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April 16, 2014

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Del Mar continues to be a breath of fresh air by the sea

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Benoit Photo / AP

This photo released by Benoit Photo shows Halo Dolly and jockey Rafael Bejarano, left, overtaking Bella Viaggia (Gary Stevens), right, to win the $150,000 Solana Beach Handicap, Sunday, Aug. 18, 2013 at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, Del Mar Calif.

Del Mar Thoroughbred Club

This photo released by Benoit Photo shows Halo Dolly and jockey Rafael Bejarano, left, overtaking Bella Viaggia (Gary Stevens), right, to win the $150,000 Solana Beach Handicap, Sunday, Aug. 18, 2013 at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, Del Mar Calif. Launch slideshow »

To escape the summer daytime desert heat, high rollers and hotel executives have made the trek to the seaside Del Mar Racetrack in California. In fact, one-time MGM chief, horse owner and racing enthusiast Terry Lanni served on the board of directors of the prestigious American Thoroughbred horse-racing track 20 miles north of San Diego.

I’ve been a regular visitor every August as a guest of my pal Don Terwiliger, who starred in Donn Arden’s "Jubilee" show in its debut year. Incredibly, he’s never missed one race day since Del Mar opened in 1937 and Bing Crosby was personally at the gates to greet fans.

Del Mar has been a summer playground over the years for Hollywood royalty and Las Vegas bettors.

Bing, along with actors Pat O’Brien, Gary Cooper, Joe E. Brown and Oliver Hardy, were the original partners for the race club "where the turf meets the surf.” In 1938, the winner-take-all race purse was $25,000. This weekend, there will be more than $1 million in purses for the Del Mar Handicap and Mile, the TVG Pacific Classic and the Pat O’Brien Stakes.

Today, I’m joining "Pin Up" at the Stratosphere headliner Clare Sinclair to film scenes there for her new "Stable Wars: Del Mar" reality TV series for Fox Sports.

Horse racing is known as the sport of kings and dates back to the Greek Olympics and as far as 648 B.C. The equestrian sport generated global revenue of $115 billion in 2008.

Horseback riding has become big business in Las Vegas with trails, wild west horseback experiences in Red Rock and rides on Grand Canyon trips. We even have our very own hidden gem of fun and excitement with the South Point Arena and Equestrian Center.

I asked South Point General Manager Ryan Growney to tell Vegas DeLuxe readers about the facility, which, overshadowed by the Strip’s crowded nightclubs and bright neon marquees, goes somewhat unheralded with 31 weeks of equestrian events each year, many of which are open to the public.

Here in his own words is the South Point story: The Gaughan Family has a rich tradition of bringing innovative ideas to the Las Vegas tourism scene, from Jackie Gaughan serving as Las Vegas’ premier slot expert in the 1960s and ’70s to Michael Gaughan, Jackie’s son and the owner of South Point, taking a gamble with a world-class equestrian center in the middle of the desert.

Arabian Horse Show @ South Point

Horses wait their turn in their stalls in the barn area during the 5th Annual Arabian Breeders World Cup Arabian Horse Show at the South Point Equestrian Events Center in Las Vegas Thursday, April 14, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Michael and his wife, Paula, knew that there was a strong appetite to bring equestrian events to our city, and fortunately for our team at South Point, their gamble paid off in the form of our South Point Arena, a facility unrivaled by any in the country in terms of design, customer service, variety of events and atmosphere.

We have 31 weeks of equestrian events scheduled this year alone to take advantage of this facility, and the best part is you don’t need to know a thing about equestrian culture to enjoy these events. Each event offers a great viewing experience for the veteran horseman or someone watching for the first time.

We all love the shows of the Strip, the thrill of hitting a jackpot and a refreshing dip in a resort’s pool, but when you need a break from all that, try something different this summer and fall by checking out one of our equestrian events. With the amount of Western-focused events hosted in our arena, we’ve earned the nickname “Vegas Cowboy Central,” and we love it!

South Point Arena is home of some of the world’s largest and most unique equestrian events, and what makes our facility stand out is the ability to cater to any of the large variety of niches in the equestrian world. In April, we hosted the most distinguished Arabian horse show in the world, the Arabian Breeders World Cup, for the seventh year. The event featured many of the world’s most beautiful horses and world-class breeders from Brazil, Germany, Canada, Czech Republic, Australia and the United States.

We then transitioned the facility from a show-type event to one more action based for the Las Vegas Cutting Horse Association Open, which was July 25-28, and the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association’s Scully Western U.S. Championship from July 31–Aug. 3, where riders competed in timed shooting events using two .45-caliber single-action revolvers with five rounds of specially prepared blank ammunition.

In September, we host the “Buckles & Barrels for Bailey,” a barrel-horse race in which proceeds benefit Las Vegas Spring Valley Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. We not only encourage the Las Vegas community to attend our events but also make a point to give back to the community through our events.

As we head into fall, our biggest cowboy-centered events will hit with a full schedule of activities during the Professional Bull Riders World Finals in October and the National Finals Rodeo in December. Our World Series of Team Roping Event held each December concurrent with NFR is the largest amateur team-roping event in the country.

There has never been a conventional way of doing things at South Point, and our lineup of equestrian events is a perfect example. If reading this has piqued your interest in attending one of our upcoming equestrian events, visit SouthPointArena.com to see the schedule of events in coming months.“

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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