Santa Anita Derby Diaries: Chrome Shines

Events / Travel

Saturday morning was a showstopper yet again in Arcadia, California, home to Santa Anita Park. It was the perfect day for the track’s biggest Kentucky Derby prep race, the Santa Anita Derby; and I wanted to make an early start to what promised to be an amazing day.

I headed out to the track at about 7:30 in the morning to grab some coffee at Clocker’s Corner and enjoy the scene there. Every year on Santa Anita Derby day, the track hosts a 5K race to benefit Arcadia High School; El Monte High School; Alhambra High School; Arroyo High School; the Gilb Museum of Arcadia Heritage; and CARMA, which raises money for retired racehorses. All in all, hundreds upon hundreds of people come out to take part, run, and enjoy a beautiful morning.

I was also in for a huge treat: my amazing sister drove all the way out from Malibu (about a two hour trek) just to grab a cup of coffee and hang out with me before the day got hectic. She is completely awesome, and I am so grateful to her for making such a huge effort!

Time flew by, and before I knew it, it was time for me to get ready for a huge day of racing. People were pouring into the racetrack in droves, and as they arrived they were treated to a free commemorative T-shirt with paid admission. 

As you can imagine, the T-shirt redemption stand was a very popular place, and as I took in the scene I noticed the best-dressed person I saw the whole day:

I mean, that is a pacifier with a mustache attached. That’s amazing.

Next, I headed over to the track’s infield, where there was a ton going on: not only was there great racing afoot, but also a food truck rally, a craft beer festival and a Neil Diamond cover band called Super Diamond. Yeah, you read that correctly: a Neil Diamond cover band. That’s legit.

There were so many amazing food truck options available that I felt like the proverbial kid in a candy store. From lobster to tacos to ice cream and more, fans were in for a treat for the taste buds no matter what option they chose. 

Decisions, decisions … fans at Santa Anita definitely had their share of options!

There were also plenty of people on the Grandstand side of the track there to take in the day’s excellent racing events. Fans were crowded around the paddock, in the stands and up to the rail, hoping to see their favorite horses and jockeys. 

I was also so happy to see two of my favorite animal friends at the track: Lexi and Sally. Lexi is the Jack Russell Terrier in Residence at Santa Anita, and her job is to oversee the track from her vantage point in a horse-drawn carriage. Basically, I aspire to be Lexi when I grow up.

Her compatriot is Sally, a Clydesdale who pulls the carriage that carries track officials (and Lexi!) up and down the stretch. Sally is outstandingly beautiful and also great at her job, and she’s become a star in her short tenure at Santa Anita.

One of the many reasons that I love the racetrack is the unexpected entertainment you’re treated to between races. As I was walking past the winner’s circle in the early afternoon, for example, I happened upon this scene:

Yep, that is a man balancing a twenty-foot ladder on his chin. I was simultaneously amazed and abjectly curious as to how one discovers that one possesses this skill.

Before I knew it, it was time for the major races of the afternoon to begin. The first big event was the Santa Anita Oaks, which is a test for three-year-old fillies (AKA female horses) with Kentucky Oaks aspirations. There was a very competitive field going forward, which included the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Ria Antonia.

Artemis was another filly who caught my eye – she definitely had the looks and the attitude, so naming her after a goddess was probably a good call!

Fashion Plate is a lovely filly – calm and collected, and she seemed to enjoy her time parading in front of the crowd.

Then it was time for the race to begin. As the gates sprung open, seven three-year-old fillies surged onto the track and into the stretch:

After the field rounded the final turn and came into the homestretch, completing the 1 1/16 miles test, it was Fashion Plate who sashayed home to take the lion’s share of the $400,000 purse as well as 100 points toward the Kentucky Oaks.

After the race, winning jockey Gary Stevens exchanged high-fives with Team Fashion Plate outside of the winner’s circle:

The next major event of the afternoon was the Evening Jewel Stakes; this was another race for three-year-old fillies, but this one is a sprint at 6 ½ furlongs. A furlong is 1/8 of a mile, so the Evening Jewel is just a little more than three-quarters of a mile. Rovenna was the winner of this race, galloping home to win for jockey Victor Espinoza, trainer Michael Machowsky and owner Donald W. Dizney.

The next race was the Providencia Stakes, another race for three-year-old fillies travelling a mile and an eighth on the grass for $150,000 in prize money. This race had attracted ten sophomore fillies, and as the fillies passed the Grandstand for the first time the crowd was roaring.

After a mile and an eighth, Nashoba’s Gold took home the win with a length between her and runner-up Diversity Harbor.

After the race, I ran into my friend John Ortiz in the winner’s circle. In addition to being an incredibly nice guy, John’s also a talented actor; he’s starred in HBO’s Luck as well as Silver Linings Playbook and the new FOX show Rake. He was presenting the trophy for the Providencia Stakes, but took a moment to grab a photo with me.

After that, it was time for the main event: The Santa Anita Derby! This is a major Kentucky Derby prep race, with a $1 million purse and 100 points to the Run for the Roses up for grabs for the winner. As I made my way to the paddock, the crowd was huge and excitement surged through the air. Once I was in the walking ring, I ran into our California-based Ambassadors, who had a great group of people out to enjoy the day and learn more about the great sport of horse racing.

Our Ambassadors Ciara Austin (left) and Jose Contreras (the guy in the tie) in the paddock before the Santa Anita Derby.

As the horses paraded into the paddock, I had a hard time deciding who won the “best looking horse stakes” that only exists in my imagination. Here’s a quick glimpse of the field getting ready to head to the track:

The horses who really caught my eye were California Chrome, Dublin Up and my buddy Hoppertunity.

California Chrome

Dublin Up

Hoppertunity

As I stood in the winner’s circle waiting for the race to begin, I spotted the garland of orchids and carnations that the eventual winner of the Santa Anita Derby would wear.

I knew we were getting close to the beginning of the race as the starting gate rumbled past me and toward the top of the homestretch, where the horses would load to begin their 1 1/8 mile test.

As race time drew nearer and nearer, the crowd in the Grandstand was massive, with people crowded to the rail to try to secure the best vantage point from which to see a possible Kentucky Derby champion.

And all of a sudden, it was time. With a clang of bells and a huge roar from the crowds, the gates sprung open for the start of the $1 million Santa Anita Derby.

As the horses made their way into the backstretch, people were on their feet and yelling encouragement to their picks. 

And at the end, it was all California Chrome, the hometown hero underdog who finished all alone, putting more than five lengths between him and second-place finisher Hoppertunity.

It was a commanding victory, and I was so happy for the horse and his connections. They have a great story, and you can learn more about California Chrome and his owners, trainer and jockey here.

When he returned to the Winner’s Circle, jockey Victor Espinoza had the biggest and best grin on his face – as well he should have, since he just stamped his passport to the Kentucky Derby!

I will say this, too: I think California Chrome is a monster. The way that horse wins – and he didn’t have an easy trip in the Santa Anita Derby – is freakish, and I think he’s going to be my Kentucky Derby horse this year. He’s so impressive, and he has that indefinable quality about him that commands attention. I can’t wait to see what he does next!

With that, my Santa Anita Derby day was finished, and as I watched the horses run under the wire for the last race and my final afternoon at the Great Race Place’s spring meet, I reflected on how lucky I am to have been able to see a race like the Santa Anita Derby in a setting like Arcadia, California.

Thank you so much for stopping by, and I’ll be back later this week with all of the action out of Keeneland for the Blue Grass Stakes.

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