Santa Anita Park: A day at the races

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull © Chasing Light Media

As I listened to the horses strolling past Clockers’ Corner on their way to their morning workout, my thoughts turned to the thousands of others that had also raced over the years at this beautiful place called Santa Anita Park.

Dating back to 1907, when Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin opened the first Santa Anita Park a few blocks away from the current location, the race track has since been the site of countless races with world-famous jockeys competing at the beautiful venue that has been the home of numerous champions including 2015 Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah, and the horse the world fell in love with, Seabiscuit.

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull © Chasing Light Media

Santa Anita Park and Seabiscuit

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

The stubborn, heroic horse immortalized in the 2003 film, Seabiscuit, was a remarkable Thoroughbred who inspired a country mired in the Depression at the time. Despite his small size and obstinate personality, Seabiscuit dazzled the country when it needed it most by winning the “race of the century” against the blue blood, east coast favorite, War Admiral. After suffering what appeared to be a career-ending injury, Seabiscuit came back to win the Santa Anita Handicap in 1940.

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

With the San Gabriel Mountains as a backdrop, Santa Anita Park is widely considered one of the most beautiful horse racing tracks in the world and served as the location for much of Seabiscuit the movie.

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull © Chasing Light Media

Which brought us to this early morning scene. In May, while shooting the final stages of the Tour of California in nearby Pasadena, we stayed down the street from Santa Anita Park and commented multiple times how we would like to come back and experience “The Great Race Place” for ourselves. A few months later, we were here and ready for…

A Day at Santa Anita Park

Clockers’ Corner

Clocker's Corner, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Clockers’ Corner, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

There’s no place better to begin a day at the races than Clockers’ Corner. Open each morning until 10am, trainers, jockeys, owners, journalists and race fans alike make their way to Clockers’ Corner for coffee and breakfast fare.

Clocker's Corner, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Clockers’ Corner, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

As the sun rises and the mountains turn shades of pink and gold, horses gallop past during their morning workouts. Friendly waiters deliver pancakes and coffee, while conversations at nearby tables vary from discussions of how specific horses are looking to shared stories between friends.

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Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull © Chasing Light Media

All aboard the Seabiscuit Tram

On weekends during racing season, Seabiscuit fans unite at Clockers’ Corner each morning for a free ride on the Seabiscuit tram for a short tour of the stables, paddock, and a chance to see Seabiscuit’s original stall and meet Fighting Furrari, who starred as Seabiscuit in the 2003 movie.

The Paddock

Paddock Gardens, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
The Paddock, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

With a statue of Seabiscuit keeping watch over the activities, the paddock is a hub of pre-race activity as the Thoroughbreds and jockeys prepare for their races.

A visit to the paddock provides an up-close view of the horses entering the saddling enclosure and then walking the ring before every race.

Let’s eat and drink

The Gallop Out, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
The Gallop Out, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull © Chasing Light Media

Santa Anita Park has a wide array of food and drink options from quick and casual to upscale fine dining.

Throughout the park, concessions are available with fast food, sodas, beer, and other quick fare. On the casual side, Pick Three offers diners the ability to create their own dish from a selection of noodles, sauces and meats, while the Turf Course dishes up crisp salads and sushi and Grade One piles on the meat with their carvery sandwiches.

The Gallop Out, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
The Gallop Out, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

On the Club House level, The Gallop Out is where sports bar meets the race track. With numerous TVs, great views of the first turn, and daily happy hour specials, The Gallop Out is a perfect spot to enjoy a beverage and a shady breeze, while keeping on top of the action on the track.

The acclaimed Turf Terrace and FrontRunner restaurants combine fine dining with spectacular views, creating an exceptional day of sophisticated racing. Reservation information, menus and suggested attire can be found on the Santa Anita Park website.

Turf Terrace, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Turf Terrace, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

“And away they go…”

Horse racing is a beautiful combination of tradition, grace, speed, and strength.

Santa Anita Park bugler, Jay Cohen, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Santa Anita Park bugler, Jay Cohen, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

From the moment of the bugler’s call to post and the horses and their escort ponies entering the race track from the paddock, anticipation begins to build throughout the park.

Triple Crown Winner, Victor Espinoza, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Triple Crown Winner, Victor Espinoza, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

Anticipation turns to excitement, as the jockeys and horses head to the starting gate, then burst out on the other side.

With his signature, “And away they go…”, Trevor Denman, Santa Anita’s track announcer since October 1983, sends the race on its way around the track.

A rainbow of silks hover over the pounding mud cloud, as the jockeys perch precariously above their horses, making their way toward the finish line at speeds of 40 mph.

In the stands, a sea of yelling, clapping and optimism erupts as the crowd eagerly awaits the finish line results.

It’s jubilation for some, disappoint for others, and a trip to the Winner’s Circle for the winning jockey and horse.

Then, it’s time for the next race.

Going for the win

Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.”
– W. C. Fields

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

What would a day at the races be without a bit of wagering?

We started off with a trip to the paddock to get a look at the ponies and, after spotting the one I was sure would win, we made our way to place our bet.

Magic Moon, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Magic Moon, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

Yeah, that didn’t work so well, so for the next race, I resorted to my sure fire way to win – bet on a grey horse. Alrighty then… no luck there.

So, we headed over and paid a visit to the nice, helpful guys at the “How to Wager” tent. They technically don’t tell you which horse to bet on, more of how to place a bet if it’s new to you, but they were fun.

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull © Chasing Light Media

Hmmm. New plan. In the 6th, Bob Baffert had two horses running. One of the most winning trainers in horse racing and the trainer of American Pharoah – Baffert wouldn’t let us down.

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

So much for that theory. Bummer. We were running out of races, so we headed down to the concessions area, got a beer, and went out to watch the 7th race and form a strategy. There was only one race left for the day and we hadn’t won yet – and that’s when it came to me. I knew the way to win in the last race of the day!

Yep – we bet on them all.

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull © Chasing Light Media

Yay – Dragon Flower! You came through for us!

Alonso Quinonez, Dragon Flower, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Alonso Quinonez, Dragon Flower, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull © Chasing Light Media

Santa Anita Park: Know before you go

Wear comfortable shoes. Santa Anita Park is a big place and to experience it all, you will do some walking. So, leave the stilettos in the closet and grab a pair of flats. Your feet will thank you for it at the end of the day.

Get up early and go to Clockers’ Corner. The night before you may be pondering if it’s worth setting the alarm. It is – go for it.

Plan your day in advance. Decide ahead of time if you want to go a bit upscale with your dining options and, if so, make reservations and check the dress code.

Bring cash. While the restaurants and concessions take credit cards, you need cash to place wagers.

Don’t forget the sunscreen. It’s warm and sunny in beautiful Southern California, so remember to apply sunscreen throughout the day.

If you are planning on hanging out in the infield or apron, coolers, containers, bags, and folding chairs are okay to bring.  But, leave alcoholic beverages, glass containers, balls, balloons, bicycles, skateboards, rollerblades, frisbees, flags, kites, tables and animals other than licensed service animals at home – they are not allowed in the park.

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media