Road to the Breeders' Cup Teleconference 7/23
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Jim Mulvihill: Good afternoon everybody. Racing's second season, if you will, continues this weekend at some of the country's premiere racetracks, including Saratoga, Delmar, and Monmouth Park, and don't forget that two of this week's top races, the Grade I Diana for older turf females, and the Grade II Jim Dandy for three-year-olds, will be featured on the NBC Sports Network Summer at Saratoga Series. That's this Saturday, from 5:00 to 6:00 Eastern.
As always, we've got a great lineup of guests today that includes later in this call Arizona's co-owner, Bryan Sullivan; Stephanie's Kitten's trainer, Wayne Catalano; and Paynter's owner, Ahmed Zayat. So without further ado, let's get right to it.
The first guest today is Dallas Stewart. He's the trainer of Kentucky Derby runner-up, Golden Soul, who's probably for Sunday's $1 million Grade I Haskell Invitational. He's going to face the Preakness winner, Oxbow, and some other talented three-year-olds, including, of course, Verrazano and Micromanage. Two of Dallas's other top horses are in action Saturday at Saratoga. That's Perfect Title, trying to make a big step up in the Jim Dandy, and the three-year-old filly, Irish Lute, who's going in the Grade I Prioress.
So now, let's welcome in Dallas Stewart. Dallas, are you with us?
Dallas Stewart: Yes, thanks for having me.
Jim Mulvihill: Thank you for being here. Let's start with Golden Soul. This is a horse that—he's won more than a half million dollars, yet he's still eligible for an one other than. He got paychecks in the Lecompte, the Louisiana Derby, and then he had his big Kentucky Derby effort. But last time out, in the Belmont, he ran a distant ninth. Let's go back to that day. You skipped the Preakness to point for the Belmont. The consensus at the time was that the longer distance was going to be better for Golden Soul, but he never really made his run that day. Why do you suppose he didn't match his Derby effort in the Belmont?
Dallas Stewart: Well, we missed a little bit of time with him. He only had one work between the Derby and the Belmont and just—he had a little situation come up, his appetite. He just—you know, he acted like the race had really taken a lot out of him. So, you know, I think just maybe got just a little bit tired. Robby said he got to the head of the stretch in good shape but he just didn't push on. So, he made a run around the turn; just didn't finish up, but I think it was just a fitness thing. So, he came out of it good and seems to be doing very well now.
Jim Mulvihill: Yes, so let's get to now. I know he had a nice work on Saturday that you were pleased—you were pretty pleased with, from what I've heard. How has he been training coming into this million dollar race?
Dallas Stewart: You know, very good. His works are always good. He's a horse that's just so pleasant to train, puts a lot into his training, and he's always feeling good, he's always on top of his game. Just the Derby was such a huge effort, that's all, that just had taken a little bit out of him. But, you know, he's a wonderful horse to train, as I've said, and seems to be on. So, we're hopefully ready for Sunday.
Jim Mulvihill: Excellent. Well, we'll come to some of your other runners in a little bit, but first we'll open it up to the media. Michelle, do you want to see who else has some questions for Dallas Stewart?
Steve Edelson: I'm just curious. Pretty much the entire Haskell field is either trained by Wayne Lukas or conditioned by guys who worked a long time for him. Can you just talk about him and his influence on the game and on so many trainers who have gone out on their own?
Dallas Stewart: Well, you know, it was pretty amazing. It was pouring down rain this morning at Saratoga and he was out there on his pony and, you know, he just loves the game and he was just great to work for, just puts a lot of effort into his work ethic and just his love for the game is pretty amazing. So, I think everybody that works for him that's training right now, you know, respects him very highly for bringing a lot of that to the table and giving us opportunities early on, you know, to be around nice horses and to give us an opportunity to work for him and train. And he gave us nice horses to train and to learn from there, so, you know, it's just—and to see him still out there working hard, you know, is pretty amazing. It's like the story—like a storybook.
