1937: Del Mar's First Race
With the success of Santa Anita Park, Southern California racing began it Renaissance. After the Arcadia track completed its third season of live action, fans were treated to another plant about a hundred miles down south.
Spearheaded by crooner and Thoroughbred racing figure Bing Crosby, Del Mar opened for business on July 3, 1937. Nestled by the ocean, racegoers were offered daily cards in a picturesque setting. And the cooler weather did not hurt, either.
As was the norm in racing back in those days, Hollywood stars arrived for the festivities. Along with Crosby, actor and track executive Pat O'Brien was on hand, as were Lucille Ball, Clark Gable, Chico and Zeppo Marx, Barbara Stanwyck, and Robert Taylor. Noted comedian Oliver Hardy also showed up, serving as honorary starter.
Like Santa Anita, Del Mar was a place to see and be seen.
The nascent track got started with a five furlong sprint on the main track for California-bred maidens. No one knew who was going to be the first to pose for a winner's picture, but the one sure thing about this race was that a first-time winner would be crowned.
A total of ten horses were on track to dispute the contest. Top billing went to Santouri, who was owned by William Le Baron. Going by the wagering, the only horse deemed to be a likely contender to Santouri was High Strike, who happened to be owned by Bing Crosby himself. Santouri settled in at even money, while High Strike had 3-1 odds. Other than Mam Lindy at over 6-1, everyone else carried longshot status.
Aside from the fact this was Del Mar's very first race, intrigue surrounded the sprint for some other stories. Might Santouri confirm his backers were right in picking him to take first place? Could Crosby be the first winning owner at his own track? Or would a longshot get the summer party started with a huge surprise?
Called by track announcer Joe Hernandez (who would serve in that role at Del Mar for years), the principal trio occupied the top spots early. High Strike got to the lead as Santouri and Mam Lindy followed in that order. Behind them were Mickey O'Boyle, Shortbread, Johnny Pan, Wild Surmise, Prince Tempo, Sky Angel and Frisco Boy. Those seven horses were relegated to battling for fourth place; they were not going to bring forth a huge win payout.
Meanwhile, High Strike stayed in first position as Santouri and Mam Lindy pursued. The pace was not blazing, with a quarter-mile done in :23 1/5 and the half in :47 even. High Strike maintained his lead in the stretch. Mam Lindy moved up one spot, getting past Santouri, but he had to be satisfied with second.
As thouands watched, High Strike completed his five furlong excursion in 1:00 2/5 to become the new track's very first winner by over two lengths. On what was already a big day for Crosby, High Strike gave the entertainer a bonus by making him the first winning owner in Del Mar history.
Mam Lindy took second, and Santouri came in third. Rounding out the top four was Mickey O'Boyle.
There may have been no longshot winner or even one who took victory by a wide margin, but High Strike entered the annals of California racing history with his performance at Del Mar as the new track began its inaugural summer season.
Pat O'Brien, Lucille Ball and others attend opening day. Kendall, Read. "Flickerville Favorites Attend Del Mar Opening." Los Angeles Times, July 4, 1937.
Oliver Hardy serves as honorary starter. Lowry, Paul. "Favorite Romps Home: Crowd of 18,000 Witnesses Launching of Crosby Track." Los Angeles Times, July 4, 1937