Road to the Triple Crown Teleconference transcript from March 19, 2013
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Eric Wing: We have three excellent guests to talk horse racing with us today. A little later on in the call, we'll check in with trainer Kenny McPeek, who'll have double barrel action Saturday at Turfway Park in the big race, the $550,000 Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes. He'll be sending out Taken by the Storm. And arguably, the big name in his stable, at least among those running on Saturday, is the horse that'll be contesting the Fathead Bourbonette Stakes for three-year-old fillies, that being the Grade I winner, Pure Fund, who'll be making her 2013 debut, her most recent effort, of course, the Grade I win in the Hollywood Starlet.
And also later in the call, we'll talk a little bit more Spiral with trainer, Jeff Greenhill. He'll be sending out the talented Mac the Man, who's won three in a row and who'll be looking to make it four in a row Saturday in the Spiral. We'll talk to Jeff Greenhill later.
First, though, we're delighted to have with us a Heisman Trophy winner, and member of both the Pro Football and College Football Halls of Fame, but I guess the—of most note right now is the fact that he's the part-owner of a Kentucky Derby hopeful in Titletown Five, a very aptly-named colt, we're delighted to be joined now by Paul Hornung. Paul, it's Eric Wing in New York. How are you today?
Paul Hornung: Very good. Good morning.
Eric Wing: Good morning, Paul, and I referenced Titletown Five earlier. I know he has been mentioned very prominently as a contender for this Sunday's Sunland Derby out in Sunland Park. Is that indeed where he will be running this weekend?
Paul Hornung: No, we decided yesterday not to run in Sunland Park. We decided we had a much better situation down in Louisiana, in New Orleans. We're going to run in the Louisiana Derby a week following, on Saturday. So Wayne called me yesterday, Wayne Lukas, of course, and he figured it would be a better—it'd be a shorter trip for the horse, give it another week work for Titletown. He did work in one and a quarter yesterday; he had a nice work, and he's doing well and Wayne thought he'd have a better shot down there. And it's 50 points for the Kentucky Derby, so we thought we'd take a shot at the Louisiana Derby instead of Sunland Park.
Eric Wing: Yes, 100 points there in Louisiana versus the 50 in New Mexico...
Paul Hornung: Oh, that's right; 100. I forgot, yes.
Eric Wing: But I suppose that means if you were to run a very nice second that would be almost as good as a win for you.
Paul Hornung: Almost as good as a win, right. So I let Wayne handle all that. I'm—my god, I've got the greatest trainer maybe of all time and nobody's matched what he's done in the game as far as wins are concerned in big races.
Eric Wing: Well, Paul, you have quite an illustrious resume of your own in the world of college and pro football. But what would it mean for a Louisville native like you to be able, not just to have a horse in the Kentucky Derby, but also to be able to share the experience with one of the great figures of your profession like Willie Davis, who's a co-owner?
Paul Hornung: Well, I got Willie to get interested in it. I don't think Willie knows a horse from a billy goat, but he got involved and he's got a small piece. I also have had Martin, who I was in business with his father in Green Bay in a couple of real estate deals; and Ed is on the Board of Directors of the Green Bay Packers and I got Ed involved; and I have a gentleman named David Miller, who is the son of Paulie Miller, who was my high school coach here in Louisville, Kentucky.
And as you can well imagine, you know, I'm from Louisville, Kentucky, and I've seen every Derby, you know, except in 1963 when Coach Lombardi suggested that I not go to the Derby that year so we could have a clean slate and maybe I could get reinstated, which he said he would help me do and he did. So you can well imagine. I grew up here. I worked at Churchill Downs when I was a kid. I lied about my age when I was 13 to become an Andy Frain usher and make $40 on Saturday, which was a huge amount when I was 13 years old. So this has been a special race for me. If I could win—be a part of a winning Derby, for heaven sakes, this would be the greatest thrill of my life.
Eric Wing: And in your life that's saying something, Paul. Great, great stories there. Were you fine with Coach Lombardi's advice to skip the Derby in '63?
Paul Hornung: It's the only Derby I've missed and—since I was a kid. I can remember Silky Sullivan, for heaven sakes. A lot of people talk about Silky here, the most popular horse in the history of the Kentucky Derby, received over 10,000 fan letters that week. Reggie Cornell, a great friend of mine who was a trainer back in those days of (inaudible) rode him. You know, we've had some wonderful people here, Pat Day, for heaven sakes, and Donald Brumfield and the jockeys that have won this, you know, a great—I knew all of them and they were great friends of mine; Hartack, my goodness, what a great competitor he was and the great Eddie Arcaro, you know, and the Shoe. They were all pals of mine. I knew it—always have known, I think, as much about this game as any game I've ever been involved with.
I learned how to make a wager, and believe me, if my horse would win the Derby, I'm going to break Las Vegas.
Eric Wing: All right, so you've got some future book action, it sounds like.
Paul Hornung: Certainly.
Eric Wing: Well, I hope you spread the action around so no individual place takes too big a hit.
Paul Hornung: No, they won't. You know, I've got a charity here; I've got some nuns I take care of and (cross talking) to be involved. First time nuns will be in the winner's circle.
Eric Wing: Excuse me, Paul?
Eric Wing: Exactly. All right, well that's something for us all to look forward to.
John White: If you would, please, tell us how you hooked up with D. Wayne Lukas.
Paul Hornung: Oh, well I've known Wayne for a long, long time and he's moved here, of course. He moved his whole stable here, so he races his horses here. He's been involved in almost every phase of the game and, you know, you don't have to ask me. I think he's the greatest trainer in the history of this game.
John White: You mentioned that you've only missed that one Kentucky Derby since you were a kid. What would you say is your favorite Kentucky Derby that you've seen?
Paul Hornung: Oh, wow, every one of them, for heaven sakes. We always look forward to the first Saturday in May here. This is a tremendous sporting event, and you could well imagine this would be the greatest day of my life if I had the opportunity to walk out in that winner's circle and to thank the people of my home town. You know, I mean just imagine the home town boy winning the Kentucky Derby. I look back on all the great times that Calumet experienced in this great race and all the great jockeys and all the great trainers that have been involved, and I remember Woody Stephens telling me in Florida, you know, over 20 years ago in (inaudible). He said, “Paul, winning the Kentucky Derby is the greatest, you know, in the history of horse racing for me, and I think it's going to be for you when you really realize how important it is for your home town.”
