From high up in the Directors' Room at Santa Anita Park last Sunday, horse owners and their guests spent the afternoon enjoying the races. It was opening weekend of the 75th racing season at the historic racetrack.
"Especially on a day in the winter, after it snows and you see the snow-capped mountains, there's no better place to be than here," Mike Harlow, director of racing, said. He said the Directors' Room, which is primarily for use by VIPs and owners of horses in the featured races, has remained virtually unchanged since the Art Deco facility opened in 1934, after costing a then-unheard-of $1 million for the land and construction.
Over the years, VIPs including Presidents Nixon and Ford, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hollywood legends Fred Astaire and John Wayne have watched the races from inside the wood-paneled room, which was designed in 1740 by England's then-foremost architect, William Kent, and brought intact to Santa Anita. Britain's Prince Philip took advantage of the amenities during the 1984 Olympics.
Steve Kenly -- an owner of Lava Man, the day's horse to watch -- sat at his "lucky table" with his sister Sheri, Bill Decker and veterinarian Doug Herthel. "We call this the 'Lava Man room,' because we've had a lot of luck sitting in this room at this table," he said.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, January 05, 2010 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
Race track photo: A caption in some issues of Sunday's Image section said that horse owner Steve Kenly was photographed cheering on Santa Anita Park's opening day, which was Saturday, Dec. 26. Kenly was pictured cheering on Sunday, Dec. 27, the second day of Santa Anita's opening weekend.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, January 10, 2010 Home Edition Image Part P Page 6 Features Desk 1 inches; 51 words Type of Material: Correction
Race track photo: A picture caption in some issues of last week's Image section incorrectly said that horse owner Steve Kenly was photographed cheering on Santa Anita Park's opening day, which was Saturday, Dec. 26. Kenly was pictured cheering on Sunday, Dec. 27, the second day of Santa Anita's opening weekend.
Purchased for $50,000 in 2004, Lava Man won more than $5 million before his last race 17 months ago. Since then, the horse has undergone stem cell treatments to generate cartilage in his surgically repaired ankles and was thought to be ready to race again. "He's a racehorse," Kenly said. "We figured he didn't want to retire."
Although stem cell therapy may be controversial, Bud Johnston called it "just another tool to rehabilitate minor injuries." Johnston owns Old English Rancho, a horse farm near Fresno; his horse Acclamation was running in the seventh race.
Heidi Clemons and her son Tyler Kaplan, 16, shared a table with Dyan Abrams, who said she "cleaned 100,000 stalls" before becoming a groom, an assistant trainer, a trainer and now an owner of more than 130 horses. "I am living my dream," she said. The group came to watch Sandy Cheeks, named for a character in "SpongeBob SquarePants."
Clemons said her son graduated from high school at age 14. By spring, she said, he will get his college degree and become a jockey. "He's wanted to be a jockey since he was 9," Clemons said, explaining that he took classes during traditional school vacations so he could finish school and start riding sooner.
Trainer Eduardo Inda and his wife, Monica, joined Carlos Polanco, owner of Camille C, one of the horses racing against Sandy Cheeks.
Never mind that the guests had competing horses. Also sharing the room were Ron Valenta, owner of Sir Dave; John Amerman, owner of Great Siege; and Annelies Glen-Teven, owner of Proudinsky. The horses were all competing in the seventh race.
Johnston said, "Some of our best friends have horses we're running against all the time."
Near the end of the afternoon, after guests enjoyed a lavish buffet of appetizers, salads, entrees including chicken enchiladas and filet mignon, and a dessert bar of fresh fruits and pastries, the seventh race began.
All eyes were on the track as Lava Man took the lead, only to fall back to last place while Glen-Teven's horse, Proudinsky, pulled ahead and raced to victory. So, after a trip to the Winner's Circle, Glen-Teven returned to the Directors' Room for a champagne toast and a televised rerun of the race.
It wasn't the first time her horse won, yet she said, "I never dare to hope."