Some say Saratoga is America’s best looking race track, but my vote goes to Southern California’s Santa Anita Park. Every April, during the run-up to the Kentucky Derby, Santa Anita plays host to arguably the biggest West Coast race, the Santa Anita Derby. Since the track is in Los Angeles., it is generally a sunny and beautiful day at Santa Anita. This past weekend I had a chance to witness the spectacle of Santa Anita — with the folks from America’s Best Racing — in person for the first time. This is the derby: as it happened.
As one of the few people that watched (and enjoyed) every minute of HBO’s now defunct Luck, I felt as if I have seen Santa Anita from every possible angle before even stepping foot in the parking lot. Luck’s creator David Milch apparently feel in love with the art deco horse track as a kid and apparently always wanted to do a series on horse racing, with the good looking Santa Anita as the obvious location.
Spending the day at the races for the Santa Anita Derby was possibly the most fun I have had on a Saturday in a really long time. Not only is the place awe inspiring and visually beautiful, there’s a frenetic energy as each race approaches. For me, being at the track is like taking the fun of a NFL game and pairing it with the excitement of a casino. I loved it. Learning the art of handicapping added a whole other element of fun into the mix. Even if I was wagering small amounts, the challenge of reading between the lines and accurately weighing the massive amounts of horse, jockey and other information presented another layer of thrill to the experience.
One particular aspect of Santa Anita that I found to be appealing was the various ways people can come and enjoy the day. There’s a basement there full of tables packed with bettors who couldn’t be bothered to see a race horse, and then there’s the Club Suites (which themselves are not even expensive to enjoy — I think it was $20 extra for the day) with their easy access to betting windows and ample bar space, not to mention amazing views of the track. It was surprising to me how close you can actually get to the horses, trainers, the stables and the track. It’s not like when I go to a baseball game and I am restricted from going anywhere but my section. At Santa Anita, you are fairly free to wander around and take the whole experience in.
Next year, it’s safe to say, that I’ll be back at Santa Anita for The Derby. The racing bug has bitten — plans involving Saratoga are now in the works too.