COLUMBUS (WCMH) — If you watched the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago, you may have noticed a familiar name across the winning horse’s saddle. Justify and jockey Mike Smith were branded with the name Jeff Ruby across them.
Jeff Ruby opened up his latest restaurant here in Columbus back in December and is well-known for his restaurant businesses in and around Ohio.
You see his name across his restaurants like the one in downtown Columbus, but Jeff Ruby is known for much more than steaks and fine dining. He donates to many charities, and you’ll actually see the horse he sponsors running in the Preakness this weekend.
“I was at the Derby and I was in the jockey room and the guys came up to me and said, ‘we want to wear Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse on our pants,'” Ruby says. “That costs a lot of money to sponsor the Derby. I said, ‘I cant, I’m not Chrysler Motors, I cant pay you guys.’ They said, ‘We don’t want any money. We’ll just do it to have your brand. We love your restaurant. That’s how the whole thing started .”
That’s how Ruby began sponsoring horses 8 years ago, but he didn’t want to do it for free. Instead, he donated money to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.
“Because those jockeys that have been fallen, paralyzed riding a horse, they get nothing,” Ruby says. “They are in wheelchairs and quadriplegics, some of them paraplegics, and they get nothing. It’s not like any other major sport. Ronnie Turcott, who won the Triple Crown with Secretariat, he would come in our restaurant in a wheelchair, and he’s in a wheelchair because (of a) fall from a horse and he has no income, no disability, they have nothing. So that’s how I started to help that and we still do. And now I pay the jockeys.”
Ruby says he worked as a bookie his freshman year of high school.
“I’ve been a horse racing fan my whole life,” he says. “I worked at Monmouth Park when I was a kid in New Jersey, and I booked the Derby as a bookie my freshman year of high school. The kids at Neptune High School in New Jersey would come in, I’d say, ‘you want to bet on a horse? Two dollars.'”
He said luckily a horse won that no one bet one so therefore he — the house — won. At that time, he did not know his own name would be on the side of a winning horse in the Kentucky Derby.
Ruby opened his first restaurant in 1981 and is known for taking care of his employees and donating to many charities along the way.
“If you’re fortunate enough, you ought to give some of it back to the community that gave it to you in the first place,” he said.
He held a benefit in March for the two fallen Westerville Police Officers, Officer Morelli and officer Joering.
“I mean, dying in the line of duty, they risk their lives every day to save our lives, so that’s why we do that we raised 100,000 for those families,” he says.
He’s wanted a restaurant in Columbus for some time.
“This is a city we’ve wanted to be in for years. Columbus is the friendliest people.”
Ruby says Justify may have an advantage Saturday if the weather is bad, like it was at the Kentucky Derby.
“It’s supposed to rain and it was horrible rain in Lexington and Justify won in the mud, and my pants and Mike never got muddy,” Ruby said. “So if it rains (at) the Preakness that shouldn’t be a factor for him, might be an advantage for him.”
The Preakness is this Saturday with coverage starting at 5pm right here on NBC4.