Bobby Flay will tell you the first thing he thinks about each day is food. Once he steps away from the kitchen, though, his attention often turns toward horses, specifically thoroughbreds. Think stakes, not steaks.

An owner of thoroughbred racehorses, Flay was recently in the winners circle with Dame Dorothy at Kentucky’s storied Churchill Downs. He also sits on the board of directors of the New York Racing Assn. and is one of 15 celebrity Breeders’ Cup ambassadors.

“I’ve been a fan of horse racing ever since I was a kid,” Flay told Variety at last year’s Breeders Cup at Santa Anita. “My father took me to Saratoga Springs race track as a kid and I’ve been a fan ever since.”

More importantly, Flay has become the celebrity face of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, the country’s oldest and largest thoroughbred rescue group, which places horses at prisons for inmates to learn new professional and personal skills through the care of horses.

“The great thing for us as a charitable organization is that (Flay) has an equal passion for all racehorses after their careers are over,” says Sue Finley, publisher of the Thoroughbred Daily News. Since 1998, she also has been chair of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s largest fund-raising event — a dinner for 650 people that raises between $400,000 and $500,000 for the organization. Overall the charity, founded in 1983, raises about $3 million annually to cover the costs of the horses and their care.

“Someone introduced Bobby to me in 1999 and I asked if he would donate a unique experience,” says Finley, first VP of the foundation from 1998 to 2010. The first year, Flay offered a table for eight at one of his restaurants followed by a cooking lesson. The next year’s offerings was a brunch at the winner’s home. The following year was a home barbecue that raised $20,000.

Eventually, Flay offered to cook the food and staff the event; the last two years, the dinner has been held at his Bar Americain in New York. The TRF honored Flay in 2013 with its Earle I. Mack Thoroughbred Champion Award.

Finley tells the story of a time when a trainer disagreed with the care a horse that Flay once owned was receiving in Ohio. The TFR alerted Flay and he promptly bought back the horse and got it into the program.

“The horse is now living on a farm in Kentucky,” says Finley. “People try to put that aspect of the business out of their minds but Bobby cares for horses for their entire lives.”