Santa Anita Park, located in Arcadia, California is a place that horse racing fans will never get out of their minds after attending the park once. The track is famous for the background of the San Gabriel Mountains and its Art Deco façade.
Santa Anita Park first opened on Christmas if 1934, making it the oldest racetrack in Southern California. The park’s art deco design was created by architect Gordon B. Kaufman. The track was opened after California legalized pari-mutuel wagering in 1933 and several investor groups were trying to open racetracks as fast as possible. A group in Los Angeles headed by movie producer Hal Roach needed additional funds and Dr. Charles H. (“Doc”) Strub was having a hard time locating a site for his track. Together, the groups formed the Los Angeles Turf Club and opened the track on Christmas Day. In 1935, they ran the first Santa Anita Handicap with a purse of 0,000. It was the largest race up until that point and was nicknamed the “Bi ‘Cap.”
Santa Anita introduced numerous innovations into the world of horseracing. Many of those innovations would go on to become standard in horseracing including starting gates and photo finishes, used in every race. Each year the track began recorded an increase in dead heats through their innovative technology.
In 1940, Santa Anita Park saw Seabiscuit for his last start at the Santa Anita Handicap. However, two years later the race would be suspended due to World War II. The track was used from 1942 to 1945 for an assembly center for Japanese Americans.
In 1953, the park opened a “downhill” turf course that added the flair of European racing to the infamous track. In 1958, the track saw a record crowd of 61,123 people, as they had traveled from all parts of the country to watch Silky Sullivan in the 1958 Santa Anita Derby. The horse came from 28 lengths off the pace to win.
In the ’60s, renovations continued on the track as they expanded the grandstand and added major seating additions. However, it was also at this time that Del Mar Racetrack in San Diego was also making some changes. They decided to relinquish their autumn dates and several horseman and race fans were angered. This sparked the development of the Oak Tree Racing Association, a not-for-profit organization that decided to rent Santa Anita Park instead of build their own course. They would soon hold several of the best events in horse racing during their autumn meet, including the Breeders’ Cup on three occasions with two more scheduled for 2018 and 2019.
Santa Anita has a one mile synthetic main track as well as turf course that measures just over 7 furlongs. The track also features the “downhill” turf course that has a unique hillside which crosses the dirt and is used mainly to run 6 ½ furlong sprints. The synthetic track is one of the few of its kind in the United States and could possibly be the spark of a new trend in horse racing.