Ron Flatter: Dallas, what goes into the thinking, not just for you, but maybe even if you could speak to other trainers, as to why you would choose the Haskell versus the Jim Dandy or vice versa.
Dallas Stewart: Well, the purse is bigger, obviously, and—heck, I don't know. I guess just because the purse is bigger, you know, and I think he deserves to run in those type of races. This other horse that I'm going to run in the Jim Dandy, I think he's a really nice horse too. So, it was just one or the other, so I don't know. I didn't flip a coin or anything, but I just thought that horse should run for the bigger money, I guess, I would say.
Ron Flatter: Do you buy the speed reputation of Monmouth?
Dallas Stewart: Yes, it's a little bit of a factor, you know? But if it rains down there, it gets very sloppy and this horse ran very well in the slop. So, it rains down there a lot sometimes, so we'll just see. Maybe it'll be a speed battle and it'll help us out, so we'll see.
Danny Brewer: Talk about Perfect Title and Orb. What makes you think he's ready to step up into a race like the Jim Dandy?
Dallas Stewart: Well, you know, I was asked me the same question, why jump into a Grade II with him already. And if you look back to his last race, I mean, it was a very impressive showing, you know, eased him up the last 10 yards. The horse that he beat came back and won, of course. Proud Strike's a very, very nice horse, and just the way he did it. And this horse, I believed in him all spring long. He just—he needed time to catch up and time to get his groove on and, you know, I think he's ready. I think he's as talented as Golden Soul. He was his workmate all along, all last fall; went during the winter, into the spring. And he could almost—he couldn't beat him, but he could hang right there with him for about a length off of him, and so I know he's got some talent, because Golden Soul tested him a lot. So, adding those two things up. It's a nice purse, you know, 600,000. If we get beat here, we can always back up. We're just rolling the dice a little bit, but I really think that we got dice that are loaded a little bit. I feel like we've got a chance here, so—I believe in the horse.
Danny Brewer: He's got Monarchos and Northern Dancer in his bloodline.
Dallas Stewart: Oh, yes.
Danny Brewer: Does he have that kind of speed, do you think?
Dallas Stewart: Let me tell you what, he's one of the best-bred horses on the racetrack. He's a grandson of Personal Ensign. Mr. Fipke bought his mother at the sale, and he's a daughter—she's a daughter, excuse me—she's a daughter of Personal Ensign that was un-raced. And he's got the pedigree to run any kind of distance, to run in any kind of Stakes to compete at a world-class level. So, I think that there's a lot there to offer; I really do.
Danny Brewer: Well, I certainly do wish you the best of luck and I appreciate your time.
Will Springstead: Yes, thank you. I was curious about Irish Lute. It seems that she's run a bunch of distances and you've got her, you know, between six and a touch over a mile. I'm curious what makes you think at this time that the Priorus is the right race for her, and is this the distance you think you might be committed to?
Dallas Stewart: Will, thank you for the question. She's a filly that's very versatile. You know, we started her off sprinting and we've kind of increased her distance a little bit. But I just think that she's very—that she's a very effective sprinter. Even up to a mile she can be effective, and she's a very—she's a quality horse. She was third in the Eight Belles; just got beat out, what, a length or so to a Grade I winner. And then she came back; she won last time. She trains very well. She black lettered on the Saratoga training track a couple of days ago, so she's really on form. I think she's doing well. They say it's a small field. They say that it's going to be four horses, so hopefully, if she doesn't win, she'll get some Grade I black type. So I'm very excited about running her, I can tell you.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, Dallas, let me ask you one more follow-up here about Irish Lute. Her work Saturday over the Oklahoma track was the bullet of the morning; that was in 1:02. Just for the handicappers out there, how did you evaluate that work and, when we're looking at works over the training track versus the main track at Saratoga, have those been comparable this season?
