Opening Day Draws Out-of-Towners

San Diegans poured into Del Mar for Opening Day Thursday – and out-of-towners followed suit.

Crowds flaunted their extravagant hats and outfits at the grand event that has been a staple of summertime in north San Diego since 1937.

Christie Dean told NBC 7 she came down from Santa Cruz, Calif., to see her friend and famous Triple Crown-winning jockey, Victor Espinoza, race.

Sporting an elaborate sun hat, Dean said it was her first time at the Del Mar Races and was excited that she could be here to support Espinoza.

Dean was not the only one to come from out of town.

Kevin Adams and Maggie McKinley flew all the way from Kentucky just for Opening Day. Dressed in a sparkling strapless dress and a blue fascinator that matched Adams' suit, McKinley explained the differences between the Kentucky Derby and the Del Mar Races.

“We love the derby, we go every year, but Del Mar is just as good and it's more compact. And of course the weather is beautiful,” McKinley told NBC 7.

Adams agreed, adding that they flew from Louisville to Chicago just to shop for their outfits for Opening Day.

“I know it's a little crazy,” Adams admitted. “But we love dressing up. And this is the first year that she's matching me and not the other way around!”

Even though the main appeal of the races is betting on your favorite race horse, fashion plays a huge part as well, especially during the Opening Day festivities.

The annual Opening Day Hat Contest runs for several hours in the morning, with the judges viewing hundreds of entries each hour. They picked winners for five distinct categories: Most Glamorous, Best Racing Theme, Funniest/Most Outrageous, Best Fascinator, Flower/All Others.

Although they weren't wearing hats, father and son Eric and Jack Sparks blew the competition away in their matching pink pin-striped suits.

“Everyone seems to look the same,” Jack Sparks told NBC 7. “So I wanted to spice it up. And it's my dad's first time, so we wanted to do something together.”

Not only do Eric and Jack Sparks have a strategy for winning best-dressed, but they also have an intricate method of picking which horses to bet on.

“I bet on Texas Rhino because my grandson is named Ryan and he lives in Texas,” Eric explained. “We don't look at the odds, we just find the horse that seems right.”

While some race goers use special tactics like the Sparks, others rely on their heritage to guide them in the betting process.
Erik Walbot said that his family bred and purchased race horses in the 1960s and 1970s. Even though they are out of the business now, Walbot hopes some intuitive knowledge has been passed down to him through blood.

Walbot told NBC 7 his fashion choices were just as intuitive as his betting tactics. Sporting blue dress pants, a plaid shirt, an orange polka dot bowtie and an orange fedora, Walbot stood out among the spectators in the Paddock.

“The outfit just spoke to me,” he explained energetically. “I picked this out an hour before arriving.I didn't need to plan it out, it was just perfect.”

Fashion and betting tactics equally divide the attention of race goers, but whatever their reason for coming, a great time was had by all at the Opening Day of the Del Mar Races.

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