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A Visit to the Winner's Circle

Secretariat + Santa Anita Park


Oscar Gets Dressed

Academy Awards + Motion Picture Costume Design Exhibit

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L.A. Popcorn Adventure #6
March 07, 2006

Horsing Around With History

Seabiscuit + Santa Anita Tram Tour

Seabiscuit is the true story of the little horse that could. From The Rookie to Miracle, we all love to root for the underdog...even when the underdog is a horse. Set in Depression-era America, Seabiscuit follows three men, each with a broken life, as they come together to fix a broken horse. As the ungainly thoroughbred began to win, his popularity exploded. Americans, downtrodden during the Great Depression, sensed a bit of themselves in Seabiscuit, and the whole country gathered around radio sets to listen as he edged out the reigning champion. Seabiscuit galloped into history and was as famous in his day as Tiger Woods is today.

The idea that horses are elite athletes fascinated our kids. We took the kids on a Tram Tour at the Santa Anita Racetrack and learned how the film was shot. We visited the round staging barn where horses are drug tested, the locker room, and then toured the Silk Room that holds hundreds of brightly colored jerseys. As we were rubbing noses with a full-size bronze statue of Seabiscuit, the day's competitors paraded from the barn on their gleaming mounts. Flush with new found knowledge, we all chose a horse to root for, and then flopped down under the midday sun to wait for Post Time. The sound of the crowd, the thunder of hooves and the catch in our throats as our horse pulled ahead thrilled us all!

Film Title: Seabiscuit
Directed By: Gary Ross
2003, Rated PG-13, 141 minutes

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Film:
  • Why It's Worth It: Although this film is long, the compelling story satisfies both boys and girls over eight. Adults who get on the couch for this film will have a chance to discuss the Great Depression with their kids, and appreciate three great performances from Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper.
  • Red Flags: The film makes a few references to adult sexuality (a couple dancing, a clothed couple in bed), but there is nothing inappropriate for kids over eight. Watch out for these difficult scenes: Charles Howard's son dies in a car wreck, Red's parents sell him to a horse racer, and Red gets dragged by a horse. Several black and white documentary sections are interspersed in the movie. For young viewers, this authentic footage may be "boring." Have them tune in for the final race scenes.

Our Tips for Talking with your Kids about this Film:
  • Documentary Savvy: Writer/director Gary Ross uses documentary footage mixed in with the fictional story to help audiences understand the story's historical background. Pulitzer Prize winning historian David McCullough narrates this portion of the film. Did this help the kids understand the history or did the film tell the story on its own?
  • Horse Sense: Filmmakers used 10 horse doubles for Seabiscuit. Five horses did the racing, and five were used to act out Seabiscuit's characteristic laziness, playfulness and stubborness. Can the kids tell the horses apart, scene to scene?
  • Effects Savvy: To put Tobey Maguire on a galloping thoroughbred would be dangerous for both racehorse and actor. Maguire rode a mechanical horse on a flatbed track during the race scenes, and professional jockeys orchestrated their rides around the truck. Look carefully during the race scenes, especially during the final race, and see if the kids can tell the difference?


Taking in a Race at SANTA ANITA

285 Huntington Drive, Arcadia

Contact: 626-574-6677 or
Hours: Race season runs from late Dec. through late April; Track is open Wed. - Sun. and holiday Mondays
Tours depart at 8:30 a.m. and 9:45 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday during the Santa Anita season, excluding Derby Day, April 4.
Admission to the park $5.00, kids under 17 are free

Time allotment: All day

Age Recommendation: Over five

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom About this Adventure:
  • What Worked for us: Kids of all ages will love a day at this spectacular Southern California location. Remember that freeways aren't clogged on the weekends - you'll be in Arcardia before you know it. It's fun to stand as close to the track as possible during the race. Camp out on the trackside benches and let the kids stand on the rail. Be sure the attend the Winner's Circle, even if your horse doesn't win. You'll have time between the Tram Tour and the start of the day's races, so let the kids run through the long cool tunnels to the center of the track. They'll emerge in a wonderful park with jungle gyms and concession stands.
  • Before You Go: Call ahead to reserve your space on the tour but walk-in seating is also available. Be sure to check Santa Anita's website before heading to Artesia. If a race has a big purse, the track is likely to be more crowded. The best time to visit the track is at five in the morning when the horses are being exercised. We arrived in time for the last Tram Tour, and it was still great. 
  • Why the Tram Tour is a Must: Tram tours are free, and admission to the races is free if you've been on the Tram Tour. 
  • Bring a picnic and Stay all Day: Food isn't great at the track, so bring a picnic and spread out near the jungle gyms to study the Racing Form in between races. The lemonade, however, is fantastic!
  • Family Days: Santa Anita holds Family Fun days from 12-4pm on selected weekends throughout the season, offering moon bounces and face painting for little racing fans. These run most frequently in March; click here for more information.
  • COOL FACT: Seabiscuit was the first animal to be commemorated in life-sized bronze.

Our Tips for Extending this Adventure:
  • History of the track: Santa Anita and Seabiscuit have been related since the track was built in 1934. When the Santa Anita Handicap was established in 1935, its $100,000 purse put the country on notice that California horse racing had come of age. As depicted in the film, Seabiscuit won "The Hundred Grander" in 1940. It was his last race.
  • Olympics: The Santa Anita Racetrack hosted the Equestrian events during the 1984 Olympics.
  • The Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Gardens is just across the street from the racetrack. Open from 9-5 daily, there is a children's program every Saturday morning as well as self-guided tours of local fauna. It's an impressive resource, and worth exploring if you're in the neighborhood. Countless movies and television shows have been filmed in these fabled groves, including Anna and the King and The Yearling. 626-821-3222 or for information. Admission for adults: $7; kids 5-12: $2.50.

  • Give Your Kids' Math Skills a Run for their Money: Even tots can follow a horse through a race. Let everyone choose his or her favorite horse based on whatever suits your fancy: the fiestiness of a horse, the ever-changing odds on the scoreboard, a horse's name or the color of a jockey's silks. Older kids will have fun calculating the odds and figuring out pay-outs on their imaginary bets. 

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

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Click on the song to download from iTunes:
  • The Horses by Rickie Lee Jones. A horse is a horse, of course, of course, but nobody sings about horses quite like this;
  • Wild Horses by Tim Ries featuring Norah Jones, who checks in with a smoky jazz vocal on this elegant new rendition of the Rolling Stones' classic;
  • Chestnut Mare by the Byrds. Saddle up for a wild chase for life's golden prize, all wrapped up in a metaphorical tale about an elusive mare;
  • Wild Horses by Perry Como. Whoa Nelly! This one is really old! Whether you're at home or riding in your horseless carriage, you and the kids might enjoy a glimpse into ancient pop history. Remind them that is WAY before your time!