California is home to a thoroughbred racetrack facility, the famous Santa Anita Park in Arcadia. The racecourse is home to some of the country’s most notable horse racing events, including the Santa Anita Handicap and the Santa Anita Derby. It is also home to the Breeders Cup 10 times from 1986 to 2019.
The racecourse is currently owned by the Stronach Group since 2011, a North American real estate and entertainment company mainly dealing in thoroughbred horse racing and pari-mutuel betting. Here is a brief insight into the history and facilities of Santa Anita Park.
Santa Anita Park History
Santa Anita Park officially opened on 25th December 1934. However, the idea for the facility originated 27 years earlier.
Santa Anita Park was initially a part of the Rancho Santa Anita, which was under the ownership of Claudio Lopez, the former overseer of San Gabriel Mission. The racecourse was named after one of his family members Anita Cota. Later a Scotsman named Hugo Reid purchased the venue. However, in 1875, the place was bought by Elias Jackson Baldman, popularly known as Lucky Baldwin, a famous businessman, and a millionaire.
Over time, Lucky Baldwin became a prosperous horse breeder and thoroughbred horse owner. Baldwin later went on to build a new racetrack, the original Santa Anita Park, which opened in 1904.
The facility had a 1 mile oval track and a huge grandstand, while the stables could house around as 1200 horses at a time. In 1909, the California State Legislature passed the Walker Otis law, banning racetrack gambling. The same year, Baldwin passed away. The passing of the law and the famous pioneer’s death resulted in horse racing’s popularity dwindling in the coming years. In 1912 the Baldwin racetrack had a fire accident and was completely destroyed.
Horse racing became popular again when pari-mutuel betting was approved through a bill in 1933. As a result, various investor groups joined hands to revive horse racing in the region and open racecourses.
Around that time, a group led by Dr. Charles H Strub, a famous dentist, and entrepreneur, and another group led by Hal Roach Sr, a film and TV producer, joined hands to form the LA Turf Club. The club opened on 25th December 1934 on its present site. Meanwhile, the Baldwin Racetrack is now the location of Arcadia Park.
When the new racecourse venue commenced operations, it became the first formal racecourse in all of California. Until he passed away in 1958, the racetrack operated under the leadership of Dr. Charles H Strub.
The first season of Santa Anita Park in 1934 went on for 65 days. The following year it held the Santa Anita Handicap with a purse of $100,000, which was the largest amount for horse racing in the US at that time. In 1940, Sea Biscuit won the Santa Anita Handicap.
The track was closed during World War II and was used as an assembly point during war. Over the years, the park has been showcased in many films and television productions. Some of the popular ones include The Story of Sea Biscuit, A Star is Born, and a Day at the Races, among others.
The Oak Tree Racing Association ran its initial season here in 1969 during fall. In 2011, the park was granted rights to host fall races in its own right.
Santa Anita Facilities
Santa Anita Racecourse is spread out over an area of 320 acres. The grandstand facility at the veue got its much-needed expansion in the 1960s. It is around 340m long and a historical site that can house up to 26,000 individuals.
Presently, the park has a 1-mile main dirt track that circles around an inner turf course having a circumference of 1,448m. The park also has a one-of-a-kind turf course that crosses the dirt track.
In 2020, a new turf chute was added to the facility for turf sprints, while the downhill sprints were curtailed. The dirt track was replaced with a synthetic surface called the Cushion Track in 2007. Due to drainage problems, the dirt track was restored in 2010.
The infield is like a park with trees and picnic tables and can accommodate more than 50,000 guests. The facility also features 61 stables which can house up to 2,000 horses. There is also an equestrian hospital at the site.
Major races at Santa Anita Park
Santa Anita Park is home to many notable races. Some of the most prominent permanent fixtures include Santa Anita Handicap, Santa Anita Derby, and Sunshine Millions Day.
What is the Santa Anita Handicap?
The Santa Anita Handicap is a Group 1 Thoroughbred horse race reserved for horses four years and above. It runs over a distance of 1 ¼ mile and has a purse of around $650,000.