Wednesday, July 18, 2007

"And Away They Go": Opening Day At Del Mar

Growing up, one of my favorite family activities was heading to the races. In his younger days, my grandpa owned horses that raced at Caliente in Tijuana. Many years after his horses were long gone, his passion for thoroughbreds never diminished. Tata was a farmer and as a result, his daily apparel consisted of long sleeve khaki shirts and long khaki pants, scruffy beard, and his old stetson hats that had a distinct sweet smell, the combination of sweat, Prince Albert in the Can, and his Old Spice. When he'd kiss me as a child, I would throw tantrums, the rough of his beard cutting into my face. His uniform never changed, except on race days.

On Race days, my family would load up a cooler of snacks and beverages, lather on the sunscreen, and head to the races. While we were all sporting shorts and flip flops, Tata was dressed in his long sleeve blue button down shirt, nice slacks, his leather boots, and his "good" hat, his face as smooth as a baby's bottom from his straight razor shave reserved for track days only. We'd head to the track and into the infield, finding a nice area in the grass, equidistant from the tv monitors by the pond and the betting windows. My dad and tata would sit handicapping with the Daily Racing Form while my mom, sister, brother and I mostly picked the ponies by their names, or in my case, if I liked the name of the horse and found that Gary Stevens or Chris McCarron (or in my Tata's accent, "Macaroon") were riding it. Part of my grandpa's ritual was to race through the tunnel to the Paddock to see all the horses, then race back to place his bets, and my sister and I would join him, trying to keep up with his speed walk.

The track is a lot different now, it's a much fancier affair these days, but there's still a place for the kids in flip flops and shorts, too. (In fact, check here for the stuff you can still take into the doesn't have to be an expensive trip.) Tata is no longer with us, but I still feel him with me when I stand adjacent the odds board watching the horses cross the finish line from the infield. I won't be at opening day today, but I will definitely be at the track at least a couple times this summer.

My dear friend Andrea, however, will be there today after her busy weekend at the Village Hat Shop, selling tons of hats to people heading up for opening day. The U-T Street crew were there and you can watch the video here.

If you, too, are a fan of the ponies, I highly recommend creating a profile with the DMTC site. Throughout the racing season, you will receive newsletters, e-mails, and at least two or three times a season, complimentary general admission tickets.

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