If you are a player of the ponies, you know what the end of July means. It is the opening of the season at the Del Mar Race Track, one of the prettiest places to enjoy horseracing, with some of the biggest stakes in the Southern California circuit. Races will be held five days a week through Labor Day, with particular highlights including the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes on August 7 (in which unbeated Zenyatta is confirmed to race), the $1 million Pacific Classic on August 19, and the Del Mar Futurity.
The track, which was created in 1937 by a group of Hollywood elite led by Bing Crosby, has a lot of impressive history, including Seabiscuit’s biggest victory, some of Willie Shoemaker’s most important wins, and much more.
If you are planning to stay overnight (and perhaps enjoy some of the area’s strong golf courses), one of the best options in the vicinity is undoubtedly Rancho Valencia. An Auberge Resort, Rancho Valencia is gorgeously set among the verdant hills and ravines a few miles from the track. Though the property is 43 acres, there are only 52 casitas alongside 12 Villas (Timbers Resorts fractional ownership properties), making the entire property impressively discreet.
All accommodations are amenity-laden: private Jacuzzis, gas fireplaces, espresso machines, steam showers and plush bedding are typical. The Villas (also available for short stays) are an excellent family option, with grills on private patios, sunken living rooms and full kitchens. For something even more special, consider the three-suite Hacienda, until recently reserved every Thanksgiving by Bill and Melinda Gates (Hollywood names also frequent the property).
Court time on the property’s justifiably award-winning citrus and bougainvilla landscaped tennis courts is guaranteed for all guests. The restaurant recently added a new chef whose creative menu (asparagus risotto, glazed black cod in jalapeno beurre blanc) is worthy of the room’s 2009 Wine Spectator award. The freestanding open-air spa is sprawling but intimate, the perfect relaxation prescription. Kumquats, jacaranda, rosemary and jasmine are among the many plantings growing everywhere, as aromatic as they are visually pleasing.
Music fans may enjoy some of the after-race concerts as well, including B-52s on August 6, Jimmy Cliff & Matisyahu on August 14, Ozomatli on August 20, Weezer on August 21 and ZZ Top on September 4.
Del Mar Racetrack is located at 2260 Jimmy Durante Boulevard, Del Mar, 858.755.1141
Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa is located at 5921 Valencia Circle, Rancho Santa Fe, 858.756.1123