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 set aside my preconceptions about what happens at a horse race, and I was surprised when it started to pique my curiosity.
I went to Santa Anita Race Track with my friend the Millenial Guy to check it out, and we're here to share our experience.
Races at Santa Anita Race Track
The premiere race of the year is the Santa Anita Derby, which has produced no less than 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 arrive in the paddock area outside the track about 20 minutes before the race. This is an excellent time to see the horses 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 that goes beneath the grandstands.
- 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 as the horses 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 an 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. 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 Track
When you arrive, Santa Anita's sleek, art deco-style architecture sets a tone of 1930s elegance. Once you're inside, the backdrop of mountains and palm trees are so distracting 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 costs a little more, and box seats are most expensive (but still very reasonable). You can also get all dressed up and head to 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 take in the sights, check out the infield area and have something to eat or drink. The Santa Anita carved sandwiches are good, and their hand-sliced corned beef is a specialty. Other options include hot dogs, burgers, salads and fine 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 free 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 people spend tons of time figuring that out, but insiders tell me that even the pros get it right less the half the time.
If you're going just for fun, pick a name you like and cheer for the horse like mad. If you're lucky, it will all end with an exciting photo finish.
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 are beautiful to watch, and the excitement of each race is contagious. Santa Anita boasts a beautiful building and setting, and there's plenty to do even if you don't want to gamble. The 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.
In a poll, 88% of our readers said they think Santa Anita is awesome.
More Horse Racing Sites in California
If you like Santa Anita and want to check out horse racing somewhere else, Del Mar Racetrack in San Diego is my favorite place for a day at the races, even though I don't bet a penny while I'm there.
You can also go to the races at Golden Gate Fields near San Francisco.
For a look back in time to one of the most famous racehorses ever, visit Ridgewood Ranch in northern California, the place the famous Seabiscuit called home. Here's what you need to know about going there.
Essential Information for Visiting Santa Anita Race Track
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.
You may be visiting Santa Anita while you're checking out nearby Pasadena. Use this guide to plan a day -or a weekend- in Pasadena.
Santa Anita Race Track
285 W Huntington Avenue
Race Track Website
The Santa Anita Race Track is on the north side of the Los Angeles metro area, a little east of Pasadena. Park in lots further away from the track for a lower price, or drive up and opt for valet parking.
The races happen in two seasons and only a few days a week. Visit the Race Track Website to find out when they're open.