Beginner’s Guide to the Del Mar Meet

Events / Travel
Fans watch the action at Del Mar in this file photo. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

For horse racing fans, the true indicator of summer is when Del Mar Thoroughbred Club opens its doors for its famed meet. The iconic San Diego-area track is an incredible place to visit whether you’re a lifelong fan of racing or if this will be your first trip to the track.

If you fall into the latter category — or if you’re planning your first trip to Del Mar this summer — scroll down for everything you need to know about this year’s summer season.

Who: Horses and humans vying for a spot in the World Championships

This fall, the Breeders’ Cup World Championships returns to Del Mar for only the second time in its history, so horses and humans who want a spot in the biggest racing event of the year will be in San Diego this summer. That’s because five races at Del Mar have been designated as “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series events, meaning that each winner will receive an automatic, expenses-paid berth into the Breeders’ Cup this fall.

Fun fact: $25,181,317 was wagered on 2017’s Breeders’ Cup, which was the first held at Del Mar.

What: Where the turf meets the surf

Picturesque Del Mar in California. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Nestled in the seaside city of Del Mar just north of San Diego, Del Mar is a horse lover’s paradise. Adjacent to the Pacific Ocean, the track is known as “where the turf meets the surf” and has become a bucket-list destination for racing fans the world over.

Since its inception, Del Mar has been a destination for stars of both the human and equine persuasion; it’s not uncommon to see sports luminaries, actors, musicians, and titans of industry taking in the races on any given day.

Fun fact: Del Mar’s main track is a one-mile dirt oval with chutes for seven-eighths of a mile races and 1 ¼-mile races, and the interior turf course is seven-eighths of a mile with chutes for 1 1/16- and 1 1/8-mile races.

When: Friday, July 16 through Monday, Sept. 6

Del Mar is the summer sweet spot for the West Coast, and the track holds races each week from Thursday through Sunday (Friday through Sunday for the first two weeks) and Labor Day Monday. The big racing days are listed below, but be sure to check out the track’s calendar for more details and events.

July 17 – San Diego Handicap and Osunitas Stakes

July 24 – Eddie Read Stakes and San Clemente Stakes

July 31 – Bing Crosby Stakes

Aug. 1 – Clement L. Hirsch Stakes

Aug. 7 – Best Pal Stakes and Yellow Ribbon Handicap

Aug. 14 – Uncorked Wine Festival

Aug. 21 – TVG Pacific Classic, Del Mar Oaks, Del Mar Mile, Del Mar Handicap, and Torrey Pines Stakes

Aug. 28 – Pat O’Brien Stakes

Sept. 4 – Del Mar Derby, John C. Mabee Stakes, and I’m Smokin’ Stakes

Sept. 5 – Del Mar Debutante and Del Mar Juvenile Fillies Turf

Sept. 6 – Runhappy Del Mar Futurity and Del Mar Juvenile Turf

Fun fact: Del Mar has a later starting time than most tracks. Races begin at 2 p.m. PT most days and 4 p.m. on Fridays so that fans have the chance to explore the area around the track before their day at the races begins.

Where: Del Mar, Calif.

Del Mar is a stunning seaside resort just outside of San Diego, and the area truly has something for everyone: in addition to the track, there are options for golf, tennis, surfing, horseback riding on the beach, and so much more. A weekend at Del Mar promises relaxation, adventure, and incredible natural beauty.

Fun fact: The lyrics to Del Mar’s official song, “Where the Turf Meets the Surf,” encourages fans to “take a plane, take a train, take a car.” This is great advice, since Del Mar is reachable via San Diego International Airport, has an Amtrack station in Solana Beach (one mile from Del Mar), and has ample parking.

Why: A summertime playground

When Santa Anita Park opened outside of Los Angeles in 1934, it was an instant success. That got stockbroker William Quigley thinking, and he teamed up with Hollywood star Bing Crosby to create a racetrack that would become home to elite summer racing in California.

The track officially opened for business in 1937, and that year hosted the famed, winner-take-all match race between Seabiscuit and Ligatori – the very first nationally broadcasted Thoroughbred race via NBC Radio.

Fun fact: Del Mar continues to be the site of some of the biggest horse races in the nation – for example, the 2016 Pacific Classic was a showdown between fan favorites California Chrome, Beholder, and Dortmund.


