A friend of mine invited me to opening day at the Del Mar race track. “Look at my hat!” she enthused, modeling her new chapeau and talking about how excited she was to see the hat contest, a Del Mar tradition.
I declined. “It’s horse racing. I don’t like to support that.”
She rolled her eyes in one of those here-she-goes-again faces. “It’s more about the hats,” she insisted. “You don’t have to bet on anything.”
I love hats, I really do. But I dislike the racing industry more. Few people who flock to the spectacle know- or, truth be told, care- about the ugly realities of the business. These horses don’t live an idyllic Black Beauty sort of existence. The very same friend who was enthralled by the glamour of the hat contest owns a rescue greyhound that was adopted from a racetrack in Mexico and talks in hushed tones of his sad past life. I don’t get it.
Last year, Del Mar debuted a new track to much fanfare, designed to reduce the number of fatal injuries during the racing season. The excitement was short-lived. So far this year, seven horses have been euthanized, almost as many as during the entire season last year. This season started July 19th.
I won’t go so far as to criticize those who go to the races, but it’s fair to say that for me, it’s not an enjoyable experience and one I don’t care to repeat. I did go, once, about 12 years ago. Not my thing.
My friend was there, watching, when Mi Rey fell on his jockey in front of the grandstand. The jockey survived. Mi Rey did not. She called me after and said, “I’m glad you didn’t go.”