Del Mar Racetrack

Posted by blogger in San Diego Ghost Tours
Del Mar Racetrack - Photo

At first glance, San Diego appears to be all sunshine and good vibes – but don’t be fooled. After the sun goes down, a different side of San Diego wakes up, even at the racetrack. It turns out that “America’s Finest City” is also one of America’s most haunted cities.

This resort-style racetrack does a great job maintaining flora and fauna, keeping the horse smell to a minimum, and preserving that gorgeous vintage seaside architecture—but it has a serious ghost problem, and there’s not much anyone can do about it.


The Rich History of Del Mar Racetrack


Settled not far from the shore of the Pacific, the Del Mar racetrack has been open since 1937, when entertainer Bing Crosby and his Hollywood friends decided to build a horse racing track. Since the racetrack was opened, the rich and famous flocked there in their free time to place their bets, dine, and drink.

Bing Crosby was a pop culture icon from the 1930s to the 1960s. In the early days of his musical career, jazz was his main love, and he was well known for his scat-style singing. Throughout his career, Bing Crosby recorded over 1200 songs in all genres. He did not stop entertaining even after he opened up the Del Mar racetrack.

Before Crosby built the racetrack that is there today, the space wasn’t exactly luxurious and was used for Wild West-style horse races and agricultural fairs. In 1880, a group of San Diego farmers had an idea to host an agricultural fair every year so that county farmers could come together, share ideas, and host contests to see who had grown the best food, who could make the best food from their harvest, and who had the fastest horse. For years, the farmers struggled to fund the fair every year, and eventually, the farmers decided that the bets placed on their horses could help fund the fair. At the same time, horse racing was becoming increasingly popular in the United States.

In the 1930s, the 22nd District Agricultural Association bought the land by the sea, just 20 miles north of San Diego, and then leased the racetrack to the Del Mar Turf Club so they could officially operate a yearly race. In 1936, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club built the Del Mar racetrack. Today, the 22nd District Agricultural Association still owns the land, hosts a fair every year, and leases the racetrack to the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club for their race each summer.

However, what truly brought the Del Mar racetrack to fame was the Thoroughbred racehorse, Seabiscuit. Just one year after being opened to the public, the Del Mar racetrack hosted the historically famous Seabiscuit-Ligaroti race. After that race, not only did everyone know Seabiscuit, but they also knew the Del Mar racetrack as the glamorous racetrack by the sea. The Del Mar racetrack became so loved by the Hollywood crowd that many stars started moving to the area, and the surrounding Del Mar community is still one of the richest in San Diego.

During World War II, the Del Mar racetrack faced a dark time and was shut down. The government repurposed the racetrack as a training facility for Marines and eventually turned the space into a manufacturing site for B-17 bombers. After that dark period, when the war finally ended, partying and racing resumed, and the track continued to be an extremely popular spot for Hollywood stars to spend their summers. 


The Afterlife of Del Mar Racetrack


Today, being haunted doesn’t stop the Del Mar racetrack from hosting races and events as much as it can, and it certainly doesn’t stop visitors from coming. Every year, the season’s opening day at the Del Mar racetrack has close to 50,000 people in attendance.

Employees of the Del Mar racetrack have reported many strange things happening at night after all the guests go home. Some employees have described hearing voices, seeing floating orbs in hallways, and even feeling distinct cold spots in certain racetrack areas. Many people have speculated that the racetrack has been haunted ever since the grandstand was completely redesigned in 1991.

A paranormal investigation group called South Coast Paranormal visited the Del Mar racetrack in 2015 and certainly proved that the real party at the Del Mar racetrack is after hours. The South Coast Paranormal group specifically investigated the Turf Club and the grandstand at night. The ghost hunters heard laughing at the bar and even heard one ghost order a martini, which so happened to be Charlie Whittingham’s favorite drink. Many believe it could be his ghost hanging out at the bar and haunting the hallways. The South Coast Paranormal group even caught a video of a tall figure making its way across the bathroom, and Mr. Whittingham just so happened to be a pretty tall guy.


Charlie Whittingham’s Possible Unfinished Business On Earth


For many years, Charlie Whittingham was a famous Thoroughbred racehorse trainer at the Del Mar racetrack. Some say he is one of the most famous racehorse trainers in the history of the United States. He was known for being a frequent customer at the Turf Club, always with a martini in hand. The man loved horses, and he loved to drink. Del Mar was where Charlie’s two passions collided. The Del Mar racetrack even named their sports pub after him, with his photos from his successful career still hanging on the walls.

Charlie Whittingham was a Thoroughbred horse race trainer for nearly 50 years. During that time, Charlie won 2,533 races, including the Kentucky Derby twice. He won one of the Kentucky Derby races at 73 years old, making him the oldest trainer to win the world-famous race. By the end of his career, he trained 20 horses that earned at least a million dollars, which is still one of the highest-ranked earnings of a Thoroughbred trainer to date. The last time Charlie could ride a horse was on April 18, 1999, just two days before he died at 86 years old.


Haunted San Diego


Even though, so far, the ghosts at the Del Mar racetrack appear to be harmless, there is quite a mysterious energy there. Maybe the Del Mar racetrack was Charlie Whittingham’s’ only true home, and he simply couldn’t part ways. Maybe he loves that ocean view, is still passionate about horses, or left the Earth before being able to get one last martini at his favorite bar. Perhaps the shadowy figure isn’t Charlie Whittingham at all. Either way, the Del Mar racetrack grounds are haunted, and those ghosts have probably been trying to get a drink for decades.

Want to hear more about San Diego’s haunted history? Book a San Diego ghost tour with San Diego Ghosts!