09/10/2002 11:00PM

At Del Mar, a patriotic 9/11


DEL MAR, Calif. - In attempting to strike a balance between presenting its closing-day card and paying tribute to the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Del Mar played host on Wednesday to a nationwide tribute that was broadcast to tracks that were open for business.

With the exception of Belmont Park in New York and The Meadowlands in New Jersey - tracks from which the World Trade Center could be seen before last year - tracks scheduled to operate on Wednesday conducted racing. Del Mar turned the day into a patriotic celebration. In addition to a brief ceremony before the races broadcast in conjunction with the National Thoroughbred Racing Association to tracks across the country, there was a later ceremony, between races, primarily for fans at Del Mar.

Del Mar's official race program declared Sept. 11 to be "Patriot's Day." A button in the shape of jockey's silks and colored like the United States flag was given to those paying admission, and a replica of that button was on the program cover. Red, white, and blue bunting was hung all over the track.

At 1:10 p.m., to begin the first ceremony, a trio of hornblowers, including Del Mar's Les Kepic, played patriotic music from the winner's circle. Soon thereafter, helicopters from the San Diego County Sheriff's Department and the Department of Forestry flew over the track.

Dick Enberg, the CBS sportscaster who lives in nearby Rancho Santa Fe, then welcomed fans, saying, "We have come here to remember and move forward, both as a country and a community.

"The sport of racing is an international one, and here at Del Mar, we welcome an international cast of horses, trainers, jockeys, and owners."

Jeff Ewert, of the Chula Vista fire department, then sang the national anthem. The track's large infield flag was raised to half-staff by a Navy color guard, while nearby a Vietnam veteran color guard held aloft a trio of flags.

After a moment of silence was observed, the St. Stephens Cathedral Choir sang "God Bless America" from the winner's circle.

Del Mar's jockey colony stood in the winner's circle, wearing silks that had patterns of stars and stripes, including the familiar silks of Allen Paulson, which adorned the meet's leading jockey, Pat Valenzuela.

The later ceremony was scheduled to be held after the third race.