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Fabulous & Quirky: 2017 Del Mar Opening Day Hat Contest

Now in its 23rd year, the Opening Day Hats Contest in Del Mar brought impressive toppers to the track

With flowers, feathers, trinkets, jewels, and giant props, contestants strutted their stuff at the Del Mar Opening Day Hat Contest Wednesday bringing unforgettable toppers to the track.

Ocean Beach resident Christina Stutz, a two-time participant of the famous Hat Contest, wore one that was hard to miss: it was decked out with a mannequin, gleefully kicking up her leg and holding a half-tipped glass of champagne. The mannequin’s name, Stutz said, was “Bella.”

[NATL-SD-G] Del Mar Opening Day 2017: The Hat Contest

Stutz said her idea for her hat came after she noticed the fierce competition at the Hats Contest last year.

“Last year I came, and I realized, ‘Wow, they really stepped it up a notch, so I better step it up a notch,’” she told NBC 7.

A huge fan of pin-up model culture, Stutz said her hat paid homage to that glamorous era.

“My dad came to the track in the ‘40s and ‘50s, when he was a kid,” she said.

Above Bella hung a banner that read, “WINNER.”

“Why not win?” Stutz said, smiling.

Opening Day luck was on her side. Stutz took home two titles in the contest: the grand prize winner and winner of the "Most Outrageous" category.

Stutz’s father and husband helped her build her hat. She admits that when they heard she wanted to use a mannequin, they told her, “Are you crazy? How are you going to carry that?”

She added two grips to the brim of the hat so she could hold on to it while wearing it. Stutz said Bella was hollow, so her hat only weighed seven pounds.

“I was worried about it being very dense, but she’s hollow,” Stutz added.

The hat took her two months to create and to make sturdy enough to wear.

“A couple of run-throughs and drafts – but, it’s all about the balance,” she said.

Stutz said her shoulders and neck would likely be a little bit sore after the contest so, by Thursday, she said she would be treating herself to a massage.

Contestant Laura Jenkins also made a splash on Opening Day. She wore a giant hat made out of a surfboard. The creation included a wave, complete with a mini fish tank that held small, live fish.

Jenkins said her hat weighed 20 pounds and took her about 40 hours to make. Her creation won in the contest's "Best Racing" category.

San Diego resident Sandra Comer used her hat to pay tribute to U.S. military service members, including her son-in-law and friends.

Her Army green and beige hat included photos of service members, spanning many generations, with a combined 100 years of service in the military.

“I wanted to do something different, and meaningful, for my friends and family,” Comer said. “This is all about them; I’m honored that they allowed me to use their picture on my hat.”  

It took Comer about a month to put together her hat. She used rhinestones, beads, ribbon, and flowers to complete the look.

Amber Thorne, of Costa Mesa, California, has been competing at the Opening Day Hats Contest for the past five years. On Wednesday, she came sporting a hat filled with real roses – a nod to her last name – and topped with a golden trophy.

“I wanted to do something that showed Del Mar,” she told NBC 7.

It took Thorne about a week to make her hat, plus a couple of months of coming up with the design. She said it weighed about 10 pounds, which proved challenging to balance every time there was a gust of wind in the contest area.

“It’s about holding it up, basically, because people bump into you, and your hat gets in the way,” Thorne explained.

Mission Bay resident Leslie Edward Sutter entered the contest sporting a sombrero topped with many trinkets he’d been collecting over the past year. Sutter is a dance, arts and crafts instructor aboard cruise ships, so he comes across quirky items often.

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“As the year goes by, and I see a (plush) horse or something, I buy it, and put it aside for this wonderful event,” he explained. “Then I throw it all on a hat.”

To match his hat, Sutter wore a bright red suit, plus a button-down shirt emblazoned with race horses. His partner, Donna Greer, also wore red, nicely tying together the ensemble.

Ana Flora Royer sported a hat adorned with two giant roses made of Styrofoam. Though large, Royer said her hat only weighed about six pounds thanks to the lightweight materials she used.

Royer, who’s been coming to Del Mar Opening Day for the past 10 years, said her strategy for building the perfect hat is simple. It’s all about time.

“I always take my time. I sketch my design and little by little, I come up with what I’m going to do,” she told NBC 7.

Royer conducts a few practice-runs and fittings of her hat before Opening Day, making sure the base and materials will hold up.

And, win or lose, she said she always enjoys entering the contest.

“It’s such a wonderful event. It’s always about enjoying life,” she said.

As Opening Day came to a close, the winners of the Hat Contest were announced on the track, in front of a large, cheering crowd.

Besides Stutz and Jenkins, other big winners included:

  • “Most Glamorous": Lauren Donahue
  • “Best Fascinator": Molly Cameron
  • “Flowers/All Other”: Christine Best
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