The United States of America features Thoroughbred race tracks in 32 out of the 50 states.
These differences in location, climate, and culture can lead to vastly different racing experiences. Each track has its own unique atmosphere, influenced by the prestige of the races held there, the track’s history, and the environment and location. A new track in Southern California will have a far different feel than a historic track in the northeast region of the country.
What makes a racetrack “better” than any other generally depends on what any given fan is looking for in their racing experience. Here are four different US race tracks in four different areas of the country, each with its own rich history and unique features.
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Churchill Downs, in Louisville, Kentucky, is likely the most famous race track in the United States simply because it is the host track of the Kentucky Derby, America’s most famous race. The Twin Spires, which have stood over the track since 1891, are inextricably associated with “The Greatest Two Minutes In Sports,” just as much as the fancy hats and mint juleps are.
Even without the Kentucky Derby, however, Churchill Downs would rank highly among US tracks. Churchill Downs has hosted the Breeders’ Cup, Thoroughbred racing’s year-end championship series, nine times. In addition to the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks (the equivalent race for three-year-old fillies), Churchill Downs regularly hosts seven races at the Grade I level, the most prestigious level of Thoroughbred racing in the country.
Located in Hallandale Beach, Florida, Gulfstream Park is one of the most prestigious race tracks in the southeast United States. This track is most notable for its versatility, as it is the first parimutuel racing facility to have three distinct racing surfaces: dirt, turf, and Tapeta, a synthetic surface that is designed to drain efficiently so that races can be run under all weather conditions.
Gulfstream Park has held the Breeders’ Cup series on three occasions. Their racing calendar includes three Grade I races: the Florida Derby, the Pegasus World Cup, and the Pegasus World Cup Turf. The Florida Derby is one of the key prep races for the Kentucky Derby, and the Pegasus Cup races are among the richest and most prestigious races for older horses in North America.
Saratoga Race Course
One of the most historic race tracks in the country, Saratoga Race Course, in Saratoga Springs, New York, has held a meet every year since 1863. The track has two well-deserved reputations. It is known for its aristocratic elegance among racegoers, but it is also referred to as “The Graveyard of Champions” because it has seen several shocking upsets. Man o’War, Gallant Fox, Secretariat, and American Pharoah all suffered their most infamous defeats at Saratoga, and the upsets have continued: recently, 2-5 favorite and divisional leader Cody’s Wish lost the Grade I Whitney Stakes while attempting to win his seventh consecutive race.
Saratoga has only ever held meets during the summer, so they have not hosted the Breeders’ Cup races. However, they are far from short on prestige. Seventeen Grade I races are held during the annual Saratoga summer meet, and they are spread evenly among surfaces and divisions.
Santa Anita Park
Arcadia, California is the home of Santa Anita Park, known as “The Great Race Place.” It is one of the most popular race tracks in the United States. The track opened in 1933, and gained fame in 1935 thanks to its marquee race, the Santa Anita Handicap. This race was the first continually-run race in the United States to have a purse of $100,000, an astronomical sum in the days of the Great Depression.
Santa Anita Park is home to 13 Grade I races, including the aforementioned Santa Anita Handicap. They have hosted the Breeders’ Cup series ten times, and will hold the series a record eleventh time on November 3rd and 4th, 2023.
Author: Lindsay Griffin