07/16/2008 12:00AM

The surf. The turf. 'Trevorrrrr.'

Benoit & Associates
As the gates spring open for the first race on Wednesday's opening-day card, racing fans and Southern California socialites get their first taste of Del Mar for 2008. Plan for Fun (No. 7) won the race for trainer Jeff Mullins in 1:37.82 for a mile.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Outfitted in everything from elegant hats to tattered cutoffs, fans began their annual pilgrimage to Del Mar for this track's 43-day summer season, which began on Wednesday. The sun was out, the 77-degree weather could not have been more ideal, and Del Mar tried to make everyone not here realize what they were missing by training a pan camera on the nearby beach more than an hour before the first race.

But there were some clouds on the horizon. Even though Del Mar seemingly has been immune to the vagaries of choppy economic waters in years past, the current atmosphere has left management understandably sober about the meet.

"I'm a little guarded, I suppose," Joe Harper, Del Mar's president, chief executive offer, and general manager, said while standing near the paddock 90 minutes before the first race. "We're concerned about the economy, like everyone else. You get worried when you have to pay as much for an avocado as a gallon of gas."

Harper said he expects Del Mar to do well on big days this meet, but that weekdays might not be quite so robust. He cites the trends at the recent San Diego County fair, which uses Del Mar's fair grounds and concluded on July 6.

"The fair did well when they had something special going on," Harper said. "People still have money, they're just spending it more wisely. They want value."

Del Mar's opening day is truly something special. It is one of the highlights of the Southern California racing calendar, and in San Diego, it is considered the social event of the summer, with premium prices being asked, and received, for tickets to the turf club. The crowd was expected to include several well-known athletes, including football players John Lynch Jr., Carson Palmer, and Junior Seau, and basketball players Richard Jefferson and Luke Walton. The local San Diego Chargers were represented by Jacques Cesaire, Vincent Jackson, Quentin Jammer, and Marcus McNeill.

An opening-day tradition, "The One and Only Truly Fabulous Hats Contest," attracted its usual cast of characters, including one gentleman who wore a Batman outfit, featuring an oversized bat head and the words "I'm back" stenciled in white on one of the wings. It was doubtful he entered the "best racing theme" or "most glamorous" categories, but "most outrageous" probably suited the caped crusader.

On the apron in front of the grandstand, fans arrived early and unfolded beach chairs in order to work on their tan before working on their figs. After track commentator Trevor Denman gave the late changes a half-hour before the first race, about a dozen fans on the grandstand apron, obviously fortified, yelled in unison, "Trevorrrrrr. Trevorrrrrr."

Denman is wildly popular here, where he has called the races since 1984. His voice is even more welcome after three months of not being able to hear him following the close of Santa Anita's main winter meeting in April.

The crowd was at a fever pitch as the field loaded for the first race, at one mile, one lap around the main track, whose Polytrack was reconstituted for this meet. The fans let out a raucous yell when the field was sent on its way. Some 1:37.82 later, the auspiciously named Plan for Fun checked in first, making jockey Tyler Baze and trainer Jeff Mullins the meet leaders, at least for a half-hour.

"The track's firmer," Baze said. "They got some water in it. It's a little tighter."

"In the mornings, it feels like it's about two seconds faster," Mullins said, comparing the surface to last year, the first with Polytrack. "I walked out on the track after the horses went by and it didn't look like they went into it that deep. They've had a year to work with it, to get it settled. I think it's going to be great."