Must Visit Horse Racing Tracks In California

Photo © Jeff Griffith

One of the oldest and most established horse race betting scenes in the country is the state of California so visiting Cali’s horse racking tracks should be on the to do list of any horse racing fan. The first racetrack in the state was built in 1858 in San Francisco.  

Today, the most beautiful race track in California is believed to be, by many, the Del Mar race track. You can also find beautiful beachside places to stay in the area. After all, everyone doesn’t call Del Mar “the place where the surf meets the turf” for no reason. But enough with the introduction and let’s get to why you’re actually here. Below, we’ve listed the best horse racing tracks in California every horse racing fan should visit. 

  • Del Mar Racetrack

The Del Mar Racetrack stuns with it’s elegance, it is a reminder of a more classy, bygone era. You should keep this in mind when heading to this racetrack. In the turf club area the dress code is a blend of casual and sophistication. Men must wear a dress shirt or sport jacket at all times, athletic shoes and athletic clothing such as denim, shorts, and T-shirts are not permitted. Women are required to be in suits, daytime dresses, or sundresses; they are also not permitted to wear athletic clothing such as jeans, shorts, t-shirts , sneakers, etc.

When it comes to size, it is the second-largest horse racing venue in the west, after the nearby Santa Anita Park. It has a capacity of 44,000 people and is exactly 1 mile long.  

The Del Mar Race Track opened its doors to the betting public in 1937. The track was brought to life by Bing Crosby with Paramount Studios as one of its sponsors.

The Del Mar clubhouse is something special, Crosby directly oversaw the design and construction of the venue, wanting to capture the attention and money of other celebrities, he knew he would have to design a clubhouse that was as lush as their tastes. Patterned after the Iturbide Hotel in Mexico City, the glamorous Clubhouse included a “grand stairway, worm-eaten oak furniture, Spanish chandeliers, mirrors and thick carpets.” Even to this day his design doesn’t fail to impress, the racetrack is still known for Hollywood celebrities apparitions.

  • Santa Anita Park

The Santa Anita Park is a thoroughbred racetrack that holds some of the most prominent horse racing events, such as Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita Handicap, Front Runner Stakes, and Gold Cup.  The track is located in Arcadia, California. It features an one-mile (1,609 m) natural dirt main track that makes a turf course of 0.9 mile. Additionally, it features an unusual hillside turf course that crosses the dirt and is used mainly to run turf races at a distance of “about” 6½ furlongs, as well as longer races at 1¼ miles, 1½ miles and about 1¾ miles. There are just a few other tracks of this kind in America.

It was originally built as part of Rancho Santa Anita, a 13,319-acre land grant, but it was closed in 1909 and burned in 1912. A small portion of the rancho has been preserved as the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden. It became the first racetrack in California , when it reopened, on Christmas Day in 1934.  

The race the track is most known for is the Santa Anita Handicap. It was run for the first time in February 1935, awarding  $100,000 in purse money.  At the time, this was the largest amount that any race in the US had produced and it was just the beginning for the Santa Anita Park racetrack.

Santa Anita continued to rise well into the year of 1940, when Seabiscuit raced his final race and won the Santa Anita Handicap. 

Golden Gate Fields

The Golden Gate Fields is one of the few tracks in the world with a Tapeta surface. This is a surface comprised of a carefully selected mixture of the finest silica sand, wax and fibres that simulate the root structure of turf and has been proven to act very well in heavy rainfall and winter conditions. 

Golden Gate Fields is located in the cities of Albany and Berkley on 140 acres (0.57 km2) of land and it features a one-mile all-weather main course to which a second 7 furlong turf course is added.

In April 1974, Northern Californian horse racing history was created, when Golden Gate Fields had the first two million dollar day on a California Derby day. Three years later, another historical  record was reached for attendance, in the Bay area, when 26,108 fans showed up on another California Derby day.

In 1990, the six million dollar point is passed while attendance continues to rise, with another attending record of 34,976 racing fans gathered.

Two years later, amazing feat is accomplished, by Russel Baze, when he finishes in 1st place 7 out of 9 times. Also he won 178 times in a meet, setting another record at that time. The next year he became the 23rd jockey to have 4,000 victories. This he did riding Frank Musso at the Golden Gates Fields racetrack. 

  • Los Alamitos Race Course

Los Alamitos Race Course It is one of the most important quarter horse race tracks in the nation, maybe even the most important. Every year, The Champion of Champions, a $1 million Quarter Horse event, takes place at this track. The track is located in Cypress, California. It has an outer track of 1 mile, which hosts the thoroughbred horse races and an inner one of 0.625 miles, which is used for the other breeds. 

Los Alamitos Race Course was founded by Frank Vessels Sr., patriarch of the Vessels family. This is where the idea of the Quarter Horse event took birth. Starting out as an informal match race on the Vessels Ranch in 1947 it has grown into a year-round Quarter Horse racing.

The story goes that Vessels came to California from Kentucky in 1920 with exactly $19 in his pocket. He started a small construction company that specialized in building drilling platforms for the oil business, but only after nearly three decades of struggling. After 20 years with his own construction company, Vessels finally had the money to chase what had become his dream – building a racetrack on a portion of his 435-acre Orange County ranch.

The one constant in the history of Los Alamitos is that, for the first 35 years, it was owned and managed by a member of the Vessels family.

The Vessels Club is the most major change in the face of this track in the past 20 years. It is a $8 million lavish Turf Club built in the honor of the founding family. It has earned the reputation of one of the finest horse racing venues in the US. There have been plenty of fun additions to the club , such as, Rodney’s Bar, Schwanie’s Grill at the Gap, Players Room, and the Paddock Terrace, that add to Los Alamitos fan enjoyment. The club’s food has also earned several awards from various restaurant associations, so be sure to grab a bite if you ever get there.

In conclusion, each horse racing track in California offers an unique experience, is packed with fascinating historical facts and events and it’s a place you most definitely should not miss if you are truly a horse racing fan. 

About the author: Julio Sanchez is the owner at “Cardiff Vacations”, a luxury vacation rentals company in Cardiff by-the-Sea, CA.