Not Bad

By Robert D. Fierro

In the early 1970s I got my first taste of what it was really like to be a sophisticated New Yorker: Lunch at the Grand Central Oyster Bar, an incongruously designed and located dungeon which caters to Madison Avenue types, publishing wannabes, and the occasional acolyte like me from Queens.

If you happen to be passing through Grand Central Station, stop by, shuffle up to the counter, and order a Pan Roast, preferably with an air of reserved confidence (of course, it won't help; the chefs will spot you as a rube instantaneously). When it arrives, lay your spoon into it, scoop a little of the creamy, tomato scented broth, bring the spoon up beneath your nose, and take in what is its full olfactory essence. I guarantee you will hear a whisper from behind.

"Not bad, eh?"

And you will know, as I did 30 years ago, and hundreds of thousands of others have known before and since, that the essence of New York is represented by the ghost of the man who whispered to you, Jerome Brody, late of this world as of May 16, 2001.

Sometime in the 1980s, Jerry Brody got it into his head that he would buy Finger Lakes Race Track with a group of other people and turn it into a showplace for New York-breds.

Why not?

By then he was breeding quality Thoroughbreds with alarming consistency in Ghent, a hamlet halfway across the state to the east from where he'd established Gallagher's Stud with his wife, Marlene; they had named it after his other culinary joint of quintessential Manhattan Expressionism, Gallagher's Steak House.

Already accomplished as breeders of champion Angus bulls, literally with their first crop, the Brodys decided to give the Thoroughbred game a go. Within a crop or two, they'd bred their first state champion, Donna's World, the first decent horse sired by Cormorant -- the big push he needed to go on to become a classic sire.

By the time he made his offer for Finger Lakes, Brody had revolutionized the restaurant industry with Four Seasons Restaurant and the Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center. Obviously, when the racetrack's owners demanded to keep the hot dog and restaurant concessions for themselves, Brody arched his eyebrow and took his leave.

I first met Jerry Brody in 1981, when I wrote a series of articles for various business publications on investing in Thoroughbreds. I'd also paid homage by then to the flames of Gallagher's, where the beef ages in the window, prompting vegetarians to go screaming into the night toward monasteries.

The man told you what he thought and didn't mind being quoted that way. Tall, stately, with a perennially skeptical smile, he'd wander and work the sales like he worked his joints, mixing and mingling at tracks across the world, catering and pandering to no one except his beloved Marlene, who adored him in return.

It was fitting, indeed, that their friends everywhere rarely addressed this royal couple by their first names; everyone knew of their devotion and most chose to greet them with their nicknames for each other -- Madame for her, Darling for him.

"Madame and Darling stopped by to say hello," Harvey Pack once told me at Saratoga, before he even knew that I knew them.

Jerry Brody left a legacy in New York's breeding industry as well. Not only did he and Marlene breed top-class horses such as European champion Allez Milord and major stakes winners Adorable Micol and Adcat, but he also took the bit in his mouth -- and some necks in his hands -- in 1993 to join forces with polar opposites in the state to wrest control of the breeding industry from bureaucrats and move it to the point where the breeders have the final say. He served on boards, spoke his mind, and put his money up to back the New York Showcase when everyone else snickered.

He was a walking, talking oxymoron -- a devoted Democrat in an industry stuffed to the hayloft with Republicans; a sophisticate whose restaurants attracted the tough talkers and the wheeler dealers; a stickler for efficiency, quality, and decency in enterprises which often wink at those qualities.

When the time came, I am sure it was preceded with a suitable clearing of the throat from the Maitre d' who brings the Final Check. "This one," one would think the check bearer smiled, "is on the house, Darling."

Not bad, eh?

ROBERT D. FIERRO is president of Equix Biomechanics. He was president of New York Thoroughbred Breeders from 1991-93.