Del Mar racetrack back to normal after Lilac Fire horse rescues head home to Bonsall

Some of the horses rescued from the San Luis Rey fire returned to light training Dec. 11/DMTC

Thoroughbreds jogged on the main racetrack at Del Mar this week as life after the horrific training track fire in nearby Bonsall began to settle for horses and horsemen involved with the events at San Luis Rey Downs last Thursday.

Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and 22nd District Agricultural Association officials reported that there were currently 260 Thoroughbreds and approximately 500 other-breed horses stabled on the track’s backstretch. The Thoroughbreds were expected to stay on for at least several weeks, while the other horses gradually were filtering out to their farms, primarily in the North County area of San Diego.

Sunday morning the count on other-breeds on the grounds was at 563. By the end of the day Monday, that number was lowered to 300. At its highest point on the weekend, the count of all horses on the Del Mar backside went above 900.

Whereas there was initially an issue of finding and identifying dozens of the 400 or so horses evacuated from San Luis Rey – with approximately 240 of them coming to Del Mar – that search number has been reduced to only a handful and those are hoped and expected to be found at other farms or facilities in the area.

The severe Santa Ana winds that had fanned the flames of the so-called “Lilac fire” in Bonsal causing havoc to overtake the normally serene training facility have mostly subsided. Fire crews have beaten back the 4,100-acre blaze and reports Monday had it at 75% contained.

In its wake, at least eight barns at San Luis Rey were destroyed and a California Horse Racing Board report stated that 46 horses had been lost. Multiple other reports told of courageous and heroic actions by grooms and trainers who ran into the flames and smoke to drop webbings and free horses from their stalls, thus perhaps saving hundreds of horses from being burned to death.

Del Mar began offering training for San Luis Rey displaced Thoroughbreds Saturday morning, via backtracking and jogging on its one-mile oval. CHRB officials had dictated jogging only through this Wednesday for the horses coming out of San Luis Rey due to concerns about the possible effects of smoke inhalation on some of them. Saturday and Sunday the light training took place between 7 and 9 a.m. As more horses joined in Monday, the time frame was stretched from 7 to 10 a.m.

Besides the Thoroughbreds on board, Del Mar also is housing approximately 200 CHRB licensed stable workers in 160 rooms on its backstretch. Racing secretary David Jerkens reported that there also were 21 trainers directly involved with horses on the grounds. Del Mar plans to remain a training facility as attempts to return San Luis Rey to training – at least on a limited basis – begin.

Several sites have gone up on line for donations toward aiding those directly impacted by the fire. One of the first ones up – a Santa Anita/Del Mar backed site at — has already raised nearly $600,000 toward aid.

Two other sites are raising extensive funds toward medical payments for trainer Martine Bellocq, who suffered severe burns during the blaze and is currently hospitalized at UCSD Medical Center in San Diego. Those are ones sponsored by California Thoroughbred Trainers through the California Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Foundation at and one at

Among the many individual offers of help put forward is a unique one from the noted equine artist Niska Cheffet, who has said she will do a painting of anyone horse who will make a donation of $1,000 toward aiding victims of the fire. Cheffet can be reached at

Be the first to comment on "Del Mar racetrack back to normal after Lilac Fire horse rescues head home to Bonsall"

Leave a comment