The Santa Anita Park (Horse Racing!)

Saddle-in, because the post is a doozie. Get it? Saddle-in, because it’s about horses! At least I make myself laugh.

Last Saturday I joined my friends at the Santa Anita Park (aka horse race track). It was my friend Tom’s 35th birthday gathering and it was a great place to celebrate (if you’re looking for a good adult birthday spot).

The birthday gathering began at noon, although I was delayed because I was trying to find the perfect hat (come’on, it’s horse racing! You HAVE to) and matching my nail polish to my dress (girly, yes but that’s rare for me so Ill allow it). I didn’t have any cash on me, but Im about to go to a gambling free-for-all, so Im sure they have atm’s up the ying-yang.

I finally got out to Santa Anita around 12:45p and was about to make my way in when I realized it was $4 cash up-front to park. I have no cash. I get out of the parking car line, and head into the town of Santa Anita. It’s pretty busy around town so I find a parking spot, I take it, and then use google maps to find my bank. Knowing how bustling it was, I figured I’d walk to the bank as it’s only a few (giant) blocks away. Well, google maps failed me that day as I’m in front of my “bank”, which is a rundown building. Unless I was planning on making a $4 deal with a loan shark in this “bank”, I needed to find another atm. So I walk several (giant) blocks in the other direction, leaving my car where it was parked because I was worried about finding another parking spot. I get to the bank, which really is a bank, to see that’s it’s surrounded by empty parking lots. Great. And the bank also has several drive-through atms, but no regular atms. Double-great. I almost stood in the drive-up atm line when I decided to go inside and found the one walk-up atm buried in the building. I wait in a line, finally get $4 (and a little extra gambling money) and make the long walk back to my car. On the way a homeless guy asked me to marry him because he “loves my Viking blood”. I like a man who knows what he’s looking for, but I had to decline. Off to the races (finally)!

I tell you the above story with one moral in mind: bring $4 with you to the Santa Anita Park. I finally arrived at the park around 2pm, 2 hours late. FRUSTRATION. The other thing that didn’t occur to me is that on a gorgeous Saturday, this place is packed. It’s an adult Disneyland. I park on what must have been the outskirts of LA County, and make the 3 hour journey to the entrance. I’m only exaggerating a little.

Once I get to the entrance gates, they have different levels of tickets. I buy the cheapest one, obviously, for $5 and enter the park. A few minutes later I get a text saying “get the $8 ticket so you can sit with us”. Once you’re past the gates, there’s nowhere to upgrade. This would be my second fail of the day.

I make my way to the race track stands and convince an adorable 80+ year old VIP section bouncer that I’m willing to pay to upgrade my ticket, but I don’t know where to do it. He says “whatever, go in”. I’m IN!! My group finds me and we have great seats right along the track. I highly recommend the $8 seats, if you can afford the three extra dollars. We had plenty of space to spread out and could stand along the fence to get the best view if we wanted. This is when my friend Michelle handed me a beer for all my troubles, I put my feet up, and took some photos. I hope you enjoy:

As a vegetarian and animal lover, I thought the horse racetrack would be depressing, but I was really impressed with it all. The jockeys weren’t beating the horses. The races were really quick and they didn’t have the horses run in multiple races (from what I could tell). They even bring all the horses around a loop near the entrance to the race so that people can see what they’re betting on. Although it was mostly for kids to pet the horses and take pictures with them. I was shocked at how nonviolent it was and the horses even looked prideful (yes, I am a horse-whisperer now).

I thought the above dog was the dog in The Artist. I’m also an idiot. He was just your run-of-the-mill rich dog.

Here’s how it all worked. They would bring the horses for the next race out for a walk around the entrance loop (which I described above). This would take some time and allow people time to make bets. There must have been 30+ minutes between races so people could make their bets. When you arrive you have to buy a $2 (?) book which is your guide to the races of the day. Without this guide, you can’t really make bets. The book tells you all the stats, names of the horses, info about the Jockeys, and any info you need to understand what you are gambling on. Once you read up about the next race, then go see the horses, you should have enough info to place your bets. There are all sorts of types of bets (that I won’t get into because I don’t understand them). Then you take your seats and wait for the race to start, while everyone discuses who they want to win. Or you are like me, don’t bet, pick the horse with the coolest name and root for that one. Then the race happens, you collect your money if you’re lucky and then the cycle starts all over again. It probably sounds like a lot of waiting for a 30 second race, which it is, but if the weather is nice it’s so relaxing to layout with friends and join in the anticipation of the races.

The people who where outside were there to relax, place some bets and enjoy the day. On the inside of the building that surrounds the stands, there were big windowless rooms where the “hardcore” gamblers were stationed. This was like being on the floor of Wall Street, with people yelling at tvs. They were inside to be close to where they could bet, but it was dark, dank and a little smelly. This room was the definition of a gambling problem. This was the dark side of the racetrack.

On the weekends they have food trucks on the other side of the track. You take an underground tunnel and come out to a zillion food trucks. I got some fish tacos and truffle fries (omg so good).

When we made our way back to our seats, I decided that I needed to make one bet. A $2 bet to be exact (the lowest they let you bet). I picked Cat Talk to win, so I was instructed by the birthday boy to say “$2 on 2” at the betting station. I got my ticket and waited in anticipation.

As you can imagine, Cat Talk didn’t win. And if he had won, I probably would have won ten cents and a wish because I placed such a low bet. I’m glad I participated though, because it was fun to join in the cheering as I had $2 on the line.

The rhythm of the races made the day fly by, and before I knew it, it was time to go. The above picture shows a part of the loop where they show off the horses. These horses are all next up to run. We said goodbye to some of our friends and started the three-day journey to our cars. The birthday celebration continued as we made our way to Highland Park’s, York bar and restaurant. A post about The York is up next!