You know him as one of the top singers of the 20th century. You also know him as an actor. Many of you have seen him in White Christmas, Holiday Inn or one of the Road pictures opposite his good friend, Bob Hope.
Make no mistake, Harry Lillis Crosby made an indelible mark on the entertainment world with his crooning and acting. But the man we know as Bing left a sizable imprint in another industry: Thoroughbred racing.
His greatest contribution was spearheading the formation of the Del Mar racetrack, which opened on July 3, 1937. With its Mission-style architecture and gorgeous location by the beach, the seaside track turned into a major tourist destination for both everyday folks and fellow entertainers, who stopped by to take in the action when not filming on a movie lot.
Interestingly, Crosby holds the distinction of being the winning owner of Del Mar's very first race, which came courtesy of a horse named High Strike. On top of being a racetrack executive, Crosby got involved in the Thoroughbred game as an owner, notably with Lin Howard, the son of noted owner Charles Howard. Together, they formed Binglin Stable, which became part of the California racing landscape in those days.
Crosby may have captured the first race ever run at the San Diego County oval, but in terms of ownership,he is remembered more for that capacity thanks to a race that happened the following summer.
The 1938 session marked the only time the legendary Seabiscuit made a start on Del Mar's main track. Just weeks removed from winning the inaugural Hollywood Gold Cup, the Biscuit was in top form and easily the most popular horse around. Only one horse would take him on, however, and that horse happened to be co-owned by none other than Crosby himself.
Seabiscuit and Ligaroti had met before, but not in a match race. In effect, this put Crosby, the head of Del Mar, against Seabiscuit, the big horse on the circuit. Plus, Lin Howard and his father were on opposite sides, with Lin co-owning Ligaroti and Charles campaigning the Biscuit. It all made for some interesting subplots for the match race.
In the end, very few could have been disappointed with the outcome. Seabiscuit held off Ligaroti for a narrow victory, giving thousands of fans the moment they wanted. Charles Howard was of course happy to see his horse pick up another win in what turned out to be Seabiscuit's Horse of the Year campaign. And though he lost the race as an owner, Crosby had to have been thrilled that a star horse arrived on the grounds and won. Well versed in showbusiness, Crosby obviously knew the value of publicity, and getting Seabiscuit to his track had to have been a real feather in the cap for him, especially after the Biscuit won.
Crosby remained at the helm of Del Mar for the better part of a decade before stepping aside from his leadership role. But over the years, he has remained very much a part of the track he co-founded.
Since 1946, the Bing Crosby Stakes has been contested during the summer season. A highly prestigious sprint race, it serves as a Breeders' Cup Win & You're In event, with the winner gaining an automatic berth to the Breeders' Cup Sprint. The Bing Crosby has also produced notable winners in Kissin' George (1967, 1969) Pretense (1968), Cherry River (1976, 1977), Chinook Pass (1983), Kona Gold (2000, 2001), Zensational (2009), and Ransom the Moon (2017, 2018).
Del Mar never hosted autumn racing during Crosby's tenure, but after Hollywood Park closed in 2013, Del Mar inherited the fall dates previously held by the Track of the Lakes and Flowers. Starting in 2014, Del Mar has hosted the Bing Crosby season every autumn (save for one year when it was named the Del Mar racing festival). And Bing is not the only Crosby honored during that meet. The Kathryn Crosby Stakes, which serves as the traditional opening day feature, is named in honor of Bing's wife.
And patrons who visit Del Mar will sooner or later hear the voice of the crooner himself, for he sings the track's signature tune, "Where the Turf Meets the Surf."
It is impossible to imagine California racing without Bing Crosby. Without him, we may never have gotten Del Mar or the famed Seabiscuit-Ligaroti match race. And perhaps Bill Shoemaker would not have become the world's winningest rider with Dares J in 1970.
Today, Del Mar stands as one of the premier facilities in the industry, and those who have helped shape it into that status should be rightly commended, going back all the way to its founding.
And the man whose name is most associated with that founding was more than just a executive or owner. He was a racing fan, and his love for the sport helped give us Del Mar.