Eddie Read Stakes Day at Del Mar dawned as another picture-perfect morning at the seaside resort town outside of San Diego, and when I woke up at about 7 (hooray, jet lag!) I realized that I had to get out and go for a run. After all, even though I’d been Pacific Ocean-adjacent for a few days, I had yet to actually dip my toes into the sea. Plus, I’d hauled my workout gear all the way across the country with me and needed to justify packing my bulky running shoes. As I made my way from the hotel to the beach, I ran along a seaside bluff and was stuck by the sheer beauty of the morning; there was a beautiful cloud clover known as the marine layer hovering over the water, and in the ocean there were myriad surfers hoping to catch the next big wave.
After my run along the beach, I made my way back to the hotel to get ready for a big day of racing. After all, the first Sunday at Del Mar brings the Eddie Read Stakes, which attracts some of the top grass runners in the nation. In addition to covering the race as I usually do for this blog and the America’s Best Racing social media, I was helping out with the Jockey Club Tour broadcast on Fox Sports1; so my plate for the day was pretty full. So as soon as I could I was on my way to another glorious day at Del Mar. When I arrived, I was in for an amazing surprise – there were skydivers falling from the heavens!
Sunday at Del Mar was Military Appreciation Day, and in honor of the men and women who protect and serve our nation the racetrack had a party for military families; plus, past and present Navy SEALS performed the astonishing skydiving feats we as fans were treated to between the first and second races. I think the Del Mar Twitter feed put it best:
Past and present seals flew in to honor military families enjoying a day at the track. #DMTC pic.twitter.com/mMchs2QtTV
— Del Mar Racetrack (@DelMarRacing) July 20, 2014
After I’d taken in the amazing aerial show, it was time to get ready for the big race of the afternoon. The Eddie Read is one of the toughest races for horses who like to run on the grass, and this year’s edition had attracted six strong contenders; among them were East Coast powerhouse Summer Front and hometown heroes Tom’s Tribute and Horizontalyspeakin. My friend and colleague Melissa Bauer-Herzog has a totally winning tweet concerning the latter horse, by the way:
I both want to know how Horizontalyspeakin got his name and am terrified to know the answer.
— Melissa Bauer-Herzog (@mbauerherzog) July 20, 2014
I feel the same way.
When I arrived at the paddock, I was delighted to see last year’s Eddie Read winner Jeranimo leading the post parade for the 2014 edition. Jeranimo has been retired and will be heading off to stud duty very soon, but he was clearly delighted to be the center of attention once again in front of his throngs of fans at Del Mar. It was a wonderful tribute to a talented horse, and I can’t wait to watch his sons and daughters run in the near future.
As the Eddie Read Stakes contenders paraded in the paddock for fans, I was struck by the beauty of these racehorses. While I honestly consider horses to be striking in general, there is nothing like seeing elite Thoroughbreds at the peak of their physical prowess as they prepare to run. One runner that I was particularly enamored with was Unbridled Command; I’ve always had a soft spot for gray horses, so I couldn’t resist his charm.
Favored Summer Front, who had flown from New York specifically for this race, also looked amazing.
And Tom’s Tribute’s chestnut coat gleamed like a copper penny in the California sun.
As the horses made their way to the starting gate for the Eddie Read Stakes, I had absolutely no idea who would win. Usually, when I look at horse in the paddock, I can get a good idea of who looks outstanding. However, in this race it was impossible to pick out a horse who was physically superior to his counterparts. So I decided to just relax and enjoy what was sure to be a fantastic race. And as the horses broke from the gate and entered the stretch for the first time of the 1 1/8 mile grass race, I could tell by the cheers coming from the crowd behind me that I wasn’t the only one at Del Mar who was having a blast watching the race.
In fact, even the youngest fans there were cheering home their favorites!
In the end, it was Tom’s Tribute who took home the bulk of the $300,000 in prize money as well as priceless accolades for his victory. Jockey Mike Smith was clearly tickled by the win, and as he returned to the Winner’s Circle he performed his signature salute to the sky before heading into the enclosure to have his photo taken with Tom’s Tribute and his connections.
After the Eddie Read, I decided to head into Del Mar’s infield to check out their family fun day, which happens every Saturday and Sunday throughout the meet. When I’d been in the press box earlier that afternoon, I’d noticed that the infield was packed, so I couldn’t wait to get down there and see what was going on.
I’m just going to say it: I had to work really hard to restrain myself from participating in all of the amazing festivities that Del Mar had to offer the kids visiting the track with their families. There were inflatable adventure slides with an ocean motif:
There was also a magic show and face painting in the booth next door; and beyond that, there was a stand where kids could make hats out of brown paper bags and accessorize them with anything from ribbon to paper dollar bills. It looked like a blast!
There were even climbing walls, a bouncy castle village (yes, a bouncy castle village. It had at least five or six different bouncy castles) and a bungee jump area. This place was heaven!
But of course, my favorite part was the pony rides. I remember being a little girl at the races, and all I wanted to do was pet or ride a horse while I watched the fabulous racehorses compete in the afternoon. How wonderful that tracks like Del Mar have taken the opportunity to give kids that experience! I saw so many happy faces at the pony rides, and I even fell in love with one little equine that was endlessly patient and very beautiful.
As the wonderful day of racing wound down, the action was just heating up as there was a horse sale scheduled in the Del Mar paddock directly after the races. Through Barrett’s, an equine auction house based out of California, there was to be a 40-horse strong sale in the Del Mar paddock of Thoroughbred who either had the potential to race, were already successful racehorses, or were ready to become parents. I’d never been to a horse sale during a live racing meet, so I was so excited to see what would happen.
It was spectacularly beautiful: as the sun set over a balmy San Diego evening, horses were led into the paddock and bids flew as people tried to secure their favorite equines on the last evening of Opening Weekend.
The most exciting moment of the sale came when Heir Kitty, an accomplished four-year-old filly, sold for three-quarters of a million dollars. That was amazing – I had no idea that prices would go that high, and when the lovely filly found a new home there were audible sighs of appreciation as she left the paddock.
My other favorite moment of the sale was when I realized what the final horse catalogued for the evening was named:
Somebody at @BarrettsSales has a fantastic sense of humor; the final hip of the paddock auction at @DelMarRacing is: pic.twitter.com/XKYRxwm859
— Penelope P. Miller (@PenelopePMiller) July 21, 2014
My first Del Mar Opening Weekend was an amazing experience, and I so hope that you get a chance to go one day. Between the races, the social scene and the spectacular setting, Del Mar is a must-visit destination. I hope to see you there over Pacific Classic weekend! Until then, I have some photos for you to enjoy outlining all that is wonderful where the turf meets the surf.
Thank you for joining me, and I’ll be back later this week with all the coverage of the Haskell Invitational out of Monmouth Park!