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Hat History


Twenty years ago, Julie Howell Sarno started what has since become a tradition on Opening Day at Del Mar: The One and Only Truly Fabulous Hat Contest. She first fell in love with hats while covering the Kentucky Derby for an international racing magazine. “The Derby was a festival of hats and colors and fashion and it was exciting,” says Sarno. “I thought it was something that would work in Del Mar.” It definitely did. Now visitors to the track are as excited about the hats as the horses on Opening Day, something that Sarno never dreamed of back in 1994.

Sarno’s favorite entry of all time was the larger-than life-size paper mache horse “riding” on the shoulders of contestant Mike Rom, who was dressed as a jockey. The horse, created by Mike’s brother John, was holding mutuel tickets in one of his hoofs. It was no contest — the brothers won handily, taking their entry, quite literally, to new heights. “It was so far beyond any hat that had been entered to that point,” says Sarno, “that it still stands out in my memory.”

This year, as always, contestants will vie for top honors in categories that range from most glamorous to most outrageous and $4,000 in prizes. Now known as The Opening Day Hat Contest, the festivities are sponsored by the Village Hat Shop and Studio Savvy. “A hat really completes an outfit and turns it into a statement,” Sarno insists. “It’s like an exclamation point.” (www.dmtc.com)



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