By Leslie Carter
Owners and trainers of thoroughbred racehorses go to auctions to chase their dreams — to find that Kentucky Derby winner, or an equine immortal to outshine Secretariat or Man o’ War.
At the Del Mar Hilton on Saturday, July 27, there was an auction dedicated to fulfilling the dreams of kids who were born into the backstretch life of the racing world, but want to emerge into the adult world armed with college degrees. The human contingent of the Del Mar Thoroughbred community stood up, some of them on an auction runway, to turn these dreams into reality.
The “Horsemen of All Ages & Bachelor Auction,” put together by Kentucky-based Race for Education and the Edwin J. Gregson Foundation founded in Southern California, raised about $50,000 to send children of outriders, assistant trainers and other backstretch workers on to higher education.
As in an auction of racing prospects, the volunteers offered for bidding were listed by hip numbers. Of the 16 hips listed in the program, two were local. Restaurateur Jeffrey Strauss (hip #9) of the Pamplemousse Grille in Solana Beach, and entrepreneur and successful horseplayer Christian Hellmers, a Rancho Santa Fe resident.
Strauss has been involved in charitable efforts in San Diego County for many years, dating back to the opening of his Pamplemousse Grille in 1996. He has included non-profits in his business plan since learning his craft in New York and working for Glorious Food.
The causes he has supported and catered for include Casa de Amparo, San Diego Humane Society, Salk Institute, North Coast Repertory Theatre, Patrons of the Prado, and Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA. He also invests time and money aiding Navy Seals.
Because Pamplemousse sits just across Via de la Valle from the Del Mar Racetrack, the chef has become an enthusiastic supporter of non-profits that surround thoroughbred horse racing.
Strauss became friends with jockey Chris McCarron soon after opening Pamplemousse. McCarron was one of the founders of the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund for injured jockeys and exercise riders. For years the MacBeth fund’s August fundraiser was held at Pamplemousse, with jockeys as waiters and with Tim Conway, Bob Newhart or another friend as the entertainment.
The MacBeth Fund is retired, but Strauss works with the Gregson Foundation, and supports California Retirement Management Account (CARMA), a charitable 501(c)(3) organization created to raise money for retired California racehorses.
Strauss is also deeply into horse ownership, with a partnership group called Donkey Island, a share in a first place finisher on July 31 named Domonation, and interests in two stallions standing in Kentucky. One of those stallions is The Pamplemousse, who had a brief but brilliant racing career in 2009. Other partnerships involve his brother Bill, who came into the area first, and is an owner of a Breeder’s Cup winner.
While accepting the Gregson request to be auctioned, Jeffrey Strauss was apprehensive—“I didn’t want to get up on stage and feel like an $8,000 claimer.” But his girlfriend, Mayo Osman, stood ready to rescue him from embarrassment. The bidding was up to $3,000, when Mayo jumped in with the winning bid of $3,300.
He’s now waiting for Mayo to inform him of her plans for the date, and he hopes she “plans something fun.”
Christian Hellmers, second place winner for two years in the largest real money handicapping tournament, the Breeders Cup Betting Challenge (combined winnings for 2011-2012 were over $270,000), had the scariest job of the evening. He was hip #1.
He made a spirited showing and a racing partnership of four women, at least one a Del Mar real estate agent, prevailed. Hellmers promised to make up the $500 bid with his superior handicapping skills during a weekend afternoon in his box at the track. “We’ll have a fun...time,” he promised.
Trevor Denman, Del Mar’s track announcer and Frank Mirahmadi, a racecaller at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas were the team of auctioneers.
According to Gregson President Jenine Sahadi, retired trainer and Del Mar resident, “One hundred percent of our money from fundraisers goes directly into the scholarship fund.”