At first, the idea might seem absurd. Why would a Los Angeles visitor - or anyone looking for a fun day out - want to spend time at the horse races? Instead of dismissing the idea, set aside your preconceptions about what happens at a horse race, and you might be surprised how much fun it can be.
Races at Santa Anita Race Track
The premier 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 all you have to do is 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) build 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 Seabiscuit, the 1938 Horse of the Year. During the winter/summer season, visitors can see his stall, barn, other scenes from the 2003 movie, as well as the equine star of the film, Fighting Furrari on a free tram tour.
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 Terrace.
In the Club House, you can choose a seat and watch the races, but with so much going on, you want to spend 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 tasty, and hand-sliced corned beef is a specialty. Other options include hot dogs, burgers, salads and fine dining in the Turf Terrace (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 want to bet but aren't sure how these simple tips will help.
Which horse should you choose? You could spend hours figuring that out, but insiders say that even the pros get it right less than 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 (and money in your pocket).
Reviews and Reader Opinions
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 Thursdays and Fridays.
In a poll, 88% of TripSavvy readers said they think Santa Anita is awesome.
Essential Information for Visiting Santa Anita Race Track
The track is at 285 W Huntington Avenue, Arcadia, CA, a little east of Pasadena. 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.
If you go to Derby Day, everyone will probably ask: "Are you going to wear a big hat?" In fact, you'll see 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 Terrace restaurant maintains a higher standard. See their dress code.
More Horse Racing Sites in California
If you like Santa Anita and want to check out horse racing somewhere else, another fun place for a day at the races is the Del Mar Racetrack in San Diego.
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.