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Charming Del Mar by the beautiful sea

Aug 27, 2002 9:43 AM

"Where the Surf Meets the Turf at old Del Mar”¦ take a plane, take a train, take a car."

What a tradition!

Bing Crosby sings the recording that welcomes fans each racing day to the track that borders the Pacific Ocean. And rightly so, since it was Crosby and a group of his old buddies that hatched the idea to build a racing emporium in such an idyllic setting so that they could play all day, party all night and leave the cares of the world behind.

And, thanks to current major domo Joe Harper, horseplayers can still follow "Der Bingle’s" lead.

For the second summer, I’ve had a place here on the hills overlooking both the track and the ocean, and this has afforded Eileen and me the opportunity to enjoy Del Mar to the fullest.

Let me say at the outset that the place is beautiful. True, it leases its space from the operators of the Fair Grounds, but since the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club is a non-dividend paying corporation comprised of notable California owners and breeders, the facility gets the very best of care. The grandstand and clubhouse have been rebuilt in recent years and it now has a magnificent appearance. The facilities rival any and all in the industry and the maintenance is first rate.

Unfortunately, the Eastern press gets so caught up with the summertime racing at Saratoga that Del Mar gets short shrift. Too bad. If those easterners really want to enjoy racing at its best they will just have to follow Horace Greeley’s advice and "Go West, Young Man."

Just consider what happened last weekend. Saratoga staged the Travers Stakes, a $1 million event for three-year-olds on a day that was fit only for ducks. It rained Friday and much of Saturday leaving heavy favorite Medaglia d’Oro to race over a gooey track. It was his first experience and he did well to hold off the late charge of Repent.

On Sunday, Del Mar’s attraction was the Pacific Classic, a $1 million event for horses three years old or older. For Trainer Bob Baffert, the race offered his Kentucky Derby/Pimlico winner War Emblem the chance to solidify the Horse of the Year honors, or at least, three-year-old of the year honors.

To begin with, the weather was perfect”¦ sunny with a slight breeze blowing in from the ocean. Ideal conditions and superb racing talent, Harper’s grandfather, the legendary movie-maker Cecile B. De Mille, could not have improved on the setting.

And the race ranks as one of the best of the summer season with the California-owned Came Home, the only other three-year-old in the race, beating late-closing Momentum and Milwaukee Brew to the finish line.

Oh, yes, at Saratoga, the weather conditions were so bad, track officials were forced to take three scheduled turf races off the grass. Scratches left one race with only three starters.

In his commentary on Travers Day in the Daily Racing Form, nationally-known racing writer Andy Beyer lamented the fact that Saratoga had outgrown its facilities. Although Saratoga is booming, it has come at a price. The massive crowds have changed the character of the place, and some of the track’s long-time loyalists will say that success has spoiled Saratoga."

Happy to say that Del Mar hasn’t had that problem. As successful as it has become, Del Mar continues to offer a day of racing that purists can rave about. Too bad Beyer and good friend Joe Hirsch, the dean of America’s racing writers, weren’t assigned by the DRF to cover the Pacific Classic at sun-drenched Del Mar instead of rain-drenched Saratoga.

Certainly, they would have been warmly-greeted by a grinning Joe Harper because that’s the way he greets all his Del Mar fans.

Bing Crosby would be proud.