Del Mar Odyssey: 40 Years And Counting

All roads lead to Del Mar.

Well, at least for me they do.

Nothing against Saratoga, which has the best race meeting in North America in a historic setting in upstate New York, but Del Mar has been a rite of summer for me for the last 40 years.

It began in 1979, the year I escaped the brutal winters of Chicago and moved to Southern California, eventually settling into a handicapping and editing job at Daily Racing Form’s Los Angeles office. Weekends in Del Mar meant an adventure on the train or freeway, drinks and dinner at Bully’s or Jakes, and lots of racing and gambling in between.

It continued from 1988 to 2007 after moving to Lexington, Ky., to work for Thoroughbred Times and then Blood-Horse magazine. Most summers, a family vacation in Del Mar was followed up by a trip to Saratoga to attend races, sales and business meetings.

Psychologically speaking, Del Mar equated to fun and relaxation while Saratoga always seemed like work. The Del Mar suitcase was packed with shorts, sandals and Hawaiian shirts. Saratoga was coat and tie.

Since 2008, when the Paulick Report was launched, Del Mar has taken on an entirely different meaning when I decided to make the cross-country trek from Kentucky to California by car, driving through what some people refer to as “flyover country.” Each year, I try to find a new way to get from Point A to Point B, to see different things, meet different people.

That drive is something I look forward to almost as much as the awaiting blue Pacific, the fish tacos at The Brigantine or the crooning of Bing Crosby’s “Where the Turf Meets the Surf.”

These road trips have taken me back to my small-town childhood home in Illinois, to the majesty of Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota, through the endless cornfields of Nebraska and into the breathtaking beauty of the Rockies in Colorado. I’ve roamed through buffalo country in Wyoming, been awestruck by state and national parks, seen geysers, rock formations, rivers and waterfalls that I can’t begin to describe.

I’ve enjoyed fine dining – a T-bone at the Cattleman’s Steakhouse in Fabens, Texas, and salmon in Seattle – and cooked hot dogs on a stick over a campfire. I’ve been to a mermaid bar in Great Falls, Mont., and the Slug Bug Ranch of buried VW beetles in the Texas panhandle. A clerk at the Alien Beef Jerky store in Baker, Calif., liked the Hawaiian shirt I was wearing so much he offered me store credit for T-shirts and jerky if I’d give it to him.

I did.

Maybe it’s because these road trips remind me of my childhood, when my parents packed the station wagon with food and foam-rubber cushions for us kids to sleep on while they drove through the night west on old Route 66 to California or east to the World’s Fair in New York.

For me, Del Mar is like life itself: a journey or an adventure, not a destination.

This year, for the first time, I plan to stay for the entire Del Mar meet, from Wednesday’s opening day to the Labor Day closing on Sept. 3. With your indulgence, I’ll write about it in this space from time to time.

The post Del Mar Odyssey: 40 Years And Counting appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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