Debbie Arrington: Hi, Paul. Thank you so much for coming on here today. You've worked with a lot of great coaches in your day and now you're hooked up with Coach Wayne. How does he compare to Coach Lombardi?
Paul Hornung: Well, I tell you I liken them to—he's got the same M.O., as far as I'm concerned. There's nobody loves to win more than Wayne does, and I mean it's not only a part of his life style, it's—and he's full-thinking. That's all he thinks about. And we've got some wonderful trainers today that really match up, and I think when they think about training, they all think—they all have to think of Wayne. What he's done, 19 Breeders' Cups, you know, five Derbys, a Preakness; I mean he's done it all. But this year he's loaded more than any time in his life. He's got Oxbow. He's got a great—the great group out of Lexington, Calumet, going, for heaven sakes. He's got Take Charge Lady, who won the Rebel last week. He's never had four horses that he's got a shot for the Kentucky Derby, you know, and—of course, we've got to get qualified. There's no question about that, and it's going to be tough.
But one win—and I can't sleep at night when I think about one win. And I'll be down in New Orleans, you know, and I think it's appropriate. I was the first New Orleans Saint who signed a contract out of Green Bay when the Saints became a part of the National Football League, and it would be ironic if winning that race, the Louisiana Derby, would propel, you know, Titletown to—a shot at the Kentucky Derby. It would be the biggest thrill of my life, no question.
Debbie Arrington: That's great. How many horses do you have?
Paul Hornung: Well, I've got one right now and had one last year. I've had four or five horses, and we've always had a win. Wayne had one about four years ago and I had one with Phil Serpy in New York, and I've always been involved with it and I've always done—Tom Kelly was my tutor. You don't know the name, possibly, but he was one of the great Kentucky trainers and he taught me how to engage my money as far as racing was concerned.
Debbie Arrington: Okay, great. Well, best of luck.
Paul Hornung: Thank you.
Jennie Rees: Paul...
Paul Hornung: Yes, dear?
Jennie Rees: Wayne, of course, is ever optimistic. But when you found out after his big nine-length maiden win that Titletown Five had chipped a knee, did you think there was any chance that, realistically, that he could make the Kentucky Derby?
Paul Hornung: Absolutely realistically. We knew right away. Jennie, you've been around here long enough to understand one thing. I saw one thing. The only thing—and I'm not an expert, but when I watched this horse work out at Churchill Downs and he comes running, when he hits the fifth—what am I thinking of? When he hits the—not the goal line, but when he hits the turn here at Churchill Downs, he would really move it on and he showed us early on that he loved Churchill Downs. And then when he broke his maiden here and he won by 10 lengths, he beat a horse that came back, Eddie Keneally's horse; came back, won the Jockey Club by 10 lengths. So right away Wayne said, “You know, I think we got something here we ought to really think about.” So, you know, we knew Titletown Five was competitive. But I really believe that if we get here, if we get to Churchill downs, I say we're going to have an edge because I don't think there'll be ever a horse that—and I don't care where he comes from—our horse likes this track. He loves Churchill Downs and it will definitely help him. It's like playing on your own court, in basketball.
Jennie Rees: Looking at his form, I mean he wins the maiden race and he goes to the shelf, he comes back in the Sprint Stakes. He's going to be going from six furlongs to a mile-and-an-eighth in his graded stakes debut. Can you compare it—because obviously, we're going to be all over football analogies—to anything in football that a team had to do or a player had to do or something to come from off an injury and (cross talking).
Paul Hornung: Yes, it's like getting the playoffs. It's like you have to keep winning. You can't lose, and especially since the change in the eligibility as far as the Derby's concerned. We've got to have those points. So you're going to have to have a win, and, you know, we thought about Sunland Park. Wayne thought that that would be a good spot and then he understood—you know, he says, “Look, let's give him another week. We'll have another shot at a workout; I think it'll help him. And it's more points, it's more money, and why not? Let's take a shot at it.” And he says, “First of all, the trip to New Orleans is about six hours shorter,” and he's going to van down with the horse on Wednesday or Thursday, maybe try to get a—not a workout, but just exercise him around the race track. Wayne's definitely familiar with the race track, and I am, too. I've been going to New Orleans, you know, at that race track for 40 years, for heaven sakes. So I'm well familiar, you know, with the fairgrounds.
Jennie Rees: But how big an assignment is it, to ask a horse who's had one race since October 28th, and that was in a six-furlong little stakes, to...
Paul Hornung: I think he's ready. I think he's really ready to—he didn't like the track at Oaklawn last week, and I think he—you know, he jumped out once, turning for home, and I think that may have cost him the race. But he's okay. Gary Stevens told me, “Paul, this horse is serious.” He said, “I've been (audio interference) and he's going to be competitive.” And John Stewart is going to be back on him. Gary called me two days ago and said, “Paul, you'll have to excuse me.” He said, “I'm supposed to go to Dubai and I have a chance to race for 17 million,” and I said, “I can understand, Gary.”
Jennie Rees: Yes, so Jon Court, who rode him his last two races (cross talking).
Paul Hornung: Yes, he will be back on him, and of course, Jon Court is probably in a better spot than all jockeys heading into the Kentucky Derby. My goodness, he's got Oxbow, he's got Will Take Charge. Wayne's got another horse. I forget the name of him, but he's got an opportunity. He's never had this many horses that are pointed for the Kentucky Derby may become eligible and may run. So we're really looking—I'm looking forward to Wayne; I want him to win another one. And, of course, this is the one I want to win.
Jennie Rees: Yes, but I'm not giving up easy on this one angle. If this was another type of horse, just sort of a less spectacular one, would you think it would be tough what he's going to have to do to win this next race, let alone the Kentucky Derby.
