As it Happened | Santa Anita Derby

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.

Comments on “As it Happened | Santa Anita Derby

    Turling on April 16, 2012 11:28 AM:

    Looks like a great day. Santa Anita is a beautiful track. We were just there a few weeks ago on the rare day that it was pouring down rain! Plenty of places to hide, though. Try Del Mar, as well, if you’ve never been. They run over the summer just north of San Diego. Bing Crosby’s favorite spot, where “the turf meets the surf.”

    Rufus on April 16, 2012 12:10 PM:

    I love this post! Thank you. There’s a really cool list of “uncommon” summer events that includes a 150 year old race on a beach in Ireland. Very cool:

    Bricktop on April 16, 2012 12:51 PM:

    Beautiful, and Turling is correct about Del Mar, but there’s nothing to compare to Saratoga.

    Makaga on April 16, 2012 3:08 PM:

    Great post, Michael.
    Do you know of any good resources that explain the principles of horse betting?
    I’ve always known there’s a variety of ways to bet on the horses, and would love to know of any primers you’ve uncovered.

    derrick on April 16, 2012 4:22 PM:

    if you are hooked and have the bug, you need to go to the Kentucky Derby. I have had the opportunity a couple of times and There is No other event that I have been to that compares…

    Ray Hull on April 16, 2012 4:46 PM:

    As a Saratoga devotee and semi-local, we look forward to welcoming you. I don’t do the track that much, but oh, those big parties….the best is the Racing Museum Ball.

    And early morning, bring your camera and take the back-stretch tour of the barns etc. It forms up at the Clubhouse gate around 7:30 I believe. Since 9/11 it’s the only way to access the barn areas without an owner/trainer guest pass. See you in August.

    Oh, and in Camden (SC) The Carolina Cup (just passed) is also fairly swell.

    Jesse Livermore on April 16, 2012 9:50 PM:

    Santa Anita racing is a bad joke. Has been for several years and is only getting worse,

    Bebe on April 17, 2012 4:07 AM:

    As a kid I was taken by one of my parents’ neighbors to Santa Anita. She was old school South, and loved horses, so I got a whole education from someone who enjoyed passing on her knowledge. Later we went to Hollywood Park and Del Mar. My parents took me to Agua Caliente in Tijuana not long before it burned down in 1971. In those days there were still owners who enjoyed the SoCal/Baja circuit…now, of course, long ago and far away. Thanks kindly for the photos of the track, which is always beautiful with the San Gabriels in the background.

    Jeff on April 18, 2012 11:17 AM:

    Glad to see another post about California. I think you are beginning to understand how vastly superior it is to the entire East Coast, especially New York.

    Denise on April 18, 2012 8:53 PM:

    I’m the opposite. Have been to Saratoga several times and will be making the trek to SA for Breeders Cup this year. Can’t wait to experience the racing home of Seabiscuit and Zenyatta. Saratoga is like stepping back in time and everyone is so welcoming and friendly. Saratoga gives me goose bumps, especially watching the early morning works in the fog. Absolutely breathtaking.

    TR on April 22, 2012 11:54 PM:

    I’m a local to Arcadia and Santa Anita…I admit I take advantage of the picturesque scenery of SART. One of the great things about the track is that they give tours on certain Sunday mornings for free. They take you behind the scenes, even venturing into the jockey’s silk room where they keep an incredible amount of colorful jerseys with tons of interesting patterns. Highly recommended. Also, I recommend checking out the LA County Arboretum where many films and TV shows have been filmed. It’s an awesome place as well.

    Andy on April 25, 2012 12:03 AM:

    Santa Anita is indeed a grand and historic place.

    It also was home to one of the more tragic events in recent American history, the detainment and relocation of Japanese-Americans who were forcibly removed from their homes and housed here in the thousands beginning in 1942.

    I came across these photos in a recent issue of the LA Times. Your readers may also, more happily, regard the humble elegance and respectable clothing that normal,middle-class Americans wore in 1942, even as they submitted to what now seems to be incredible racism and fear mongering.

    Emily on April 25, 2012 1:29 PM:

    Thanks for shining the spotlight on horse racing, a sport that (to my mind) doesn’t always get the attention it deserves — except when it’s negative. Santa Anita looks gorgeous and I hope I can get there some day! If you’re looking for ideas about other “manly” horse sports I hear jousting is making a comeback …

    gcharlie on May 1, 2012 2:01 AM:

    Ok, I was at the same race that day. It was fun, nice track but in no way does it compare to Saratoga, not even Del Mar. It’s not old enough to have the same feel or history as Saratoga. Saratoga is way more of a magical place to partake in the sport of kings!

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