Christmas Day is December 25th, but for horseplayers, Christmas comes a day later when Santa Anita opens on December 26th. The Great Race Place opens for its annual winter and spring meet the day after Christmas, so put away the decorations and open your laptop or phone to watch and wager on the best racing in Southern California at Santa Anita this winter.
Opened in 1934, Santa Anita has a presence and tangible history that rivals most tracks in the United States. The spacious Art Deco grandstand and grounds have been meticulously maintained and renovated over the years to preserve a timeless, classic race experience.
Santa Anita has always been an integral part of the Thoroughbred racing circuit in Southern California and hosts prominent racing events such as the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and the Santa Anita Handicap (G1). Also known as the Big ‘Cap, the Santa Anita Handicap was first run in 1935 for a purse of $100,000, the largest purse for any race in North America at the time.
Located in Arcadia, California, Santa Anita has made many appearances in movies and television shows, and it is not unusual for celebrities to visit or even own racehorses stabled at the track.
Like most major tracks, Santa Anita has an outside main dirt track and an inner turf course. However, it boasts one feature that sets it apart and makes for a unique handicapping angle: there is a turf chute used exclusively for turf sprint races that start outside of the dirt course on the backstretch. Due to the location near the San Gabriel Mountains, this chute requires horses to run downhill on the grass before crossing the dirt track and joining the inner turf course.
Since the Breeders’ Cup began in 1984, Santa Anita has hosted the World Championship event a record nine times and will be the host site for the tenth time in 2019.
Santa Anita opened on Christmas Day in 1934 and it is tradition to host Opening Day on the day after Christmas each year.
The 2019 Santa Anita Winter Meet comprises 60 days of racing and features 60 stakes races, 34 of which are graded, and eight of which are Grade 1 events. Four of the graded stakes are schedule for Opening Day, including the Grade 1 $300,000 Malibu and the Grade 1 $300,000 La Brea.
The weekend after Opening Day features several additional stakes, including the prestigious $300,000 American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies.
Santa Anita has long been the home to some of the biggest names of Thoroughbred racing:
Zenyatta – The Queen of Thoroughbred racing, Zenyatta, raced often at Santa Anita. Seven of her 20 lifetime starts were in Arcadia, including her Breeders’ Cup Classic win in 2009 and her Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic victory in 2008. A statue of the celebrated mare in her familiar dancing pose graces the paddock at Santa Anita.
Justify – Recent Triple Crown winner Justify started in Southern California and won several races there, including the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, before winning the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
California Chrome – Chromies — California Chrome’s fanbase — know that the two-time Champion Horse of the Year made nine starts at Santa Anita and won five stakes there during his career when he was the all-time leading money-earning Thoroughbred.
Arrogate – Racing’s current all-time leading money earner, Arrogate broke his maiden at Santa Anita and made three of his 11 career starts at the track, including a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic over California Chrome.
Seabiscuit – Of movie and bestselling book fame, Seabiscuit won the Santa Anita Handicap in his final career start in 1940. He had lost the same race by a nose to Rosemount in 1937 and lost again in a photo finish in 1938 before getting his final win in the race that had eluded him for years.
Mike Smith – Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith is one of the most recognizable names and faces in the sport of horse racing. Given his career and accomplishments as the second all-time leading money earning in the sport, Smith can choose when and where he wants to ride, and he almost always shows up for every big race at Santa Anita.
Bob Baffert – Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, with his trademark white hair and sunglasses, is a fixture at all the Southern California tracks, including Santa Anita. Baffert, who has trained two Triple Crown winners, is known for having a strong stable of 3-year-olds on the Kentucky Derby trail each year and often places them in prep races at Santa Anita.
Drayden Van Dyke – Van Dyke is a young jockey that has made Southern California his home and recently was named TVG Breakthrough Jockey of the Year in 2018, awarded by JockeyTalk360.com and the Jockeys’ Guild. Van Dyke was the leading rider for both the summer and winter meets at Del Mar, winning first career Breeders’ Cup race. During the year, he doubled his number of races won, number of stakes races won, and earned over $5.7 million in 2018. Bet him with confidence as he continues to get top mounts.
Improbable – One of the most hyped 2-year-olds will be at Santa Anita for his 3-year-old year. Conditioned by Triple Crown winning trainer Bob Baffert, Improbable is undefeated in three starts, including the Grade 1 Cash Call Futurity at Los Alamitos. The ownership group behind this emerging star are the same partners that brought us Justify in 2018.
Roadster – With so much hype surrounding Improbable, don’t forget about Baffert’s other flashy 2-year-old, Roadster. He broke his maiden by four lengths and then placed third in the Del Mar Futurity. He’s been on the bench since then, so keep an eye out for his return to the track, undoubtedly in a prep race at Santa Anita.
Chasing Yesterday – A 3-year-old filly in 2019, Chasing Yesterday is by Tapit, one of the leading sires in the sport. More interesting is her dam, Littleprincessemma, who is also the dam of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Will Pharoah’s little sister follow in his hoofprints? She’s already won four of her five lifetime starts, including the Grade 1 Starlet Stakes at Los Alamitos.
Breeders’ Cup – Santa Anita has hosted the Breeders’ Cup nine times in the event’s 34-year history, and it will return to Arcadia in 2019. We’ve seen some of the greatest racehorses win Breeders’ Cup races at Santa Anita – Zenyatta, Arrogate, Beholder – who will it be this year?
With 60 stakes races, there is always a race worth watching at Santa Anita this spring. Here are the key stakes to watch during this meet after Opening Day:
$1,000,000 Santa Anita Derby (G1): April 6
$500,000 Santa Anita Handicap (G1): March 9
$500,000 San Felipe Stakes (G2): March 9
$400,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1): March 9
$400,000 Santa Anita Oaks (G1): April 6
$400,000 Beholder Stakes (G1): March 16
$150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes: February 2
Didn’t get what you wanted for the holidays? Don’t spend the day after Christmas standing in line to return and exchange – join racing fans across the country to play Santa Anita’s opening day and all four graded stakes races. If you don’t have an account, open one easily with TVG, Twinspires, or Xpressbet, who partners with Santa Anita and offers your choice of a sign-up bonus of up to $500.
Photo courtesy of Santa Anita Park.