Paul Hornung: Absolutely. He must win it. There's no question about it. If he doesn't win it, I mean we're in trouble and, you know, I—we're going to be, I think, in the top four horses in the Louisiana Derby. We're going to be one of the top four. And if we are, we've got an opportunity and hopefully he'll like the race track. Wayne thinks he'll like the race track better than Sunland Park, and that was one of his concerns. So I went along with that, naturally. You know, Wayne runs the whole show; and he's got a piece of the horse. He says he's never made a worse deal in the history of horse racing. He said, “Hornung, you screwed me from the start,” but he owns 25% of the horse and I said I think I've got a pretty good situation with Wayne myself.
Willie Davis, I brought Willie Davis into the fold. He doesn't know a horse from a billy goat, but he's a competitor and he's going to be here. I invited Mike Ditka. I said, “Mike, you keep looking. If we win one race, we're going to be in the—and I want you there.” Sayers (ph) will be present and hopefully Bart Starr is going to make it. We're going to have the representatives from the Packers, hopefully some present Packers will return. Aaron Rodgers loves the Derby. He's been here the last couple of years. Clay Matthews has been here. So we're going to have the greatest week for Paul Hornung in his lifetime; and the most expensive because Churchill Downs has completely, you know, raised prices on tickets. They've raised prices and you've got to have a pocket full of money to participate now.
Jennie Rees: Well, Paul, thanks so much. I've got more that I'd like to ask you, but I know other people do, too, so I'm going to let you go.
Paul Hornung: Okay, Jennie.
Operator: Thank you. The next question comes from Ron Flatter of RSN Australia. Please go ahead.
Paul Hornung: Oh, yes, Australia.
Ron Flatter: I don't sound Australian, Paul. I sound very New York but I work for the station in Australia, so you'll forgive (cross talking).
Paul Hornung: Oh, that's great. And what's the Australian gentleman—I can't think of his name right now, along with Michael Tabor? You know, they're going to be involved somewhere.
Ron Flatter: Oh, they're the Irish guys.
Paul Hornung: Yes, maybe—oh well, it doesn't matter because one of those guys in Australia, you know (cross talking).
Ron Flatter: Yes. (Cross talking)
You mentioned Will Take Charge and Oxbow. Is it going to be tough enough just to have your horse be the best Lukas horse, let alone the best Derby horse?
Paul Hornung: I don't care about the best this or best that. All I want to be is a horse in the Kentucky Derby. If Wayne wins it—if we don't win it, one of Wayne's other horses wins it. I want to see him win number six.
Ron Flatter: You know Wayne so well, but why is it now after—what has it been, 14 years since he last won the Derby? Why now has he been able to get such a good crop of horses?
Paul Hornung: Well, I think it's just timing. You know, this is a very unusual game. It's the toughest game, maybe, in the world and everybody points, you know, for those young two-year-olds and how they're bred and how they run and—for one deal, and the deal is to get on the first Saturday in May to be here, in Louisville, Kentucky. And we love it. We think it's one of the great sporting events in the country, and we support it very much here. You know, you still can't get a ticket, a good ticket, to the Kentucky Derby, and if you do it's expensive as hell.
Ron Flatter: As a guy who's certainly—knows his way around playing the horses, how big a deal is it that Titletown Five has a win at the track at Churchill?
Paul Hornung: Well, it's great. I've got my interest already secured in Las Vegas in the winner book, you know? To be truthful, I've got 220-to-one on my horse, so I took a shot at it.
Ron Flatter: You can't get that (cross talking).
Paul Hornung: I told Wayne if we win—we're partners, Wayne and I, and I said, “If we win, we buy another horse. Is that all right?” He said, “I love it.”
Ron Flatter: And the Willie Davis you speak of, forgive my ignorance, is this your old teammate?
Paul Hornung: Certainly.
Ron Flatter: I just wanted to make sure it was the same Willie Davis.
Paul Hornung: Willie—in fact, Willie's still on the Board of the Green Bay Packers. He's been one of the most successful white—black gentlemen in the history of professional sports. He's been on about 15 Boards, including the MGM and a beer company and this one and that one, and Willie got his Masters Degree out of the University of Chicago, and he's been a very, very successful businessman.
Ron Flatter: Last one for me, Paul, as a guy from Louisville, how close would you have come to being a horseman as opposed to being a professional football player?
Paul Hornung: Oh, Ron, I don't know for that. I was always a football player, as far as I was growing up.
Ron Flatter: Since you've become a horseman, since you've become—would that—would there have been a lure for you to get more involved with horses at a young age?
Paul Hornung: Oh, I think—you know, I had such a love for the horses when—like I said, when I was growing up I was an usher here with the Frain Usher system when I lied about my age when I was, like, 14. You had to be 17 to become an usher, so I told them I was 17. I was a little bit big for my age so I got a job, made $45 my first Derby Day. That was a lot of money. And what we would do after that was we'd go down in the grandstand and the Derby Day, everybody'd just stand up on the seats and we'd go down the aisles and steal the Derby glasses and then go outside and sell them for a buck and we added another $40 to our day. So back in—when I was 13 and 14 and I'd bring home $100 to my mom, that was huge and that stays in your mind. And like I said, I hadn't missed—I missed one Derby, in 1963, when I was suspended and Coach Lombardi asked me, he said, “I do not want you to go to the Kentucky Derby. I do not want you to go to Gulfstream. I do not want to ever hear of you at a racetrack this year.”
Ron Flatter: Thank you, Paul.
Danny Brewer: Okay. Let's talk about the—Titletown and his association with the Green Bay Packers. Who does his running style most remind you of, yours, or maybe Ray Nitschke's?
Paul Hornung: I don't know. I've never thought of anything that silly. His running style? All I know is one thing. Here's the thing that—it's just like a football team if they, let's say, establish a record at a certain club and—for instance, we loved playing in Baltimore when I was a Packer. I mean, we knew we were going to play well. And I know one thing. If we get to the Kentucky Derby, we may not be the favorite; I don't care about that. But I can tell you one thing, no horse that's going to be running in the Kentucky Derby is going to like Churchill Downs more than my horse. He is—he likes Churchill Downs.
Danny Brewer: Now Paul, depending on how the Louisiana Derby goes, could he potentially run again before the Derby, or would the Derby Trial maybe be an option for him as well?
