Santa Anita Park is one of the most well-known racetracks in the world. It plays a significant role in the history of the sport but is also a familiar sight in film and television due to its close proximity to Los Angeles. From its opening on Christmas Day in 1934 to the present day, Santa Anita is a staple and a fan favorite in the racing world.
As one of the preeminent racetracks in the United States, Santa Anita Park is a fan favorite due to the nearly year-round live races made possible by Southern California weather.
The thoroughbred track is known for its prestigious events like the historic Santa Anita Handicap, Santa Anita Derby, and occasional home of the Breeders’ Cup. Its close proximity to Hollywood the greater Los Angeles area, also makes it a popular location for film and television.
Santa Anita Park comprises 320 acres of land, highlighted by a 1100-foot-long grandstand to seat nearly 19,000 guests and a European-style paddock. It is a historic landmark, and its façade includes much of the original material. The infield track area is designed to look like a park with picnic tables and trees but can hold approximately 50,000 guests. The park itself contains 61 barns and an equine hospital. At any given time, more than 2,000 horses reside on the property.
Special event spaces at Santa Anita can accommodate up to 10,000 people. They offer catering and hospitality, as well as an in-house video system with 2,000 television monitors. There are betting windows and self-service terminals throughout the main property. Horse racing fans can also find races from across the country on its televisions, and they may wager on those races.
Guests can easily access the grandstand area or choose to reserve suites, terraces, or restaurants. Food ranges in price from casual to fine dining.
The one-mile oval track is natural dirt, and it rings a turf course of 0.9 mile or 1,584 yards. The hillside turf course is unique, as it crosses the dirt and runs exactly 1408.5 yards, though it is typically used for turf races of 6 ½ furlongs.
In compliance with a California mandate, Santa Anita Park replaced its dirt track with a synthetic surface called Cushion Track in 2007. It was a mixture of silica sand, synthetic and elastic fibers, granulated rubber, and a waxed coating. The goal was to allow racing in varying weather conditions and better drainage. However, a continual drainage problem in 2008 and beyond prompted the owner and operator to remove the Cushion Track and replace with its original natural dirt in 2010/2011 per a special state waiver.
The Santa Anita Handicap is the signature race of Santa Anita Park. It first ran in February 1935 with a $100,000 purse that shocked the racing world and made front pages of major newspapers. Azucar, a seven-year-old led by jockey George Woolf, won the inaugural race. Seabiscuit famously won his last race there in 1940, and other famous winners include Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, and John Henry.
The Grade I race is for thoroughbreds four years old and older. It is widely regarded as the most important race of its kind in North America during the winter season. It is a 10-furlong race that now offers a $600,000 purse.
The Santa Anita Derby also first ran in 1935 and quickly became a prominent race, one often considered a conduit to Kentucky Derby. The first-ever winner of the race was Gillie in 1935 with jockey Silvio Coucci. That horse did not go on to win the Kentucky Derby, but nearly a dozen of them had done so over the years, including Affirmed in 1978 and Justify in 2018.
When it began, it was a 1 1/16-furlong race but was reduced to 1 1/8 furlong after only three years. The Grade I thoroughbred race is reserved for three-year-old horses and runs each April with a $1 million purse.
The Breeders’ Cup World Championships was run at Santa Anita Park in 2019. The annual Grade I thoroughbred racing event also ran at Santa Anita in 1986, 1993, 2003, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2016. That 2016 running set the highest two-day attendance record for the Breeders’ Cup with 118,484 people. Purses for the races typically vary from $600,000 to $1 million.
