Cooking and Racing
By Bill Heller
The afternoon of an early August Monday at Saratoga Race Course, celebrated chef Bobby Flay Spoke of his passion about Thoroughbred racing.
Several hours later, he backed it up, spending half a million dollars to purchase an unnamed bay filly by Mr. Greeley out of the Red Ransom mare Redmond at the Saratoga Fasig-Tipton Yearling Sale.
Earlier in the summer, Flay purchased the highest-priced
filly in the Fasig-Tipton Mid-Atlantic Two-Year-Olds-In
Training Sale: an unnamed daughter of Successful Appeal
out of Foxy Coxy by Deputy Minister.
“To me, I’m not trying to win the Kentucky Derby,” said
Flay, whose first visit to a racetrack came when he was 12
and his grandfather, Willie Flay, took him to Belmont Park.
“If you said to me – ‘What race do you want to win?’ -it’d
be the (Kentucky) Oaks, because I’m trying to get my hands
on really well-bred fillies. I like the whole breeding part of it.
I like the fact than I can kind of control their destinies after
their racing career. To me, there’s a lot about that, both from
a moral standpoint and also from a business standpoint. So
I’m much more into pedigree fillies than trying to get lucky
to win the Kentucky Derby.”
His new Mr. Greely filly fits his profile. Her fourth
dam, Court Circuit, third dam, Avichi, and second dam,
Missymooiloveyou, all won on the track and produced black-
type (stakes-winning) progeny. Her first dam, Redmond,
won $83,565 on the track. This is Redmond’s first foal. If the
Mr. Greely filly continues her maternal family’s success on
the track and off, her value could be astronomical.
“I think he’s got a very logical game plan for what he wants
to do, purchase fillies with residual value to incorporate into a
broodmare band.” his trainer Todd Pletcher, who is pursuing
his fifth consecutive Eclipse Award, said. “He’s obviously very
enthusiastic about it. He enjoys it. He’s great to deal with and he’s fun to be around. As an added bonus, we occasionally get to eat in one of his restaurants … mmmm, Bobby Burgers.”
That’s how Pletcher and Flay hooked up – over a meal.
For Flay, what could have been more natural than that?Without his fascination for cooking, Flay could have been just another high-school dropout. “I got thrown out of school a couple times and I dropped out a couple times,” he said. “School was not my strong suit. I just didn’t have any interest in it. After the ninth grade, I had no interest, so I basically stopped going in the 10th or 11th grade and got an equivalency diploma when I was 17 or 18. I had to, to go to culinary school.”
Flay didn’t just attend culinary school, he jump-started a
career which has yet to stop climbing.
The 43-year-old native of New York City began by taking
a job making salads at Joe Allen Restaurant in New York’s
Theatre District, where his father was a partner, and where a
picture of the triple dead-heat in the 1944 Carter Handicap
Allen was so impressed by Flay’s natural ability that he
decided to pay his tuition at the French Culinary Institute in
New York City. Flay was a member of the French Culinary
Institute’s first graduating class in 1984, and began working as
a sous-chef, studying under his mentor, Ishaan Gupta. A week
later, the executive chef was fired and Flay was handed the
executive chef’s position, one he felt he wasn’t ready to accept.
Instead, he began working as a chef for restaurateur
Jonathan Waxman at Bud and James. Waxman introduced
him to southwestern cuisine, which became his specialty. Flay
also worked for a short time on the floor of the American
From 1988 to 1990, Flay worked as the executive chef at Miracle Grill in the East Village, catching the attention of restaurateur Jerome Kretchmer, who was seeking a southwestern-oriented chef. Duly impressed, Kretchmer hired Flay to be the executive chef at Mesa Grill, which opened on January 15th, 1991. Soon afterwards, Flay became a partner.
In 1993, Flay partnered with Laurence Kretchmer to open Bolo Bar & Restaurant just a few blocks from Mesa Grill. The restaurant closed last December 31st to make way for a high-rise.
Today, Flay is the owner and executive chef of five restaurants: Mesa Grill, and Bar American in New York City, Mesa Grill in Las Vegas, Mesa Grill in the Bahamas and Bobby Flay Steak in Atlantic
City. Bobby’s Burger Palace on Long Island, which obviously has
been frequented by Pletcher. Flay said his favorite cooking category is shellfish: “I love cooking things like lobster and scallops and crabs.”
The restaurants are just one manifestation of Flay’s success. He has hosted seven cooking shows and specials on the Food Network, cooked with Emeril Lagasse on his show “Emeril Live” and Paula Deen on her program “Paula’s Party,” and been an Iron Chef since the show’s inception in fourth anniversary of their first date.
He’s made other numerous television and movie appearances, authored several cookbooks, received numerous awards including an Emmy and the French Culinary Institute. Outstanding Graduate Award, and been a master instructor and visiting chef at the French Culinary Institute.
He’s also given back to the industry, by establishing in 2003 the Bobby Flay Scholarship, a full scholarship to the French Culinary Institute, awarded annually to a student in the Long Island City Culinary Arts Program. He personally helps select the winner each year.
He feels fortunate to be at a point in his life where he is able to do that. And his passion for cooking continues. “I just love it,” he said. “I got lucky. I got lucky when I was young enough to realize I could actually make a living in something I really wanted to do.
