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Published: April 3rd 2019
This really is a travel story, so be patient with me….
If you have been following along, you know that I very much enjoy horse racing. I watched my first horse back in the ‘80s at the St. Joe County Fair in St. Joseph, Michigan. It was a chilly, gray day at the end of September, with occasional rain showers. The seats were on old wooden, splintery bleachers, but they were free, and gave me a chance to sit down for a few minutes, and that was all it took.
I sat there, in the rain, drinking bad coffee, for a couple of hours, and watched, fascinated. And the more I watched, the more I wanted to know. Now, when I travel, I always check to see if there is any racing scheduled at my destination. I’ve had a chance to visit racetracks from the Caribbean to Asia, and I’m still fascinated.
I now live in southern California, near the Del Mar Thoroughbred race track, and I go pretty regularly in the summer. I’m not much of a gambler, for me a big bet is $2 to show on the favorite. I had gone to several seminars over
the years about buying and owning a racehorse, and every time I concluded I didn’t know enough to spend that much money. When I found out that the average cost for stabling, feed, training, and vet bills was about $3,000 a month, I decided I could do a whole lot of traveling for that amount of cash.
And then last year, on the next to last day of the summer meet at Del Mar, there were some people in the plaza with a big sign that said “Own a share of a racehorse for $100.” To make a long story marginally shorter, this was a company that offered fractional shares of racehorses that they owned. I found a horse that, while costing more than $100 per share, had a good pedigree and was in the barn of a good trainer, so I jumped in.
My horse, (I call her my horse, even though I only own a tiny fraction of a percent of her) had a very good year in 2018. She was entered into six races, and ran in the money in all of them. With one exception, those races had been at Del Mar, so I
was able to watch her run.
Now here is where the travel story starts…
Del Mar closed for the winter the first weekend in December, and southern California racing moved to Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California.
Santa Anita is about 100 miles from my house, but I had never been there. I’d made plans to go, but something always came up at the last minute. Then I got an email saying my horse, Sauce on Side, was going to be running this Friday after being off for almost two months. (Or at least my tiny fraction was going along while the rest of the horse ran around the track.) So I made plans to attend.
Santa Anita Park is in Arcadia, just west of Pasadena, the home of Cal Tech, and about 25 miles from Los Angeles. Everything you have ever heard about the horrific traffic in Los Angeles in true – and then some. Just to give you an idea, Google maps estimates travel time for the 25 miles from Santa Anita Park to Los Angeles at an hour and 8 minutes, and that’s on the highway. Since I was coming from the south
- and had carefully timed my departure time to miss rush hour – I made it in under two hours. (And no, officer, I didn’t break the speed limit, though I may have bent it a little….)
First thing to know is this place is HUGE. The complex takes up over 300 acres. For comparison, Churchill Downs, home to the Kentucky Derby, is less than half the size of Santa Anita. I arrived just before the gates opened on a week day, so the parking lots were pretty empty. I made careful note of where I parked- next to a fence, under a palm tree – so I would be able to find my vehicle when I wanted to leave.
Sauce on Side was in the second race so I had a couple of hours to roam around the clubhouse, which has some lovely stained glass and some very nice art. Since it was a week day with no scheduled stakes races, there weren’t very many people there.
While there had been horse racing in Arcadia since 1907, the legalization of pari-mutuel betting in 1933 made the idea of racing much more interesting. In 1934 Dr. Charles
Strub, a San Francisco dentist, and Hal Roach, a movie producer known for the Laurel and Hardy films, teamed up and opened Santa Anita Park at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains. As a side note, Hal Roach wasn’t the only Hollywood personality to be involved in horse racing; movie stars Pat O’Brien and Bing Crosby opened the Del Mar race track in 1936 after seeing the success of Santa Anita.
At Santa Anita you can see into the paddock saddling area, where the horses get kitted out with their saddles and saddle clothes before getting led out into the paddock. In the paddock, the jockeys get their last minute instructions from the trainer, and when the paddock judge gives the word for “riders up,” the jockey gets a leg up into the saddle and takes the horse out onto the track.
I had a paddock badge, so I was able to see the action from inside the paddock, which truthfully wasn’t all that different from seeing it from outside the paddock. The other fractional owners and I were able to say hello to Heriberto Figueroa – the jockey – and then we moved up to the
box seats to watch the race.
Sauce On Side ran her typical race, that is, she ran dead last until the last quarter mile. Then she realized she was in a horse race and put on a burst of speed to end up in the money where she paid $2.40.
I wanted to get on the road before the traffic got too bad, so after chatting a bit with the other fractional owners I headed out. Remember I said this place was huge? And that I had carefully parked next to a fence under a palm tree? What I failed to take into account was that there is over a mile and a half of fenced parking lot, and that the entire fence was lined with palm trees. And I drive a small, white SUV, which has to be the most common vehicle in all of southern California.
After spending a good 45 minutes wandering around, muttering under my breath, I finally found my vehicle. The drive back home wasn’t too bad, about two and a half hours, so all in all it was a pretty good day.
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