Del Mar – Where the surf meets the turf
In 1937, Bing Crosby, along with some of his friends, including Jimmy Durante and Pat O’Brien, met at Warner Brothers studios and began their plans to build the Del Mar Race Track. Within the year, the sleepy little town of Del Mar was suddenly “on the map.” The track was THE place to go for the Hollywood crown. Mickey Rooney, Lucy and Desi, W.C. Fields, Douglas Fairbanks and Ava Gardner were some of the regulars.
The Hollywood connection continued for decades. The only time the track closed was during WWII. During that time the fairgrounds were used as a U.S. Marine training facility and for the the production of parts for B-17 bombers. On the first day it opened after the war, more than 20,300 racing fans showed up at the Del Mar Track and bet one million dollars! A lot of money for 1945.
Because the track depended on patronage from Los Angeles in the early days, the Santa Fe Railroad launched a special racetrack train from L.A. to Del Mar. The party started on the train. If the train was late, the races were delayed. It became a tradition for the fans in the grandstand to start cheering when they saw the train turn the bend, just before the station. The Del Mar station closed several years ago.
Today, Del Mar has become a playground for wealthy jet-setters. Many people who follow the racing circuit have luxurious homes in nearby Rancho Santa Fe. The houses remain unoccupied for most of the year and only come to life during racing season.
Hobnobbing with the jet-setters is a group of residents of nearby La Costa who have ties, of some sort, to the mafia families that moved out west. Italian men in silk suits with beautiful blondes on their arm are pretty easy to spot.
In May, Governor Schwarzenegger threatened to sell a number of state assets, among them the Del Mar Racetrack, to help remedy the state’s fiscal crisis. “It would be very strange if they sold Del Mar. It’s a great asset to the state, one of the best investments they’ve got.” – Joe Harper, director, president, general manager and CEO of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. Harper is the grandson of Cecil B. DeMille.
Watch a great scene with Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly in High Society singing True Love: