Opening Day at Santa Anita

VIPs Enjoy the Director’s Room; Gene Simmons of KISS Greets Fans; Fascinators & More Festivities Mark Opening Day at Santa Anita


Competition may be fierce on the race track, but high up in the Director’s Room at Santa Anita, the atmosphere was friendly as usual on Wednesday’s Opening Day.

Inside that cozy enclave, surrounded by historic murals and imported 18th century, wood-paneled walls, many of the horse owners, trainers and other VIPs enjoyed – aside from the races – cocktails, a lunch buffet, desserts way too tempting to resist, and the glorious view of the San Gabriel Mountains. (See the gallery below for photos.)

Although horse owners and trainers often sit side-by-side with their competitors in the Director’s Room, on Dec. 26 two generations of the same family – trainer Richard Mandella and his son, trainer Gary Mandella – had horses up against each other in the same race.

“I’m going to hope for a tie,” said Gary Mandella before that race: the Sir Beaufort Stakes. Shortly after voicing that sentiment, the horse he trained – Silentio –  won. Happily though, both members of the family had a good day. Jimmy Creed, another horse Richard Mandella trained, later won the Malibu Stakes.

Midway through the afternoon, the Bello family said their horse hadn’t won its race, but they weren’t complaining. Michael Bello said that in previous years, another of their horses – Megahertz – won the Santa Barbara Stakes three times. He said Bello Family Vineyards has since named a wine in the champion horse’s honor.

That wine, he said, Megahertz Cabernet Sauvignon, is on the menu in Santa Anita’s FrontRunner restaurant.

In all, more than 27,000 people came for the Opening Day races at Santa Anita Park.

Many had the good fortune to meet rock star Gene Simmons of KISS, who greeted fans beside the grandstand throughout the day. After the eighth race, Simmons participated in festivities, presenting a trophy to Jimmy Creed’s owner, Wayne Hughes, inside the Winner’s Circle.

Also adding to the day’s festive ambiance, Westfield Santa Anita held a Fascinators and Fedoras Contest, as a fun challenge for patrons dressing up. Fascinators are fanciful headpieces, in most cases made of feathers, jewels or flowers.

Many race-goers, in fact, turned up in hats, especially inside Santa Anita’s elegant Turf Club, where they looked right at home amid the room’s crystal chandeliers, etched glass appointments and gilded palm trees. Built in 1934, Santa Anita Park is a treasure of 1930s Art Deco architecture, inside as well as outside. Over the years, the Park has attracted U.S. presidents and Hollywood legends, including Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Cary Grant and Mickey Rooney.

To read more about the day’s races, click here for the story in the Los Angeles Times.


Top photo:  From left, horse owners Michael Bello, Nancy Bello, Christopher Bello, Ashley Bello and Stephen Bello in the Director’s Room on Opening Day at Santa Anita (photo:

Second photo: In the Winner’s Circle, Gene Simmons of KISS (in black) and Wayne Hughes, owner of Jimmy Creed, chat with jockey Garrett Gomez, Opening Day at Santa Anita (photo: courtesy of Santa Anita Park)




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Opening Day at Santa Anita

Published Dec. 28, 2012 – Ellen Olivier, Society News LA