Those of a certain vintage may remember Graham Kerr, who was one of the first and most entertaining cooks ever to appear on TV. Yet Bobby Flay is undoubtedly the latter-day Galloping Gourmet.
The American TV icon and celebrity chef is hoping to bring a little special sauce to the Royal meeting with star filly Pizza Bianca.
She is set to take on the likes of respective English and Irish 1,000 Guineas heroines Cachet and Homeless Songs in a mouthwatering renewal of the Group One Coronation Stakes.
Jose Ortiz will continue his partnership with Pizza Bianca, following their Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies’ Turf success at Del Mar in November.
Though Flay has recently bought into We The People, who runs in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, the owner-breeder has his eyes firmly fixed on the lady in his life who arrived on this side of the pond on Tuesday.
“She is a good traveller,” said Flay. “She has never run on the same racetrack twice. She has had five races and every racetrack has been different, so she carries the track with her.
“It was a long travel. She had to go from Belmont to Kentucky, then had to do some quarantining. Then she had to go to Indianapolis, got on a plane, flew to Stansted and from there to Newmarket. That is a long, two-and-a-half-day trip.
“She seems great, knock on wood. She travelled incredibly well. She is with Luca Cumani – that is a legendary moment right there!”
Flay, best known for popular American competitive cookery shows Beat Bobby Flay and Iron Chef and who owns restaurants in Las Vegas, New York and Atlantic City, unsuccessfully tried to win the Coronation Stakes in 2011 with More Than Real, giving him a hunger to win this race more than any other.
“A lot of people here want to win the Kentucky Derby, but I’d rather win the Kentucky Oaks or the Coronation Stakes, as those are the races I am interested in,” he said.
“This is like my Derby. This is the race I want to win, because I race fillies on the grass more than anything else. So just being a part of it feels like I am a winner.
“If she happened to get lucky and something special happened, it would be amazing. I don’t know how I would react. I am not really preparing for that, put it that way.”
Flay got into racing when his grandfather took him to Saratoga as a teenager.
“We think of it as a magical place and it is,” he added.
“Saratoga is one of those places where if you haven’t been and you show up for the first time, you are hooked on the place. I actually just bought a house there last year that’s right on the training track. I love it up there.”
Yet he insists Royal Ascot takes some beating. “The experience of this is what it is all about. When you have a horse like this, she can take you to different experiences all over the world and to me, Royal Ascot is the pinnacle,” he added.
Flay bred the Fastnet Rock filly, who is named after an Italian pizza sans tomato sauce, after purchasing the dam, White Hot – a half-sister to Pour Moi – as a yearling.
“She was a very expensive yearling filly. I forget what it was in guineas, but it was over $2million. She never ran,” Flay added.
“She didn’t show the same promise as her pedigree in terms of talent. John Gosden had her. He felt that since she had such a wonderful pedigree, let’s make her useful in that direction.
“I bought the dam because I wanted to be into that family and obviously she is by Galileo, and she is beautiful. She was picked out by (bloodstock agent) James Delahooke.
“Once that happens and they don’t run, it’s usually a long climb uphill. So, to get a first foal who turned out to be a Breeders’ Cup winner is obviously an amazing moment.
“I always say, ‘the good blood shows up eventually’. If they have it in them, at some point, if you are patient, it will show up – you just don’t know when.
“And obviously you don’t ever think it will ever be the first foal – you can hope but… so that has been a really nice surprise.”
Pizza Bianca, who is trained by Christophe Clement, has already beaten Cachet and subsequent French Group Three scorer Malavath, yet is considered a general 16-1 chance for the Coronation Stakes, which is part of the Qipco British Champions Series.
Far from aggrieved, Flay is just happy to have a horse good enough to compete at the top level and take part in the meeting he describes as “the creme de la creme of racing events”.
“To me, there is nothing like seeing a home-bred win a race, period. Even more specifically, a big race like the Breeders’ Cup,” added Flay.
“The fact that I’m just participating at Royal Ascot with her, I win! To me, I’ve already won. The fact that she is going to be able to just compete with basically the best fillies in the world, I know we are going to have an incredible time.
“If she runs well, that is going to be even better, but I just love the fact I can participate in a race like that.”
The form of the Breeders’ Cup win has been franked and Pizza Bianca showed she has trained on when taking the Hilltop Stakes at Pimlico in her second start of her three-year-old campaign.
“Obviously when they go from two to three things can change, but so far it seems she is definitely in the mix and that, to me, is the most important thing,” Flay said.
“She has got a little taller and has definitely got stronger.
“In January, after we gave her some time off in Florida, I went to see her and I was like, ‘she hasn’t grown a lot,’ and then over the last couple of months, she has had a growth spurt. They are like babies. I think she is really coming into her own now.”
Racing and breeding may be a welcome release from the high-pressure environment of a professional kitchen, yet Flay will cast a watchful eye on the many culinary delights on offer next week, not least the fare at London’s Borough Market, “where I could spend all day,” he said, before admitting he probably will on Thursday.
“Food and beverage is obviously an important part to my life and Royal Ascot do it right. It is spectacular. I wish some of the American tracks would do it that way. It is like going to a beautiful wedding.
“For someone like me, I really love the pageantry and the tradition of horse racing and I love the formality of Royal Ascot.”
He added: “I don’t know if Pizza Bianca can beat these very talented fillies. Every one of these fillies is stacked with talent and whoever shows up that day is probably going to win the race – that’s how it works. But I love the competition of it and the sporting part of it.”
There has not yet been an American winner of the Coronation, although with the Graham Motion-trained Spendarella also expected to be in the line-up, the home team may not have things all their own way.
This generation’s Galloping Gourmet is hopeful Pizza Bianca can top a memorable Platinum Jubilee renewal, yet Flay cannot wait to drink in the atmosphere, regardless of the outcome.
“Royal Ascot is special. My girlfriend has been spending the last two months trying to figure out what she is going to wear.
“For me, that’s the exciting part of it, spending some time in London. The race is a minute and 38 seconds, but everything that goes around it is part of it – and I can’t wait.
“I just want to get one scream in there – then I will be happy!”