The ladies arrive in tight-fitting cocktail dresses topped by huge hats, the gentlemen don pants and jackets with pictures of horses on them and drinks flow like at a wedding reception.
It’s Derby Day and not the one you’re likely thinking about on the famed grounds of Churchill Downs but instead at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club on the San Diego coastline where “the turf meets the surf.” Welcome to the Kentucky Derby of the West Coast.
Del Mar Opening Day – a Southern California summertime ritual that is always on a mid-Wednesday in July (well in 2022 its Friday, July 22) – is a social scene with the backdrop of horse racing. In this regard, it is quite similar to its more famous cousin in Kentucky. But this is California, where things are a bit more relaxed and refined.
There are activities in the infield, for instance, but it’s nothing like the infield at the Kentucky Derby, which has a mud pit and people wearing t-shirts with the words “you can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning.”
And, because it’s not a Triple Crown event, there is far less intensity among the participants, spectators and especially the bettors.
This results in a far more laid-back atmosphere where socializing and – well let’s face it, drinking – take priority to which horse and jockey crosses the finish line first.
In fact, it’s accurate to describe Del Mar Opening Day as a mini-Kentucky Derby. The facility is not nearly as big as Churchill Downs and you can easily cruise around it without constantly bumping into people. (This being said, getting a drink and placing a bet takes patience because with crowds of more than 50,000, you’re going to wait.)
As an example of the more casual atmosphere, you can wander down at pretty much anytime during the day to the west side of the facility to watch the ladies walk around a circle to show off their wardrobe in the annual hat contest. At the Kentucky Derby, you would not dare leave your area.
The party atmosphere, the attire of the people and the horse racing are all Kentucky Derby elements, tho, albeit with that California touch.
Tickets for Del Mar Opening Day are $15, $30 for clubhouse (recommended; this is not a seat but rather doubles the area of the facility you can visit).