Among our signature Southern California landmarks is Santa Anita Park which has long made history in the international world of Thoroughbred racing. The Great Race Place officially opened on Christmas Day in 1934. It was here that Affirmed and Laffit Pincay, Jr. won the Santa Anita Handicap a year after the colt captured the 1978 Triple Crown. It would be another 37 years before the next Triple Crown was won in 2015 by Santa Anita-based American Pharoah.
Perhaps the most popular fan favorite of all time is the legendary Seabiscuit who raced 11 times at Santa Anita Park during his racing career from 1935-1940. His appearances on the track co-founded by Hollywood producer Hal Roach generated a lot of interest in the sport, particularly after the 2001 release of Laura Hillenbrand’s best seller Seabiscuit: An American Legend. The ensuing motion picture starring Fighting Ferrari in the role of the small horse with a huge heart still greets fans today in the Infield’s Seabiscuit Enclosure.
Santa Anita Park hosted the first of many Breeders’ Cup World Championships in 1986. A record crowd saw four-year-old filly Lady’s Secret — whose father was 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat — win the Distaff and become the first Breeders’ Cup champion to be named Horse of the Year. Zenyatta, another racing Hall-of-Famer, won the 2008 Distaff, became the first filly or mare to win the Classic in 2009, and was named Horse of the Year in 2010 despite losing the Classic by only a nose in her first-ever defeat. Now immortalized in bronze, her life-size statue stands near those of Seabiscuit and John Henry who won the 1981 and 1982 Santa Anita Handicaps – one of only four horses with back-to-back victories in the race’s 79-year history.
A Park for All Ages
Santa Anita doesn’t just offer some of the best Thoroughbred racing worldwide. There’s a continuing program of activities and events throughout the season. The Infield is a great place for family outings, and Infield admission and parking through Gate 6 are free. You can bring your own picnic and blankets or enjoy the picnic tables and children’s playground. There’s also a Family Fun Zone package with all sorts of amusements for little jocks from jumpers and games to pony rides. There are concession stands throughout the park and numerous dining options including the popular Turf Terrace patio-style restaurant and The FrontRunner where reservations are recommended.
Early risers can watch the horses during their morning workouts and rub elbows with Hall of Fame trainers and jockeys while enjoying free coffee and the full breakfast menu offered daily. Parking and admission are free. Tram Tours are also offered each weekend and allow fans an all-access excursion led by knowledgeable staff to the stable area, through the jockeys’ quarters, Paddock Gardens and a visit with the carriage horses including fan-friendly Clydesdales Sally and Nora.
Fun Events on Race Days
Glamorous and fun-filled events on key race days are as much a part of the scene as the action on the track. On Saturday, March 11, is the 80th running of the Big ‘Cap or Santa Anita Handicap, one of racing’s biggest, which in addition to Seabiscuit, has seen such winners as Spectacular Bid, Round Table, Tiznow, Alysheba, Lava Man and Game On Dude. On the same day, the Big ‘Cap Beer & Cider Trackside Festival kicks off. Fans can enjoy frosty craft beers and ciders along the homestretch and grab some tasty bites from food trucks parked around the Kingsbury Fountain. The trackside event package also includes a San Manuel-Sponsored Cooler Bag Giveaway.
On Saturday, April 1, the Winner’s Circle BBQ Championship in the Infield welcomes vendors from all over the Southland, some of whom overnight in their RVs as they cook, marinate and prepare for the next day’s competition.
Saturday, April 8, is the 24th running of the Santa Anita Derby Day 5K. Starting at 8:00 a.m., thousands of fans break from the official starting gate to take their turn around the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Gardens and eventually make their way back to complete the course on the racetrack. One of the park’s most fun-filled family days, there are heats for every age, live entertainment in the post-event expo area and free admission to the afternoon’s racing for every participant. The Infield will be alive with activity including the KROQ Beer Festival. Thoroughbreds Club members will also receive a free one-of-a-kind Santa Anita Derby-themed T-shirt.
Horses reclaim the track later in the day with the $1,000,000 Santa Anita Derby. The featured race — the West Coast’s most important stepping stone to the Kentucky Derby — has been won by seven Santa Anita Derby winners including I’ll Have Another in 2012 and California Chrome in 2014.
Partying at Santa Anita
Steeped in tradition, the elegant Chandelier Room has welcomed the world’s elite and Hollywood royalty since the 1930s. The track’s $40 million renovation included restoration of the space to its original glory while adding modern amenities including large HDTVs, a luxurious private entrance and an elevator. Its signature balcony accessed by two majestic staircases encircling the room and original chandeliers reflect a timeless grandeur. Accommodating up to 500 guests for receptions and 175 for sit-down dinners, this opulent room presents a magical year-round setting for social galas and private business events.
In addition to events hosted by Santa Anita Park, individuals and companies can rent a wide variety of state-of-the-art facilities on racing as well as non-racing days for meetings, weddings, fundraisers, school proms, banquets, holiday parties and more. Accommodating 20 to 10,000 guests, event space comes with in-house catering, table décor, and audio/visual systems — all set against a magnificent panoramic view of the San Gabriel Mountains. Other options include the newly-constructed private Suites and recently-renovated Directors’ Room with retractable glass doors, extended patio and glass railing, both of which offer luxurious indoor and outdoor seating, catering and bar services, monitors and other perks for groups up to 90. Overlooking the track with unobstructed views, The FrontRunner, enclosed with its own heating/air conditioning, offers seating for 20 to 500 guests in 400 feet of casual dining elegance with a 215-foot-long bar. For information on arranging your event, go to www.santaanita.com/host-an-event/.
To check out the upcoming racing calendar, events and ticket options, go to www.santaanita.com/events-and-tickets.
Photos courtesy of Santa Anita Park