Rancho Santa Fe Sports

Horse races set to start, but on a new day this year

DEL MAR — When the hooves hit the ground running July 17 for the 75th season of horse racing at the Del Mar Racetrack, fans may notice a few things are different this year, including the opening day.

The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club usually begins its regular meet on a Wednesday, but because the San Diego County Fair was extended past its traditional July Fourth closing date, officials are taking an extra day to prepare the grounds and racing surface for safety reasons.

This will be the fourth time since 1937, when racing started where the turf meets the surf, that opening day is on a Thursday.

Also new this year is the seven-furlong inner course that replaced the previous turf installed for the 1960 season.

The $5 million project began in September to widen the course to 80 feet all around. While the main goal was to increase safety for the riders and horses, officials hoped it would also attract the Breeders’ Cup, which it did.

Del Mar was selected to host the prestigious event in 2017.

The old course had GN-1 Bermuda grass, or Greg Norman-1, named for the golfer who invented the strain.

The same type was used because of its ability to adapt and grow well in Del Mar and withstand the track’s use of salty reclaimed water.

The grass is also tough and dense, which keeps the hoof from penetrating the turf.

DMTC officials were also hoping California Chrome would help make the 2014 season unique.

There was a possibility the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner would race in the Pacific Classic, but an injury he suffered in the Belmont Stakes will prevent him from doing so.

His owners, however, said California Chrome could make an appearance on Pacific Classic Day, which is Aug. 24.

Most of the track’s tried and true traditions will return, including the Opening Day Hat Contest, family day, giveaway days and post-race weekend concerts.

At the close of opening day, race-goers can continue the fun at the nearby businesses.

At L’Auberge Del Mar, for example, the hotel will be transformed into a party by the sea with music, cocktails and food.

New this year is Club 1540, a limited-access nightclub offering a private red-carpet entrance, complimentary champagne and a special menu of tray-passed creations from the new Kitchen 1540 menu.

Spa L’Auberge has also launched a new seasonal race menu that includes a mint julep scrub and daily double, exacta and trifecta spa packages.

One thing race fans won’t have to do when the summer season ends Sept. 3 is wait another year to watch live thoroughbred racing.

Also new to Del Mar this year is a fall meet that runs Nov. 7 through Nov. 30.