Durante may be known to racing fans as the name that bears this race and the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club grass course (the street facing the racetrack is also named after him), but those who remember his days in vaudeville, Broadway, television, radio, or the big screen may fondly remember Durante by the nickname which he called himself – “schnozzola” or “schnoz”, a slang term for a large nose.
Durante had a very large nose.
So when Peter Miller-trained Tezzaray overtook Wake at Midnight by the narrowest of margins under Irad Ortiz Jr. in 2021, the headlines would have been along the lines of: “Tezzaray Takes Durante By A Schnoz.”
Well, at least a few of us understood what that meant.
Naming a race after Durante (it was formerly known as the Miesque Stakes when it opened at Hollywood Park in 1990) is in keeping with the Hollywood theme of Bing Crosby’s season (Hollywood, as in Tinseltown, not a defunct racetrack). The fall season kicked off with the Let It Ride Stakes on Opening Day, and who wouldn’t love a 1989 film starring Richard Dreyfuss about a jockey who’s having a “very good day” at the stakes windows?
The meet continued with the Katherine Crosby Stakes, which honors the widow of track founder Bing Crosby, followed by extra money races named for celebrities and racing fans Betty Grabeel, Desi Arnaz, Cary Grant and Bob Hope.
The day after December 3rd, Jimmy Durant is the G3 Cecil B. DeMille Stakes, named after the legendary movie producer who was also the grandfather of Del Mar CEO Joe Harper. DeMille shares the Dec. 4 marquee with the G1 Matriarch Stakes, a filly and mare race dominated in recent years by East Coast shipping companies.
The Fall Turf Festival kicks off on Thanksgiving Day with the first of eight stakes over the last seven days of racing, a G3 Red Carpet for fillies and mares, 3 years and older, ridden at 1 3/8 miles on the Jimmy Durante Turf Course. The festival continues on Friday, November 25th, with the G2 Hollywood Turf Cup for kids ages 3 and up for a mile and a half on turf. The big race on Saturday, November 26, is the Seabiscuit Handicap for 3-year-old runners and turf racers at 1 1/16 miles. Sunday, November 27, G3 Native Diver is the only major course during the festival, and features kids ages 3 and up to 1 1/8 miles.
The weekend features Jimmy Durante on December 3 for 2-year-old fillies as the Support Stakes will be in the G1 Hollywood Derby for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles on the turf, with the curtain falling on Sunday, December. 4, after Cecil B. DeMille and Matriarch. With limited late-season turf racing in the East, the Fall Turf Festival often attracts out-of-state Chargers, and this year’s numbers are no different, making the stakes more competitive and challenging for the handicap.
Back to Jimmy Durant. He was one of many old Hollywood celebrities who enjoyed a day of racing in Del Mar and had a beach house near where Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball also spent their summers. Durante was honored by Del Mar on August 22, 1958, and CBS Television 8 in San Diego took in the schnoz and other artists who came out that day. See the video below.
Durante passed away 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 reached the century mark when he passed away in 2003, while Cecil B. DeMille since 1959 is all gone. Legends in the annals of Hollywood are in their prime and their work will live on forever.
There may be a touch of Hollywood at this year’s Fall Turf Festival, starting with the Red Carpet Stakes. Duvet Day, an Irish-bred filly trained by Michael McCarthy, was in the running and is part-owned by musician Burt Bacharach, 94, part-Del Mar resident. Several Grammy Awards, three Academy Awards, and a Gershwin Award for Popular Song from the Library of Congress, among many others. He has also won the San Diego Handicap, the Del Mar Oaks, and finished second in the 1995 Pacific Classic with runners from his stable.
Maybe Duvet Day could provide some extra hardware for its cup bag.