17 and younger

• Parking: $10 General, $15 Preferred, $25 Valet ($40 Opening Day)

• Information: 858-755-1141, www.dmtc.com

Concert lineup

Fri., July 22-Cold War Kids

Fri., July 29-Fitz and the Tantrums

Sat., July 30-Reggae Fest feat. Ziggy Marley

Fri., Aug. 5-Girl Talk

Sat., Aug. 6 Brian Setzer’s Rockabilly Riot!

Fri., Aug. 12-Chris Young

Sat., Aug. 13-311 & Matisyahu

Fri., Aug. 19-Thievery Corporation

Fri., Aug. 26-Pepper

Fri., Sept. 2-The Wailers

Sat., Sept. 3-Chromeo


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