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I admit, I was kind of scared yesterday morning when I woke up and it was cloudy, cold and even drizzly outside. Let me tell you, California has not been living up to its “sunny” reputation this summer. I was even more glad that I had remembered to pack my black blazer when I slipped into my fabulous opening day dress, a vintage-inspired shift in Del Mar blue – sleeveless is not the way to go when the breeze is wintry. Drizzle speckled my windshield on the drive up to the track. I hoped for a miracle but braced for the worst.
On-track, my assignment was to photograph and document as many people, horses and sights as possible for the Opening Day social media post-a-palooza.
I went out on the apron to get shots of the place empty, and saw the brave few firsters who set up lawn chairs by the rail. As I shivered my way down to where the starting gate was parked, I saw a guy intently watching the horses gallop for their workouts. I stopped and asked him if any were his, and he said no, but he had a horse in a race that day. It so happened that Rick was a partner in Joyride Stable, the partnership who owns Domonation, a 3yo colt slated to test the turf in the feature, the Oceanside Stakes. We chatted a few minutes, but I barely got a word in edgewise. Rick was intense about his horses and hopeful of Domonation’s chances. He also had lots of praise for trainer John Sadler.
Wandered up to the clubhouse and took pics of the linen-topped tables and flowers. Once the gates opened the walkways up there were too crowded for me to get through!
The fancy hats began arriving as soon as the gates opened, and I made a beeline for the Plaza de Mexico, where the hat contest contestants milled around posing. It was so much fun to get pics of ladies and their fun hats, and every one of them were happy to give me all the deets: how long it took them to create their hats, how many flowers/beads/Faberge eggs were used, where they were from, how many times they’d entered…
I took several breaks throught the day to post the shots on Del Mar’s social media sites, so if you follow them on Twitter, FB or Flickr, most of the pics from opening day are mine!
I glanced at the entries a few days before and a familiar name jumped out at me: VALIANT EFFORT.
This older claimer is a big favorite of my friend Debbie in Mississippi. She saw him on TVG a couple years back when he did some serious acrobatics in a turf race here at Del Mar. Ever since, she has managed to keep up with him and lets me know when he runs. I made it my mission to be in the paddock when he was being saddled to get some pictures of him for her. As I stood snapping away, I noticed a lady next to me who was taking just as many pics as me. I asked her if she was VE’s owner, and sure enough, she was! Kathy was tickled to hear that someone in Mississippi, of all places, was a fan of her horse! I wished her luck and followed the field as they walked through the clubhouse tunnel to the track. I stationed myself at the winner’s circle “just in case” and wtched with delight as Valiant Effort stalked the pace in 3rd and then gutted out a narrow victory!
I was giddy watching the horse come back and congratulated his trainer, Ron Ellis. Kathy came running to the winner’s circle and the entire crew just looked so happy in their official photos! As she left the winner’s circle, Kathy saw me and said it must have been some Mississippi luck!
The most thrilling race of the day had to be the 7th, where Lava Girl and Go On Babe dead-heated in a dramatic blanket finish. Lava Girl was my rooting interest since I had seen her in the morning workouts and also visited her in her barn. She is Lava Man’s half-sister, too!
The Oceanside Stakes was won by a Sadler horse, but it was not Domonation – Twirling Candy established himself as a serious 3yo to watch in his turf debut. They say an NFL player was there to present the trophy, but I wouldn’t have known him. I didn’t get any pics of him, either, because right after the Oceanside, my camera died. I took the hint and trudged back up to the office for one last photo posting.
Then after congratulating the other interns on a great Opening Day, I sat in the parking lot for an hour as traffic knotted the roads. I finally made it home after 9, after an intense 13-hr day of horses and gi-normous hats!
Snuck into the Turf Club to get some shots of the Kettle One vodka ice sculpture…
Met 3 previous winners of the Hat Contest, and picked out at least half of this year’s finalists early in the day! My favorite? The surfing horse!
TROTT rep with huge “Queen Z” hat posing for pics, with a donation, of course 😉
Getting to eat lunch with the reporters in the press box…
Weird incident before the 5th race, when scads of ladies in hats & high heels went out to the starting gate while horses were on the track. Umm, guys, the gate crew have to wear vests around that thing, and ya’ll are in heels? Plus they stayed in the empty chutes while the horses broke for the race! YIKES
Said hi & congrats to Bob Baffert… Said hi & better luck next time to Eddie Truman, whose filly Reason to Run looked good early but couldn’t stay on at the end of the race.
Did I mention it took at HOUR to get out of the PARKING LOT??
My first Opening Day at Del Mar was Truly Fabulous!