I’ve lived in this city for almost a decade, and up until a week ago, I had never been to Santa Anita Park. Opening day for the season was September 27th, and I was part of the blogger and media group invited to a day at the races. Thanks to America’s Best Racing, most of us Angeleno folks were treated to fast horses, a little betting and an opportunity to experience one of America’s oldest pastimes. ABR’s goal is to introduce newbies to the lifestyle and competition that remain cultural, as well as regional, favorites in parts of the country, as well as huge moneymakers as a worldwide sport.
They call us millennials. For the most part, we are seeking new means of entertainment, lively interactions, thrilling occasions and, it seems, ways to share all of these moments with everyone else. We are a booming force, and everybody wants a slice of our pie. That includes the horse racing industry. Forgive me for this sweeping statement, but from what I know and have come to understand, the racing community is built on older generations that are unfortunately passing away. In order to stay alive and well, any sport–any business–must diversify and broaden its audience. ABR’s mission is to reach millenials with social media outreach, contests and events that will attract, engage and hopefully keep us involved. A twelve-city tour across the U.S., the ABRV Tour led by brand ambassadors, started in Austin in March and will finish here in L.A. The Awesome Again Stakes and the upcoming Breeders’ Cup will mark Los Angeles as a veritable stronghold in the racing game.
We toured the track, which combines this gorgeous 30′s vibe dotted with beautifully manicured lawns and bronze horse statues. Renovations have happened to the grounds, as well as parts of the concession and betting areas, so there is a clear mix of old school and new school that appeals to the regulars, plus the new folks. Grab a drink, and you’ll walk into an atmosphere that feels like Cheers. Consistent track goers are hanging out, chatting with each other and the bartenders. They are plotting their bets reviewing the papers. Everything about it feels familiar and comfortable, as if these people enjoy the park and the sport whenever they have the chance.
We spent the day in boxed seats, attempting to learn how to read the daily racing form. It is a multi-paged packet with so many numbers, it will make your eyes cross. Although there is logic to the sport, many factors to the game will have you praying for luck to cash in. The odds for each race change by the minute, so you have to combine your knowledge of the horse, the jockey, and the trainer with the “morning line” odds pre-determined by the track handicapper, plus the new odds posted on the screen as more and more people place bets. Bets are flying in from the Internet as well, so you’re not just in the ring with people at the track; sometimes you’re betting with people across the world. Some people will play $5, another may put down $50,000. Big money is flying around the track, and all you have to do is check out the always changing screens to see it.
My first bet went like this. Walk to the desk, head held high of course and with the hope of winning, I said these words: “$5 on #2 to Show”. Not exactly correct, but it got the job done. I wanted to put $5 on the second horse named Dress Code with the plan of collecting money if he took 1st, 2nd or 3rd place. Little did I know that I had actually placed three separate bets with that one phrase, so I was shocked when the cashier told me the total was $15…not the $5 I actually had in mind. Even though Dress Code was favored to do well, and he was led by a good training team, and one of the top jockeys on the West coast, my ‘lil horse came in 4th place. I was out $15, and I figured that was enough betting for the day.
I may not have understood how to a bet, but I did enjoy the experience of taking my voucher to the clerk and attempting to sound intelligent. That was just one small part of the day. Not only did we sip cocktails and nosh on lunch, but we were surrounded by groups of fans who were quickly placing bets and winning a little extra money for the weekend. Most people were dressed casually for opening day, but we all know the bigger races bring out fashionably clad people who really get into the look that goes along with horse races. I also appreciated the beauty of Santa Anita Park as a whole. There’s a view of the San Gabriel Valley mountains and green lawns that serve as a gorgeous background to the race, and the 30′s decor will bring to mind images of what it must’ve been like back in the day.
ABR wants you to think of the fun, fashion, food and excitement along with the history of thoroughbred horse racing and breeding. If you’ve never been to a race, check out the parks that may be near you. We have a couple here in L.A., and another impressive park is in Del Mar, San Diego. As I mentioned, the Breeders’ Cup will be here soon, and it is an international championship that attracts fanatics, breeders and celebrities. It is highly regarded, and of course, it comes with a high ticket price for reserved seats. The good thing to know is that you can check out smaller races for a fraction of the price on the average day, and the food and drink costs won’t deflate your wallet either. It’s surprising how little you can spend if you’re going for just the experience. If you plan to bet…well, I can’t promise you won’t spend a lot, but maybe you will leave a winner.
Disclaimer: This was a complimentary press/media event sponsored by America’s Best Racing. All opinions expressed here are my own.