Jimmy Durante, in ABC-TV publicity photo promoting his 1964 appearance on “The Hollywood Palace”
Tezzaray winning last year’s Grade 3 Jimmy Durante Stakes by a nose was a headline writer’s dream – but somehow we all missed it.
Durante may be best known to racing fans as the namesake for this race and the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club’s grass course (the street that fronts the racetrack is also named for him), but those who remember his days in vaudeville, Broadway, television, radio or the big screen may fondly remember Durante by the nickname he gave himself – “schnozzola” or “schnoz,” a slang term for big nose.
Durante had a very big nose.
So when Peter Miller-trained Tezzaray edged Awake At Midnyte by the narrowest of margins under Irad Ortiz Jr. in the 2021 Jimmy Durante, the headlines could have been something along the lines of: “Tezzaray Takes Durante By A Schnoz.”
Well, at least a few of us would have understood what it meant.
Naming a race after Durante (it was formerly known as the Miesque Stakes when inaugurated at Hollywood Park in 1990) is keeping with the Hollywood theme of the Bing Crosby season (Hollywood, as in Tinseltown, not just the defunct racetrack from which Del Mar inherited racing dates and many fall stakes).
The autumn season kicked off with the Let It Ride Stakes on opening day, and who doesn’t love that 1989 movie starring Richard Dreyfuss about a horseplayer having “a very good day” at the betting windows?
The meet continued with the Kathryn Crosby Stakes, which honors the widow of track founder Bing Crosby, followed by added-money races named for celebrities and racing enthusiasts Betty Grable, Desi Arnaz, Cary Grant and Bob Hope.
The day after the Dec. 3 Jimmy Durante is the G3 Cecil B. DeMille Stakes, named for the legendary movie producer who also happened to be the grandfather of Del Mar CEO Joe Harper. The DeMille shares the Dec. 4 marquee with the G1 Matriarch Stakes, a filly and mare turf race that has been dominated in recent years by East Coast shippers.
The Fall Turf Festival rolls out on Thanksgiving Day with the first of eight graded stakes run over the final two weeks of racing, the G3 Red Carpet for fillies and mares, 3 and up, going 1 3/8 miles on the Jimmy Durante Turf Course. The Festival continues on Friday, Nov. 25, with the G2 Hollywood Turf Cup for 3-year-olds and up going a mile and a half on grass. The big race on Saturday, Nov. 26, is the Seabiscuit Handicap for 3-year-old and up turf runners at 1 1/16 miles. The G3 Native Diver on Sunday, Nov. 27, is the lone main track stakes during the festival, featuring 3-year-olds and up going 1 1/8 miles.
Closing weekend features the Dec. 3 Jimmy Durante for 2-year-old fillies as the supporting stakes to the G1 Hollywood Derby for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles on turf, with the curtain coming down on Sunday, Dec. 4, following the Cecil B. DeMille and Matriarch.
With limited turf racing this late in the season back east, the Fall Turf Festival often attracts out of towners, and this year figures to be no different, making the stakes more competitive and challenging to handicap.
Back to Jimmy Durante. He was one of many old-time Hollywood celebrities who enjoyed a day of racing at Del Mar and had a house on the beach near where Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball also spent their summers. Durante was honored by Del Mar Aug. 22, 1958, and San Diego’s CBS 8 television captured the schnoz and other entertainers who turned out that day. See the video below.
Durante died more than 40 years ago, in 1980. Betty Grable passed in 1973 and Desi Arnaz and Cary Grant both left us in 1986. Bob Hope hit the century mark when he died in 2003, while Cecil B. DeMille has been gone since 1959. All are legends in the annals of Hollywood in its heyday and their work lives on forever.
There could be a touch of Hollywood in this year’s Fall Turf Festival, starting with the Red Carpet Stakes. Duvet Day, an Irish-bred filly trained by Michael McCarthy, is entered in the race and she is owned in part by music man Burt Bacharach, 94, who still owns a house in Del Mar. Bacharach, a longtime horse owner, has won numerous Grammy Awards, three Oscars, and the Gershwin Prize for popular song from the Library of Congress, among many other honors. He’s also won a San Diego Handicap, a Del Mar Oaks and finished second in the 1995 Pacific Classic with runners from his stable.
Perhaps Duvet Day can provide some additional hardware for his trophy case.