07/18/2012 6:38PM

Del Mar opens with a bang

Benoit & Associates
Chantal Sutherland returns a winner aboard Miss Calfornia in the opening race of the Del Mar meeting.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Chivalry is not dead. It was ladies first at Del Mar on Wednesday, when jockey Chantal Sutherland and trainer Kristin Mulhall joined forces to win the first race of the meet with Miss California as this seaside track’s 75th anniversary season got under way to a rip-roaring start.

The grandstand and apron were jammed from one end to the other long before the day’s first race, and Sutherland said the noise from the crowd could be heard as the first-race field went around the far turn.

[Complete coverage of racing at Del Mar: News, PPs, and video]

“You could hear it at the three-eighths pole pretty good,” Sutherland said. “It was like an echo, and then - boom.”

Sutherland is literally the face of Del Mar, the track having focused its marketing campaign for this meet around the fan favorite.

“Having you win, that’s just good marketing,” Craig Dado, Del Mar’s senior vice president of  marketing, joked with Sutherland while giving her a congratulatory hug in the winner’s circle.

Del Mar set a record of 46,588 on opening day last year, the seventh straight year the opening-day crowd topped 40,000, and it appeared well on its way to another blockbuster opener on Wednesday.

“It shows it can be done,” owner Arnold Zetcher said, admiring a scene that saw fans gazing at the paddock from terraces all on every floor of the grandstand.

The weather was ideal, with a few high clouds and a cool breeze wafting in from the nearby Pacific Ocean.

The drumbeats started early. Every local television station was on hand, as were several radio stations. And long before the first race, the paddock was filled.

“Lot of owners in this race,” cracked trainer Ben Cecil, who had one of the eight runners in the opener.

Scores of people merely wandered in to the paddock, practicing the time-honored virtues of the racetrack wave, though one young woman was stopped by a security guard and told to leave her champagne split on an adjacent retaining wall.

For others, the partying had started far earlier. Around 10 a.m., shortly after watching morning workouts, noted clocker Gary Young saw a fan being arrested for public intoxication.

There were many people who had sober tastes, with high fashion on display, but opening day is also a chance for people to practice dressing up early for Halloween. Two 30-something men, both more than six feet tall, wore jockeys silks and ill-fitting jockey helmets, and tried to crash the group jockey photo in the paddock that Del Mar takes 30 minutes before the opener.

About 10 minutes before the first race, the horses made their way onto the track, and a recording of track co-founder Bing Crosby’s signature tune, “Where the Turf Meets the Surf,” was played over the loudspeakers.

Opening day is a chance for many people to renew acquaintances that lay dormant for 45 weeks. For many racing fans in this area, that meant paying homage to Trevor Denman, who is celebrating his 29th season here as track announcer. When Denman got on the public address system an hour before the first race, dozens of fans along the grandstand let out a cheer and then started shouting his name.

Denman has the perfect temperament for a track announcer, combining a classy, accurate delivery where he accentuates the proceedings, but never tries to make himself the focal point. Per his custom, he acknowledged the fans when the gates opened for the first race, saying, “There’s the roar from the huge opening-day Del Mar crowd.”

At about that time, John Lopez was breathing easier. Lopez, a long-time member of the starting gate crew, has been promoted to head starter this summer because Gary Brinson is taking the summer off to be with his ailing father. The first race was at 1 1/16 miles, starting in front of the grandstand, so Lopez was front and center.

“It went pretty good,” Lopez said right after the race. “It’s just a different feeling. We got the first one done. It was fun. It was great.”

Sutherland felt the same way. For a brief time, she was the meet’s leading rider.

“One day you’re up, the next day you’re gum on the bottom of the shoe,” she said. “This is such a happy place. You’ve got to enjoy it. Life’s tough enough.”

