Last week kicked off the “official first day of summer” in San Diego with the start of the Del Mar Races. The event is one big spectacle well worth its $20 entry fee (double the price compared to every other day during the season), replete with an amped crowd and visual feast of gorgeous horses, pinstripe suits and millinery that would make the Brits jealous.
No matter what level of experience you are after, you will more than likely have a good time. The general, or Clubhouse, level has the casual feel of almost any sporting event, with a much more fashionable twist—on Opening Day everyone comes out in full fashion using the opportunity to break out dapper apparel like wing-tip shoes and summery dresses suitable for cocktail hour.
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Highlights of the day included the Hat Contest, which brought lavishly embellished toppers with enormous amounts of flowers and feathers, as well as “The Party,” which saw guests enjoy a host of DJs, gourmet food trucks, dedicated betting areas and more. Throughout the season the Del Mar Races will also play host to a variety of events to pencil into your calendar including fun concerts featuring acts like Paul Oakenfold and Ziggy Marley, the San Diego Craft Beer Festival and Family Weekends to name a few.
Make no mistake, Opening Day brings in around 40,000 people and is an ocean of palpable energy; it’s easy to get swept away in it. The fun atmosphere is perhaps at its peak where the most passionate attendees flock—the restaurants and pricier areas of the track. During the season, tables (which will accommodate four) at the restaurants will range from $60 on slower days to $125 on the weekends; Opening Day they run for $250.
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The posh place to be at the track however, is of course, the members-only Turf Club, where there is in fact a strictly enforced dress code: men must be wearing jackets (don’t you dare try to wear shorts) and while ladies have a little more freedom, most come in their flashiest dresses, gorgeous hats and heels. Access on Opening Day will run you $200 each and reservations are required. To get the crème de la crème experience, you will want to make sure to score a table at the club, which can mean a long wait if you don’t get there early enough. So secure one fast and enjoy the view for the rest of the afternoon.
To be frank the food and service in the Turf Club is pretty average. You can expect typical appetizers like cheese plates ($16) or jumbo shrimp cocktail ($25), entrées like lobster, chicken and osso bucco (all ranging around $35). You won’t, however, find fancier cocktails; even the Del Mint Julep and Del Margarita are served in plastic cups and are made with mixes. You also will no longer find anyone coming around to take bets digitally, meaning that you will still have to get up and brave the lines to get in on the action. You are really paying for the shorter betting lines, more sophisticated company and white linen-covered tables with excellent views from dedicated seats.
If you are new to horse racing, getting started with the betting is easy and the track offers a beginner’s lesson about an hour prior to the first post. Be sure to pick up a program and grab a copy of the odds from the Union Tribune. You’ll be betting like a (quasi) pro in no time and there is nothing that adds to the excitement like some cash riding on those beautiful horses.