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A Truckload of Great Eats Makes Santa Anita Horse Races a Sure Bet

A ceremonial bugler greets his public after getting the races off to an exciting start with a rousing reveilleOur family arrived early in the afternoon at Santa Anita Park (http://www.santaanita.com/) eager for some fun wagering, and an appetite for lunch. The racetrack is an easy drive of about 40 minutes from Los Angeles, and with Family Fun Days every weekend, a full line-up of special attractions and a variety of dining options, there’s something for everyone at the races.

With an average weekend crowd of about 10,000, the betting windows were open with no lines, and everywhere in the park there was room to walk about, a welcome departure from the hubbub we expected for a peak season weekend during the park’s first-ever autumn meet. And also to our surprise, we found the race track was a great place to eat.

We had reservations for a Santa Anita Park's FrontRunner restaurant offers spectacular views of the finish line and the San Gabriel Mountainstable in the FrontRunner restaurant, with a terrific vantage of the track at the finish line. Table service is a great way to go at the races, because you not only sit in climate-controlled comfort, but if want a change of scenery from the spectacular view of the San Gabriel Mountains out the window, you can watch replays of great moments in racing and the action at racetracks around the world on a small-screen TV at your table.

Santa Anita Racetrack knows that while the main attraction is the races, good food helps make the day. The restaurant features a terrific menu with selections to please a variety of palettes. For my four-year-old son, a cheese, crackers and fruit plate along with a dish of mixed berries kept him busy nibbling. GrandMore than 70 gourmet food trucks participate in two food truck festivals during the autumn meetma and Ditdaw enjoyed the restaurant’s famous Chesapeake Bay Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes, and my partner and I sampled the Grilled Turkey Ciabatta sandwich and Mixed Seafood Soft Tacos.

It was too early in the day for mixed drinks for us, though we were tempted to order the park’s new loser cocktail, “Shoulda-Woulda-Coulda” a specialty just for those showing losing tickets at the bar. We saved room for dessert and ordered the made-from-scratch Peanut Brittle Chocolate Bread Pudding, Belgian Chocolate Mousse Bombe and the California Berry Napoleon for the table, all of which went quicker than a race horse out of the gate.

Besides a terrific menu in the restaurant, twice during the season the park brings in live music along with 70 of Southern California’s finest gourmet food trucks gourmet for a smorgasbord of offerings, including fare from The Grilled Cheese Truck, Border Grill, Lobsta Truck, Rock in Roll Sushi, and White Rabbit Truck. The next food truck festival, featuring live music, entertainment and a beer garden, all for the admission of $5 (17 and under admitted free), will be held November 5, 11 am to 5 pm.

The street-fair atmosphere of the park coincides with the excitement on the track, and for families it’s double the fun every weekend with an array of Family Fun Day activities on the infield, such as free bounce houses and playground and $1-2 attractions such as pony rides, face painting and carnival games.

For my four-year-old, watching the thoroughbreds circle the track at full speed, and cheering on his picks for the race – which he chose based on how silly the name sounded – was as exhilarating as riding the horses himself.

We made a trip to the rail for the special treat of watching the horses make their rounds up close, a surround-sound experience where the sound of the pounding of the horses’ hooves filled our ears and reverberated through us as they galloped by us to the frenzied cheers of the crowd.

Our bets were purely for entertainment, not to get rich, so our losses — and our winnings were trifling, but the thrill was just the same as if we were high rollers. My son’s long shot on Eltoninadress was the biggest payoff of the day, at about $12, which we re-invested in the next couple of races, coming out ahead by $2 at the end of the day.

While we didn’t go home big winners, anytime you can get horses, horseplay and good food altogether in one place in one day, that’s a sure bet.

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