Santa Anita Park’s traditional day-after-Christmas opener for its Winter/Spring Meet ushers in a 94-stakes season – 59 of those graded – that once again, defines West Coast horse racing for half of the year.

Santa Anita Winter-Spring 2021-22
The Santa Anita Derby is one of the biggest meets of the year during Santa Anita Park’s Winter/Spring Meet. It is one of 10 Grade 1s on the track’s 94-stakes schedule. (Image: Kelly Serfoss)

The suburban Los Angeles track, located at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, opens on Dec 26 – a Sunday this year – and runs through June 19. Of those 59 graded stakes, 10 are Grade 1s, and three of those headline the Dec. 26 opener.

Those are the Malibu Stakes, the La Brea, and the American Oaks – each carrying a $300,000 purse. Joining them are three Grade 2 stakes, the Mathis Brothers Mile, the San Antonio, and the San Gabriel on what is traditionally one of the strongest days of the racing year.

“We have added a significant amount of money to our stakes program along with some minor changes that I think trainers and owners – not only in California, but around the country – will appreciate,” Chris Merz, Santa Anita’s director of racing and racing secretary, told Santa Anita’s Mike Willman. “We have a lot of positive momentum going in California right now and these enhancements to the stakes schedule add to it.”

Santa Anita Handicap offered 100k during the Depression

The track’s next big card comes on March 5 with three more Grade 1s, including the 85th Santa Anita Handicap (the first “Hundred Grander”), the Beholder Mile, and the Frank E. Kilroe Mile. Likely to steal some of that thunder is one of the three Grade 2s on that day’s card, the San Felipe. That’s one of the West Coast’s key Kentucky Derby preps.

Along for the ride that day are the other two Grade 2s, the Buena Vista and the San Carlos.

Speaking of key, West Coast Derby preps, the biggest of them – the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby – headlines the April 9 card. Aside from being one of four Grade 1 Derby preps – if you count the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile – the Santa Anita Derby produced 20 Derby winners. The Grade 2 Santa Anita Oaks runs on the Santa Anita Derby undercard that day.

Memorial Day trio of Grade 1s

The final three Grade 1s run on Memorial Day with the Gamely, the Hollywood Gold Cup, and the Shoemaker Mile. Closing weekend offers the Grade 2 Santa Maria as the marquee event of the six stakes races.

This year, the track may take a two-week break after the April 9 Santa Anita Derby. The California Horse Racing Board approved the hiatus during its Wednesday meeting. Under that plan, no racing happens the weekend of April 15-17, with an option to stay out the following weekend of April 22-24.

Santa Anita General Manager Nate Newby told Horse Racing Nation that racing that second weekend would depend largely on the weather. If California endures a rainy winter and races are scrubbed, the track could run that weekend to make up the lost days. If it’s a dry winter, Newby said they will probably take that weekend off.