October 17, 2015

Photo Essay: A Spirited Jaunt to The Derby

After you spend a day at the races—especially the home of the Santa Anita Derby—you kind of have to go have a drink or a snack at the nearby restaurant called The Derby.

As though the vintage neon signage weren't inviting enough...

...topped with its own derby hat...

...the "cavalier spirit" style lawn jockeys make it clear that all are welcome...

...though no one needs a hitching post for their horses anymore.

Inside, The Derby is as much a museum of horse racing as it is an historic restaurant.

Although it originally opened in 1922 as the "Proctor Tavern" (or "Proctor Chicken House"), The Derby became a place where fans could intermingle with the jockeys who'd raced at Santa Anita—including its new owner, George Woolf, the famed jockey of Seabiscuit.

That was 1938, the same year that Seabiscuit became a thoroughbred legend, and Woolf became known as the greatest jockey of the time.

The races were big news back then, and the horses and their jockeys—big stars.

This is where Woolf would hold court—but only for a few years.

Woolf, a diabetic in the early days of insulin treatment, died tragically in 1946 after falling off his horse during a race at Santa Anita. Gene Autry sang at his funeral.

It is said that his spirit haunts the restaurant, which has become more or less a shrine to Woolf—and Seabiscuit, of course. Woolf had purchased it as an investment for his retirement, but could it be the gift that keeps on giving, even in the afterlife?

And what if Woolf isn't the only ghost at The Derby? Some patrons hear horse hooves clopping past  the restaurant as they enjoy their steaks and garlic cheese bread. Where else would a famous horse haunt, other than the restaurant located just seven furlongs from Santa Anita Racetrack?

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Santa Anita Park & Racetrack
Photo Essay: A Day at the Races

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