Santa Anita Park
Arcadia, California 91007
Santa Anita Park is a thoroughbred racetrack in Arcadia, California, United States. It offers some of the prominent racing events in the United States during the autumn and in winter. The track is home to numerous prestigious races including both the Santa Anita Derby and the Santa Anita Handicap.
Santa Anita Park was opened on December 25, 1934 and is the oldest racetrack in Southern California. It was designed in the art deco style by architect Gordon B. Kaufman. Originally part of "Rancho Santa Anita", owned originally by former San Gabriel Mission Mayor-Domo, Claudio Lopez, named after a family member "Anita Cota". The ranch was later acquired by rancher, Hugo Reid, a Scotsman. Later, it would be owned by Gold prospector Lucky Baldwin. He initially founded a racetrack on the present site in what is today, Arcadia, outside of the city of Los Angeles in the 1800s but it later closed. In 1933, California legalized parimutuel wagering and several investor groups worked to open racetracks. In the San Francisco area, a group headed by Dr. Charles H "Doc" Strub was having trouble locating a site. In the Los Angeles area a group headed by movie producer Hal Roach was in need of further funds. These two groups combined and the newly-formed Los Angeles Turf Club reopened the track on Christmas Day in 1934. In February 1935, the first Santa Anita Handicap was run. The race's $100,000 purse, the largest of any race ever in the United States until that time, produced its nickname the Big 'Cap.
Under the leadership of Doc Strub, Santa Anita initiated many innovations that are standard in today's thoroughbred horse racing such as the use of starting gates and photo finishes for every race. It is interesting to note that the implementation of photo finishes at Santa Anita actually recorded an increase in dead heats. Santa Anita was so succesful that in its first year under Doc Strub's leadership, it paid its investors a 100% dividend on their investment.
In 1940, Seabiscuit won the Santa Anita Handicap in his last start. Two years later, in 1942, racing at Santa Anita was suspended due to the Second World War. From 1942 to 1944, Santa Anita was used as a Japanese American internment center. After the track reopened in 1945, it went through the postwar years with prosperity. A downhill turf course, which added a distinctly European flair to racing at Santa Anita, was added in 1953.
A record 61,123 people showed up for the 1958 Santa Anita Derby, making the attendance that day a record crowd. They'd come to watch Silky Sullivan come from 28 lengths off the pace and win—going away.
The 1960s brought about a major renovation of Santa Anita Park, including a much-expanded grandstand as well as major seating additions. In 1968, Del Mar Racetrack relinquished its dates for a fall meeting. A group of horsemen including Clement Hirsch intervened and established the not-for-profit Oak Tree Racing Association. Oak Tree had no facilities of its own and rented Santa Anita Park for its first autumn meeting in 1969. the Oak Tree Association has since become the operator of the autumn meet at Santa Anita Park. This meet usually runs from the end of September until early November. Many key stakes races are held during the Oak Tree Meeting, including many preps to the Breeders' Cup races. Oak Tree has been given the privilege of holding the Breeders' Cup itself on five occasions: 1986, 1993, 2003, 2008, and 2009.
Prosperity continued at Santa Anita throughout the 1970s and the 1980s. In 1984, Santa Anita was the site of equestrian events at the 1984 Olympics. The following year, the track set an attendance record of 85,527 people on Santa Anita Handicap Day.The Santa Anita meeting still often draws massive crowds. 56,810 people were at the park for Santa Anita Derby Day 2007.
The Seabiscuit statue was hand tooled by Frank Buchler, a German immigrant the owner of Washington Ornamental Iron Company Los Angeles. Washington Ornamental Iron Company built all the facilities.
In 1997, Santa Anita Park was acquired by Meditrust when it purchased the Santa Anita Companies, a paired share Real Estate Investment Trust. Following the elimination of the special tax treatment accorded Pair Share REITS, Meditrust sold the track to Magna Entertainment Corp. Magna still owns Santa Anita Park. In 2006, Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita cohosted the Sunshine Millions, a day of competition with $3.6 million in stakes races between horses bred in the State of Florida and those bred in the State of California.
