By Amy Nesse
Few names or faces are as instantly recognizable and iconic as that of Bing Crosby. The famous singer/actor captivated the nation with his beautiful smooth singing voice, his “happy go lucky” movie characters, and iconic style in the mid 30’s and throughout the rest of his life before his death in 1977. But what few people know about Bing Crosby was his profound passion for horses and horse racing! Sure it wasn’t uncommon to find any famous old bloke at the track back in those days, but few were there for anything more than to make a bet or two or uphold their celebrity status image with a pretty dame by their side in the box seats at Santa Anita.
Bing Crosby was more than that; he was passionate about it. Bing had always loved horses and even owned a few horses out on his private ranches. In his early years of stardom he realized how much he loved visiting the races and Thoroughbred horses. So much so that he wanted to invest in it and become involved. Bing Crosby bought his first racehorse in 1935 and he soon became a familiar name on the racetrack. In 1937, he became a founding partner of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club
and a member of its Board of Directors. Del Mar became known as “Where the Surf meets the Turf” and “Cool as Ever” due to it’s close proximity to the beach and Pacific Ocean.
Operating from the Del Mar Racetrack at Del Mar, California, the group included millionaire businessman Charles S. Howard, who owned a successful racing stable that included Seabiscuit. Charles’ son, Lindsay C. Howard became one of Crosby’s closest friends; Crosby even named his own son Lindsay after him. Crosby and Lindsay Howard formed Binglin Stable to race and breed thoroughbred horses at a ranch in Moorpark in Ventura County, California. They also established the Binglin stock farm in Argentina, where they raced horses at Hipódromo de Palermo in Palermo, Buenos Aires. A number of Argentine-bred horses were purchased and shipped to race in the United States and were mildly successful.
In 1937, Bing teamed up with a group of fellow stars to open the Del Mar Racetrack just north of San Diego. In addition to Crosby, the team of investors included Jimmy Durante and Oliver Hardy. Crosby was at the track’s gate on its opening day, shaking hands and greeting guests, and the track soon became one of California’s hottest spots for celebrity sightings. Bing had a certain style to him, a swagger that was more influential to the style of the track than people even realize, with his trademark fedoras, white suites and pipes and that sly look in his eye that gave you that classic Bing Crosby image. An image that became hugely popular on the racetrack and to this day is still seen on the California tracks.
On August 12, 1938, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club hosted a $25,000 winner-take-all match race that few know about, won by Charles S. Howard’s Seabiscuit over Bing’s horse Ligaroti before the great match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral ever took place. It was so popular that Crosby and Pat O’Brien, who was also an investor in Del Mar, stood on the roof and did a national radio broadcast of the race, which had never been done. The crowd of 20,000 on a Friday afternoon was extraordinary. Del Mar was averaging only 6,000 fans a day, and the grand opening the year before had drawn about 15,000. Although Seabiscuit overtook Ligaroti in the stretch duel, it was perhaps Bing Crosby’s biggest moment in horse racing.
Other than Ligaroti in 1943, Binglin enjoyed some success with Don Bingo who won the Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park. Though Crosby’s stables had some success, he often joked about his horse racing failures as part of his radio appearances. “Crosby’s horse finally came in” became a running joke, but he also had success as a co-owner with horses like Meadow Court. Crosby co-owned the British colt , with jockey Johnny Longden’s friend, Max Bell. Meadow Court won the 1965 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and the Irish Derby. In the Irish Derby’s winner’s circle at the Curragh, Crosby sang “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”.
The Binglin Stable partnership came to an end in 1953 as a result of a liquidation of assets by Crosby, who needed to raise enough funds to pay the hefty federal and state inheritance taxes on his deceased wife’s estate. Although his racing career had come to an end Bing Crosby remained a famous figure in horse racing as the man who helped start Del Mar racetrack. In 1996, Del Mar even introduced a stakes named in his honor; The Bing Crosby Stakes which takes place every July.
He will always be known as one of the most outspoken celebrity lovers of horse racing and he continued to contribute to the sport he loved well into his old age. So next time you are watching “White Christmas,” or listening to one of his classic jazz albums, remember the man who loved and contributed to our wonderful sport of horse racing.