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Models showcase hats from acclaimed milliner Christine Moore during Opening Day on Friday at the Del Mar Racetrack. Photo by Laura Place
Models showcase hats from acclaimed milliner Christine Moore during Opening Day on Friday at the Del Mar Racetrack. Photo by Laura Place
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Horses, hats and the highlife: Del Mar sets record Opening Day handle

DEL MAR — The highly anticipated 83rd racing season at the seaside oval in Del Mar kicked off impressively on Friday with a sold-out Opening Day featuring a $23.65 million handle, shattering the former record by nearly $2 million.

Del Mar Racetrack raked in record wage winnings despite the day’s attendance cap of 21,680, around half of the facility’s total capacity. The three-day opening weekend from Friday to Sunday is the busiest of the summer season, which lasts 31 racing days concluding Sept. 11 and is expected to be the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club’s most lucrative yet.

Several of the major stake races have been raised significantly from past years. The track’s “Ship & Win” program gives owners and trainers, including several from out of state, their highest offerings in the program’s 12-year history with a $5,000 starter bonus and 50% purse supplement to dirt runners, as well as a $4,000 bonus and a 40% supplement to grass starters.

Racers break out of the gates during the first race on the opening day of the summer 2022 racing season in Del Mar. Breakfast Ride (#8) would go on to win first place. Photo by Laura Place
Racers break out of the gates during the first race on the opening day of the summer 2022 racing season in Del Mar. Breakfast Ride (#8) would go on to win first place. Photo by Laura Place

The first stakes race of the summer season, the $100,000 Oceanside Stakes, was won Friday by favorite Irish-bred Balnikhov under rider Umberto Rispoli.

“That was an amazing trip. I was all the way on the outside on the backstretch, so I said, ‘I think I’m losing too much ground here,’ and I went down inside. From there, it happened,” Rispoli said. “I love this race [Oceanside]. In the three years I’ve ridden it, I’ve won it twice and been second. I’ve got a new baby in the family. I’m a blessed man.”

Jockey Juan Hernandez took the first win of the day in the 1-mile dirt race on horse Breakfast Ride and earned two more first-place finishes and one show finish, making him the “star rider” of opening day.

Susan Leonard of Solana Beach entered her custom-made fascinator by designer Aimee Fuller into the hat contest on the Opening Day of Del Mar’s 2022 summer racing season. Photo by Laura Place
Susan Leonard of Solana Beach entered her custom-made fascinator by designer Aimee Fuller into the hat contest on the Opening Day of Del Mar’s 2022 summer racing season. Photo by Laura Place
Steffi Poce of Park City, Utah, the eventual winner of the opening day hat contest at the Del Mar Racetrack on Friday, shows off her racing-themed fascinator on Friday. Photo by Laura Place
Steffi Poce of Park City, Utah, the eventual winner of the opening day hat contest at the Del Mar Racetrack on Friday, shows off her racing-themed fascinator on Friday. Photo by Laura Place

Opening weekend is a tradition for many attendees, who travel from all over the state and the country to place bets, enjoy the races and put their best foot forward.

Shouts of “Happy Opening Day!” rang out from attendees dressed to the nines as they passed through the gates just before noon on Friday, flooding into the Plaza de Mexico.

Aileen Brazeau of San Clemente said she and her close friend have been attending the races every year since their husbands, who were horse racing partners, passed away. Brazeau was also eager to bet on her friend’s horse, Rosie Ann Rules, in a race later in the day.

Jockey Juan Hernandez departs the track after coming in first on horse Breakfast Ride during the first race of this year's summer meet at Del Mar Racetrack. Photo by Laura Place
Jockey Juan Hernandez departs the track after coming in first on horse Breakfast Ride during the first race of this year’s summer meet at Del Mar Racetrack. Photo by Laura Place

“We’re coming out in commemoration of opening day,” Brazeau said, clad in a blue feathered and jeweled hat with a doll of her likeness perched on top. “Since our husbands were partners for 20 years, it’s something we like to do together.”

Even before hooves met the dirt in the first race, the day’s spectacle began with the Opening Day hat contest in the plaza, as women debuted show-stopping fascinators in the categories of Best Fascinator, Most Glamorous, Best Flowers, and Best Racing Theme or other theme.

Solana Beach resident Susan Leonard has been coming to the summer races for 15 years and enjoys entering and volunteering at the hat contest. On Friday, she donned a blue sun hat with yellow tulle, blue feathers and flowers designed by Aimee Fuller to match her sunny yellow dress.

Spectators cheer during the five-furlong turf race on the opening day of Del Mar’s summer meet. Photo by Laura Place
Spectators cheer during the five-furlong turf race on the opening day of Del Mar’s summer meet. Photo by Laura Place

“I call it Cool California because it’s very fresh and natural, with the colors of the sea, but the feel of the race track where the surf meets the turf,” Leonard said. “It’s really fun to be around here and inspire the new contestants that have never been here before.”

Out of the approximately 160 entries, Steffi Poce of Park City, Utah, took the grand prize with her depiction of the circular Del Mar racetrack featuring a horse and rider in the center, all spanning around three feet and impressively balanced on top of her head with a yellow and blue riding outfit to match.

Visit dmtc.com for schedules, tickets and race results for the 2022 summer season.

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