10/23/2005 11:00PM

Wonder Again high on chef-owner's menu

BC Mile contender Leroidesanimaux works Monday on the soggy Belmont turf. "It's like a sponge," rider John Velazquez said after the work. "You can hear them going squish, squish."

ELMONT, N.Y. - The celebrity chef Bobby Flay makes the Triple Crown and the Breeders' Cup annual events on his sporting calendar. This Saturday, for his trip to the Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park, Flay is going not as a fan, but as the owner of a top contender.

Earlier this month, Flay and Richard Santulli bought half ownership in Wonder Again, 6, the millionaire Grade 1 winner who starts in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Breeders Joan and John Phillips will continue to own half-interest in the mare.

For Flay, 41, the purchase gives new direction to his fascination with Thoroughbred breeding, as Wonder Again is scheduled to be retired later this year.

"The more I learn, the more I'm interested in the breeding," Flay said Monday morning from his office in Manhattan. "The racing part, I don't want to say it's secondary, but there is less of a push toward that. Hopefully, at some point, we'll be racing horses that I breed. I love the whole family tree of it. I think it's really interesting. It makes it more of an investment not only from a financial point of view but emotional."

Flay, who operates popular restaurants in New York and has a television show on the Food Network, is being advised by horseman Barry Weisbord.

While commitments to his restaurants remain time-consuming, Flay greatly enjoys a day at the track.

"I can't remember the last time I missed the Travers," he said.

The recent purchase of Wonder Again goes along with Flay's existing ownership of shares in stallions such as Distorted Humor, Songandaprayer, and Successful Appeal, Weisbord said.

"The deal we did is primarily a breeding deal," Weisbord said of the Wonder Again transaction. "Having a race at the tail end was an added bonus.

"We're excited about being involved in a breeding deal. It's a special kind of mare. You don't often get an opportunity of a combination of Grade 1 ability and that kind of pedigree, family history, and good conformation - it's expensive."

A few weeks ago, Weisbord and Flay spent a morning at Belmont Park, inspecting Wonder Again. Belmont Park is familiar territory to Flay. He went there as a child with his grandfather.

"I think, like anybody else who is an outsider, the first thing that gets you interested is the racing," Flay said. "As I've learned more about the industry, particularly from Barry, there are things that have a longer term investment that make sense from a business standpoint."

A few years ago, Flay owned other horses that were trained by James Toner, who trains Wonder Again. Flay says he became an admirer of both Wonder Again and Toner.

"The horse comes first. I love the environment in his barn because of that," Flay said of Toner. "I got to watch Wonder Again grow up in the barn when I saw my horses."

On Saturday, he may help lead her into the winner's circle at Belmont Park.

So, how splendid is the grass?

Belmont Park suddenly has turned two weeks ago from a parched land into a monsoon zone, since some 18 inches of rain have fallen. Sure, the turf course was dry and needed water. But hasn't anyone heard of too much of a good thing?

On Monday, five days before the Breeders' Cup, which has three grass races, there was no danger of anyone complaining of a hard, fast course. Instead, the question is, How wet will the turf be when the big races roll around?

And the answer depends on whom you ask, and how much additional rain falls before Saturday. Forecasters appeared all but certain that at least an inch was coming between Monday and Tuesday night. After that, the track Hurricane Wilma takes moving up the East Coast might determine how much more rain falls.

The jockey John Velazquez was out on the turf Wednesday morning, working Breeders' Cup Mile favorite Leroidesanimaux, and while he said his mount traveled well enough over the going, he described the turf as very wet.

"It's like a sponge," he said. "You can hear them going squish, squish. It hasn't dried out at all as of right now."

But John Passero, Belmont's track superintendent, said he is pleased at the condition of the course.

"I'm happy where we're at," Passero said. "If it was raining on Breeders' Cup Day, I'd still be happy with the turf."

Passero doesn't think the course is especially water-laden, and, in fact, believes the rainy spell has helped.

"The best thing that happened was we got the horses off it, we got some rain on it, and the cooler temperatures helped," he said. "Those roots took a kicking over the summer, with all the drought. I stuck a probe down before all this rain - we had moisture down about 3 and 4 inches, and a foot down it was powder. Now, it was moist down a foot. It's perfect."

Lord of the Game never better

Lord of the Game, who shipped from Chicago on Thursday, worked like a horse worthy of a shot in the Breeders' Cup Classic, going four furlongs Monday morning in 46.09 seconds, third-best of 129 works at the distance.

"Matter of fact, he worked super, is what he did," said trainer Tom Tomillo. "He galloped out in 59, and he did it like he always does. He came back like it was nothing."

But Lord of the Game could have turned in the best work in the history of the sport, and he is still going to need a defection before entries are taken Wednesday in order to get into the Classic. Right now, Lord of the Game is the 15th horse in a field capped at 14. If the situation holds, Lord of the Game leaves Wednesday for Saturday's Fayette Handicap at Keeneland.

"We just need somebody's little misfortune to be our luck," Tomillo said.

"If nothing else, we'll have had a nice week's vacation."

Henny Hughes to run on Lasix

Henny Hughes, who did not race on Lasix in his first five starts, will run on the anti-bleeding medication in the $1.5 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Monday.

McLaughlin said that an endoscopic examination following a gallop last week showed "a speck of blood. Maybe it was from the stress of shipping. It's not a big deal, but enough."

McLaughlin took over the training of Henny Hughes from Patrick Biancone on Oct. 10, two days after Henny Hughes finished second in the Grade 1 Champagne.

Henny Hughes joins his nemesis, First Samurai, as horses who will be running on Lasix for the first time in the Juvenile. Three European horses are pre-entered for the Juvenile, and often they run on Lasix for the first time in this country.

- additional reporting by David Grening and Marcus Hersh