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A Day at the Races : * Santa Anita Park in Arcadia offers plenty for families to see and do before the announcer calls, 'They're off!'

March 18, 1994|PEGGY JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Peggy Johnson is a Pasadena writer.

ARCADIA — There's a place to take the kids that's a combination amusement park, animal viewing area, picnic site and playground--but it's actually designed for adults. It's Santa Anita Park, where the thoroughbreds race.

Activities start early at Santa Anita: Beginning at 7:30 a.m., families can come any day of the week to watch the horses work out. They'll see America's premier jockeys, such as Gary Stevens or Kent Desormeaux, riding the top horses in the country.

In amusement park fashion, kids and adults can take a 12-minute tram ride through the stable area, which is otherwise closed to the public. On the tram, which operates between 8 and 9:15 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday, visitors can glimpse the routine caring of the 2,000-plus horses stabled at Santa Anita as they are washed, walked, examined, groomed, saddled, brushed and ridden.

You may see veterinarians and jockeys, plus get a glimpse of some of the 800 to 900 men and women who live in stable-area housing facilities and dine in the recently renovated cafeteria.

In addition to horses, there are cats, dogs, goats, chickens and parrots. "It's like a small barnyard here," said tram guide Nancy Carbajal. "The cats help keep the rodent population down, and the goats keep the horses company. The roosters crow in the morning, and I don't know why there are parrots," she said.

The tram leaves from the owners' and trainers' parking lot near Clockers' Corner every 15 minutes. The ride is free, and passengers will often stay for a second tour.

Clockers' Corner is the morning gathering place for owners, trainers and jockeys. Continental breakfasts are available daily, and visitors can have a doughnut and hot chocolate or hot coffee to brace against the cold morning air as they stand near the track to watch the thoroughbreds work.

On weekends, an announcer alerts the crowd, which on busy days grows to about 300, to popular riders and horses.

On racing days, complete breakfasts are served by the track from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. at Clockers' Corner. The menu includes such racing fare as the Churchill Downs (sausage biscuit sandwich for $1.75) or the Ascot (fried egg sandwich for $2.50).

Children can get a close look at horses by visiting the hackneys, the high-stepping horses that pull the black carriages used to transport officials between races. The hackneys are stabled near the racing office and can be viewed whenever the park is open.

The eight hackneys, which the park calls the "Rolls-Royces of carriage horses," start getting groomed and tacked about 10:30 a.m. on race days and are on the track by noon.

The playground, called "Anita Chiquita," is on the infield area of the 310-acre park. In the afternoons when the play area gets busy during the races, there is a supervisor--sometimes there are two or more, depending on demand--to ensure that the children play safely.

"Rules of safety are enforced at the playground," said Mary Saenz, a Santa Anita spokeswoman, "so if the merry-go-round is going too fast, the supervisor will stop it, but she's not there to be a baby-sitter."

The playground has colorful slides, swings, a geometric climbing dome, a merry-go-round and a climbing fort with bridges and observation platforms. The play area is covered with a safety-cushioned, rubberized mat.

Picnicking is available on a large grassy area near the playground. Visitors can bring lunches into the park. Santa Anita's only restrictions are no glass or alcoholic beverages. A number of concession stands with food and drink are also available.

For a closer look at real thoroughbreds, children can visit the paddock area to watch the horses being saddled and the jockeys mounting them before each race.

WHERE AND WHEN

What: Behind the scenes at Santa Anita Park, Arcadia.

Location: Off the 210 Freeway at Baldwin Avenue or Santa Anita Avenue; follow the signs to the park.

Hours: Open daily from 7:30 to 10 a.m. for workouts; reopens at 10:30 a.m. for racing, which starts at 12:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.

Price: Parking and admission are free from 7:30 to 10 a.m. After 10:30 a.m., parking is $3 and admission starts at $3. Children under 17 are free with an adult.

Call: (818) 574-RACE.

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