1934: Santa Anita's First Race
December 25, 1934. This is the day California racing began a new era.
A quarter-century removed from daily programs being conducted at the old Santa Anita Park, Thoroughbreds and jockeys returned just down the street in Arcadia. One more, fans arrived to Huntington Drive, ready to watch the excitement and majesty of live racing.
The attendance figure varies by source, but it appears that no less than 30,000 spectators became part of history by entering the brand new venue. This included notable entertainment stars of the day, with Clark Gable, Al Jolson and Will Rogers among those in the vicinity. Also present was none other than Anita Baldwin, the daughter of Arcadia founder Lucky Baldwin, who also owned the original Santa Anita.
With the return of pari-mutuel wagering voted in the year before, Santa Anita's opening symbolized the culmination of a long wait for racing to come back in the area.
Eight races were on tap that afternoon, with dozens of horses on hand for the festivities. Perhaps the most anticipated contest that day was the opener, just for the sake that it meant racing had officially returned. For the winning horse and jockey, victory meant not just the first place check, but also a spot in the history books given the gravity of the event.
Perhaps fittingly, the first race at the new Santa Anita featured California-breds. Named The Greetings, this handicap consisted of seven-furlongs and had an $800 purse. Eight horses met to comprise the first lineup in Santa Anita history. Set to be called by the Original Voice of Santa Anita, Joe Hernandez (who would begin his incomparable streak of more than 15,000 races called at the track that day), the post time favorite at 8-5 was Quick Flight in post position four. Everyone else had odds of 5-1 or higher, so there was no doubt as to what the expected outcome would be.
Along with being the first horse to take the most wagering dollars at the brand new venue, Quick Flight took control early, leading the field in front of the huge crowd. Tracking in second was Las Palmas, who in turn was pursued by Prince Heather. Next came Kent, Gateway, Little Son, Bon Amour and Green Flame.
Quick Flight set consistent fractions of :23 2/5, :46 3/5, and 1:11 3/5 for the first three-quarters of a mile. Las Palmas stayed close for that entire route of ground. When the Greetings reached the stretch run, Quick Flight had a scant lead over Las Palmas as Gateway overtook rivals to get in the mix. They would finish in the top three, but not in that order.
The first race of the day (and in track history) went to Las Palmas, who was sent off at 6-1 odds, in a time of 1:25 flat. Gateway's rally resulted in a second, while Quick Flight ended up in third. The winning jockey was Jack Westrope, and Ted Horning added the distinction of being Santa Anita's first trainer to his list of accomplishments.
And Las Palmas later gained more recognition. For years, Santa Anita included the Las Palmas Handicap among its stakes offerings during the annual Oak Tree meeting every autumn. Even after Oak Tree, it continued on for several years before being renamed in honor of three-time Breeders' Cup Mile winner Goldikova.
Though that race is renamed, Las Palmas will always have the title of Santa Anita's first race winner, and she played a part in kicking off a new chapter of Thoroughbred racing in the state of California.
Clark Gable,Al Jolson and Will Rogers attend: Kendall, Read. "Flower of Cinemaland Flocks to Santa Anita." Los Angeles Times, Dec. 26, 1934.
Anita Baldwin attends: Weaver, Sylvia. "Anita Baldwin Reminisces." Los Angeles Times, Dec. 26, 1934.