Paul Hornung: Yes, exactly. It all depends on the point system. It all depends on if we're eligible or not. If we're not, we'll run again.
Danny Brewer: Paul, I appreciate your time and I wish you the best of luck.
Paul Hornung: Thank you very much.
Eric Wing: Paul, I just want to—before we say good-bye, I just want to make sure I understand the—how you acquired Titletown Five. It sounds as if D. Wayne picked him out at auction and then called you up to cut you in, and then from that point, you called up Willie Davis and Ed Martin and the others and cut them in. Is that basically how it worked?
Paul Hornung: To be truthful, he says he made the worst deal in the history of Wayne Lukas. He said, “You have absolutely screwed me in this horse.” I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “I've never had a worse deal than I have,” and I said, “Yes, all we've got to do is win the Derbys and we'll sell this thing for about 4 or 5 million and then you're going to understand it.” You see, to be truthful, Wayne owns 25% of the horse; Ed Martin and I own 30% of the horse; Willie Davis owns 6% of the horse; and a friend of mine, David Miller, who's Paulie Miller, my high school coach's son, owns a small percentage of the horse. Wayne says, “This is the worst deal I've ever made.” I said, “When we win the Derby and this horse becomes a millionaire, you'll think differently of this horse.” So he didn't have to put up a quarter when we bought this horse, but you understand we don't get any expenses from the trainer and he realizes now that I might've got the best of that deal.
Eric Wing: Well, it sounds like win, lose, or draw in Louisiana or Louisville, you're already getting a great run for your money with Titletown Five and (cross talking).
Paul Hornung: I sure am. Win or lose, this has been the greatest year of my life as far as enjoying myself watching the horses.
Eric Wing: And we all look with bated breath at the prospects of cheeseheads taking over Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
Paul Hornung: Boy, I sure hope so.
Eric Wing: Paul, it's been a pleasure to have you on. We wish you the best of luck a week from Saturday in the Louisiana Derby and hopefully thereafter. Thanks so much for being on our call today.
Paul Hornung: Thank you very much.
Eric Wing: That's Paul Hornung, the Golden Boy, Heisman Trophy winner, Pro Football and College Football Hall of Famer, and as we heard, part-owner of Titletown Five. Paul also is, as he indicated, well invested in Las Vegas in the Kentucky Derby future books out there, so a good time, no doubt, will be had by all associated with the horse in Louisiana a week from Saturday and hopefully come May 4th in Louisville, Kentucky, for the Run for the Roses.
Eric Wing: Well, without any further ado, we go from a Louisville legend to a Lexington one. Ken McPeek, it's Eric Wing. Thanks so much for being on with us. How are you today?
Kenny McPeek: Great, thanks for having me.
Eric Wing: All right, well Ken, before we talk about your horses, and you've got a couple of interesting ones to talk about with us, I want to check in with you on the Horse Races NOW! app that you and your wife, Sue, have devoted so much time and so many resources to. How are things going along with Horse Races NOW! and anything new to report on that front?
Kenny McPeek: Well, it's been an interesting project. It started from watching a show about apps a few years ago, and I always wondered why horse racing didn't have a really good app. So I put some resources together and have been grinding along. Right now we have 42,000 downloads in 101 different countries. And for those that have never heard of it or haven't tried it, it's on the app stores, whether you have an iPhone or an Android. You can also text the word “horse” to 84700 to download.
But it's been interesting, you know? We've had to systematically go through the process of getting race tracks to give us live and replayed video, and that's taken time. But we've really made a good product. The Jockey Club Technology Services has been instrumental in writing the code. Equibase has worked with us—or we are a customer of Equibase to get the information, and it seems to be quite popular. We're pretty much five star across the board in our iPhone app, although the Android app still has some kinks to work out, but it's been fun. My frustration with the sport is that we really don't get seen by enough people and we need to expand our base and—to deliver it to people's pockets.
Eric Wing: Well, I know one of the tracks that is absolutely a Horse Races NOW! Participating track is Turfway Park, so perhaps this is an appropriate segue to talk about Turfway and your participation there as a participating trainer this weekend. First, focusing on the big money race, the Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes, I know you were talking about running Frac Daddy there, getting over an ulcer there, however, and you thought an extra week would benefit him. So it's Florida Derby for him and into the breach steps Taken By The Storm, correct?
Kenny McPeek: Exactly.
Eric Wing: Now as substitutes go, Taken By The Storm looks like a pretty darn good one. He's not only won over a synthetic surface, although he was disqualified from that win but still he finished first at Keeneland, but he's also won at a mile-and-an-eighth, which is not to be overlooked in a race where most of them haven't gone that far yet. Is it just one of these deals, Kenny, where it seems like kind of all the pieces are fitting together?
Kenny McPeek: Well, his two dirt races haven't been all that great. I'm not sure why that is, because he really looks like a dirt horse and seems to handle it in the morning. But, you know, this—they've got one opportunity to try this, and the fact that Frac Daddy really needed a little more time and I think he'll handle the scenery a little bit better at Gulfstream because he's been training there, and Taken By The Storm is coming off a big win, and of course, we know he's won on the synthetic. So it's one of those deals we're going to look and see what we've got. He's trained up for this race really well. He came out of his last start extremely strong and, you know, like I say, you get one shot.
Eric Wing: Well, you don't really need to see what you've got with Pure Fun. You know you have a great winning filly there. You gave her time after that Hollywood Starlet win, and on paper, anyway, it would seem like she's going to be very formidable in that spot. How did you arrive at the Bourbonette as a comeback point for Pure Fun?
Kenny McPeek: Well, we wanted a relatively easy spot for her on the comeback. The timing of the Gulfstream Park (inaudible) I wished it was one week earlier, or we would run here. But I think we're either going to have—I mean and we're not in yet with points, so we've got to run twice, I think, to ensure that we're going to get in. If she were to win this race, and you can't assume anything, then no problem. Then we're not—we don't have any pressure on us to come back quickly.
But she's run well, quickly. For those that haven't noticed, she's never run on Lasix in her life. She's never even gotten it in the morning, and we actually never train horses on Lasix anyway. So I'm pretty proud of that. I think horses can run that quicker because the dehydration factor is eliminated, and she's an extremely good filly and she—you know, last two starts last year took her to a new level, and hopefully she continues that.
