Inside Track: Stakes on the Grille
by Tracy Gantz
Date Posted: 2/10/2009 9:12:23 AM
Last Updated: 2/11/2009 10:02:02 PM
Because of the owners, trainers and jockeys who frequent The Pamplemousse restaurant near Del Mar in Southern California, co-owner and chef Jeffrey Strauss gets more than his share of tips.
“If I had to give back all the money I’ve won and lost on those tips, I’d do it in a heartbeat because then I’d have enough money to go on a two-month vacation,” Strauss said. “At the end of the day, only the horse knows how it’s feeling.”
Strauss enjoys the company of racetrackers at his restaurant, but only recently did he decide to join their ranks, primarily because of owner Tom Lenner. That led to partnership on The Pamplemousse , winner of the $100,000 San Rafael Stakes (gr. III) Jan. 17 at Santa Anita, a victory that firmly placed the Kafwain colt on the Triple Crown Trail.
“Every year we would hear about Tommy’s great horses,” said Strauss. “I finally told Tom one day that if he ever wanted a partner on one of his horses to let me know.”
As usual, one horse became eight, then 10, and has even expanded to a broodmare. That came about through another friendship, with Jenny Craig and her late husband, Sid. Strauss followed the racing exploits of their horse Candy Ride, and now he is breeding a mare to that stallion.
“Jenny gave me the best advice,” Strauss said. “She said to come up with the amount of horses that you want and stick to that number. If you want to upgrade, that’s fine. But then get rid of one that isn’t making money.”
Strauss calls Jenny Craig a West Coast version of Jackie Onassis. It’s something he knows about because he catered for Onassis when living on the East Coast. Strauss was born in The Bronx and trained in France, where he learned that a pamplemousse is a grapefruit. That tickled his sense of humor so much that when he moved to the West Coast and opened a restaurant, he named it The Pamplemousse.
Alex Solis II, son of jockey Alex Solis, selected the horses for the partnership. The group consists of Strauss, his brother Bill (partner in the restaurant), and most of the people who own multiple stakes winner Daytona. Strauss also has a small interest in Great Friends Stable, which owns stakes winner Mr. Chairman.
Strauss’ restaurant friendships have one downside now that he’s a horse owner.
“How do you decide which jockeys and trainers to use?” he said. “So I tell everyone that my partners will choose. I will always be silent on that subject.”
These days, The Pamplemousse, the horse, detracts from The Pamplemousse, the restaurant.
“I’ve got 10 menus a day to write,” said Strauss. “But I’m constantly sitting at my laptop and calling up the race replay. It’s killing me professionally—I can’t maintain focus.”
He kids, of course. Strauss not only serves as the restaurant’s chef, he is a garrulous type who loves to visit with his clientele. Jockeys Solis and Mike Smith, and former rider Chris McCarron are especially loyal customers.
“Mike Smith is one of my favorite people in the world—I can’t get rid of him in the summertime,” Strauss said.
Those friendships about 10 years ago resulted in Strauss every season donating a Monday night during Del Mar to the Don Macbeth Memorial Jockey Fund. Strauss offered the evening’s proceeds for the fund, and Solis and McCarron suggested having jockeys act as the waiters.
“It’s my favorite night of the year,” Strauss said. “Of course, I have my own waiters here too so that people actually get to eat.”
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