Where the Surf and Turf Meet...Rugrats?


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THE LONE GAMBLER, chomping on a stogie and laying down $2 bets with machine-like consistency, was an image the folks at Del Mar Racetrack wanted to get away from. So in the late 1980s, even before the new grandstand opened, they began scheming for ways to diversify entertainment. The horses would always be number 1, but the track pack began adding all sorts of side pursuits to get the lone gambler to bring along the wife and the kids—and maybe even visit the track outside of normal racing hours.

These days, there’s a lot in between where the turf meets the surf. Try big-name rock concerts, Tommy from the children’s cartoon series Rugrats, pony rides, a rock-climbing wall and even a beer brew-off.

“Our goal is to create a festive atmosphere,” says Chris Bahr, promotions coordinator at Del Mar Racetrack, where the annual horseracing kicks off July 24. “We attract patrons through various events and hope they will keep coming back and eventually learn more and more about racing and what an exciting sport it is.”

A key part of the racetrack’s strategy now is to “provide a family experience,” Bahr says. “Already, I hear people saying, ‘I used to go to Del Mar back when my family used to take me, and now I’m a regular fan.’ We provide a one-stop entertainment destination.”

The track’s 2002 racing season runs through September 11. Besides the horses, activities include:

Four O’Clock Fridays: Races start at 4 p.m., two hours later than usual, on the first four Fridays and at 3:30 on the final three Fridays. Free concerts follow the last race; past headliners have included the Smithereens, the English Beat’s Dave Wakeling and the Untouchables.

Family Fun Days: Weekends, the infield resembles a giant playground for kids. Free attractions include pony rides, face painting, inflatables, contests, a prize wheel and all sorts of games. Clowns and magicians are also on hand to entertain.

The fun starts at 1 p.m. and lasts until 6 every Saturday and Sunday, as well as Labor Day Monday, with the exception of Pacific Classic Day (August 25), when kiddieland is open from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30.

If you’re only going once, the day to go is Special Family Fun Day on Sunday, August 11. In addition to the regular activities, kids are treated to a display from the Birch Aquarium, a rock-climbing wall and a special appearance by Tommy from The Rugrats.

Daybreak at Del Mar: For those who just can’t get enough of the horses, the Clubhouse Terrace Restaurant opens for breakfast every Saturday and Sunday throughout racing season (except August 25). From 7:30 until 9:30 a.m., diners can chow down while watching horses go through their morning workouts. A trackside announcer keeps aficionados informed on the action and identifies the horses as they begin their tune-ups.

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