“This was when food wasn’t really a big deal in the country, Now it is. Thankfully. we’re like the last country to catch up. Up until 15 years ago. food wasn’t important in the country. And Now it is. But, if you go to Europe, it’s been that way for hundreds of years. It’s part of who the people are and how the entertain themselves and they take it seriously. Now a lot of America does that, but at the time when I started cooking it was still a blue collar profession. Now to be a chef, there’s more to glamour to it. I guess.” He has contributed to that. when asked if he considers himself to be a celebrity, he responded, Celebrity is a strong word and I think it gets thrown around way too much. to me Robert De Niro is a celebrity. I’m a personality in my restaurants, a personality on television and in my writing, but I think celebrity is a strong word.
Not for my wife, actress Stephanie March, who starred on Law & Order. Special Victims Unit.” March’s co-star Mariaka Hargitay set the pair up on a blind date in March 2001. Flay who had been married twice previously, proposed to March while they were ice skating at Rockerfeller Center on December 19th 2003 and they were wed February 20th, 2005, on the fourth anniversary of there first date.
But there is another passion in Flay’s life: horses. “When I was 12, my grandfather had a summer house in Long Branch,” Flay said. “And one thing I learned about him in short order was that if there was a cloud in the sky,we weren’t going to the beach.we are going to Belmont. He loved the races and he loved going to Belmont at Saratoga.That’s where I was introduced to it.
“My father liked the horses, but not like my grandfather did. I vividly remember Belmont Park being my first introduction, But I think that Saratoga basically made me really fall in love with it.”
“In the 70’s, when I was a kid and a teenager, racing was bigger than it is today. there were no casinos to compete with. there was no Atlantic City. That was the form of gambling entertainment.”
Flay was only eight-years-old when Secretariat became the
first Triple Crown winner in 25 years in 1973, to be followed by Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed, ridden by Steve Cauthen in 1978. Secretariat, I can barley remember being totally into the Steve Cauthen story.
Seventeen years old and he’s winning the Triple Crown.” Flay’s continuing career success allowed him to become a Thoroughbred owner, and he was a co-owner of multiple graded stakes winners, Wonder Again, and Unbridled Express, who finished third in the 2006 Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes.
“I had small pieces of other people’s horses, but I never really considered them mine,” he said. “The first horse I bought on my own at auction was only a couple years ago.”
In March of 2006, Flay purchased a filly by Rahy, out of
the Lyphard mare Lady Tabitha for $205,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Match, 2006, Two-Year-Olds-in-training Sale. He named the horse Sophie’s Salad for his daughter Sophie, now 12. Sophie’s Salad has raced exclusively on turf.
Initially trained by Jimmy Toner in New York, Sophie’s
Salad raced twice as a two-year-old at Saratoga, finishing
third by three-quarters of a length in an impressive debut, then a badly-tiring ninth with Lasix and blinkers added.
At three, Pletcher would be Sophie’s Salad trainer. Flay and Pletcher got to spend time together after one of Pletcher’s most successful owners, James Scatuorchio, whose top horses included 2007 Eclipse Champion Turf Horse English Channel, successfully bid at a charity event on a dining experience for eight with Bobby Flay at his apartment. Scatuorchio brought along Pletcher.
“I knew Todd from being around the track, but after
spending an evening with him in my apartment and drinking lots of wine, it made me realize that I wanted to be in his program,” Flay said “There’s lots of great trainers, but I think of him as a great horseman. He’s up on his pony. He’s checked every single horse. I just feel like if you’re able to come up with a good horse, you want it to be in somebody like Todd’s hands.”
Flay became one of hundreds who marvel at Pletcher’s memory and attention to detail: “I always heard, even before I was in the business with Todd, that he had this crazy mind where once he knows something, that’s the end of it. The thing that’s amazing to me about Todd is that you can run into him, without him knowing he’s going to run into you, and he can tell you what your horses did today, what they’re going to do tomorrow, what race they’re pointed for and what ailments they have. It’s frightening. It’s amazing. Everybody says the same thing about him.
Pletcher took over Sophie’s Salad’s training last year and t
she finished fourth in her three-year-old debut at Belmont Park, then won her first race, a maiden at Saratoga, July 20th. She finished third and second in allowance company and was given the winter off.
In her four-year-old debut at Belmont, she had the misfortune of drawing the 11 post and then getting bumped at the start. Still, she made the lead late, before weakening to fifth. She followed that with an easy allowance victory, and then, in her initial stakes appearance, finished a game second by half a length to Beau Dare in the $60,000 Klassy Briefcase Stakes at Monmouth Park on July 19th. Beau Dare had to match the track record to keep Sophie’s Salad at bay. Finishing second in a stakes achieved Flay’s objective: “She’s black-type,” he said. “That’s really the game I’m in.
”He has four other horses with Pletcher: Lacadena, who’s pedigree includes ties to Rags to Riches, Grace and Power, who was second in last year’s Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet Stakes, Smokin’ Stephanie and a two-year-old named The Mayor. “Smokin’ Stephanie is a Smoke Glacken that’s slow,”Flay said. “I named her after my wife. That wasn’t good.”
He also owns at least fifty percent of five or six mares and a handful of foals.
.For a relatively new owner, Flay received an incredible honor when he was nominated to the Breeders’ Cup Board of Directors earlier this year, though he was not elected. “There are obviously some things that this game is lacking having nothing to do with horse racing, like marketing, media and hospitality,” Flay said. “So I think that the idea was that maybe I could help them on that, in that arena.
”He may get that chance again. He will be in Thoroughbred racing for the rest of his life.“I love the competition of it,” he said. “To me, it’s like a giant puzzle and it kind of drives me. Obviously, it doesn’t always work out the way you want to, but that’s part of it.”More than anything, he is struck by the beauty and” majesty of the Thoroughbred. “I just love being around them,” he said. “I love watching them run.”