Santa Anita Park is known as the “Great Race Place” and the track lives up to the reputation. With the picturesque San Gabriel Mountains in the background, the Arcadia, California racetrack has been the home of some of the greatest and most thrilling moments in Thoroughbred racing history. The track opened in December of 1934 almost immediately after California legalized pair-mutuel wagering.
Santa Anita has undergone several changes over the years, most notably to the main track. The one-mile oval encircles a turf course that measures just over seven furlongs and there is also a unique hillside turf course that runs down a slight hill and crosses over the main track – those races are traditionally held at “about six and a half furlongs”. The dirt main track was replaced by a synthetic surface in 2007 but was returned to conventional dirt in 2010.
Santa Anita Racetrack Picks
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Santa Anita Racing Tips
Santa Anita Park is the host to numerous top-caliber graded stakes races which attract the best horses in a variety of divisions. In addition to over a dozen Grade 1 races, Santa Anita has been the host track to nine Breeders’ Cup championship events, most recently in 2016.
The rivalry between West Coast racing and East Coast racing has always been strong and the West Coast has been privileged in recent years with numerous popular stars including Lava Man, Shared Belief, Game On Dude, Zenyatta and California Chrome.
Santa Anita Handicap
The biggest race held annually at Santa Anita is the Santa Anita Handicap which is referred to as the “Big Cap”. Held traditionally in March, the race was inaugurated in 1935 and has one of the richest histories of any North American race. The purse is currently $1 million and the Grade 1 event is run at a mile and a quarter.
Jockey Bill Shoemaker has the most wins in the race with 11 as a rider and trainer Charlie Whittingham saddled a total of nine winners. Some of the most noteworthy horses in history have won the Santa Anita Handicap including Seabiscuit (1940), John Henry (1981, 1982) and Tiznow (2001). Game On Dude has the distinction of the most wins as a horse – he won it in 2011 and then in back to back years in 2013 and 2014.
Santa Anita Derby
The road to the Kentucky Derby runs through California and the major prep on the West Coast is the $1 million Santa Anita Derby. Run at a mile and an eighth, the race is a key prep race for the Run for the Roses and has produced seven winners that have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby including Affirmed (1978), Winning Colors (1988) and California Chrome (2014).
Jockey Gary Stevens who is still actively riding holds the record for the most wins with nine. Bob Baffert tops the standings on trainer side with seven, many of which came with Stevens in the irons.
In 2016, Exaggerator won the Santa Anita Derby over an off track and while he did not win the Kentucky Derby, he did win both the Preakness Stakes and the Haskell Invitational prior to his retirement.
Santa Anita Oaks
The Santa Anita Oaks is the equivalent of the Santa Anita Derby for fillies and is held the same weekend, usually in early April. The Grade 1 race was run for the first time in 1935 and is currently contested at a mile and a sixteenth with a purse of $400,000 and serves as a major prep race for the Kentucky Oaks.
Bill Shoemaker has the record for the most wins with ten and trainer D. Wayne Lukas has saddled an impressive eight winners. Some of the top fillies in the history of Thoroughbred racing have won the Santa Anita Oaks including Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors (1988), Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches (2007) and three-time Breeders’ Cup winner Beholder (2013).
Santa Margarita Stakes
Held annually in March at Santa Anita, the Santa Margarita Stakes is a Grade 1 event for fillies and mares run at the distance of a mile and an eighth with a purse of $500,000. Though the distance of the race has varied over the years, the race has always attracted some of the best distaffers in the country.
The list of great champions to win the race is long and includes the likes of Lady’s Secret (1986), Bayakoa (1989, 1990), Azeri (2002) and Zenyatta (2010).
Gold Cup at Santa Anita
When Hollywood Park closed, the Gold Cup needed to find a new home and relocated to Santa Anita in 2014. The race brought with it a rich history dating back to 1938 and currently is a Grade 1 with a purse of $500,000 run at the distance of a mile and a quarter. The race is an automatic qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Classic as part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series.
Two horses have won three editions of the Gold Cup – Native Diver (1965, 1966, 1967) and Lava Man (2005, 2006, 2007). Laffit Pincay, Jr. rode nine winners over the course of his career spanning from 1970 to 2002 and Charlie Whittingham sent out eight winners.
In 2016, Melatonin won the Gold Cup at Santa Anita with Joe Talamo in the irons for trainer David Hofmans. The five-year-old, though talented, had been plagued by EPM, a neurological condition, through much of his career..