DEL MAR, Calif. (KGTV/CNS) - Racing season returns to the Del Mar Racetrack Wednesday, with over 40,000 fans expected for Opening Day festivities.
The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club kicks off its 78th season July 19 with Opening Day, and the season concludes September 4. Races are held Wednesday through Sunday.
For Opening Day, the highlights will be the annual hat contest and the $100,000 Oceanside Stakes, with a 14-horse field of 3-year-olds competing on the infield grass track.
The popular Arrogate, who won at Del Mar last August, won't be running on Opening Day but is expected to race Saturday in the $200,000 TVG San Diego Handicap.
PHOTOS: Hats galore at Opening Day!
Arrogate is on a seven-race winning streak, including a victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic, and has earned a North American record of more than $17 million. The 4-year-old has had the last four months off.
According to the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, the 36-day summer season will include five races in the Breeders' Cup Challenge Series, which will serve as qualifiers for the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Del Mar for the first time Nov. 3-4.
The traditional hat contest, being held between 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. in Plaza de Mexico inside the Stretch Run admission gates, offers more than $5,000 in total prizes. There is no fee to participate.
Winners in each category -- Most Outrageous, Best Racing Theme, Best Racing Theme, Best Fascinator and Flowers/All Other -- receive $300 plus a Studio Savvy gift basket valued at $250. Second place is worth $200 and third place $100.
A Grand Prize winner will receive a one-night stay at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar and dinner for two at Addisons Restaurant.
Among the highlights for this racing season:
-- 27th running of the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic on August 19
-- Handicapping Challenge, July 29-30
-- Family Fun Day and Webkinz Giveaway on August 6
-- BBQ State Championship on August 20
Violent Femmes (July 28), Ludacris (August 12) and Steve Aoki (September 3) will all take the stage this race season as part of the popular concert series. Click here to view the full concert series lineup
Concerts are free with admission as long as you make it through before the start of the last race.
Stretch Run and infield admission is $6, except for Opening Day when it will be $10. Active-duty military are free any day with ID. Children 17 and under are admitted free.
Parking is available on-site, with general/early bird parking $10 and preferred parking $15. For most days, meets generally start at 2 p.m.
Fans can also ride Amtrak or the North County Transit District's Coaster trains or buses to the Solana Beach station, where they can meet a shuttle bus to the track.
The NCTD will augment its Coaster schedule with two additional trains both southbound from Oceanside and northbound from downtown San Diego.
In addition to the regular Coaster schedule, the southbound trains will leave the Oceanside Transit Center at 11:20 a.m. and 6:42 p.m. The additional northbound runs will depart Solana Beach at 1:09 p.m. and 8:50 p.m.
The NCTD's partnership with Amtrak, which allows passengers paying Coaster fares to ride Amtrak trains between San Diego and Oceanside, will not be in effect from today through Sunday.
The DMTC has also established a partnership with ride-hailing service Uber to provide transportation to and from the racetrack.
The North County Transit District is offering $11 "Pony Express" tickets during racing season. The ticket includes round-trip on the Coaster, Sprinter or Breeze, shuttle from Solana Beach station to the races and Stretch Run admission. Click here for more information