“MAJESTIC KITTEN! GET IT IN GEAR! GO GO GO!”
If you are a newbie to horse racing, like I was last week, then someone screaming that at the top of their lungs right behind you might be a bit unnerving. But now, as a horse racing expert as of last Saturday, I know that such madness is par for the course when it comes to betting on horses.
You see, for my adventure this week, I spent my Saturday celebrating my friend Lyndee’s birthday at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, the first racetrack built in California in 1934 and home to the Breeder’s Cup. Which, I learned, is apparently a really big deal in horse racing.
As race track virgins, it turns out we had a lot to learn. We arrived at the park at 11am, which we discovered is when all the die-hard betters start to congregate. They spend their morning going over the program, scribbling their notes, drinking coffee and throwing suspicious looks over their shoulders at anyone who might try to peek at their calculated predictions.
When it came time to bet, we had NO idea where to start. There were these machines labeled “CASH AND BET” and we hilariously tried to shove our cash in every slot available, only to be directed by a kind and slightly inappropriate old man to the voucher machine. Apparently you put cash on a voucher in one machine first, THEN you go make your predictions at a separate machine. Because that make sense.
The best part of the horse races, to me, are the names of the horses. They are hysterical, and some of them are downright cheeky. Some of my personal favorites – Mighty Pleasing, Lust for Life, Vavoom, Midnight Mayhem, Chocolate Delight, Ghost N Your Heart, Majestic Kitten, Mama Tried, Rusty Slipper, Thegirlinthatsong, Badasmywifeletsmeb, Itsgettinghotinhere, and of course, Majestic Kitten. These names are chosen to draw attention to the betters like me who know nothing about horse racing and just want to pick the one with the best name.
Oh you named your horse Majestic Kitten? How fantastic! Let me put $20 on him.
After making my bets without even glancing at the odds, we made our way to our seats via the Club House, where I ordered my first beer (11:45am, check!) and a hot dog, because I can’t say no to them. Ever.
Once we sat down, I was thrilled with the perfect setting. It was a beautiful day, and the grandstand looks out on the San Gabriel Mountains. I ate my hot dog, snapped some photos and my friend Anne and I laid out our tickets for each of the 9 races.
One of the guys in our group spotted our bets and laughed at us – apparently it isn’t a good strategy to bet on all 9 races at the beginning of the day. When we asked why, he told us the odds will fluctuate as the day goes on, and you know, jockeys can gain weight and all that. Huh? Between now and like, 3 hours from now? We told him that odds didn’t matter to us, we picked horses just by their names, and he shook his head.
When the first race started, we whooped and hollered and cheered on our horses, along with the rest of the crowd. I’ve never seen so many people yelling out so many ridiculous things so aggressively. I imagine this is what an Oakland Raiders home game would be like.
And it was over before I knew it. Those horse racing movies make it seem like those horses are running forever. The first race was less than a full circuit of the track, and though they got longer with each one, the last race was still under two minutes, I think. (Could have been longer, at that point I’d had a few beers.)
Lucky for me, the horses with my favorite names actually did pretty well, and I ended up winning some money in the first few races. I kept going back though, and putting my winnings towards the next race, and in the final race I lost all my bets. Oh well, it’s just $40 right? I’ve lost more in one hand of blackjack in Vegas, plenty of times.
Plus, it was a blast. It turns out a day at the races is a recipe for a hell of a lot of fun. It combines several of my favorite things – funny characters, a beautiful setting, shameless gambling, screaming loudly at a sporting event, laughing with friends and a healthy dose of day drinking. I’m definitely doing this again!
And for those of you who might worry (mom?), you can rest assured that I held fast to my first 2015 resolution and avoided any hangover the next day by drinking water between beers and forcing myself to go to bed at 10pm. I’d call that a pretty successful adventure.
Adventure: Betting on the horse races at Santa Anita Park.
Where: The park is located in Arcadia, California, next to the Back to the Future Mall. Arcadia is about 25 miles East of where I live in West Hollywood, about 30-45 minutes from Downtown LA.
Cost: $10 for a Club Level ticket, $5 for General Admission. I recommend paying the extra $5 to take advantage of the better food and shorter lines, for both the concessions and betting machines.
When To Go: I’m no expert but I do know they have several races weekly and host many big events, including the Breeders Cup. Check out the Santa Anita Park website for more info.
- Get a program when you arrive. It not only has all the races listed and the stats on the horses, it gives some basic info on the betting structure. For instance, you can pick a horse to win, to place (1st or 2nd) or to show (1st, 2nd, 3rd). You can try your hand at picking the order of the top 3 and so on. Or you can just pick a pretty name to win. Your choice!
- When you arrive, it is hard to find someone who works there to show you to your seating section. We wandered around looking for the Club House seats for a while. If you can find someone, get them to help you with the betting machines. They’re horribly confusing if you don’t know what you’re doing.
- There is a mall next door with lots of restaurants and things to do after you’re done at the races. We weren’t tired of games yet so we went to Dave & Busters to blow money on video games and skeeball. Also, it’s the mall from Back to the Future, which is worth a moment of appreciation if you’re a fan of Marty McFly.
Have you ever been to the horse races? Any suggestions for newbies? Comment below!