Eric Wing: Ken, I want to ask you a question or two later and catch up a bit on Java's War, who was so impressive behind Verrazano, but I want to give the media their turn. So once again I'll step back and Michelle will step forward and see what questions the media have for you.
Jennie Rees: Yes, Kenny, I'm sure you've been getting ((inaudible)) updates on who's going in which races. Have you had a chance to sort of scope out what the field looks like and, you know, how big an assignment it may or may not be for Taken By The Storm in his stakes debut?
Kenny McPeek: Yes, briefly. I haven't studied it extremely hard, because I'll wait 'til they enter and the PPs are drawn—you know, on paper, and of course, lined up in post position order. But he deserves a chance. I think the speed figures—I don't know that he got a great number last time. I don't understand how they could run 34 in four, and yet I think they gave him a 69 Beyer, so I'm not sure that's worth the—using it as a judge. But all in all, they've got to get out there and do their thing.
Jennie Rees: Yes; and you kind of alluded to this, but he's run just twice on real dirt and got beat double-digit both times. Do you think once it was a sloppy track, once it was his first career start? Is it too small a sample, or do you think ultimately his future is more grass synthetic than dirt?
Kenny McPeek: The first race is a bit of a throw-out. It was two-year-old colts going a mile-and-an-eighth at Saratoga first time out. I don't—I can't tell you that I felt like he was even 80% for the race, but the—we needed to get him going. We tried to enter in a—I want to say a seven-eighths race and we got excluded or—I can't remember the details, but we ended up in the mile-and-an-eighth and we tried to kind of reserve him and then he just got tired the last part of it and so I don't think that that's a great measure of his ability. And then the race coming back here at Gulfstream was similar. I mean, he'd been off a long time and then he needed the race for sure, and I think the racetrack was really heavy that day as well. So there's a lot of factors to play into it. We don't have those kinds of excuses coming into this weekend, and so we'll get a really good measure on how good he is against top quality.
Jennie Rees: And final question, he's a $27,000 yearling purchase. Was he one of your bargain basement horses that you picked out?
Kenny McPeek: Well, that's my specialty.
Jennie Rees: Yes.
Kenny McPeek: The fun thing about this horse is that Kelly Colliver's (ph) son I think he at the time was probably nine or 10. He bid on the horse. We let him do the bidding, and so that was really a cute day. But, you know, he's a big, good-looking, strong horse and you never know what you're going to get as you work through those (inaudible). Pure Fun was only $22,000. It's not what you say, it's how you pay; and we've been lucky in that regard.
Jay Privman: Hey, Kenny, I was just wondering what you had decided to do with Java's War for his next start
Kenny McPeek: He's going to go on the Blue Grass. Mr. Fipke and I laid out the options the other night. Ultimately, Mr. Fitzke—all my clients, I mean, they're going to get their input, and he really—he was really back and forth. We kind of felt like that the UA Derby would be a really good spot for him, but it was probably more financial reasons than anything. He—after we discussed it, he thought well, let's just keep him home and run him in the Blue Grass, and I'm all for that, too. To me it wasn't even a—it wasn't an argument so much as a discussion. My job is to lay out all the details and the choices, and we talked them through and he is definite for the Blue Grass.
Jay Privman: And why is that race more appealing to you than keeping him on dirt?
Kenny McPeek: Well, he was third in the Breeders' Futurity last fall.
Jay Privman: Right.
Kenny McPeek: In his first one as well, and those are probably the two biggest reasons. He handled it really good. I don't think he'll have any trouble handling it again. Is he a dirt horse? I mean his pedigree on the female side is pretty strict grass. I do think he's probably better on that in the long run, but with the Derby track on synthetic, it's a good option for us.
Danny Brewer: How good is Pure Fun right now and do you think we've seen her best yet?
Kenny McPeek: I don't think so, at least I hope not. You know, she's deceptive. If you look at her, she kind of reminds me of Take Charge Lady, in a way, but Take Charge Lady wasn't nearly as big as Pure Fun. Pure Fun weighs in at close to 1,200 pounds, and Take Charge Lady's best racing weight was probably 1,009, and this is a really big, strong filly. I'm a little concerned about our timing and can we string a couple of good races together into the Oaks or even just one to get her in the Oaks, but her last two starts were just really impressive. And I'll be honest with you, though. The race at Churchill was a bit of a surprise for me because we had tried a little of this, that, and the everything, and we really felt like—sensed that she was a decent filly but not a great filly, and when she ran out of the picture that day, it was a pleasant surprise. She found another gear. And she did have excuses earlier in her career because she kept drawing the 12 hole. I believe she drew the 11 or 12 hole three straight races, and she got hung wide and was having—really had legitimate excuses to break her maiden, but then she finally broke through.
Danny Brewer: Because she is so big, has she taken a little bit of time to mature into her body, do you think? Has that been a factor at all?
Kenny McPeek: Not really. She's pretty easy to keep. I mean this is the filly that drills her feed tub every night. If she's not done at 7:00, then something's wrong with her. That's a great thing for a horse trainer to deal with, because nothing's worse than when they get tired and they're campaigning and—when they're—I always believe the faster they eat, the faster they run. She drills the tub; really easy keeper; really classy filly to be around. We did a little schooling in the paddock the other day with her and there was a crowd of people and she never turned a hair. I'm excited about her future as a brood mare. She just reeks that high level of class.
Danny Brewer: Has the weighing at different tracks—has that been good for her to go out there to Hollywood Park and win? Do you think that's been really good for her?
Kenny McPeek: Well, that was one of the toughest decisions that I ever made as a trainer. I had scheduled a trip, vacation, that put me out of town when the call was made, and she won so impressively and she had come out of the race so strong, Phil Bauer (ph)—I'll give complete credit to my assistant in Churchill—we talked every day, three times a day, about whether to go or not. And the partnership was a little bit questionable. They really weren't sure—they thought maybe I'd lost my mind. I encouraged them. I said, “Well listen, we've only got one shot here as a two-year-old to win a Grade I. She's ready.” We had to supplement her. We had to ship her out there. We had to put a new router (ph) on her. It was a lot—there was a lot to lose, but there was, I thought, more to gain, and then, of course, her performance was fantastic and, you know, we're just hopeful that she keeps rolling with that kind of race.
