On the days surrounding a big race, there is no finer place to be than Clockers’ Corner for morning workouts and breakfast at the Santa Anita Park. The magnificent San Gabriel Mountains are in constant change as the sun rises with a morning glow and produces a misty haze. Cloud shadows flit across the mountains while the birds sing and the palm trees sway. And through the mist come the horses. You can hear them before you see them as their hooves dance a staccato beat on the track. Riders perch in their saddles and they breeze past. Young horses will walk by on the rail as they are schooled while riders cajole them into behaving with a soft "good boy" or even a "c'mon now." High up in the stands, you can sometimes see the clocker’s who time the horses workouts.
Opening pre-dawn, Clockers’ Corner offers a menu breakfast, fresh pastry, a buffet and takeout service. Everyone is walking around with a coffee cup in one hand and a racing form in the other. In one glance, you can see trainers, owners, fans, turf writers and television broadcasters. During the track renovation, jockeys in chaps with their whips sticking out of their jeans pocket set their helmets on the table and woof down a quick breakfast. Pony girls and exercise riders slip in and out for coffee and then, when you look up, you seen them back on the track with the horses. There is a happy chatter in the air as favorite stories are told.
Clockers’ Corner bustles with activity. The waiters look smart in their black vests, black ties and white shirts. The maître d’ masterfully handles requests for tables and deals with large and small groups treating you like family. You can choose to stand at a table near the rail to watch the action or listen in to a trainer talking to owners. Happy groups gather to discuss yesterday’s races and then they quickly change leads and start talking about today’s races. If you are in a hurry you could order the buffet, but why would you be in a hurry? This is a place to relax. My personal favorite is the “Work Out Breakfast” which features scrambled eggs with sliced avocados and gorgeous sliced tomatoes.
CLOCKERS' CORNER SLIDESHOW
Photos by Julie June Stewart
Clockers’ Corner would be a great place for a date. California's warm weather is relaxing in the morning. It’s a perfect place to “see and be seen.” HRTV has their remote TV set in place next to Clockers’ Corner and you can sit and watch their morning broadcast. You will see various racing celebrities being interviewed, often while faithful dogs lay at their feet. Many artists have found inspiration here for sketching regal horses and railbirds. Artist Jen Ferguson has been spotted working on her sketches for America’s Best Racing. Halloween is especially fun as both children and adults dress up for the occasion. Santa Claus also has been known to ride by on horseback during the holidays.
After breakfast, Santa Anita offers the “Seabiscuit Tour” which is a tram ride on the backside and a tour that includes the silks room for the jockeys. Santa Anita has been the backdrop of many prominent Hollywood movies and TV productions since it opened in 1934. Even for a long-term fan, this is a great opportunity to reflect on the varied history of Santa Anita Park and see why it is called “The Great Race Place!”
Racing fan Scott Sciarabba was hanging out at a table long after Clockers’ Corner had closed. He explained that he stayed to enjoy the peace and quiet before the track opened for the day and that it was “almost like the ocean before high tide comes in. It’s very pleasant and serene.” I asked him what he enjoyed and he said: “It is the intimacy, the view of the San Gabriel Mountains and the palm trees. It is the fresh air, the people and the camaraderie.”
So put on a fedora or a campy summer hat and come to Clockers’ Corner. Plan your bets for the afternoon races while people watching, and enjoy the unique beauty of Santa Anita. A perfect capper to a perfect day is to come back the next morning to the track and enjoy breakfast. It's a welcoming world. And you may discover, like so many others, that one trip can be a life-changing experience. Just add coffee and breakfast with good friends.