Thursday, February 10, 2011

Santa Anita--The Horse Palace in Arcadia

I recently paid a visit to California--to get out of the dark and coldness of the Southeast in an attempt to rejuvenate a flagging spirit. I was moderately successful. It was 60s and 70s in the Los Angeles area with general sun, though chilly in the mornings and at night, as deserts can be. I never got to a beach. Mostly I hung with my brother, visited with a long-lost cousin, and spent ample time in internet cafes on a laptop and on my cell phone, and also reading LA Weekly cover to cover. (Nice rag.)

The only really big thing I did, on Saturday, Jan. 29, was go to Santa Anita Park, for the running of the Sunshine Millions, where, in selected races, Cal-bred horses squared off against Florida-bred. I placed a bet on the first race, $2 on Joe Ja (below, in the paddock with handlers) to win at 6-1, and sure enough the three-year-old descendant of Birdonthewire hustled to the finish line with a dramatic victorious flourish. The bet returned me about $14--the $12 I'd won plus my bet of $2.
At the pay window, I was handed $13 plus some change. Not bad for beginner's luck. I never won money on another single race the rest of the entire day. Such is gambling at the track.

Yet the thoroughbreds are beautiful and powerful, and each race is a joyous series of protocols, where fans can view the pre-race preparations at close quarters, then watch the jockeys mount up, ride the horses out near the statue of Seabiscuit to greet their owners, and from there parade onto the track.

Learning about Santa Anita is interesting and fun. But there's no substitute for being there. Among other things, it's the air. (Or the iPhone dolls, left.) The track turned 76 this past Christmas Day. She remains an elegant art-deco beauty, attracting the most eclectic crowds you'll ever see anywhere, everyone in thrall to the horses. (Something I learned on the way to looking up other things: From 1942 to 1944, Santa Anita was suspended from racing and was used as a Japanese American internment center. Some 17,000 people resided there.)

I ate a fantastic fresh turkey sandwich at Santa Anita, prepared by a gentleman who had to be well into his 60s. Maybe he was 70. There were a lot of older folks at the track--WORKING! It crossed my mind that an older fellow could do worse than to end up amid the hubbub of a major American race track on a sunny Saturday afternoon, making good hot sandwiches and earning an honest buck while thousands--all ages, ethnicities, shapes and sizes--bustled about keeping an eye on the nags and their wagers.

If someone hasn't done it yet, they should write a mystery novel that begins at Santa Anita with the murder of... a horse?? Uhm, scratch that? I dunno. But the place is so damn atmospheric--with the majestic San Gabriel Mountains proudly backdropping the sport of kings.

Next time I go to Santa Anita--and I suspect I will--I intend to take a lot more pictures. Of the horses. Actually running the races. My first time through this horse palace of all horse palaces was distracting--too much to think about. But I wouldn't have missed it for the world.


Brian Woz said...

Been to Keeneland, Hollywood Park, Moutaineer, Los Alamitos, but by far my favorite racetrack is Santa Anita. Michelle and I went there a few times when we lived in LA and there's nothing like it. Lot of movies shot there too.

Good work, Martin.

Deanna said...

You make me want to board a plane -- and now I'm going to make myself a turkey sandwich :) Hey: let's have a food truck together in Cali, once we can afford to "retire"at 79 or so!

Ramona D said...

Searching GOOGLE for information on Joe Ja, and imagine my surprise when I found your blog.

My dad owns Joe Ja, and how exciting that your first bet of the day was a winner!

Best of luck on your future betting!