9.08.2009

Nobody's in a Hurry but the Horses - Daybreak at Del Mar

My previous dabbling with ponies at Austin's Manor Downs has metastasized into a sizable and riveting mini-obsession at Del Mar. While both Manor Downs and Del Mar have notable histories, the league and caliber of Del Mar leaves Manor Downs in the dust back at the starting gate. Manor Downs is Texas' oldest track, and will always have a spot in the winner's circle in my heart, as that is where Ian and I went on one of our first dates. He bought me a frito pie and I knew it was love. The grandstand at Manor Downs is a huge and rickety old bleacher and offers just enough shade to watch the quarter horses. Manor Downs is fine and dandy, and well loved by all.

That said, Manor Downs doesn't hold a candle to Del Mar. Del Mar is oozing with old Hollywood style and glitz. Del Mar has hosted some of the most famous horses, jockeys, trainers and owners in horse racing. Del Mar Racetrack is in, well, Del Mar. It is ridiculously gorgeous in Del Mar. It is insanely stunning in Del Mar. It could not be prettier in Del Mar. The racetrack is situated a few hundred yards from the beach, and has views of the ocean, the mountains to the East, and most importantly, views of lots of amazing racehorses. It is heavenly.

Del Mar Racetrack was started by Bing Crosby and some of his buddies back in the mid 1930's. It opened in 1937, and Bing himself was the first fella through the doors. It was started as a pure leisure party diversion for Bing and his Hollywood pals, as their lives of fame and fortune up in LA were trying and stressful.

Many of the folks who hung out Del Mar came down from LA on the special Santa Fe Railroad racetrack train, which was just one big rolling party. If the train was late arriving in Del Mar, the races would start late.

The Del Mar track was the very first track to apply the technology used in film-making to document the horses crossing the finish line of the race. With all its Hollywood connections, it only makes sense that at Del Mar, film making would get its peanut butter in with horse racing's chocolate. Modern versions of the photo-finish technology pioneered in 1937 by del Riccio, a camera engineer at Paramount Pictures, are now used at almost every horse track in the world. Even Manor Downs.

On to our adventure! For the second week in a row, I had a pre-dawn bike load-in. This time, MK slept in at her own home and Ian resumed his position as my primary adventure buddy and partner in crime. We rode bikes from the Salk Institute to Del Mar along historic highway 101, a relaxed and stunning little 7 mile ride fondly referred to as the "Waves and Babes Commute" by some unnamed person *ahem cough cough Ian* who works at the Salk.

Every morning, a portion of the 1500 thoroughbred horses stabled at Del Mar for the racing season get their exercise. The exercise shifts start at 4 am, and run until about 10 am, when they clear the track to rake it flat and get it ready for the early afternoon post.

On the weekends, you can go to the racetrack, be seated in the fancy grandstand tables, eat an overpriced buffet dorm-food-esque breakfast, and watch the horses run. Lots of horses. Non-stop trotting, cantering, running, walking, exercising.

If you love horse racing, you can imagine how awesome this was. If you don't love watching beautifully perfectly fine-tuned athletes (both equine and human) push themselves to go faster, then this outing would have bored you to tears. The lousy breakfast would not have helped matters.

The videos below don't really show the amazing amount of muscle, strength, grace, and beauty each horse has, or the thrill of watching them exercise. To remedy that, you really should just come out and go to the track with me. Come on out, I'll teach you how to read the race form and place a bet for a trifecta.




Recommended Reading:
_Seabiscuit: An American Legend_ by Laura Hillenbrand
_Handicapping 101_ by Brad Free
_Horse Heaven_ by Jane Smiley (fiction)



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