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6 Things We Bet You Didn’t Know About the Races

A little insider knowledge… but nothing that will help you win money


1.  Some of the horses have “barn buddies.”

Del Mar Barn Buddies

Who knew a goat could be a secret weapon? Horse trainer Julio Canani is known to put a goat in a stall with a nervous horse. Canani, whose horses have won 42 stakes at Del Mar, grew up on a farm in Peru and knows the power of creature comfort. “I used to go to France five or six times a year because the owners [I worked for] would send me to look for horses over there. The first time I put a goat in a stall was with Tuzla because she was nervous.” Tuzla calmed down and went on to finish second in the 1999 Breeders’ Cup and retire with $1.3 million in career earnings. The winning technique was featured in the HBO show Luck. “That was about my life. One of my goats was in the show. He is named Vicente.” The goat trick works. Except in Canada. “Canada doesn’t let the goats go over there.”

2. If you have $20,000, you can own parts of five or six horses.

For less than the price of a single horse (which can cost millions), you can experience the thrill of ownership, more than once in a season. Scott Kaplan, co-founder of Great Friends Stables in Del Mar, runs his horse racing syndicate like this: Every summer, 20 people put in $20,000 each. “It’s gambling, not investing. It’s for fun and networking,” he says. “When you win, you go crazy. It’s such an adrenaline rush. Your body just vibrates.” They buy their horses before the Del Mar season and sell them at the end. And the next season, it starts all over again.

3. You can “sing with Bing”.

Every day from the Winner’s Circle, a brave soul gets up and sings “Where the Turf Meets the Surf,” the song co-written by Bing Crosby in 1938. “We’ve had some great performances as well as some train wrecks,” says Chris Bahr of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. Most people sing a capella, but past performers have included guitarists, fiddlers, trumpeters, ukulele players. NFL Quarterback Drew Brees, The Wayan Brothers, and pop singer Taylor Dayne have all taken the mic. If you want to sing with Bing, email chris@dmtc.com.

4. Many of the horses arrive via FedEx.

That’s right. If a horse owner doesn’t have his own plane, a horse transport service will book the animal on an airline like Lufthansa or special FedEx equestrian cargo planes.

5. The jockeys pray before the first race each day.

For 43 years, the Race Track Chaplaincy of America has been praying for the safety of every jockey. There are 47 track chaplains in the U.S., and Eddie Meza, a former jockey, has been serving Del Mar, Santa Anita, Pomona, and the now-shuttered Hollywood Park for the last two decades. Married to trainer Francis Meza, his day starts at 8 a.m. and he does more for the jockeys than just pray. He walks from barn to barn and helps workers with applying for visas, renewing green cards, translating for owners, and making trips to the doctor. Every day at 12:30 p.m.—30 minutes before first post—he invites everyone to the jockey room. “Sometimes I get five jockeys, sometimes 20. I say a verse of the Bible and pray, ‘Take care of them and be safe.’” He also does the same thing at the starting gate. And yes, the former jockey ministers while mounted on a horse.

6. You can get a haircut at the track.

Well, jockeys can. And Joe Harper can. Chris Aplin, an exercise rider in the morning and a hair cutter in the afternoon, has a little barbershop directly behind the newly remodeled Paddock Pub.

Coming Soon: The Bing Crosby Season

November 7–30 marks the first fall meet for Del Mar. Race days will occur Thursdays through Sundays—and yes, that includes Thanksgiving Day. Planners are going for an old Hollywood glamour vibe, attaching Bing’s name to the season. We think that means no sun dresses and smaller, more tasteful hats. Ladies, get out your finery!


More: Del Mar, Decoded

Horse Betting 101
What to say at the betting window »

Special Events
The 2014 season runs July 17-September 3 »

The Hat Contest
What it takes to win »

Watchful Eyes
Stewards scrutinize the jockeys and horses »

How a Horse Knows to Run
What makes horses “break,” or jump out of the gate »

What's in a Name
How horses get those unique monikers »


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