John White: A lot of people have been knocking the Kentucky Jockey Club in which Frac Daddy finished second to Uncaptured. What are your thoughts on that particular race?
Kenny McPeek: Well, I'm surprised by that. Horses that ran in New York—I mean, the buyers seem to be off lately. I don't know exactly why, but I don't know that you can completely trust them sometimes. And we tend to probably use the sheets, and how you measure some of these things in numbers. My colt ran super that day. The horse that beat him had beaten quite a few of the runners that were in New York. You know, it's apples and oranges, different racetracks. I think that the Kentucky Jockey Club has always been a really great race, and you can't overlook it. I think they gave the race a 76 or something like that, where my colt had run a 91 before that over the same racetrack, and I believe the time was real similar. So who's to say? I really don't spend too much sleepless nights worrying about all of it.
I've got to get him ready. I've got to make sure he's healthy, and that's been an issue between the grabbed quarter and also the throat ulcer. So we've got a couple shots to give him a chance to prove himself. And I think the Florida Derby's a good spot for him because he's going to run against some toughies. But I think he prefers a smaller field because he's an extremely immature horse. He really hasn't—he has episodes where we go, “What was he thinking—what's he doing?” and I think Skip Away himself—and he's out of a Skip Away mare. Skip Away is a—you know, he was not a top two-year-old and matured with age, and we're hopeful that this colt's going to do the same thing.
John White: And you mentioned that grabbed quarter out of the Holy Bull. I mean, how would you, like, describe that injury to a person that isn't a real expert racing fan, you know, someone that's knowledgeable about that term? I mean, how would you describe the injury that Frac Daddy sustained in the Holy Bull?
Kenny McPeek: Well, it's easier for me to Tweet it and put it on Facebook, because I did that right after the race because he ripped it up really bad. It was a really serious grabbed quarter. We were, you know, trying to keep the bleeding from—he bled all over everything that night. And it's just one of those deals where, you know, you had to patch it up, and it was unfortunate, but these things happen and we were humbled by it. The horse (inaudible) didn't run as well. It kind of knocked people's thoughts about how good he was, and we've got to get him back out there and prove it again with him.
John White: And one final question for me, even though you don't train Will Take Charge or Take Charge Indy, my guess is that you must feel a real source of pride in what they've been able to accomplish as sons of Take Charge Lady, who you did train.
Kenny McPeek: You have no idea how proud I am. I tell you this—and I actually begged that owner not to sell that mare because she was so special from day one. You know, for her to go out and do—I mean, they bred her to quite a few different types of stallions, and they have her class. And she was just, to this day, the most special horse I've ever been around, especially a filly. You could put—at the time, I could've put my two, three-year-old daughter in the stall with her and she would tiptoe around Jenna and sniff her, and she was just an incredibly special mare.
Eric Wing: Kenny, between Frac Daddy, who's down for Gulfstream in the Florida Derby, and Java's War is going to the Blue Grass, and you've got Taken By The Storm at Turfway this Saturday, you've got action on a lot of different three-year-old fronts. Subtracting your own horses out of the mix, what's your take on the three-year-old picture overall thus far?
Kenny McPeek: I'll be honest with you. I don't spend a lot of time worrying about it. I think that, you know, in years past I tend to look at them in the paddock when we run, and that's probably when—that's the best time to ask me, when I've looked at them all right before they've saddled, legged up, and went out on the racetrack. I think that's a really great time—for those that gamble on horses, I think that's a great time to get an idea of a horse's presence their coat. Other than that, I don't tend to study how the others are training. I try to worry about mine and I don't have the energy to worry about everybody else's. So forgive me for not really paying attention to everybody else's as much as trying to watch what I've got going on.
Eric Wing: Well, let me ask you a slightly different question, Kenny. In the Holy Bull paddock and/or in the Tampa Bay paddock, you probably stole a peak at It's My Lucky Day, Shanghai Bobby, and Verrazano. Did any one of those three kind of catch your eye as an imposing physical specimen?
Kenny McPeek: Well, Verrazano's a monster; there's no doubt about it. You know, he's kind of a course horse. He overpowered that group that day at Tampa. I do think he's beatable on Derby Day. Shanghai Bobby, of course having trained his sire, he really looks more like an Orientate (ph) than he does a Harlan's Taladay (ph). Harlan's Taladay was a—and as a stallion really throws a particular type of horse. Shanghai Bobby looks more like the female line. What was the other horse you had asked me?
Eric Wing: It'smluckyday.
Kenny McPeek: Yes, you know, he was impressive. He's an extremely fast horse, and it looks like his—he was really on form that day. I think I'd probably question how could you run any faster than he did the last two. If he does that in the next few, he's probably the one I'd be worried about more, of the three.
Eric Wing: All right. Great stuff, Ken. Always appreciate your thoughts and your critical eye on all things three-year-old, and we wish you and Sue the best of luck. I know Sue's—you and Sue own Pure Fun, so double good luck there, but also with Taken By The Storm in the Spiral and, of course, to the both of you with Horse Races NOW! We really appreciate you taking the time to chat with us today.
Kenny McPeek: No problem. One other note, we're going to be feature sponsor on the NBC telecast for the next four weekends, and so for those that haven't downloaded or tried it, you're going to see a lot about Horse Races NOW! in the next month. I'm pretty excited.
Eric Wing: Okay, and that's—I'm glad you brought that up, because there's going to be a special Triple Crown Preview Show this Saturday on the NBC Sports Network, followed up by three consecutive weekends of live racing telecasts with the Louisiana Derby, the Florida Derby in there, and, of course, the Wood and Santa Anita Derby and the Toyota Blue Grass and Santa Anita Derby thereafter on the 13th. So we'll be watching for those races and we'd be watching for more information about Horse Races NOW! on those programs. And Kenny, thank you again for all your help with the call today.
Kenny McPeek: No problem, thank you.
