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Friday, May 22, 2015

A Day at the Races: Tim and Darryl Take on Santa Anita Park

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Magnus Manske under CC BY 2.0 license

I love horse racing. I grew up not far from here and it wasn't uncommon for my dad to take us to the races now and again. Santa Anita, in Arcadia, California, wasn't his favorite track. He said it was too uppity for him. He preferred the more downscale Los Alamitos for the quarter horses racing at night.

For me, Santa Anita is perfect. Glorious mountain views, outstanding art deco architecture, and mighty thoroughbreds racing for the gold.  I never found it too intimidating, I always seemed to fit right in.

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Later on, I'd get a job during high school at the mall next door. It was very common to meet jockeys, trainers, and other staff from the track who would always be willing to chat about the ponies and let me know who they thought would win. They were also a wealth of horse racing knowledge and taught me a lot about this ancient sport.

A coworker got to know one of the racing stewards (equivalent to a referee in other sports) and he would give us free passage into the club house whenever we wanted.  Lunch breaks would find me heading across the massive parking lot and placing a few bets.

In those days, racing was in it's prime. Talk to any locals of a certain age and they'll remember the massive traffic jams leading to the track on race days. On one particularly big day, it took me two hours to negotiate the last couple of miles to my job at the mall.

Now, you can bet on horses anywhere including your own living room. Back in the day, you had to actually go to the track to do that. Off-track betting has killed attendance at our tracks and, let's face it, horse racing is a dying sport around here.

We've lost two local tracks...the fairgrounds and Hollywood Park...leaving their racing dates to be divied up among the three remaining...Los Alamitos, Del Mar, and Santa Anita.  While Los Alamitos claims to be able to turn a profit with it's paired-down facility and Del Mar also runs a very popular fair at a spectacular oceanfront setting, the company that owns Santa Anita is no stranger to the bankruptcy court.

For now, Tim and I are going to spend a day at this 81 year old grand dame of the racing scene while we still can.

Online, you can find lots of packages and discounts. On, I find a two for one clubhouse deal where Tim and I can go and sit in the great club house (as opposed to the general admission area) for $10. What a deal.

The worker who scans our tickets and stamps our hands points out the gate a few feet away where we can catch an elevator up to the club house level. Although it was built in 1934, much of the facility is wheelchair accessible.  

We do a little exploring and find the best and most convenient place for us to watch the races is the apron in front of the general admission grandstand. There is a nearby bridge over the tunnel where the horses enter the track that separates the club house from the general admission area so we devise a strategy where we'll relax in the club house between races, scoot across the bridge to watch it, and return to the club house to repeat the process.

The first two races are a loss to us. We take a break for lunch and have a very nice, custom carved roast beef sandwich at the carvery counter in the club house. Another rash, low dollar wager puts us another couple of dollars in the hole when I find out I've misplaced our program and racing form.

Tim comes up with the strategy of picking a horse via the number that is closest to his uncle's favorite number, 7. The 7 horse is scratched for this race, so he defaults down to 6. We place a wager on that horse and I also pick an exacta for the 6-9 horse combination (the next closest number to 7 - an exacta is a bet where you pick the first two horses in the order that they will finish).

It's a few minutes to race time and we head back out to our spot.  The horses are off...number 6 leaps out to an early lead and keeps it. As we watch the horses heading for home, there are two horses ahead of the pack, nose-to-nose. It's 6 and 9 and 6 just noses out 9 for the win.  

We finally hit a bet although with only four horses in the race, the payoff is not what dreams are made of...$49.80 for a combined $10 bet.

Still, it gets us out of our hole but we'll drop back down as we lose another $10 on the last race of the day for us.

It's a fun day out for this father and son duo and also very inexpensive. Even though we did end up slightly on the losing side of things, having fun with your son is pretty priceless so I thought it was a very good deal.

Santa Anita Park is about 15 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles in Arcadia. It's just south of the 210 freeway at the Baldwin Avenue offramp. Foothill Transit and Metro both provide accessible bus transportation to the track.

Normal adult admission is $5 for general admission and $10 for the club house.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

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