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No horsing around for local eateries

Because I live in Arcadia, the Thoroughbred Times asked me to talk to jockeys, trainers and others involved in horse racing about their favorite eateries in this area as the magazine/website prepared its coverage of the recent Breeders’ Cup.

I thought I’d share the result of my informal poll with readers.

Larry Stewart

Scoring high, of course, was The Derby on Huntington Drive in Arcadia. But so did the Chop House on Arroyo Parkway in the western part of Pasadena, and Nikki C’s on Rosemead Boulevard in the eastern part of Pasadena.

One thing The Derby has on its side is history. Once co-owned by legendary jockey George Woolf, The Derby has been at its current location since 1931. Now co-owned by Dustin Nicolarsen and Mike Thomas, The Derby is known for it bacon-wrapped filet, its prime rib and its seafood. And the French Onion soup is a must. “You can’t beat the Derby,” said actor Dick Van Patten, a racetrack regular.

When Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith was asked to name his favorite restaurants, it was if he had seen the informal poll’s list. “The Derby, the Chop House and Nikki C’s,” he said as he climbed out of his Cadillac Escalade in the Santa Anita parking lot.

And Laffit Pincay Jr. concured: “Nikki C’s, the Derby, and the Chop House.” He also mentioned Ruth’s Chris steak house in Pasadena and later called to say he had forgotten about Burger Continental on Lake Avenue in Pasadena and Shogun, located in eastern Pasadena.

Trainer Kathy Walsh said, “Nikki C’s and The Derby.” Trainer Jim Cassidy‘s favorites are also the Chop House, Ruth’s Chris, and The Derby. For those willing to drive a bit, legendary Clockers’ Corner food server Rosie Ybarra recommends Damon’s in Glendale.

Trainer Barry Abrams had several recommendations, including Sesame Grill on Huntington in Arcadia and Panda Inn in Pasadena. “For sandwiches, it’s Gene’s Grinders in Monrovia, and for breakfast I’ve got to go with LeRoy’s on Huntington. Abrams also mentioned Nikki C’s.

Trainer Bob Baffert, although a Derby regular, touted the Chop House and two other Pasadena restaurants, Ruth’s Chris and Houston’s.

Slightly built trainer Carla Gaines mentioned Smitty’s Grill in Pasadena, which prompted Baffert to jokingly respond, “What does she know? She doesn’t eat. Just look at her.” Bob Zamarria, a member of the board of directors of the Oak Tree Racing Assn., singled out Cafe Opera in Monrovia. “But you can’t beat the Derby,” he added. Sherwood “Chilly” Chillingworth, Oak Tree executive vice president, cited the Chop House, as did trainer Darrell Vienna. Vienna also said he liked Parkway Grill, which is next door to the Chop House, and Sesame Grill in Arcadia.

For Chinese food, Vienna gave the nod to the Panda Inn, and for Italian he cited Carmine’s on Fair Oaks Avenue in South Pasadena. There is also a Carmine’s in Arcadia on Live Oak.

Retired jockey Gary Stevens and a number of other people touted Club 322 in Sierra Madre (formerly the Sunset Club) for its Italian food and its nightly entertainment. Bill Casner, co-owner of WindStar Farm in western Kentucky, and his wife Susan recently went to Club 322 with trainer Eoin Harty and his wife Kathy. “A great place,” Casner said. Kathy Harty, who Susan Casner said is somewhat of a restaurant connoisseur, also mentioned The Raymond in Pasadena as one of her favorites.

Topping the list of Arcadia sports bars was Matt Denny’s on Huntington Drive. Some people mentioned The Station bar on Baldwin, particularly if you’re looking for inexpensive drinks.

If you’re looking to talk horse racing, there’s The Bit, a beer bar located on Live Oak and owned by Santa Anita publicity director Mike Willman, who also hosts a popular weekend radio show, “Thoroughbred Los Angeles.” The 101 Club and the First Cabin, both located on Huntington, are other hangouts for the horse racing set.

And jockey agent Tom Ball reminded, “There are a lot of good restaurants in the mall. You’ve got Wood Ranch, the Cheese Factory, Dave & Buster’s, to name just a few.” As you can see, horse racing people have little trouble in finding a good place to eat or have a drink. Now if picking winners was just that easy.

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