Santa Anita Diaries, Day 1
It’s Santa Anita time! I love this track – it’s one of my favorite places to visit for great racing, and the view with the San Gabriel Mountains in the background is breathtaking.
I landed in Burbank, Calif. at about 9:45 p.m. Pacific time Thursday night, and there’s something about seeing the sprawl of Los Angeles twinkling below you that underscores the feeling of expectation and possibility that permeates this town.
I went to bed pretty much right away since I am the Queen of Jetlag but also because I wanted to make it to training hours at the track today. When I got to Santa Anita this morning, I remembered that it was photography day, in which shutterbug fans can get up close and personal with all of the athletes (equine and human), take some great photos and score a delicious breakfast buffet as well.
As the photogs enjoyed their breakfast, they were treated to talks from trainer Matthew Chew, jockey Aaron Gryder and Citrus College photography professor Darrell Carr.
Trainer Matthew Chew (left), professor Darrell Carr (center) and jockey Aaron Gryder (right) discuss horse racing and photography
The moment of the morning came during the Q&A session with the panel, and a photographer asked Aaron Gryder who he liked today. Deadpan and without a moment of hesitation, Aaron replied, “Well, you seem like a nice enough guy. I’ll like you.” It got a huge laugh from the crowd, myself included.
After eavesdropping on the photographers’ panel, I took a few shots of my own of the horses training. Have I mentioned how absolutely beautiful it is here? Because Santa Anita truly is one of the most naturally beautiful racetracks I’ve ever been to.
After training hours ended, I took the free time to wander around the track while it was still pretty empty. There are so many cool things to see here, from the sculptures decorating the grounds to the amazing landscaping. I have no idea what kind of trees the ones in the photos below are, but I am dying to find out. Can someone help me out in the comments section at the bottom?
Sculpture of Joe Hernandez, the original voice of Santa Anita.
The legendary John Henry will always be remembered at Santa Anita.
There’s also a sculpture of famed trainer Charlie Whittingham here, and with him is a statue of his beloved dog Toby. It’s a moving tribute to a great horseman.
The Breeders’ Cup statue is here, too — I seriously cannot wait until the Breeders’ Cup. It’s going to be awesome — it’s a total bucket list destination for racing fans.
Finally, it was race time! Hornblower Jay Cohen was carried to the track by a pair of horses pulling a fabulously beautiful carriage, which was a wonderful spectacle.
True Again, a 2-year-old colt owned by Marco Gonzalez, trained by Vladimir Cerin and ridden by Alex Bisono, took home the first race of the season in style. He seemed to really be enjoying himself, winning with ease with his ears pricked. You could almost hear him going, “Wheeeeeeee!”
As I waited for the feature race later in the day, I took in the paddock scene at Santa Anita. I’m into the California casual look I’ve seen here — people are still dressed up, but there’s definitely a laid-back vibe that I can really get behind.
I love that Seabiscuit, whose statue is in the place of honor in the middle of the paddock, gets to wear a garland of flowers for opening day. He looks great!
Then it was time for the featured race of the afternoon, the Eddie D Stakes (G3). Part of what makes Santa Anita unique is that its turf course has a chute on top of a hill, and the horses have to cross over the main track to get to the finish line. It’s very cool!
That was how the Eddie D was to be run, and it was very cool to see the horses coming down the hill and charging toward home. It was Unbridled’s Note’s day in the sun, and the beautiful big bay horse fended off 11 other runners to take home the top prize.
When Unbridled’s Note got back to the winner’s circle, jockey Corey Nakatani made sure to give him a face rinse to help him cool off after his effort.
Then it was time for the winner’s circle — congrats to Unbridled’s Note, his owner Mike McCarty, trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Corey Nakatani!
That’s it for me for today – I am still a bit jetlagged, so an early dinner and a mellow night are calling my name. After all, I get to do it all again tomorrow for Super Saturday!