Pacific Classic Sunday arrived with the casual splendor that I’ve come to expect from the weather in Del Mar. As I arrived at the track at about 10:30, the sun was burning off the morning haze and fans were starting to stream into the track to enjoy California’s finest racing.
Pacific Classic attendees were treated to a free commemorative T-shirt with paid admission – it’s always a great treat to get free stuff just for spending an awesome day at the races! The great thing about this giveaway is that the design was fan-made and selected by fans in an online vote, and the end design certainly attracted large crowds to redeem their vouchers and collect their shirts.
I had to get one, too – the shirts are just cool, and also I need a long-sleeved tee to run in since autumn is arriving terrifyingly soon and I am a wimp about the cold.
After I got myself situated in the press box, I decided to do a little exploring. As I talked about in an earlier Diary this week, Del Mar has an infield that’s always open and accessible on race days, but on Pacific Classic day the track had turned the area into a family-friendly paradise with all sorts of fun activities for kids. Check out these bouncy castles:
I mean, that’s more of a bouncy obstacle course where kids could battle inflatable sharks and palm trees before climbing a rope ladder to go through a tunnel and down a slide. Do you have ANY idea how much willpower it took for me to not play on that thing? The only thing that really stopped me was the fact that I was wearing a dress because that wouldn’t have ended well.
There were also pony rides available for the children, which is a nice touch. I remember going to the track when I was a little girl and wishing beyond wishes that I could ride a horse, so I love that tracks are making an effort to let kids live that dream.
Of course, the adults present need some fun, too, so there are plenty of places in the infield where grown-ups can make a bet and grab a drink to enjoy a day at the races.
After taking in the infield scene, I headed back to the main area of the track to check out the races. At this point there was a big crowd on hand to cheer on the horses and jockeys, and it was so much fun to get swept up in the drama and competition of each race as Thoroughbreds battled each other down the Del Mar stretch.
The first major stakes race of the day was the Del Mar Mile, and just before that Saratoga was running the Personal Ensign, so I boogied back up to the press box to watch the East Coast action on TV.
As I got to the sixth floor of track where the press box is located though, I had to stop and marvel at just how beautiful this track really is. It’s the only race course I know of that literally has an ocean view, and I had to snap a photo. Hilariously, this was taken just as I was removing my sunglasses, so it looks like I was doing my very best CSI: Miami impression.
Anyway: horse racing! The Personal Ensign at Saratoga is a very prestigious race for older female horses, and the star of the show was Royal Delta. She was 2012’s Champion Older Female racehorse, and the champ proved that she still has it by romping in a very competitive field. She was so good that she rendered a lot of the turf writers in the Del Mar press box speechless, which is an impressive feat indeed.
After that, it was time for the Del Mar Mile. I ended up watching it from the press box balcony and was treated to an exhilarating finish with Obviously eking out a victory over He Be Fire N Ice and Silentio.
After that, it was time to get ready for the next big race of the day, the Pat O’Brien Stakes. This race had attracted some seriously impressive horses, including Rick Pitino’s Derby contender Goldencents who was the favorite in the race.
The crowd around the paddock was huge, with fans straining to see stars of the two- and four-footed variety as they prepared for the race.
This year’s edition of the Pat O’Brien proved to be a memorable one indeed as Fed Biz buckled down and set a new track record with his victory. He’s a simply beautiful horse, and jockey Martin Garcia was full of praise for him, saying, “I just waited for the stretch, then I let him do his own thing. He knew when to go and he knew what to do.”
There was one race between the Pat O’Brien and the Pacific Classic, and Del Mar’s personnel took that time to break out the trophies for the big race and give them a last minute shine. That’s the awesome thing about winning these big races. Not only do you get the thrill of victory, the pride in your horse and a massive check; but then you also get shiny things from places like Tiffany. Basically: Want!
As I headed down to the paddock for the Pacific Classic, the air was thick with anticipation as the horses began to arrive to prepare for the big race. The crowd was buzzing and the paddock was the place to see and be seen before the pinnacle race of Del Mar’s meet.
It’s always inspiring to me to see the jockeys come out and chat with owners and trainers before these huge races: there’s $1 million on the line, and they’re smiling and relaxed like they’re not about to catapult around on a 1,000 pound beast turning left at speeds up to 40 miles per hour. Jockeys: they’re (not) just like us! Below are jockeys Chantal Sutherland and Joe Talamo about to ride in the Pac Classic like it ain’t a thing. I would be near tears and wearing diapers, and I’ve been riding my whole life.
After jockeys and owners exchanged pre-race pleasantries and trainers dispensed last-minute instructions, the paddock judge gave the call of “Riders up!” and it was time for the horses to hit the track for the Pacific Classic.
As the horses filed out to the track, jockeys who weren’t riding in the Pacific Classic watched the proceedings from the jockeys’ room balcony overlooking the paddock.
As genial and relaxed as the jockeys were in the paddock when they were hobnobbing with their mounts’ owners, once they were in the post parade in the final minutes before the race they were completely focused and serious.
As the horses approached the starting gate, the crowd on the rail got denser and more tense with each passing moment. Including this dude: he clearly was getting his last-minute handicapping in. I hope he picked the winner!
Finally, it was time for the Pacific Classic. As the horses surged out of the starting gate the crowd let out a huge roar, which continued as the contenders swept past the stands for the first time and entered the Clubhouse turn.
When the field came back down the homestretch, they were led by the great California horse Game On Dude. With his victory in the Pacific Classic, the Dude scored his 15th lifetime win and boosted his career earnings to $5,602,158; that makes him the richest North American racehorse actively running today.
Game On Dude is partially owned by Joe Torre, who is the former manager of the New York Yankees and LA Dodgers, and you can see below that he had some celebratory words (and perhaps an “I told you so!”) with trainer Bob Baffert after the win.
The other great story that came out of this year’s Pacific Classic was the tale of Martin Garcia. He’s the jockey that guided Game On Dude to a record 8 ½ length win, but he only got to ride because the Dude’s scheduled jockey Joel Rosario was sidelined by a broken foot the day before. Martin is the rider that exercises Game On Dude every morning, so it was great to see him be able to ride the big horse to win on Del Mar’s biggest afternoon. Martin is one of those guys who is universally liked at the track, and everyone from grooms to other jockeys to outriders stopped to congratulate him.
I love the smile on his face in the photo below – this was Martin’s first win in the Pacific Classic after three tries, and you could tell it was the thrill of a lifetime for him.
With that, Pacific Classic day was winding to an end, and my West Coast jaunt was over. I’ll be back soon, thankfully, when Santa Anita opens up and Super Saturday arrives; until then it’s back to New York City and the real world. Thanks for staying with me through my Del Mar adventure, and I look forward to sharing my next trip to America’s Best Racing’s event with you. Until then, here are a few more photos of fabulous Del Mar to keep you company.