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L.A. Popcorn Adventure #162
April 20, 2011

A Visit to the Winner's Circle

Secretariat + Santa Anita Park

Our society likes to know who's the "best" at anything. The best movie. The best basketball team. Our family gets right in the act, choosing our own local "bests." The best French fries. The best route to school. Our top choices, of course, change frequently. Sometimes, however, it's good to see a "best" that seems untoppable and unstoppable. That's what we saw when we watched Secretariat, the movie about the Thoroughbred that many people feel was the best race horse of all time. Rated PG, Secretariat is not just the story of a great horse, but of his gutsy owner Penny who was thrown into the world of big-time horse racing when she inherited her family's horse ranch and had to fight to save it. Diane Lane plays Penny, and John Malkovich gives a great performance as Secretariat's quirky trainer. Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973. This is a feat that's only happened 11 times in history, and hasn't happened at all since 1978. We loved the movie, which is perfect for upper-elementary ages and up, especially those who love horses. The wonderful cinematography put us right into the middle of each race, and found ourselves cheering each time the great Secretariat crossed the finish line!

Watching Secretariat reminded us that we hadn't been to the races ourselves in a long time. We packed up a picnic lunch and headed to Santa Anita Park for a great day at the races. We had a blast wandering around the infield and watching these incredibly beautiful animals show off their athletic prowess. Our kids got to do some real number-crunching and stretch their math muscles in trying to figure out just how odds are calculated, and what it really means if a horse is a 50-to-1 long shot. We also had fun trying to figure out how people choose race horse names and voting on our favorite names for every race (Amazombie may not have won his race, but he won our "Best Name" contest in a landslide!). We cheered for our favorites, visited them in the Winner's Circle, and came away relaxed and ready to saddle up for the coming week!

Film Title: Secretariat
Directed By: Randall Wallace
2010, Rated PG, 123 minutes

Our buttery bits of wisdom about Secretariat:

  • Why It's Worth It:  Nothing beats an old fashioned, feel-good Disney movie and this one has, at its center, a terrific performance by Diane Lane. Kids love the story of the horse with the big heart (literally) and the action on the track also makes this one worthy. From the director of Braveheart.
  • Red Flags: Rated PG for mild profanity.
  • Literary Chops: The film is based on the novel "Secretariat: The Making of a Champion" By William Nack.
  • DVD Extras: Don't forget to check out the special features on your DVD or Blu-Ray of Secretariat. Included in the bonus tracks is the footage of Secretariat's actual race in the Preakness. This is the race where he started out in last place and came from behind all the way up to first! We found it the most exciting moment in the movie, and watching the real Secretariat run the real race was even more breathtaking. 

Want to talk to your kids about this film? Here are some conversation starters:
  • Heart of a Champion: We learn in the movie that Secretariat's heart was bigger than those of other race horses. In fact, it was two-and-a-half times as big! Talk to your own kids about what it means to be specially gifted in some way. Ask your kids: Would they have been able to admire Secretariat's incredible abilities if they were another race horse competing against him? Or would they have been jealous?
  • On Winning: Our discussions led us to talking about how often kids get trophies these days just for showing up. We have a whole shelf of soccer trophies in our house for teams that never won. Let your kids weigh in on the subject: Is this a good idea? Do these kinds of trophies mean anything to them? We like to think of Secretariat as a winner, but in fact, he lost his very first race, and in the movie, we see him lose his big race right before the Kentucky Derby. Talk to your kids about a time something didn't happen the way you wanted it to, and about what it means to pick yourself up and try again.


Visiting Santa Anita Race Track

285 W. Huntington Dr. Arcadia, CA 91107

Age Recommendations: 9 and up

Time Requirements: Allow at least 2 to 3 hours to tour the race track and watch some races, or stay for the full afternoon if you want. 

Our buttery bits of wisdom about Santa Anita Race Track:
  • Check the Santa Anita Race Track website ( for the race schedule and to know when the race track is open. Generally the racing season at Santa Anita runs from December to April. Races run rain or shine -- but of course, in southern California, that means mostly "shine." Open Thurs.-Sun. Infield open Sat. and Sun. only. Gates open around 10:30 but consider coming earlier for the Tram Tour on weekends (see below).
  • How long should you stay? As long as you want to. There's plenty to do at the track, especially if you wander through the tunnel to the infield.  In our case, we arrived just before first post, but spent some time having lunch in the infield before we ever made it to the grandstand, and we left a couple of races before the last race feeling we'd had a great day.
  • Special Events: The Santa Anita Race Track also has all sorts of special events going on, with a new one popping up practically every day. Still upcoming in the 2010-2011 season are St. Pat's Pitch (where a lucky horseshoe tosser could win $1 million), Bike Day (where visitors are encouraged to bicycle to the park), and Family Fun Day (giant inflatables, pony rides, carnival rides, and fun for all).
  • Food: On May 14, the race track will host a Food Truck Festival, with 70 gourmet food trucks taking over the entire infield. If you don't come on the day of the Food Truck Festival, you might want to bring your own picnic lunch. Food at the race track is only so-so, and a little pricey. Not in a picnic mood? Try the barbecue stand in the infield.
  • Activities: While many people at the track are there to bet on the outcomes of the races, you can have a lot of fun without spending a penny. Our kids loved going right up to the rail to watch the horses as they were paraded out before their race, and even got to chat with some of the trainers. You can pick which horses look most ready to run, and choose your own favorite to win. Don't miss visiting the Winner's Circle, at the entrance to the grandstands, which each horse visits after winning its race.
  • Listen Up: One of our favorite things was watching the buglers play before each race. As budding musicians, our kids were fascinated by the idea of an instrument that has no keys to play, and impressed by the range of songs they played -- not just the traditional "Call to Post," but lots of familiar old horse-related favorites (though we confess our teenager got just a bit embarrassed when his dad started singing along to songs from The Music Man).
  • Red Flags: Concerned about taking your kids to a place where gambling is going on? You don't have to be. Santa Anita is filled with families on the weekends, especially on their many Family Fun Days, and you'll see the same cross-section of Southern California folks you'd see at the local mall. Betting takes place underneath the grandstand, so you can stay away if you choose to. Just remind your kids, if they ask, that placing bets is for those who are 21 and up only.
  • It's All in the Name: Our grandmas used to go to the races all the time when we were kids ourselves, and they and their friends had some wild ways of choosing horses. One of Grandma's friends only chose horses with royalty in their names ("Winning Princess" or "Duke of Speed"). Another one only liked gray horses. Our own kids decided to choose their favorites based on the craziness of the horses' names. Choose your own way to pick your personal favorites and see how they do compared to the actual winners of each race.

Our Tips for Extending your Adventure:

  • Seabiscuit and the Tram Tour: If you get to Santa Anita early, you can take a Tram Tour of the inner workings of the track. Click here for our Popcorn Adventure from a few years ago. You'll get to see the stables, the paddocks where the horses get saddled up before races, the jockeys' room, and more. Early birds can also have breakfast at Clockers' Corner at the race track, and watch the horses' early morning workouts. Tram Tours run almost every weekend, so call 626-574-6677 before you go. 

Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.

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