At first, the idea seemed absurd. Why would a visitor - or anyone looking for a fun day out - want to spend time at the horse races? When an invitation arrived to visit Santa Anita Race Track near Los Angeles, I decided to take a look and was surprised when a quick scan of the Santa Anita Live website started to pique my curiosity.
I went to Santa Anita with Millenial Guy to check it out and we're here to share our experience.
Our Conclusions, Reader Opinions
A day (or just a few hours) at the Santa Anita Race Track can be quite fun. The atmosphere is festive, the horses beautiful to watch and the excitement of each race engaging. Santa Anita boasts a beautiful building and setting, and there's plenty to do even if you don't want to gamble. The Seabiscuit Tram Tour could be a fun stop even if you don't stay to watch the races.
A visit is quite inexpensive as long as you don't bet on the wrong horse. General admission costs less than a movie matinee, kids under 17 get in free when accompanied by a parent and it's free for everyone on Fridays.
That's what we think, but you might disagree, so tell us:
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Races at Santa Anita Race Track
The premiere race of the year is the Santa Anita Derby, which has produced 15 Kentucky Derby winners. Santa Anita also sometimes hosts the Breeders' Cup World Championships, the year's most-attended race after the Kentucky Derby.
The routine for every race goes like this and you can easily follow the crowd and the horses to see it all unfold:
- Horses for the upcoming race show up in the paddock area outside the track about 20 minutes before the race. This is a great time to see them up close.
- Buglers (who wear beautiful red-and-gold uniforms) play "Call to the Post." You know the tune: "ta-da, dat-tada, dat-tada, dat-tada-da."
- Jockeys ride the horses onto the track, entering through a tunnel under the grandstands.
- A a non-racing horse accompanies each racing horse (to keep them calm) as they make their way to the starting gate on the opposite side of the field.
- Once they're all set up, the race is on. Excitement (and noise level) builds at they round the end of the track and come into view. Amidst much shouting, cheering and general racket, the horses cross the finish line.
- Hang around to watch the horses leaving the track and you'll get a good appreciation for how muscular they are.
What Else Happens at Santa Anita Race Track?Santa Anita also hosts a season-long schedule of fun events that include a Food Truck Festival, Photographers Day, annual 5K run and a hot rod car show.
Santa Anita Race Track was also home to 1938 Horse of the Year Seabiscuit and a free tram tour, offered during the winter/summer season takes visitors to see his stall, barn, other scenes from the 2003 movie, as well as the equine star of the film, Fighting Furrari.
A Day at Santa Anita Race TrackWhen you arrive, Santa Anita's elegant, art deco-style architecture sets a tone of 1930s elegance. Once you're inside, the views are so arresting, with a backdrop of mountains and palm trees that you might have a hard time focusing on the track.
Santa Anita attracts a mixed crowd that includes families (who usually picnic on the infield) and folks of all ages, track veterans and first-time visitors. Besides the races, you'll always find family-oriented activities in the infield.
A simple admission ticket will get you in and you can walk around and watch the races from the railing. Club House admission is a little more and box seats are extra (but very reasonable). You can also get all dressed up and head for the Turf Club.
We opted for the Club House, where we could have chosen a seat and watched the races, but with so much going on, we spent the whole time wandering around to take it all in.
Between the races, you'll have plenty of time to wander around, check out the infield area and have something to eat or drink. The Santa Anita's carved sandwiches are good and their hand-sliced corned beef is a specialty. Other options include hot dogs, burgers and finer dining in the Turf Club (which has a strict dress code). Breakfast is served at Clocker’s Corner, a fun option if you plan to take the Seabiscuit tram tour.
You can have a lot of fun at Santa Anita even if you don't wager at all. If you do want to place a bet but aren't sure how, these simple tips will help.
Which horse should you choose? Some folks spend tons of time figuring that out, but insiders tell us that even the pros get it right less the half the time. If you're just going for fun, pick a name you like and cheer for it like mad. If you're lucky, it will all end with a photo finish as exciting as the 2012 Santa Anita Derby.
Essential Information for Visiting Santa Anita Race Track
The Santa Anita Race Track is on the north side of the Los Angeles metro area, a little east of Pasadena. To get there, take the I- 210 freeway and exit at Baldwin Ave. From there, you can follow the signs. Park in lots further away from the track for a lower price, or drive up and opt for valet parking.
The racing season runs from end of September through early November and late December through late April, Thursday through Sunday (and holiday Mondays), with several races every day they're open.
Before I went to Derby Day, everyone I told about it asked: "Are you going to wear a big hat?" In fact, we saw very few over-sized toppers of the type you might see at the Kentucky Derby. For most of the track, casual attire is fine, but the top-tier Turf Club restaurant maintains a higher standard. See their dress code.