Eric Wing: That's trainer Kenny McPeek. As was mentioned earlier with D. Wayne Lukas, Ken has a number of contenders still on the path to Louisville, and we'll be seeing one of them Saturday in Taken By The Storm in the Spiral Stakes $550,000 Grade III event. Fifty points to the winner, 20 to second in that Spiral Stakes. And he's also got, of course, the horse to beat in the Fathead Bourbonette Stakes in Pure Fun, who would certainly appear to be well on her way—with any kind of good run in the Bourbonette well on her way to the Kentucky Oaks on Derby Eve.
Okay, our third and final guest today we'll send out kind of the hot horse from—with the home town edge in the Spiral Stakes, Mac the Man. He's won three in a row and he'll be looking to make it four in the Spiral, and his trainer, Jeff Greenhill, joins us now. Jeff, it's Eric Wing in New York. Thanks for being on the call with us today.
Jeff Greenhill: No problem, Eric, glad to be here.
Eric Wing: Jeff, one of your—in the interest of full disclosure, one of your former clients, John Engelhardt, has prepared a dossier for me of your background, and I understand that once upon a time you graduated from Clemson University with a chemical engineering degree. So if you would, take us from graduation day to where you are now as the trainer of one of the horses to beat in the Spiral.
Jeff Greenhill: Well, John didn't do his dossier work too well. I actually graduated from Auburn. But down south they like to say that Clemson is essentially Auburn with a lake, so there are a lot of similarities. But I graduated from Auburn, chemical engineering. I worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority for 18 years doing various things, mostly managing craftsmen and engineer—demilitarizing military plants, and at the very end we were actually cleaning up chemical agent plants, which got to be pretty exciting at times. But I'd always loved horses; always loved horses, and I had quarter horses while I was a chemical engineer and realized, you know, you're not going to make a living in the quarter horse business running for jackpot, and I'd teamed roped a little bit.
And so finally I decided—I used to get the BloodHorse and go out and sit in my truck on my lunch hour and read it cover to cover. I read about this thing called pinhooking, and so I started making trips to Keeneland and buying weanlings and reselling them as yearlings at Keeneland. And we had some luck doing that, but it still wasn't getting up every morning and working with horses. So I happened to mention to Ben Walton, Sr. one day while we were looking at horses, “I really would like to be a horse trainer,” and I was 37 or 38 at the time, and when he didn't laugh out loud at me, I thought well, you know, maybe there's a chance that I could do this. So I—but the one thing he did say is, “You'd better get started, son,” and so TVA offered an early retirement package to get some of the older heads to leave, but they had to offer it to everybody. So at 38 I stepped up and took an early retirement package and then walked onto the racetrack and my first job was a hot walker for D. Wayne Lukas.
Eric Wing: And I'm guessing since then you've worked harder than you ever did during your 18 years at the TVA.
Jeff Greenhill: There is no doubt about it. I used to rub horses for Peter Vestel And while I had 60 people working for me at TVA, I used to tell my wife I worry more about those four horses because they can't take care of themselves; we have to. And yes, the responsibility of being caretakers for horses is one I take seriously.
Eric Wing: So well, it's just great that clearly you followed your passion and you're reaping the rewards of making that career move, so great for you, Jeff.
Turning our attention to the Spiral, Mac the Man, who has turned a lot of heads with his three race winning streak there at Turfway, but after you won the 96ROCK Stakes with him on February 2nd, you decided to bypass the traditional next step, the Battaglia Memorial, and train up to the Spiral. What factored into that decision?
Jeff Greenhill: Primarily the fact that he had run three races closely spaced, and if we ran in the Battaglia and then the Spiral, that would've been five races closely spaced. And I tried to do a little research into—well, I'm in unchartered waters. There's no doubt about that, for me. And so I tried to go back and look at some of the spacings on nice horses in the past, and I realized that I was running him more like a $15,000 claimer, which is what I'm used to doing, and that it might be a good—you know, it might be a good idea to just back up a little bit, take a shot at the big race, and then whatever happens after that happens. But I wanted to take my best shot.
Eric Wing: It sounds like you tried to step back and be analytical the way you might have done in your previous career. Is that fair?
Jeff Greenhill: That's fair. I don't know that it was smart, but that's fair to say that.
Brian Zipse: Jeff, unfortunately I had a few dollars on Mac the Man as my Play of the Day in October at Keeneland. Things didn't go that well that day. What happened from that race to the point where he got to Turfway and just started rolling?
Jeff Greenhill: That day I think he had a blind foot bruise. He came out of that race very tender in his left front foot, and we lost about a week of training. I don't know if he had a hot nail. He never indicated a hot nail, but we—what I have found is when you train on poly track and synthetic, sometimes you don't really know when you're nursing a foot bruise until you've acerbated the problem. So he didn't run at all that day and he didn't run anything like I thought he would, and then when I came in the next morning his foot was red hot and he was hobbling. And like I said, we lost about a week of training, and since then we've gone to glue-on shoes in the front and it seems to have made a big difference.
Brian Zipse: That explains it, great. Just one more question for you. The Keeneland race, of course, and Turfway races we're looking at all synthetic tracks here. Is there any thoughts, if he does well—when he does well Saturday in the Spiral to give him one dirt race before the Kentucky Derby?
Jeff Greenhill: Ask me after Saturday. But I would—I don't know. A lot hinges Saturday. If we did not find a dirt race because of the proximity to the Derby, then I would probably certainly van him down to Churchill a couple of times and breeze him over the surface and see how we thought he handled it.
Jennie Rees: Jeff, I'm guessing that you're getting all of the many updates on who's in the field and the past performances, and I'm wondering if you've spent a lot of time looking at the competition and, you know, what you think. And I'd particularly be interested in your thoughts on Uncaptured.
Jeff Greenhill: You know, I heard Kenny McPeek's response to a similar question, and I'm a lot like him. I just try and get my horse right and hope he runs his race that day. Uncaptured, I happened to have a horse in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill named Silver Tongued, who ran eight lengths behind him, and until last weekend when We'll Take Charge came out of that race and won the Rebel, it had looked like not that stellar a prep race. But he won that race and it's a Grade II at Churchill, and he's trained into this one, so I—you know, I haven't been looking at his works or anything like that, but I imagine if Marc is coming with this horse he's probably loaded for bear.
