A Day at the Del Mar Races: Where the Surf Meets the Turf


Elizabeth Taylor loved animals. Visiting her godfather’s estate in the English countryside, she was in heaven, surrounded by dogs, cats, lambs, guinea pigs, tortoises, and chickens.  God forbid, anyone should kill one of those chickens for dinner!  For her fifth birthday, she was surprised with a pony named Betty.

Young and beautiful.

“The first time I got on her back, she threw me into a patch of stinging nettles,” Taylor once recalled, but that didn’t keep her from getting on and riding again.

At twelve years old, Taylor knew she was perfect for the role of Velvet Brown in MGM’s National Velvet, released in 1944.  The title character is a young girl who trains her beloved horse to win the Grand National.  Some of the crew questioned Taylor’s equestrian abilities and one of her trainers felt she lacked confidence when riding, but the audience fell in love with her.

Jumping ahead to 1985, years after she had wed and divorced Richard Burton twice and her marriage, her sixth, to Senator John Warner had ended, Taylor continued to be enamored with horses.  On the arm of her friend and fellow actor George Hamilton, she sometimes attended the races.  Getting further involved, she bought a three-year old colt named Basic Image.

The actress dressed her jockeys in a deep pink with chartreuse diamonds racing silks, the colors she had worn in National Velvet.  On July 26 at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club that jockey was Willie Shoemaker.

Shoemaker wasn’t any ordinary jockey.  Up to that point in his 37-year career, he had won more races (8,482), more stakes races (928), and more purses (almost $102 million) than anyone else.  Only two weeks earlier he had finished second at Hollywood Park on Taylor’s horse.  This time, however, he fell leaving the gate, when Basic Image clipped the heels of another thoroughbred.

The Shoe, suffering a fractured vertebra in his lower back, was out for the rest of the season at Del Mar.  But always a gentleman, he called Taylor to assure her that it wasn’t the horse’s fault.

Philosophically, he noted, “I guess if something like this is going to happen, the best place for it to happen is at Del Mar.”  He continued, “I can’t play golf, but at least I’ve got the beach.”

© 2012 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved



Cougars Just Wanna Have Fun.

The horses are running at the Del Mar Racetrack, but the competition for Miss Cougar Del Mar is over, at least for this season.  The 2011 winner was Rosa Hildebrandt from Chino, California.

Miss Cougar Del Mar 2011. Photo by: Jennifer Armour

From Miss Hildebrandt’s photo in the local papers, she’s a youthful looking 51-year old who knows how to strut her stuff.  Her electric-blue mini-dress was as tight as an unopened jar of dill pickles.  Her smile was a bright as a full moon.

As a businesswoman, Rosa also knows how to handle herself.  Commenting on a request she received for a sexual favor in exchange for a vote, she said. “That’s ok…thank you so much. It’s not all about that, you know?”

Well, it’s not all about that.

Still, she appears a bit on the defensive concerning the image of cougars as women on the prowl.  “Our group is more tasteful, and we take pride in what we do,” she remarked.  “We’re not out there swinging on stripper poles.”

Did anyone say they were?

Opinions certainly vary on whether the contest is tasteful or tacky, but it sure brings in the crowds, especially those who qualify as cubs.  “I wish they had this every Friday,” said one 20-something male.

Another rhetorically asked, “Am I cougar bait?” And then he answered his own question, “God, I hope so.”

The day of the event the two previous title holders were on hand to wish their successor well.  How could they give up their fun in the sun?

Rosie Goldstein of 2009 gave a rousing rendition of Del Mar’s theme song, “Where the surf meets the turf,” reminding attendees, as if they needed to be reminded, “to take a plane, take a train, or take a car” to get to the racetrack by the sea.

Another winner. Photo by: Jennifer Armour

CC Perkinson of 2010 had just returned from a “Cougar and Cub” cruise to Mexico.  It wasn’t reported how she made out.  In September she will appear on an episode of “Fear Factor.”

There’s apparently life after wearing the crown.

© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved


Endless Summer in San Diego

Photo by: Leadenhall

Summer officially is here when the San Diego County Fair opens at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in mid-June.  The site was constructed in 1936 with a half-million dollar grant from the Works Progress Administration.

An all-time attendance record was set this year, with the 1,412,113 visitors enjoying the variety of livestock, endless arts and crafts exhibits, professional garden displays, super-duper carnival rides, and top-notch entertainment.

And then there’s the food.  The most popular item was “Deep Fried Kool Aid.”  I have no idea what that is, but 100,000 people tried it.

The second half of the summer revolves around thoroughbred horse racing where the “turf meets the surf” in Del Mar.

Same locale; different crowd.

Blogging about last year’s season, Del Mar Racing Thoroughbred Club CEO, Joe Harper, wrote, “Horses, hats, silicone and spandex.  It was all here and hanging out.  Sports stars, politicians, celebrities and wannabes.”

“Hats” refer to the “One and Only Fabulous Hats Contest” on opening day, a popular tradition started in 1995.  Participants, which include a good portion of the female contingent, compete in four categories:  best racing theme, funniest or most outrageous, most glamorous, and best flowers.  The Bing Crosby Grand Prize winner earns two round trip airline vouchers, courtesy of American Airlines.

Less than two weeks later, women over forty vie to become Miss Cougar Del Mar.  This competition was first held three years ago to showcase the Cougar II Handicap Race, Del Mar’s longest event at one and a half miles.

“Cougar” is urban slang for a woman who looks young, dresses young, and dates young, usually men eight years or more her junior.   Some feel it is a derogatory term, but that doesn’t damper the enthusiasm of the contestants.

Photo by: Bill Gracey

Miss Cougar 2009, Rosie Goldstein, wore a strapless red and white dress the day she was awarded the title.  “I hold my head up proud,” she emphatically stated.  “I have never felt more beautiful than this year.”  Exactly what year it was she didn’t say.

Miss Cougar 2010, CC Perkinson, believes that being a cougar “empowers women to keep a healthy mind and a healthy body.”  It’s good to realize “there’s men out there that are attracted to you.”

The four finalists for Miss Cougar 2011 have not yet been selected.  They will each receive clubhouse admission for a day at the races and VIP concert passes for later that evening.  The winner also has the honor of presenting the trophy for the Handicap.

The deadline for applications is July 24, so there’s still time to send in a photo and explanation of your qualifications.  My motto: if you’ve got it, flaunt it.

Hats off to the ladies of summer.


© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved