A guest post by Craig Kibler
Horse racing has been popular in this country since the mid 1800’s. The popularity of the sport has been up and down, but horse racing at times has been seen as the most entertaining spectator sport around. Ever since Saratoga Race Course (oldest sporting venue in the country) in New York was erected in 1863, the thrill of watching a horse race has spread from coast to coast. Later in the 19th century, a few more notable horse racing venues, including Churchill Downs and Pimlico Race Course, were built. In the early 1900’s more venues popped up, but until 1934 there were no major horse racing venues west of the Mississippi River.
On Christmas day 1934, Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, CA opened its doors for the first time. This well-known race course has an amazingly beautiful setting and historical importance as well. From the grandstands you can see the picturesque San Gabriel Mountains beyond the track at Santa Anita Park. Along with being the oldest horse racing course in southern California, it has hosted the Breeders’ Cup five times (1986, 1993, 2003, 2008, and 2009) and is scheduled to host the event again in November of 2012. This popular track also hosts well attended events every year that include the Santa Anita Derby, the Santa Anita Handicap*, and Sunshine Millions Day.
* Famous horse Sea Biscuit ran his last race and won in the 1939 Santa Anita Handicap
The Hollywood Park Racetrack, opened in 1938, is another very popular horse racing venue in California. Hollywood Park facilities include a 1.125 mile synthetic race course as well as a 1 mile and 145 ft. turf oval. The lavish services at Hollywood Park bring the kind of luxury that you would expect at a place that carries such a name. The track is well-known for spectacular dining and busy poker rooms.
Hollywood Park Racetrack hosts many events every year that include Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3, and ungraded races. The most popular races at Hollywood Park are the Hollywood Derby, Hollywood Gold Cup, and the American Oaks Invitational.
Much like Santa Anita, Del Mar Racetrack has a gorgeous scene around the venue. The track is located in the Del Mar Fairgrounds and it is parked right up against the Pacific Ocean. Many refer to this beautiful sports venue as the place “where the surf meets the turf.”
Del Mar Racetrack was built by a few famous investors who included Bing Crosby and Jimmy Durante. Crosby was very much involved with the opening of his new racetrack in 1937, when he personally stood at the gates to greet patrons as they entered the venue. Another important historical note for this track is the fact that it was the location of the very first national broadcast for a horse race. NBC radio covered the head-to-head match-up of Sea Biscuit and Ligaroti on August 12, 1938. The purse for that race was $25,000; and now they host races like the Pacific Classic Stakes with a guaranteed $1,000,000 purse. Other notable races at Del Mar Racetrack are the Del Mar Oaks, Eddie Read Handicap, Bing Crosby Handicap, and the John C. Mabee Stakes.
One common link between a few of the California horse racing venues is the voice that covers many of the important races. Trevor Denman is the official voice for the Breeders’ Cup and announces for Del Mar Racetrack, Santa Anita Park, and Fairplex (Los Angeles County Fairgrounds). He is most remembered for his call at the 2009 Breeders’s Cup when Zenyatta came from 3 lengths back on the final turn to capture the victory and Denman exclaimed “This, Is, Unbelievable.”
California is a large state with a lot of people and several notable horse racing venues. Aside from the venues already mentioned, there is also a horse racing group known as CARF (California Authority of Racing Fairs) that holds races throughout the state at different fairgrounds. The tracks involved in this circuit are in located in Stockton, Pleasanton, Sacramento, Santa Rosa, Ferndale, and Fresno.
There is also Golden Gate Fields, which is the one major horse racing track in northern California. The track mainly features Grade 2 and Grade 3 racing on their one-mile synthetic track or the 9/10 mile turf course. This venue is owned by MID, who also owns Santa Anita Park, and is located in a spot that actually straddles both Albany and Berkley. The most notable race at this track is the California Derby, which has been held since 1873 and is a first test for horses eyeing the Triple Crown.
The last venue worth mentioning is the Los Alamitos Race Course. It is located in Cypress and hosts both quarter horse and thoroughbred racing. Los Alamitos is the only track in the U.S. to hold four quarter horse races that have a purse over $1,000,000. Along with having the richest non-Breeders’ Cup 2-year-old race (2008 Los Alamitos 2 Million), the track also annually holds the richest 3-year-old quarter race (Los Alamitos Super Derby).
It’s incredible when you look at all the wonderful opportunities that horse racing offers in California. Much of the culture in the areas where these venues are located fits well for the prosperity of the tracks. The future of horse racing in California appears to be bright as the Breeders’ Cup returns to Santa Anita Park in 2012. The great weather in California makes their prestigious tracks a great choice for the Breeders’ Cup. The Triple Crown races are clearly not moving their location, but landing a bid for the rotating Breeders’ Cup is something that residents of California should appreciate and continue to see more of.
About the Author: Craig Kibler is the lead blogger for Sports Traveler, a leading sports tourism site specializing in providing horse racing tickets and trip packages. He regularly writes about a variety of sports and travel topics.