Santa Anita Park officially opened on the Tuesday of December. 25 1934. However, the idea to create the idea of Dr. Charles H. Strub’s race track was born on another national holiday , 27 years prior.
Elias Jackson (Lucky) Baldwin who acquired Rancho Santa Anita encompassing much of the San Gabriel Valley in 1875 and opened the first Santa Anita Park on Thanksgiving Day 1907. It was his final self-portrait the racetrack he built himself.
A one-mile oval, an extravagant grandstand, with three spires, the original Santa Anita Park housed as nearly 1,200 horses but it was a distant memory when Baldwin, the infamous California pioneer, died on the 1st of March 1909. Racing also ended in California. It was not revived until the passing in 1933 of a bill that legalized pari-mutuel bets within the state.
Baldwin’s Santa Anita racecourse had stood on the land that is now Arcadia County Park. The current Santa Anita Park rose nearby following that the Los Angeles Turf Club, Inc. was formed and acquired a part of the Baldwin estate. The main force behind Santa Anita’s establishment was Charles H. (Doc) Strub, who steered the course’s fate until his death in 1958.
The structure was designed in the art deco style by the architect Gordon B. Kaufmann The original structure is mostly unaltered.
Santa Anita’s grand opening in Christmas Day, 1934, began a 65-day period. An estimated crowd of 30,777 gathered at the grandstand when it opened on the day. The following day’s Los Angeles Times reported that many celebrities, including Al Jolson, Clark Gable and Will Rogers “rubbed elbows at the track.” However, as the beginning days turned into decades and decades, those horses as well as their companions that became the stars that made Santa Anita endure.
The horses were an “Who’s What” of turf-related fame including Equipoise, Twenty Grand, Rosemont, Head Play, Top Row Azucar The list could go on and on. The first year was only a taste from what would come. Nearly every “name” horses in America was spotted in the silks of Santa Anita.
Los Angeles Turf Club pioneered the way for high-end purses. It was the first to offer a 100 percent handicap of the United States and the first derby with a $100,000 prize race, the first $100,000 race only for four-year-olds. It also hosted the first grass-course $100,000 classic, and was, at one point, it was the most expensive racing event in the world, for mares and fillies. It wasn’t all about the money; it was how things were conducted… in the correct method.
C.S. Howard’s Seabiscuit would be Santa Anita’s first icon due to his rising from humble beginnings to become the fan’s favorite. The third choice for the 37th Santa Anita Handicap, “The Biscuit” was beaten by a nose to the favourite Rosemont but then won the final day San Juan Capistrano by seven lengths. He was a winner of seven of the major events within the East before returning to Santa Anita in 1938. Seabiscuit was already proclaimed the best handicapper in the country however, after he conceded thirty pounds Stagehand and losing his place in the Santa Anita Handicap by a nose. Disrupted suspensory ligament, in 1939, Seabiscuit was back in glory in 1940’s Santa Anita Handicap. Seabiscuit captured the hearts of race fans by his brave victory over his stablemate Kayak II, the defending champion. It was “The Biscuit’s” final race.
It was the U.S. Government suspended racing at Santa Anita from 1942 through 1944. It began as an unofficial relocation center that was used by Japanese Americans, then an Army Ordnance base during World War II.
Racing was resumed on Santa Anita Park on May 5th in 1945. Busher transformed into one of the top racing horses in the year that was as well as Johnny “The Pumper” Longden was able to continue his climb to become the winningest jockey in the history of racing. Tragically, George “The Iceman” Woolf died during a horse-riding accident after being the Horse named “Please Me” in the year 1946. The George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award was established in the year 1950 and is awarded annually to jockeys with exceptional character as determined on by the peers.
Santa Anita showcased racing’s first millionaire, Citation, as well as Noor, who smashed “Big Cy” in the Big ‘Cap, and then again at the San Juan Capistrano. A young jockey known as Willie Shoemaker won his first of 17 consecutive Santa Anita riding championships in 1951.
Round Table and Shoe took the ’58 Big’Cap. In the middle from nowhere during 1958 Silky Was Sullivan won the Santa Anita Derby and the admiration of the crowd by his extraordinary running style. Silky Sullivan was awe-inspiring being just 30 lengths back from the pace, with Shoemaker in charge. Shoe however believes that his best experience could have been with Olden Times in the ’62 San Juan Capistrano. Shoemaker helped the sprinter who had been converted to victory by wire-to-wire in the grass-based race that runs for 1 1/2 miles. Training Charlie Whittingham won his first Santa Anita Handicap in 1957 using Corn Husker. His big ‘Cap wins will span over five decades.
Longden was at 59 when he declared that his trip onboard George Royal in the San Juan Capistrano on the 12th of March 1996, was his final race. George Royal was the defending champion and his odds were 8-1. Longden achieved his record-breaking 6,032nd victory in his career and was later it was surpassed by Shoemaker.
Oak Tree Racing Association ran its first season in autumn of 1969 in Santa Anita Park. The non-profit organization donates its earnings to projects that help those in the race industry.
Ack Ack was awarded the first Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year in 1971 following taking the Santa Anita Handicap. Another Whittingham-trainee Cougar II, won the San Juan Capistrano to become a grass star after not being able to catch Ack Ack at the start of the Big Cap.