Opening Day to feature traditional festivities and more

Nani Richards, Chanel Stephens and Lauren Donahue were participants in the 2019 Opening Day Hats Contest.
Nani Richards, Chanel Stephens and Lauren Donahue were participants in the 2019 Opening Day Hats Contest.
(Jon Clark)

Racegoers have extra reason to celebrate Del Mar’s Opening Day this year.

Not only does it mark the return of one of the region’s major social scene events, but it’s also the first time the public will be permitted to return to the track since the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down in March 2020.

“Welcoming back racing fans is what we’re definitely most looking forward to (this season),” said Chris Bahr, director of events and promotions.

And the fans appear to be just as eager to come back, as the nearly 15,000 seats are already sold out for the July 16 starting date.

With admission restricted to ticket holders, the crowd will be thinner than a typical Opening Day. But everyone there can still expect to see the latest fashion styles on parade and experience some of the traditional festivities associated with the event.

The Hats Contest is among the returning favorites, with more than $4,000 in prizes at stake. Participants can enter in one of four categories - Best Racing Theme, Most Glamorous, Best Fascinator or Best Flowers - between noon and 3 p.m. in the Plaza de Mexico. First place in each category will win $300 and a $250 Studio Savvy Salon gift basket, while second place will receive $200 and third place will net $100. The first-place winners in each category will be brought to the winners circle after the sixth race, and a grand-prize winner will then be selected and rewarded with two VIP tickets ($1,000 value) to the 2021 Breeders’ Cup World Championships on Nov. 5-6 at Del Mar.

Racing action will begin at a special first post time of 2 p.m. (typically 4 p.m. most Fridays), and the Red Bull Skydivers will descend between races early in the card. The crowd will also be entertained with a rendition of “Where the Turf Meets the Surf” during Sing With Bing before Race 6. The featured race will be the traditional Opening Day headliner – the $100,000 Runhappy Oceanside Stakes – for 3-year-olds at 1 mile on the turf course.

Those who are unable to attend Opening Day at the track can still partake in posh bashes off site and toast to the start of a new season.

One event is the Official After Pony Party, slated from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa, 5921 Valencia Circle, Rancho Santa Fe. Guests will be able to mingle with jockeys and other industry insiders while nibbling on hors d’oeuvres and sipping on a welcome cocktail. There will also be dancing - with music provided by the official disc jockey of the Miami Heat, DJ Irie - and a cash bar. General admission tickets are $200 and must be purchased before the event; go to

There is also an Opening Day After Party from 5 p.m. to midnight at L’Auberge Del Mar, 1540 Camino Del Mar. There will be cocktails, bites, dancing and music provided by DJs FishFonics and Gabe Vega. The cost is $275; go to