Flay, Repole and Plank Show It’s Hip To Own A Horse

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Case Clay of The New York Times…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

A Toast to Horse Racing, With a Classic Twist

Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and Cary Grant had more than one thing in common. They were not only entertainers, but they were horse racing enthusiasts, fans and owners. As a 37 year old who has grown up in the horse industry, I often hear folks talk about the “good old days” and how these three men created a great allure to horse racing, making it hip to own a horse.

When I hear this sort of chatter the next time, I will let the folks know there is a chance for “good new days” ahead.

On Saturday at Belmont Park, hours before the third leg of the Triple Crown, the modern-day, business version of the Crosby/Astaire/Grant trio got together for the first time in the same room and shared a drink. I got the feeling it won’t be the last. Three young horse owners, the celebrity chef Bobby Flay (age 46), the Under Armour founder and chief executive Kevin Plank (age 38) and the co-founder of Vitaminwater Mike Repole (age 42), are the new faces of horse racing, and it’s quite refreshing.

Each of the entrepreneurs is fun and engaging, each has earned a coveted Breeders’ Cup victory, each has built internationally recognized brands, but most importantly, they share a genuine passion for horse racing as a sport and will do whatever it takes to let people know that if you don’t own a racehorse, you’re missing an unbelievable opportunity.

“We love to promote,” Plank said, “and the three of us are getting together and saying ‘We want other people to take interest in this game that was once the most popular sport in America and say, ‘Why not again?’”

Individually, their intensity and enthusiasm is infectious, but together, when discussing horse racing, their enthusiasm rises to another level, and their love of horse racing is off the charts.

“It’s an unbelievable game,” Plank said. “There’s nothing like watching the horses coming down the stretch and crossing the finish line. And no matter what the odds, short or long, the winning is contagious and the beauty of the horse is something you can’t express. It is the prettiest thing I have ever dealt with in my life.”

The nice thing about Repole, Flay and Plank is they don’t take themselves too seriously either. As the discussion continues, I’m imagining Crosby, Astaire and Grant doing the same thing years ago, as these three gentlemen playfully weave verbal pokes back and forth to one another in jest as if they have known each other forever. They quickly maneuver between seriously passionate and hilarious zingers, which become fun to watch.

Repole and Plank, who had Stay Thirsty and Monzon, respectively, in the Belmont Stakes, asked Flay which horse would win the Belmont, each giving him a look that their horse better be mentioned. Without missing a beat, Flay smiled and said, “Santiva, definitely,” which immediately earned the payoff laugh from the other two guys.

Flay then switches back to serious and answers my question about what it was like to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf with his filly, More Than Real.

“I’ve probably watched the race replay 300 times,” Flay said. “Actually I watched the replay this morning. I had about 12 people over to my house for brunch and we showed it to the guests. Somebody at the table said, ‘You can’t bottle that feeling.’ He’s right, you can’t bottle it. For me, it didn’t feel real, so I always have to watch the replay to make sure it actually happened.”

Repole comes back right on cue, “You had 12 people over for brunch, and we weren’t invited? Kevin, do you believe that?”

Plank responds, “Bobby, are you a cook or something?”

Repole pulls it right back to the passion and what he loves about horse racing. “This is what racing is about,” Repole says as he points to his 80 friends and family gathered at tables behind him. This is a celebration today,” he continues. “Whether my horse comes in 1st or 12th, it doesn’t matter. This is what racing can be about. You can come here and have a great time, spend $200, get something to eat, and possibly walk out of here with a thousand dollars. You go to a great restaurant with $200, and you’re not coming out with possibly more money in your pocket, especially if it’s one of Bobby’s restaurants!”

Flay laughs.

While they are riffing, I can see their minds moving, using what made their businesses successful to promote horse racing.

“For young guys in horse racing, the luck we have is more like a naiveté, which I promote more than anything,” Plank says. “Don’t tell me what can’t happen or what has to happen. Hopefully we can pick up a lot of trophies and have other people say, ‘I’d like to do that, too.’”

Plank, Flay and Repole were all underdogs at one point in their self-made lives. When you talk to them, you get the sense that they embrace the challenge of promoting a sport, which, like any sport (disputes and lockout discussions in the N.F.L. and N.B.A.) has its challenges; and will not let horse racing go away on their watch.

“It’s too important to let it go away,” Flay says. “We’re doing our best in this game, and we want this game to be the best it can be.”

These guys are winners and their attitudes are contagious, which is a good combination for horse racing.

“We wouldn’t have gotten into it if we thought it was going to lose,” Plank adds.

Repole, Plank and Flay don’t know what the future holds, but that certainly doesn’t stop them from dreaming. On Saturday, Flay’s filly ran a solid third in the Grade I Acorn, and he’s off to Royal Ascot to watch his Breeders’ Cup winning filly run. Repole’s horses ran third in the Grade II True North Handicap and second in the Belmont Stakes. And although Plank’s underdog didn’t take the Belmont this year, don’t bet against his long shots (his Breeders’ Cup winner was 46-1).

In the Crosby, Astaire, Grant days, it was hip to own a horse. Thanks to Bobby Flay, Mike Repole and Kevin Plank, it’s getting hip again.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

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