What to Expect in 2021

Del Mar is once again open to fans in 2021, but with a few new rules in place. Maybe the most important is that fans must purchase tickets ahead of time since walk-up admission is not allowed under California law due to the ongoing pandemic; that having been said, the track will be open to 100% capacity for seated areas, so just be sure to purchase tickets in advance.

Also new in 2021, the usually members-only Turf Club will be open to members of the public who purchase tickets for the Taste of the Turf Club on Sundays. Each ticket includes a Turf Club Table seat for the race day, one Turf Club Admission, general parking, a three-course brunch as well as bottomless mimosas, aperol spritz, or bloody Marys.

Another big development for 2021? Trevor Denman is back! The track announcer, whose voice is synonymous with Del Mar, will be calling the races again for the first time since Dec. 1, 2019.


Wanna Bet?

A racing fan reacts to the action at Del Mar. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

It’s incredibly easy to bet Del Mar, even if you’re not able to attend. It’s legal in 37 states to bet from home using what’s called an “advance deposit wagering” platform – essentially an app or website that allows you to load up your account and bet from wherever you like. One piece of advice: the key word here is “advance,” so make sure to set your account up as early as possible because sometimes it takes a day to process the funds. The official wagering platform of the Del Mar meet is TVG, so keep an eye out for promotions and sign-up deals from them as we get closer to the season.

The team at America’s Best Racing also put our heads together to provide some Dos and Don’ts for betting online, and we even have the leading tool in the sport for figuring out how to make your bets and what they’ll cost: ABR’s Gambling Calculator, presented by 1/ST Bet.

If you’re new to betting on horse racing, welcome! We’re here to help. If you need some information on how to start, we have a post called “Betting on Horse Racing, Explained” with a focus on bettors just like you. Here’s a taste to whet your appetite:

The Basics

Win bet – A bet on a horse to finish first.

Place bet – A bet on a horse to finish first or second.

Show bet A bet on a horse to finish in the money; third or better.

In the money – A horse that finishes first, second, or third.

Across the board – A bet on a horse to win, place, and show. If the horse wins, the bettor collects three ways; if second, two ways (place, show); and if third, one way, losing the win and place bets. It's actually three bets.

Morning line – The odds that the track handicapper predicts a horse will be to win the race when it starts.

Fun fact: The biggest payout for a $2 win bet in Del Mar’s history came in 2019 when It’s Tiz Time returned a whopping $150.20 to savvy bettors who bet on him.


Must-dos:

Want to have the ultimate Del Mar experience? Of course, you do! Here are our recommendations for …

At the track

The Paddock

One of the best places to spend time between races is Del Mar’s paddock. A graduated viewing area surround the saddling enclosure, giving fans the perfect view of the horses and their humans as they prepare for each race.

17 Hands

The best tacos at Del Mar can be found at 17 Hands, a restaurant, bar, and wagering area located right next to the paddock. Grab a bite and settle in to people- and pony-watch.

Del Margarita

Second-floor Veranda Café patio provides unparalleled view of paddock. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

If you like cocktails, you’re going to love a Del Margarita. The track’s signature drink is comprised of a double shot of tequila, margarita mix, a splash of Patrón Citrónge, and lime wedge. It’s an incredibly refreshing way to celebrate a day at Del Mar.

Lunch and Drinks at Veranda Café

One of the most beautiful places to enjoy a late lunch or cocktails at Del Mar is the Veranda Café, particularly the patio. It overlooks the paddock (the area where the horses are saddled before each race) with one of the most spectacular views you could ever hope for.

Silks Gift Shop

Del Mar’s Silks gift shop is one of the best in horse racing. Whether you’re searching for a souvenir of your weekend or looking for the perfect present, it’s a must-visit destination while you’re at the track.

Around Town

L’Auberge

Looking for a little luxury? L’Auberge is the premiere hotel in Del Mar, offering restaurants, a spa, and an incredible bar scene after each day of racing. It’s the place to see and be seen once the races are over, and you’ll run into trainers, owners, and even jockeys in the bar area on any given evening. It’s a must-visit, even if you don’t plan on staying overnight.

Surfing Lessons

If you’ve never tried your hand at surfing, a weekend at Del Mar is the perfect time to try it out. Del Mar Surf School is right in town, and they offer beginner lessons that include access to a surfboard, wetsuit, and commemorative photos.

Golf

If you love golf, you’re going to adore Del Mar. The area is surrounded by golf courses, including the iconic Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla. Mission Bay and Balboa Golf Course are also local, so get ready to tee up before heading to the track.

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