Hey, there's a horse blocking the screen!
Highlighted by a new dirt track and Caitlyn Jenner’s appearance, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club started its 76th meet on July 16 with a reported 45,000+ fans in attendance, many wearing big hats, tight dresses, or seersucker suits.
Having played it over 13,000 times for Del Mar fans, local trumpeter Les Kepics blew the traditional “First Call” as the horses and their jockeys appeared on the track. Kepics started his 31st season at Del Mar.
Has Kepics ever screwed it up? Yes. In his second year, in front of 35,000 fans, after the first few notes, the piece went south. “It was like a hush went over the crowd. Everyone was on the edge of their seats,” Kepics said. “Then the jeering and boos started.”
Thinking he was finished with his career at the track, the next race, Kepics said, he played the piece one-handed, double time, and got a cheering round of applause. Kepics said he recently re-upped for another four-year deal with the track.
Beauty and death at the track
Smartly dressed Connie Broge of Carlsbad was seen in the winner’s circle after every race. “You’re sure winning a lot today,” I inquired. “I win every race,” she responded. Turns out, Broge is the official flower girl, making sure the owner of each winning horse receives a bouquet of roses; also, a bottle of bourbon from this year’s sponsor of the winner’s circle (Maker’s Mark).
Broge said she’s been doing this job since 1997, after a 20-year run at the Santa Anita track. She said that racing protocol calls for one dozen roses for the winning owner. “Any color is fine,” she said; however, if it’s a big stakes race, protocol requires two dozen red roses.
She also has the job of making sure big sports stars make it through the crowd to pose with the winners. “Sometimes I’m not told who the athlete is; I’ll guess his sport by his size and build, and if correct, usually the celebrity will volunteer his team’s name and position played.
During a break between the fifth and sixth races, kids from Camp Del Mar ran the 100-foot Hippity Hoppity Derby on the dirt track, sitting atop big bouncy balls.
And there was horse racing…
Jockey Victor Espinoza received a cheer when he mounted horse #8, Indian Nate, in the first race. It was Espinoza who rode American Pharaoh in all three championship races to win the Triple Crown this year. (There had not been a Triple Crown winner since Seattle Slew in 1977.)
The first race’s victory, however, went to last year’s most winning jockey, Rafael Bejarano, aboard #13, Olympic Blue. In the winner’s circle, Bejarano was surrounded by the Spanish-speaking media.
The jockey darling of the media this year was 20-year old Drayden Van Dyke. Standing 5´0˝, the jockey was interviewed by almost every media person at the track. He finished sixth overall at the 2014 Del Mar summer meet and placed third in the standings at last fall’s Bing Crosby run in November.
Van Dyke ran seven opening-day races; his first run was for owner Tom Mensor aboard #12, She Hums, in the second race. The horse’s trainer, Gary Sherlock, said he picked Van Dyke to run his horse because “he was on her when we [purchased] her, and he knew the horse.”
Several races throughout the day were “claiming” races, where one could buy the horse they just saw run, as happened in the third race, when winner #4, Ink Well, was purchased for $20,000 while in the winner’s circle.
Some people do walk out of Del Mar with more money in their pocket than they came with. My nephew, Bobby, visiting from Georgia, hit a $1 Exacta that paid $288.30 in the last race.