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Cafe Del Mar owner has passion for racing

By Julie Sarno

Steve Kranhold, owner of the Cafe Del Mar restaurant in Del Mar, has lived in the city for 46 years - long enough to know that where summer is concerned; horseracing rules.

The restaurant is his business and the place where he spends most of his time, but racing is his passion. About 10 years ago, Kranhold and several others put together Lucky K Stables. Kranhold said the original partners included Keith Wagner of Leucadia, Robert Lusitana of Encinitas and Jeff Ward of Rancho Santa Fe. There are more partners involved now as the cost of maintaining a horse in training has increased over the years. “With vet bills, it averages about $5,000 per month now,” said the restaurateur.

“We have a buddy who got us into this,” said Kranhold, “Scott McClellan. He’s the (jockey) agent for Alex Solis and Joe Talamo. He was (Hall of Fame jockey) Chris McCarron’s agent when we started.

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Kranhold first went to the races with his grandfather. He remembers seeing beloved pianist, singer, comedian and actor Jimmy Durante fishing on the beach and other celebrities in town. Known as the “Honorary Mayor” of Del Mar, Durante was memorialized when the street bordering the eastern edge of the fairgrounds was named for him. Nowadays award-winning songwriter Burt Bacharach and comedian Tim Conway, a veteran of the Carol Burnett show, are among the regulars at the seaside track each year.

“Without the racetrack, this town would not be here,” said Kranhold. “Desi Arnaz, Bing Crosby, they owned homes here. The racetrack gives this town its character. The track gives this town seven weeks of different life.”

Currently, Lucky K Stable has two horses in training with trainer Jeff Mullins, Drewthegentleman and High Command. Mullins captured the training title at Del Mar in 2005 and finished second in the standings at Del Mar to Doug O’Neill in both 2006 and 2007. Mullins is held in high regard by Lucky K Stable and has always trained their horses.

“When I claimed their first horse for them, I said, ‘Now we’ll see how lucky Lucky K is,’” said Mullins outside his barn at Del Mar.

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Kranhold relishes the horse ownership experience.

“We’re an eccentric group. Some of the guys are real characters. The one thing we have in common is we love going to the races.”

Even if he did not own horses, Kranhold says he would be at the races.

“If people have not been to the races, they’re missing something,” he said. “It’s exciting. You don’t have to bet to have fun. And I think people who bet $2 have just as much fun as someone who bets $100.”