Santa Anita Offers a Menu of Turf Options 

December 13, 2022

Santa Anita Gate. (Benoit Photo)

This Winter Horses Can Compete At 10 Distances Via Hillside, Chute & Turf Oval.

Mike Willman/Santa Anita

ARCADIA, Calif.—With an ever-increasing demand for more turf racing nationwide, Santa Anita Park is now positioned to offer fans and horsemen three distinct turf options at sprint and route distances—from its one-of-a-kind Camino Real Hillside Turf, 6 ½ furlong (flat) turf chute and main turf oval, all of which promise to afford fans and horsemen an unmatched set of racing and gambling opportunities this winter beginning on Santa Anita’s Classic Meet opening day, Monday, Dec. 26.

Although weather is always a concern in carding races on turf, Santa Anita could now card perhaps more than half of its races on grass this winter.

“Having 10 different options over three courses gives us great flexibility in writing turf races here at Santa Anita,” said Chris Merz, Santa Anita’s Director of Racing and Racing Secretary. “Over the past several years, the demand for turf racing has grown substantially. Whereas it comprised about 30 percent of our racing product 10 years ago, turf racing now accounts for more than half the races we offer. This is in large part a testament to the great work our Track Supervisor Jesse Martinez and his crew have done to maintain our turf and keep it in great shape.

“With the Camino Real Hillside Course coming back online for the Autumn 2021 Meet and the installation of our new turf chute in late 2020, we now have the ability to do something we had never before been able to do at Santa Anita, and that is, run turf races back-to-back on any given race day. Weather permitting, we intend to use all three facets of our turf presentation, the downhill, turf chute and turf oval, as much as possible throughout the Classic Meet.”

Umberto Rispoli and Flavien Prat during a test run of Santa Anita’s new turf chute. (Benoit Photo)

Santa Anita’s turf chute, which was installed under the direction of Track Surfaces Consultant Dennis Moore beginning in the summer of 2020, came online Dec. 26 of that year and has now proven to be an invaluable complement to the track’s European-style Camino Real Turf Course, which was unveiled on Dec. 26, 1953. 

The Camino Real Course features a downhill component with the only right-hand turn in American Racing as horses sprint about 6 ½ furlongs downhill. The course is also comprised of a seven-furlong oval, enabling routes with a downhill start at 1 ¼ miles, 1 ½ half miles and at 1 ¾ miles. Horses routing at one mile and at 1 1/8 miles, each begin with a “flat” start.

The Camino Real Hillside Turf debuted Dec. 26, 1953, while the Turf Chute opened on Dec. 26, 2020.

“Our Camino Real Turf Course is truly one-of-a-kind,” said Merz. “It’s as important to Santa Anita’s identity as anything you can think of. Wherever you go, if racing people know you’re associated with Santa Anita, they invariably talk about the beauty of the San Gabriel Mountains as a backdrop and our downhill Camino Real Turf Course, there simply isn’t anything like all of this in American racing.”

With an ever-increasing number of foreign-born or raced turf horses being imported from around the world, and an increasing number of races carded on turf, Santa Anita is also well-positioned operationally, to make adjustments during the course of each race day.

Santa Anita’s Camino Real Hillside Turf. (Zoe Metz Photo)

“Our ability to move the inner rail has proven to be a huge factor in keeping the course in good condition,” said Merz. “The key is to be able to run as much as we can on the turf while keeping it as fresh as possible. Jesse Martinez takes regular readings from the rail out at various points on the course and the data he provides lets us know when it’s time to move the inner rail and how far.

“Additionally, we now have the ability to adjust the rails on the fly, during racing, as Jesse’s crew can get the entire oval done in under an hour. We typically aim to use the zero- and 10-foot settings on weekends and the 20- and 30-foot settings during weekday racing. Again, weather is a big factor here, but the key to all of this is the communication Jesse and his team provide us with. 

“Collectively, we all take great pride in helping to provide our fans and horsemen with what is in my opinion, the best winter turf racing in America.”

Originally introduced in the summer of 2016, Santa Anita’s turf course is comprised of Bandera Bermuda hybrid turf which is overseeded with winter rye on a seasonal basis. 

With entries for opening day set to be taken on Dec. 21, Santa Anita will offer a total of six graded stakes, three of them on grass, headed by the Grade I, $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks for 3-year-old fillies at a mile and one quarter. 

Additionally, a pair of Grade II, $200,000 stakes, the Santa Anita Mathis Mile for 3-year-olds and the San Gabriel, for 3-year-olds and up at a mile and one eighth, will also be run on turf.

Special early first post time on opening day, Monday, Dec. 26, will be at 11 a.m. For additional information, fans are encouraged to visit or to call (626) 574-RACE.

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