'Peb' Mural Marks Del Mar's Colorful History

Pierre Bellocq's unique work to be unveiled on July 25 at the San Diego track.

(from Del Mar release)

The color and characters that make Del Mar special are revealed in the unique artistry of Pierre Bellocq, known more familiarly as Peb, whose large-scale mural will be unveiled at the track during the 2009 season's opening weekend July 25.

The longtime caricaturist for Daily Racing Form portrays numerous characters from Del Mar's history. Following the opening of its 70th season July 22,  Del Mar Thoroughbred Club will host the official unveiling of the piece, with numerous characters in it expected to be on hand. Peb also will be there that day to sign posters.

Because Del Mar was always a haven for the Hollywood crowd, the mural is rife with celebrities, highlighted by co-founders Bing Crosby and Pat O’Brien. They are joined by Crosby’s “Road” pictures partners Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour, beautiful people and prominent horse owners Harry James and Betty Grable, comedic husband-and-wife Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and actors Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck.

Of course, what salute to Del Mar would be complete without “The Schnozz,” Jimmy Durante, a long-time regular at the course “where the turf meets the surf,” as well as comedy kings W. C. Fields and Red Skelton and the suave, malevolent “gangster” George Raft?

Among horse race figures of the past are jockeys Johnny Longden, Laffit Pincay, Jr., Bill Shoemaker, Chris McCarron, Eddie Delahoussaye, George Woolf, Jerry Lambert ,and Ralph Neves. Mike Smith, Alex Solis, and Kent Desormeaux form a more recent vintage. Trainers include father-and-son Farrell and Gary Jones, Tom Smith of Seabiscuit fame, Buster Millerick, Ed Gregson, Bob Baffert, Ron McAnally, Charlie Whittingham, Robert Frankel, Jack Van Berg, Neil Drysdale, and Richard Mandella.

Among the other major racetrack figures are C.S. Howard, E.B. Johnston, Clement Hirsch, John and Betty Mabee, Rex Ellsworth, Robert and Beverly Lewis, Sid and Jenny Craig, and Allen Paulson.

The whimsical mural, which graces the east wall of the entrance to the track’s Clubhouse/Turf Club, figures to be a major attraction for racing fans at this meet and for years to come. The faces in the crowd no doubt will rekindle memories for oldtimers and tweak the interest of a younger generation of racing enthusiasts.

By mounting the mural, Del Mar joins Churchill Downs and Belmont Park in displaying the artistic skills of the 82-year-old French-born Bellocq. He has completed racing murals for both those tracks, as well as a popular celebrity one at the famous New York City steakhouse Gallagher’s.

His Del Mar creation, 30 feet long and 6 feet high, was an 18-month project that created challenges for the slightly built artist. In such a colorful spread, special care had to be taken to make sure there were no color clashes. “To make each colorful character next to each other compatible in color is a continuous challenge,” Bellocq said. “But I loved everything about the project, especially the research and the composition.”

Bellocq acknowledges enjoying his work on the celebrities, he said, “because celebrities are known all over the world and when you draw caricatures you have to keep it so it is recognizable. For instance, when I painted Ava Gardner, it was not satisfactory to my wife, so I had to redraw her so she [his wife] would be happy.”

The artist’s single-piece 30’ X 6’ canvas was purchased in Belgium, shipped first to San Francisco and then to his house and studio in Princeton, N.J., where he did the actual painting. It was next shipped to Del Mar and stretched, backed, and mounted by a local framer – Mitschke’s – who had a crew spend several days on the job. When the mural was finally ready to be hung, it required 13 men to lift and position the piece on the track’s wall.

Del Mar’s gift shops – Silks Del Mar – will be selling posters of the mural starting on opening day. Peb will spend time near both its locations on July 25 signing the posters. The posters sell for $19, which includes tax.