Standiforx More than 1 year ago
There are times when the comments section resembles the playground of an elementary school. Arguing about whether Saratoga or Del Mar is better is about as stupid as people arguing Mac vs. PC or Droid vs. iPhone. Can't you morons appreciate two unique and competitive race meets on both sides of the country and cut out all of this "my track is better than your track" crap???
Ronnie Malo Rodriguez More than 1 year ago
Delmar surface really plays like a turf course, I can understand why a Turf horse would do good on the polytrack surface.
coocoolarue More than 1 year ago
1 breakdown and 2 eased horses on the first day. At this rate will there be any horses left at all the finish the meet? Just asking. Del Mar gets not one cent of my money. I play Saratoga exclusively and haven't bet Del Mar in 4 years. Crappy horses, crappy races, crappy management. Enough said
Jack More than 1 year ago
Gj Ubar More than 1 year ago
Sounds like the day was a BLAST! The haters can go lose their $$ somewhere else. There are plenty of tracks to choose from.
Frank More than 1 year ago
CA racing is bad. For example, I only like to bet quality stake and graded races to reduce the cheat factor...It seems for these types of races CA runs fields of 5 or less. Where are all these quality horses out there that they speak of. Gee, the Grade I Eddie Read this weekend has a 5 horse field --
Vikki Tucker More than 1 year ago
I'm reading some of your comments here, and there seems to be many disgruntled horse players. Yes, most races are claiming races but whatever happened to going to the races to have a good time? My home track is LAD. On big racing days, either at LAD or elsewhere, I go early, place my bets early, watch for a while and then go home when it gets uncomfortably crowded. I enjoy the races just as much from my living room, where the beer stays cold, as I do from the paddock or the grandstand. Besides, I can see the race and hear the race call much better on my modest 32" TV. Lightn up
Nick DAgostino More than 1 year ago
This was my first opening day although I have been to Del Mar many times on others. What can I say, I grew up around Saratoga and moved west years ago. I will never go back on opening day at Del Mar because its filled with a bunch of Nuevo Riche dressed all in white with their drunk girlfriends that cannot handle their liquour. I cannot tell you how many times I waited 25 min in line to try and place a bet when you have some idiot at the window for 10 minutes. After he is all done he tries to pay for his bets with a credit card!! I ran into numerous people today that tried to do that. The place was filled to the brim with newbies who do not know how to bet a horse race. Not the place to go for a horse bettor on opening day for sure. Yea there was tons of hot pootie tang there but I didn't go to see the ladies. I went to play the horses. I thought the card for an opening day was rubbish. 8000k claimers?? Bring on the real meet of the summer where the friggin money is at. SARATOGA !! You couldnt pay me 500.00 to go to another opening day there again. BTW JJ Hernandez ....your a bum, you blew a sure winner today when you screwed up on the turn you DOPE. Learn how to ride.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
I grew up a little over an hour north of Del Mar and currently live about that far away. I've never been to an opening day at Del Mar. My concerns were all the things you experienced. If I do ever go to opening day it will be because a group of friends are going, and I will go to drink, eat, and socialize; the racing will be a side show. As long as you go with that mentality, it should still be fun. But yes, if you go for the racing, expect frustration. Opening day at Del Mar sounds a lot like Kentucky Derby and Preakness days. Unless you can fork out big money for actual seats, if you want to do the Derby and Preakness you will have to do infield/general admission. When I lived back East I bit the bullet and went to the Preakness in 2004 and the Derby in 2005-2007, 2009. Even at the Derby, if you hustle you can make it to the paddock to see the horses before all the big stakes and then make it back to your spot along the fence in the infield that gives you a 15 second glance of the horses on the track. But the experience is mainy about being part of something bigger, of being a part of history, socializing, and having a good time. And maybe, if you are lucky, you can catch something important, like Smarty winning the Preakness by almost 12, Giacomo winning the Derby at 50-1, Barbaro winning the Derby by over 6, Rachel winning the Oaks by 20, and Mine that Bird winning the Derby at what should have been 250-1 odds. But just go in knowing the racing will only be a secondary occurrence.
Daryl Steen More than 1 year ago
Waiting on lines to bet is a thing of the past thanks to Xpressbet and smart phones. It is easy to do and you can go to the track without paper money. The way of the future...check it out.
Patrick Kane More than 1 year ago
You know this is why our sport is dying. You guys piss and moan about people coming out in droves to bet 14.1 million? This sport needs young people. Oh and spare my the NY racing stuff. I mean NYRA filed for bankruptcy and is a total mess. I had to wait in line to make a be. Are you okay? Are you knees or ankles hurting from all that standing. Give me a damn break.
Ronnie Malo Rodriguez More than 1 year ago
I PADS the new betting terminals
Bsb Jaws More than 1 year ago
Uh Huh.
Morris More than 1 year ago
there is always ,one in the bunch that has to holler that something is rigged against them. it never fails in any crowd.
George Mayo More than 1 year ago
Cver who---------- Well bub if you don't like del mar or emerald downs why do you play it. I have been to emerald downs more times than i remember and del mar a few times, the patrons there don't have thier noses stuck so far in the air that they drown if comes a big rain. Its western and i realise you eastern people don't like anything unless it comes out of the east coast. and us west coast people don't hold it against ya, cause ya got a narrow mind ---DIG
Ronnie Malo Rodriguez More than 1 year ago
Dude not all East Coast people are like that. Enough with the sterotypes. I've hit races from Aqueduct to Emerald downs and in between. A player is a player no matter the track or race thats the difference.
Cover2 More than 1 year ago
Ross Brinson got to be around 100......