Six ways to have a winning day at Los Angeles' Santa Anita horse racetrack


Visiting Los Angeles and got an itch to gamble while you soak up some history and gorgeous mountain views? Many tourists overlook or outright dismiss Santa Anita Park under the mistaken impression it's some dingy horse track like the one back home. Only 18 miles from downtown L.A. in the suburb of Arcadia, not only is the so-called "Great Race Place" a 1930s Art Deco-style jewel, the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains backdrop makes it arguably the most beautiful track in the U.S.

Want Hollywood history? You've seen Santa Anita on screen in everything from the Marx Brothers' 1937 classic A Day at the Races and 2003's Seabiscuit to, for better or worse, current TV dreck like The Bachelorette. Follow in the hoof steps of A-listers like Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant and Lana Turner, all onetime regulars. As was L.A.'s lowlife poet laureate Charles Bukowski, who wrote "There are more things to the racetrack than horses." Whether you get rich or go bust, you'll need a lead pony. Check out this round-up of Santa Anita insider tips and hit the turf running.

Splurge on a $10 Club House ticket
Don't jockey for viewing position among the unwashed $5 general-admission masses. Pop a mere $5 more for a Club House ticket, which grants access to excellent first-come, first-serve seats just beyond the finish line. For an extra charge, reserved Club House box seats are another option. Or go for your very own full-service restaurant table on the Turf Terrace. Sure, grub and grog will set you back a small fortune, but your table comes equipped with a personal TV to follow the racing action. Priceless!

Eat and drink on the cheap
Low-rollers lacking cash for table service, listen up. The track allows patrons to bring in personal coolers you can pack with sub sandwiches, snacks and non-alcoholic drinks. Don't worry, mum's the word on the vodka flask jammed down your jeans. Too much hassle? Visit on a "Dollar Day" holiday Monday (President's Day, Labor Day, etc.) when all the hot dogs and Dixie-size cups of soda and Bud Light you can stomach cost $1 each.

Handicap like a pro
Betting on a 50-to-1 odds long shot simply because the horse is named "Impeach Trump" typically results in a losing ticket. Instead, invest in a copy of Daily Racing Form ($6.50 at the entrance gate) and zero-in on the horses' "Beyer Speed Figures." Presented in bold-face type, the numbers are a general indicator of how fast or slow a particular horse ran in past races. Size up the field and bet on a winner (hopefully), which you can do for as little as $2.

Hipster alert
Appalled by concession-stand cups of corporate brewery swill and radioactive-cheese nachos? On select Saturdays and Sundays, Santa Anita offers craft beer, wine tasting and gourmet food truck festivals (check the website for a full schedule). On non-festival days, skip the microwaved cheeseburgers, gallop to the Grade One food stand and sink your teeth into a juicy, hand-carved corned beef sandwich.

Saddle up for a guided tour
Giddy up and arrive early on a Saturday or Sunday morning to see the track on a free Seabiscuit Tour, offered at 8:30 and 9:45 a.m. during live racing seasons. The combination tram/walking tour lasts about an hour and visits the horse stables, saddling paddock, jockeys' room, and of course Seabiscuit's original barn.

Bring the kids
With degenerate gamblers cursing up a storm, spilling drinks on themselves and using race programs as napkins, the track seems like the last place you'd want to take the family. But that's only because you're not hip to Santa Anita's Family Fun Zone. Typically held two Saturdays per month, the track's vast infield area offers a gigantic bounce house, midway games and a playground for your little colts and fillies.

Eli Ellison is a Southern California-based travel writer whose work has appeared in numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times and TravelChannel.com. Follow Eli on Twitter and please share your racetrack winnings with him.