The California Horse Racing Board approved the official racing dates for Santa Anita Park for 2020 in September 2019. The calendar provides for a Winter/Spring season from December 26, 2019, through June 23, 2020, and then the Fall season will run from September 9 through October 27.
|Grade I||Grade II||Grade III|
|Santa Anita Derby||Arcadia Handicap||Adoration Stakes|
|Santa Anita Handicap||Bayakoa Handicap||Affirmed Handicap|
|Santa Anita Oaks||Buena Vista Handicap||American Handicap|
|Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes (formerly Hollywood Gold Cup)||City of Hope Stakes||Autumn Miss Stakes|
|Gamely Stakes||Californian Stakes||Baldwin Stakes|
|Beholder Mile Stakes||Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap||Carleton F. Burke Handicap|
|Malibu Stakes||El Encino Stakes||Daytona Handicap|
|Triple Bend Stakes||Goldikova Stakes||Eddie D Stakes|
|Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap||Honeymoon Handicap||El Conejo Handicap|
|Chandelier Stakes||John Henry Turf Championship Stakes||La Habra Stakes|
|FrontRunner Stakes||La Canada Stakes||Los Angeles Handicap|
|La Brea Stakes||Las Virgenes Stakes||Las Flores Handicap|
|Rodeo Drive Stakes||Mathis Brothers Mile||Midnight Lute Stakes|
|Awesome Again Stakes||Monrovia Handicap||Robert B. Lewis Stakes|
|Santa Anita Spring Championship Stakes||Palos Verdes Handicap||Robert J Frankel Stakes|
|Shoemaker Mile Stakes||Potrero Grande Handicap||San Juan Capistrano Handicap|
|Zenyatta Stakes||Providencia Stakes||San Simeon Handicap|
|American Oaks||Royal Heroine Mile Stakes||Santa Barbara Handicap|
|San Antonio Handicap||Santa Ysabel Stakes|
|San Felipe Stakes||Senorita Stakes|
|San Fernando Stakes||Sham Stakes|
|San Gabriel Handicap||Tokyo City Cup|
|San Luis Obispo Handicap||Tuzla Handicap|
|San Luis Rey Handicap||Wilshire Stakes|
|San Marcos Stakes|
|San Pasqual Handicap|
|San Rafael Stakes|
|Santa Ana Handicap|
|Santa Margarita Handicap (formerly a Grade I Stakes until 2019)|
|Santa Maria Handicap|
|Santa Monica Handicap|
|Santa Ynez Stakes|
|San Vicente Stakes|
|Triple Bend Handicap (formerly a Grade I Stakes until 2019)|
|Belmont Park||Churchill Downs||Saratoga Racecourse||Monmouth Park||Arlington International Racecourse|
|Pimlico Race Course||Keeneland Race Course||Santa Anita Park||Oaklawn Racing||Fair Grounds Race Course|
Originally, the property was a part of Rancho Santa Anita, named for a family member of former San Gabriel Mission Mayor-Domo Claudio Lopez. Later in the 1800s, the land was acquired by a Scottish rancher but then purchased in cash by multimillionaire Elias “Lucky” Baldwin, a horse breeder and racer. He built a racetrack there in 1904, but it closed in 1909 and burned to the ground three years later.
In 1934, a group of investors formed by movie producer Hal Roach took shape as the Los Angeles Turf Club. They opened a new Santa Anita Park a few blocks from the original location. They were inspired by the legalization of pari-mutuel wagering in California.
Santa Anita Park officially opened on Christmas Day in 1934 as the first officially-recognized racetrack in California. Its signature race, the Santa Anita Handicap, ran the next year as the largest horse race ever run in the US to that point. Its purse was $100,000 and made national news.
Notably, Seabiscuit won the Santa Anita Handicap in 1940. More than 60 years later, the track was the location for the film “Seabiscuit.”
Before that, however, the track was featured first in the 1937 Marx Brothers film A Day at the Races and then the 1949 production featuring Shirley temple called The Story of Seabiscuit.
And speaking of Hollywood, some original stockholders in the racetrack included Al Jolson and Bing Crosby. Celebrities known for frequenting the track included Cary Grant, Jane Russell, Betty Grable, Edgar Bergen, and Esther Williams.
A dark time in the history of Santa Anita Park took place during World War II. The track suspended racing in 1942 and became an “assembly center” to hold tens of millions of Japanese Americans who were rounded up and detained after Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor. More than 18,000 people were forced to live in the horse stables and crudely-built buildings for several months, one of whom was actor George Takei who has spoken in great lengths of the detainment.