Bobby Flay already is in a small club as a world famous chef/restaurateur/TV personality and racehorse owner/breeder. But on Saturday he will dip his ladle into another related line of work: sports analyst.
NBC will include him in its coverage of the Whitney Stakes from Saratoga, not as a chef — a role he played on NBC at the Kentucky Derby in May — but rather as a horseracing expert.
So what was he thinking on Thursday as he prepared for the gig? That it would be cool, fun, nerve-racking, perhaps?
“I think all of the above,” he said, laughing. “I’ve done partial things like this before, but not on NBC Sports at this magnitude, being surrounded by people who are incredibly professional at this.
“That said, I have been doing television for 20 years, so that’s not really going to be the issue.”
Neither will his knowledge of the sport, not only as a breeder and owner but as a member of the Board of Directors of both the New York Racing Association and Breeders’ Cup.
Horseracing fans not previously aware of his passion for the sport became so in June of 2016, when three days after he bought a piece of Creator, the horse won the Belmont Stakes.
“It’s the most important race in New York, obviously,” said Flay, who grew up in Manhattan. “I had all of my friends and my daughter there. We didn’t expect it to happen. I think we were like 16- or 17-1.
“We all just looked at each other and said, ‘Wow, we just won the Belmont Stakes. This is ridiculous.’ We kept pinching ourselves for the next two weeks.”
Creator lives in retirement in Japan now. Flay has not had a chance to visit him but said, “He’s doing his stallion job apparently very well.”
The game goes on, with the summer focus turning, as always, to Saratoga, where Flay first fell in love with the sport.
“My grandfather took me there when I was a kid and I sort of never looked back,” he said. “When I take people to Saratoga who’ve never been there before, they can’t even believe it exists. There’s some aura about it. I guess a lot of it has to do with the fact it’s been there forever.
“There’s that old-world charm. It’s a beautiful town. Everybody is walking around smiling. You can get very close to the horses no matter who you are. You can get very close to the jockeys no matter who you are. It gives you a very intimate look into a sport that’s always in some ways been sort of a little hard to get close to.”
Flay said he feels accepted by the horseracing world, even if most of the world knows him from another field.
“I participate at every level in the horse business,” he said. “I’m at the sales, I’m not just on the telephone. I’m at the tracks in the morning watching the workouts and talking to the trainers. I certainly feel part of the community.
“That said, I think that horse players or people who bet on racing are skeptical of anybody who gives out their thoughts. That’s just part of the program. And that’s OK. I have thousands of critics every day of my life eating in my restaurants. It sort of goes with the territory.”
Flay, 52, said people in the food business often are surprised by his interest in horses.
“It’s certainly not as in the mainstream as I’d like it to be; we’re always trying to make that happen more,” he said. “I’m always trying to further people’s participation, because I know when I take people to a big race on a fun day they’re hooked on the sport. It’s just getting people aware of it. It’s part of what I like to do with my life.”
Flay has had extensive TV experience, not only on food-related programs but appearing on shows such as HBO’s “Entourage” as himself. He said he has spoken to NBC colleagues for sports TV tips, but he does not expect it to be all that different from his other television work.
“I think it’s a conversation,” he said. “I think people that do a good job on television are good because they know what they’re talking about and are confident in it. So when I do a cooking demonstration and I pick up a lemon, I’m pretty comfortable with it. I have a lot of experience with a lemon. I can make 300 dishes with lemons in it and can talk about it.
“I’ve been going to New York racetracks since I was in high school. It’s something I follow on a daily basis, both here and abroad. I pay very close attention to what’s going on, because I’m also in the breeding business. So I know just about as much as the next guy who pays attention to the sport and I can talk about it because I’ve experienced it.
“I think that’s the most important thing. I don’t have to study a lot about this. I know the players, I know the horses, I know how they run, especially the big ones. We’re not talking about claiming races here, we’re talking about stakes races at Saratoga.
“So when you have horses like Keen Ice and Gun Runner and the like, I mean, I’ve watched them run for the last three years and am pretty intimate with how they run.”
Flay said he will work alongside Laffit Pincay III, son of Hall of Fame jockey Laffit Pincay Jr.
“He’s one of the best in the business and I think that having him next to me is going to make me feel comfortable as well,” he said.
Might he want to do more of this after Saturday?
“It’s definitely something I would certainly consider if I could add something,” Flay said. “We’ll see. Why not? It’s certainly one of my passions in life. I’ve been lucky enough to have a career that involves my passion of food, so why not consider doing the same with thoroughbred horses?”