76th season of horse racing at Del Mar Racetrack begins

Hat contest, $100K Oceanside Stakes marks 1st day

DEL MAR - The 76th season of horse racing at the Del Mar Racetrack began Wednesday featuring the annual hat contest and the $100,000 Oceanside Stakes for 3-year-olds.

Opening Day attendance on Wednesday was 43,030. It is down from last year's number, which was 47,000.

The 19th "One and Only Truly Fabulous Hats Contest" started at 11:30 a.m. in the Plaza de Mexico, with a panel of celebrity judges rating on style and creativity. Categories include Best Racing Theme, Funniest or Most Outrageous, Most Glamorous, Best Flowers and Best Fascinator, which is a type of headpiece or hair accessory.

The grand prize is two American Airlines round-trip ticket vouchers for use anywhere in the continental U.S. that the airline flies, plus a $500 gift basket from Studio Savvy. Category winners will receive $300, with $200 for second place and $100 for third place.

"Each year more women and men wear hats to make a fashion statement -- and not just on Opening Day," said Julie Sarno, the coordinator of the contest. "The Opening Day hats are the most fun and over the top, but any day of the race meet one sees men wearing fedoras and women wearing fascinators and hats to complete their outfits."

Jockey Joel Rosario and trainer Peter Miller swept the first two races.

Rosario rode Casa de Cambio to victory in the first race and Keep Movin' in the second.

The one-mile, $100,000 Oceanside Stakes was set to be the ninth race of the day.

The highlight of the 37-day meet is the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic on Aug. 25.

Overall, nearly $7.8 million is available in stakes races. Five stakes races will serve as preludes to the Breeder's Cup, horse racing's annual fall bonanza, which will take place this year at Santa Anita in Arcadia, near Los Angeles.

"Del Mar is delighted to again be hosting important Breeders' Cup Challenge races," said Tom Robbins, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club's executive vice president for racing and racing secretary. "These five prestigious races are only made more valuable by their additional monetary encouragement for horsemen to take part in racing's championship events."

According to published reports, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club officials have pitched the idea of hosting the Breeder's Cup, possibly as soon as next year. The California Horse Racing Board has tentatively approved dates for fall racing meets in Del Mar in 2014 and 2015, according to the reports.

Jockeys described what opening day is like for them.

"Just a lot of excitement a lot of energy," said Corey Nakatani, a jockey. "You can't wait  to get the day started."

Trainer Matthew Chew said he has been coming to the Del Mar Racetrack since he was a baby.

"I’ve been coming back every year since," said Chew. "The biggest change that I’ve seen in this track over the years is, this used to be a time that we came down and it was a vacation. Nobody took Del Mar very seriously. It was a time to kind of relax, go to the beach."

But Chew said over the years, the racetrack has become prestigious.

"If you want to be a player in California, you have to compete at Del Mar and do well," he said.

Chew said those who compete at the races work hard and training starts at 3:30 a.m. every morning.

"We do it for the love of the animals, and we do it because we like the competition," Chew said. "And no matter how hard it is to get to that winner’s circle, when you get to that circle, the world’s problems disappear."

The Friday concert series will continue this year, beginning with the B-52s this week.

For the most part, racing will take place Wednesday through Sunday, with first post at 2 p.m. The exceptions are:

   -- Fridays, when first post is 4 p.m.;

   -- Pacific Classic day, when first post is 1 p.m.; and

   -- Labor Day, in which races will take place on a Monday.

The season closes on Sept. 4.

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