Jennie Rees: As the race gets closer, are you looking forward to, would you say, with guarded optimism, excitement, curiosity how Mac the Man compares with these horses that have been running in some graded stakes races?
Jeff Greenhill: There's no doubt about—I don't know if I'd call it optimism; anticipation or anxiety. But I—you know his races at Turfway have been visually impressive. He's laid down some pretty impressive speed figures. The big question is what has he beaten, and the other thing is he's won—I think he won the two six-and-a-half furlong races without ever essentially being hit, and then Norberto said he essentially tapped him on the shoulder twice in the long race to remind him he was going two turns. So what I would say about the Turfway races are they looked good and he came out of them great; not really spent, bounced around the shed row the next day. And so I'm like everybody else. Is Mac the Man for real, or has he just managed to win three at Turfway Park and just be another three-year-old? And I'm anxious to find out the answer to that question.
John Engelhardt: Hey Jeff, I apologize for forgetting that you were a War Eagle off the top.
Jeff Greenhill: There you go.
John Engelhardt: But as someone that's known you over the years from training at all kinds of different levels, I wonder what's it like right now. I mean, St. Patrick's Day I heard you on the number one sports station in Cincinnati, and now you're on the NTRA teleconference. What's it like to have the spotlight shined on you?
Jeff Greenhill: Well, I kind of liked it under the radar, but if you're going to excel in this business, I guess you're eventually going to have to find some spotlight. When I saw some of the people included in this teleconference, it kind of occurred to me that if this teleconference were a gourmet meal, I'd be the parsley. So I—it's fun, in a way, but I'm not the kind of guy that—I'm not a (inaudible) like that. I'm not the kind of guy that leads his horse over and says, “How they going to beat me today?” or “Bet my horse” or “Nobody can beat my horse.” I just have always been taught by my dad to try and under promise and over deliver, and so I'm not the kind of guy that's going to, you know, be out there preaching about the qualities of his horse or himself.
John Engelhardt: Well, you're a class act, Jeff, and all I can say is you'd be a working man's hero if you got to the paddock on the first Saturday of May.
Jeff Greenhill: Well, then they have to drag me in it; I might be unconscious. But we hope to do well, John, and I really appreciate your support in the past and thanks for pulling for us, and maybe we can get it done for the little guy.
John Engelhardt: Thanks, Jeff. You're a great spokesman for the sport.
Jeff Greenhill: All right.
Eric Wing: Jeff, a couple more from me before we part ways. You mentioned that, you know, stepping up against tougher company will answer some questions that are lurking in your mind about Mac the Man. What about the distance, going from a mile to a mile-and-an-eighth? Granted, it's still a two-turn race, but it is an extra furlong. What are your thoughts there?
Jeff Greenhill: Well, I'm as anxious to see as everybody. But he comes back from his breezes—he came back from that mile race like him not taking a lot out of him. That's kind of what I judge, okay, is he totally spent going a mile? He wasn't. He wasn't breathing that hard, bounced out of that race fantastic. I can tell you what Norberto Arroyo says. He says that he doesn't think it will be a problem because he handled the mile so easily, and every time he breezes him, he says, you know, “I've just got a handful of horse.”
And now, you know, we're trying a mile-and-an-eighth. It's an experiment, and a lot of times experiments end in failure, but we're hoping this one doesn't. And the (inaudible) horse tend to be able to get a mile-and-an-eighth, anyway, but this horse trains like he can, the mile race he did like he could. At the end of the six-and-a-half furlong races he was always running and galloping out strong, and we will see but I'm guardedly optimistic.
Eric Wing: And the last question, Jeff, in the now discredited John Engelhardt dossier, he did mention that you—when you were first starting out as a trainer, maybe after the first few years, you were on—you had a presence on the Internet at a very early period. And in fact, I recall seeing your website back when there were like three horse racing websites on the entire Internet. How did that all come about? Obviously, you had some computer experience from your time at TVA, but you seemed to really embrace the Internet as a means for reaching out to people before it was cool to do so. How did that all come about?
Jeff Greenhill: Well, I have friends that are good with computers and websites and that sort of thing, but in my mind I thought I don't know anybody. I'm not—I was never a big assistant trainer and I was never an assistant trainer for a big trainer. I didn't saddle my first horse 'til I was 41. I know no one. I came from Alabama where none of my friends wanted race horses, so I have absolutely zero connections in this game. But I figured there are people out there who would like to be involved, and so—and nowadays it's easier to get involved at 10% and that sort of thing, so it was really actually, I guess, what I'm saying, it was a creation out of necessity. It's the only way I was ever going to get owners was to just get my name out there and—but I'm more proud of, not the website or the Twitter account or the Facebook page is that I also use that technology to keep owners apprised of their horse. We'll pop a video out there of a horse breezing. I always let them know when their horses are in. I send them updates if anything important happens, and so I really think that we do owner communication real well because what is the use of owning part of a horse if you're just sending a check into a black hole every month? You've got to feel like—I like to make every 10% owner feel like they own an entire horse.
And that's a long-winded way of how I'm using technology, but the website was out of necessity, but I love using those platforms to keep owners involved.
Eric Wing: Well, Jeff, Mac the Man has won his last three by many, and we wish you the very best of luck in making it four Saturday in the Spiral. Thanks so much for being on the call with us and really enjoyed the conversation.
Jeff Greenhill: Thank you, Eric. I really appreciate the call.
Eric Wing: All right, that's Jeff Greenhill. He will send out Mac the Man on Saturday in the $550,000 Grade III Spiral Stakes, Norberto Arroyo, Jr. to once again be in the saddle. And Mac the Man figures as one of the ones this Saturday in the Spiral Stakes at Turfway, part of their big three-stakes card that will include, of course, the Fathead Bourbonette Stakes and also the Rushaway Stakes for three-year-olds.
Okay, that'll bring an end to today's call. I'd like to thank all three of our excellent guests, Paul Hornung, Kenny McPeek, and Jeff Greenhill.
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