There were those who sailed and those who swam and those who merely sat and enjoyed the time-honored gastronomical treats of stick candy and hot dogs or vintage Veuve Clicquot and wild strawberries, depending on the setting. But regardless of the varying attractions of Deauville, Brighton and Del Mar last week, all three were offering vacationers the refined, almost lazy pleasure of Thoroughbred racing in August.
Seldom does the racegoer find things more refined than he does at century-old Deauville on the French Channel coast, 127 miles from Paris. There he is, in a grandstand framed by geraniums, admiring the enclosure, where owners and their friends sit beneath blue parasols, and observing flowers of yet another variety: those of international society. Indeed, the other day, at the season's finest 2-year-old race, the Prix Morny, there was an unusually glittering assemblage for vacationers who like to practice people watching. Over there was Baron Guy de Rothschild chatting with Prince Karim Aga Khan. And no more than a Pucci shift away were the likes of Dolores Guinness and the Maharani of Rajpipla. Ah, Deauville. It was just as an old-timer, sipping champagne between races, had said: "Next to a woman, what is there more beautiful than a horse? In Deauville we have both."
Well, the Baron de Rothschild, at least, had both. With Audrey Hepburn, his guest, straining her pretty neck to see the finish, the Baron's prize filly Madina won the Prix Morny by the length of a few emerald necklaces over a field of 13.
Unfortunately, the Aga Khan was not as enchanted as Deauville's onlookers were. His trainer, Fran√ßoise Mathet, had refused to enter the prince's best colt, Zeddaan, in the Prix Morny. Instead, Zeddaan had raced in a lesser event earlier in the day and had won handily. Prince Karim felt that his 2-year-old might well have beaten the Baron's. "Deauville is nothing more than a holiday crowd," said the annoyed Aga Khan, who was aboard his Myst√®re jet and headed back to Sardinia shortly after the race.
As it happens, the holiday crowd—in Prince Karim's terms—was actually at giddily scandalous old Brighton, which has come to be known as London-by-the-Sea because it is only an hour's ride from Victoria Station. Brighton, although it once flourished as a place where kings took their sporting lords (and sporting ladies), has much more in common with, say, Atlantic City than Deauville, including its own famed candy, Brighton rock, the answer to saltwater taffy on the Boardwalk.
Last week Brighton was as it has long been, except for the fact that the weather was so clear you could see all of it—the six golf courses, the ice rink, casino, beach, museums, art galleries and the Royal Pavilion, where the Prince Regent (later George IV) carried 18th century Europe's fascination with Oriental decoration to its hilarious conclusion—gilt dragons and porcelain pagodas.
Nor was there an absence of spectators at the ancient racecourse, a hilly, strenuous double dogleg of a mile and a half. There the six-race program was even enhanced by the public address system pickup of a radio broadcast of the Ebor Handicap at York, 250 miles away. In the absence of a rich stakes race of its own—or at least one in which a horse would throw its jockey and plunge over the end wall of the straightaway finish and disappear for hours in the valley below, as one did some years ago—the radio was fine for Brighton's visitors.
As far removed from Brighton as the Aga Khan may now be from his trainer is Del Mar, which sits within sight of the Pacific Ocean, 20 miles from San Diego, and rarely suffers from a lack of sun or a nobility of its own. Lately the nobility has consisted of such celebrities as Jimmy Durante, Desi Arnaz, Milton Berle and Harry James. Since Bing Crosby opened Del Mar in 1937, it has been a haven for Hollywood types and Hollywood slogans: "Where the turf meets the surf," for one, and "Saratoga plus the Pacific." As of last Saturday, when a chestnut colt named Charlie Boots won the $32,600 Del Mar Derby, the track, now operated by a group of Texans, could boast about the highest per capita wagering of any in the U.S.—$94 per horseplayer. There are no barons or princes at Del Mar, or porcelain pagodas of any kind. Just money. Good old lazy, refined, summer money.