In 2006, there was a proposal to close Santa Anita Park and use its location as the site of a new retail/entertainment complex. This proposal was eventually defeated when the adjacent Westfield Santa Anita Mall (built in 1974 on the site of the old barns and training track) began its expansion, and due to the continuing popularity of the racetrack. In April 2008, a plan was approved to use large parts of the existing track parking lot to construct another mall. The "Shops at Santa Anita" will open in 2010.
Due to its proximity to Los Angeles, Santa Anita has traditionally been associated with the film and television industries. The racetrack sequences in the Marx Brothers classic A Day at the Races were filmed there, and many stars, including Bing Crosby, Spencer Tracy, Errol Flynn, Alex Trebek, and MGM mogul, Louis B. Mayer, have owned horses that raced there.
At Santa Anita Park's European-style paddock there are statues of jockeys George Woolf, Johnny Longden, Bill Shoemaker and Laffit Pincay, Jr. plus a memorial bust of announcer Joe Hernandez and one of trainer Charlie Whittingham with his dog, Toby. There is also a lifesize bronze of Seabiscuit in the walking ring at Seabiscuit Court; a similar bronze of John Henry was unveiled near the Seabiscuit statue in December 2009. Buried near the paddock is Emperor of Norfolk, the best horse Lucky Baldwin ever owned, along with three other great Baldwin horses: Volante, Silver Cloud, and Rey El Santa Anita, all four of them winners of the prestigious American Derby.
Since 1950, Santa Anita Park has annually presented the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award to a rider who demonstrates high standards of personal and professional conduct, on and off the racetrack.
South African native Trevor Denman has served as the track announcer at Santa Anita since 1983. Denman is noted for his calls beginning with "And awaaay they go..."
Santa Anita has a one-mile (1,609 m) synthetic "cushion" main track which rings a turf course measuring 9/10 of a mile, or 7 furlongs plus 132 feet (1,448 m). In addition, it has an unusual hillside turf course which crosses the dirt and is used mainly to run turf races at a distance of "about" 6 1/2 furlongs (exact distance 64 1/2 feet less than same). This type of track is one of the few of its kind in America.
To comply with a State of California mandate, Santa Anita replaced its dirt racing surface with a new synthetic surface called Cushion Track, a mixture of silica sand, synthetic fibers, elastic fiber, granulated rubber and a wax coating. The new Cushion Track opened for training on Sept 4, 2007 and hosted its first live race on Sept 26, 2007. The track lost 11 racing dates in 2008 due to a drainage problem with the new material, but intensive maintenance and the addition of a liquid binder greatly improved the artificial surface. Subsequently, management made the decision to replace Cushion Track with a new artificial racing surface manufactured by Pro-Ride, an Australian-based company. This surface will be available for the 2008 Oak Tree meeting, and Breeder's Cup event.
Santa Anita occupies 320 acres. It has a 1,100-foot-long grandstand, which is a historic landmark that seats 26,000 guests. The grandstand is done in an Art Deco style and is the original facade from the 1930s.
The track infield area, which resembles a park with picnic tables and large trees, can accommodate 50,000 or more guests. The Park also contains 61 barns, which house more than 2,000 horses, and an equine hospital.
Superstition: In Santa Anita Park's horse stalls, there is no 13th stall, since 13 is considered unlucky. There is a 12 and a 12a, then a 14.
Santa Anita's vast parking lot and exterior served as the entrance facade to the fictional Wally World in National Lampoon's Vacation, while the internal theme-park scenes were filmed at Six Flags Magic Mountain.
In 2006 Karen S. Davis, photogapher and author, published Santa Anita Morning Rhapsody, the first full-color art book documenting morning thoroughbred racetrack training.