July 27, 2011

Feverish, last-minute preparations were being made today for the weekend opening. Most of it is clean-up work. The track is ready, the judges’ stand is in place, the tote board was given a dress rehearsal this afternoon, and the horses are champing at their respective bits.

The crowds will find the plant a gem, the accommodations ample, a track that has every modern device. The racing strip itself will probably turn out to be one of the finest in the country. It is fast, has a splendid cushion, and Clocker W. H. Browne told me this morning early morning workouts have indicated to him some splendid times will be registered. It is one of the safest tracks ever built for horses.

That’s how Paul Lowry of the Los Angeles Times reported on preparations for the 1937 opening of the new $1 million Del Mar race track, built with Works Progress Administration laborers. Broadcasted live on NBC radio by the legendary Clem McCarthy and viewed by an estimated crowd of 18,000 on site, the featured races that July day were the 8.5-furlong $2,500 Inaugural Handicap and the 6-furlong $1,000 San Diego Handicap.

Today, the G2 San Diego Handicap, contested at 8.5 furlongs, is not only a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, but also serves as a major prep for the G1 Pacific Classic. Over the years it’s been won by some quality horses, most notably the great Native Diver who won three consecutive times, 1963-65. Perhaps the greatest upset occurred in 1990 when Quiet American upset the celebrated mare Bayakoa—she would go on to repeat as Breeders’ Cup Distaff champion later that fall.

That very first San Diego Handicap was won by a filly, a 5-year-old Pompey mare named Clean Out, and as a race horse, she tiptoed around fame like so many long-forgotten names. As a 2-year-old maiden winner, she had the misfortune to run into a tiny buzz-saw on a major winning streak, the legendary Black Helen. She ran second behind the very good Vicaress in the Spinaway, and, as a 3-year-old, she finished third to subsequent Aqueduct Handicap victress Good Gamble in the 7-furlong Test.

Sold in January 1936 and transferred to the California-based stables of Mrs. Vera S. Bragg, the mare only faced three other contestants on Del Mar’s opening day, and she didn’t exactly burn down the house, finishing just a half-length in front of Illeanna in a rather mundane 1:12, with front-running Boilermaker tiring badly to run third, just a head in front of Lady Florise. Her antics in the winner’s circle, however, were noteworthy enough for the Times:

Clean Out was led into the winner’s ring adjacent to the steward’s stand in the infield. And pretty Mary Carlisle was led in to crown the victor. But Clean Out and Mary failed to hit it off. Clean Out didn’t fancy the whitewashed trimmings of a ring which was square instead of round and vented her resentment in Mary’s direction. Clean Out kicked and Mary beat a hasty retreat, the Bragg color-bearer therefore going uncrowned.

What should have been a memorable moment for her connections unfortunately went unrealized. However, that Del Mar meet was spectacular for Clean Out, a kind of Renaissance for the one-time East Coast contender. She won the 6-furlong Playa Ensenada Handicap on July 21, finished second behind King Saxon in record-setting time (1:11) in the 6-furlong Oceanside Handicap on July 24, and followed that up on July 31 with a victory in the 6-furlong Escondido Handicap (now the 12-furlong Cougar II) by a nose over Lady Florise.

Even today, some horses shine oh-so-brightly for just a short time, and then fade into oblivion. But for Clean Out, what a month she enjoyed at the place where the turf meets the surf.


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