From Seabiscuit and John Henry all the way up to Justify, Santa Anita Park has been home to some of the most legendary horses, jockeys and trainers, and some of the most memorable races in the history of the sport.
The track is also recognized as one of the most majestic in the world. That is why the biggest annual competition between horses from all over the world is so often held at Santa Anita Park. After the first-ever back-to-back Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita in 2008-09, the Breeders’ Cup booked consecutive events again in 2012-14 then returned in 2016 and again in 2019. Arcadia is also recognized as one of the most gracious and supportive host communities for the 100,000-plus spectators who flock to the two-day event for days in advance to enjoy all Arcadia and Southern California have to offer.
Santa Anita Beyond Breeders’ Cup
Santa Anita Park runs three meets per year from late December to mid-April, from late April to late June, and from late September to early November.
But the venue is open to the public 365 days a year. There is no more spectacular setting than sitting at Clockers’ Corner at the west end of the grandstand in the early morning hours, watching horses working out on the track against the backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains.
On any given day, you may see movie and TV stars, as the track has been host to hundreds of films and series since Charlie Chan and the Marx Brothers filmed movies there in 1936 and 1937 to 2018’s Academy Award-nominated “Vice.”
And, of course, numerous celebrity horses and jockeys are associated with Santa Anita. Among them are Seabiscuit, John Henry, Citation, Spectacular Bid and Zenyatta, plus George “The Iceman” Woolf, Johnny Longden, Willie Shoemaker, Chris McCarron, Laffit Pincay Jr., Gary Stevens and Triple Crown-winning jockeys Victor Espinoza and Mike Smith. Bob Baffert, trainer of American Pharoah and Justify, the last two winners of the Triple Crown, calls Santa Anita Park home.
Santa Anita Park Time Capsule
Dec. 25, 1934: Opened Christmas Day with a crowd of more than 30,000.
1940: Seabiscuit wins his last race, the Santa Anita Handicap, in front of a crowd of 78,000.
1942-1944: Racing was suspended during World War II, when track was initially used for seven months as an assembly center for Japanese Americans, then for two years as Camp Santa Anita – used for an Army ordnance training center and USO shows,
and finally to house German prisoners of
war for a few months.
May 15-July 7, 1945: All-time season attend-ance record average of 35,247 per day that still stands – more than 75,000 on Memorial Day and more than 60,000 on July 4.
Jan. 4, 1946: George Woolf dies the morning after a fall during a race at Santa Anita.
March 1, 1947: 85,000-plus attendees.
July 29- Aug 12, 1984: Host of Olympics equestrian events; 232,158 people attend; 250 horses represent 31 nations.
March 3, 1985: 85,000-plus attendees.
1986: Hosted First Breeders’ Cup.
2008-2009: First back-to-back Breeders’ Cup host; Zenyatta wins come-from-behind race in 2008, considered one of the most exciting and amazing ever; 75th anniversary ceremony Dec. 26, 2009; statue and historical marker dedicated.
2012-2014: First back-to-back-to-back host of Breeders’ Cup – 90,000 attendees over two days.
2016: The two-day Breeders’ Cup attendance total was 118,574, the highest in Breeders’ Cup history.
2018: Santa Anita trainee Justify wins the Belmont Stakes to secure the Triple Crown.
Firsts at Santa Anita
- Public address announcer calling the race.
- Instant electrical timing flashed at intervals during the race for public viewing.
- Magnetic control gate for simultaneous release at the start.
- Only turf course in America with a right-hand and downhill slope.
- Arcadia also boasts the Thoroughbred Walk of Champions along Huntington Drive, which was spearheaded by the Arcadia Historical Society, a walk much like the Hollywood Walk of Fame but dedicated to the greats of thoroughbred horse racing such as Seabiscuit, Laffit Pincay Jr., Man O’War and Silver Charm.