Dallas Stewart: Well, I mean, I don't really know. I've trained a lot over on the training track and I breeze a lot there. Every now and then, I'll go over to the main track. I just tend to think that the main track changes from morning to afternoon and that the training track at Oklahoma is very safe and they get a lot out of it. So, you know, there's guys that have been training here for years and they use the Oklahoma track as their main work area. So, that's what I've done over the years. I feel good about it. She moved through it excellent. She came out of it great. I just think she's in top form. She's a very—she's a quality filly and I think she's going to represent us very well on Saturday. I'm excited about running it.
Jim Mulvihill: Excellent. Well, we appreciate your time this afternoon. Before I let you go, I've got one more question for you, and this one's pretty important. Your beloved New Orleans Saints open training camp this Thursday. How do you evaluate the Saints' chances this season?
Dallas Stewart: Well, at least we've got a coach. Last year we didn't even have a coach, you know? So, even though those guys are professionals and all that, they still need somebody chewing on their butts, so they got a guy that's going to be on their butt this weekend. So, I think we're going to do well. We've got a great offense. We've just got to tackle somebody, I guess, you can say. There was no defense last year. So, I think they'll do well.
Jim Mulvihill: That's what I like to hear. All right. Well, thank you, Dallas Stewart. Again, we appreciate your time and good luck with all your stake centers this weekend.
Dallas Stewart: Thank you very much.
Jim Mulvihill: All right. Moving on the call, our next guest is going to be Bryan Sullivan. Bryan Sullivan is a partner in the Let's Go Stable with his brother-in-law, Kevin Scatuorchio. They formed Let's Go Stable in 2006 and they've found success with stakes winners like Glacken's Gal, Ready's Echo, and El Padrino. Along with the Coolmore principles, they own Verrazano, who was undefeated entering this year's Kentucky Derby, where he finished 14th. Last month he came back to win the Pegasus by nearly 10 lengths, and that was over the very same Monmouth Park track as Sunday's Haskell. Bryan Sullivan, welcome to our call today.
Bryan Sullivan: Thanks for having me; appreciate it.
Jim Mulvihill: You've got it. Bryan, Verrazano really got back on track in the Pegasus, as we mentioned a few seconds ago. Did he need that confidence boost coming out of the Derby?
Bryan Sullivan: Yes, probably. I mean, maybe we needed the confidence boost more than he did but, you know, the Derby's such a tough race to win. We're just happy to get him back on track and, you know, looking forward to Sunday.
Jim Mulvihill: And by all indications, he is back on track. He had a sizzling work on Monday, 47-and-1. That was the fastest of 99 that morning at the distance. Did he do that on his own? What did you hear about that work?
Bryan Sullivan: Yes, unfortunately, I was away with my wife and kids, so I was not able to see it, which always bothers me because I hate not being there. But Todd said he did really well; he and Micromanage worked essentially head-to-head. We were on inside, but—, he didn't need much at this point, but the two of them seem to be doing very, very well. And they got some track earlier in the morning yesterday and Todd told me that when they had breeze, which is probably close to 9:00, 9:30, that the track was just in perfect shape. So, you know, good horses go fast, but maybe that—maybe the track helped. But I think, you know, they—I know we're doing well and just looking forward to Sunday.
Jim Mulvihill: That seems to be the way it's looking right now. Let's open up the call to the media and see who else has questions for Bryan Sullivan.
Ron Flatter: Bryan, I'll pose the same question to you that I posed to Dallas a bit ago. It seems with the Haskell and Jim Dandy in competition for three-year-olds, is the purse really the only reason that people come to the Haskell, or what's your reckoning and why did you make the choice over the Jim Dandy?
Bryan Sullivan: Well, for me, I live about a mile from Monmouth Park. So, I grew up always dreaming of running a horse in this race. So, that was first and foremost. You know, I think when you throw a million dollars in a Grade I on top of it with what appears to be a wide-open race to be three-year-old champion, I think that was kind of what led us there. We felt like, you know, we needed to win a Grade I and, you know, that's why we chose the Haskell.
Ron Flatter: And do you—when you look at the Pegasus, the top rival in the race was Itsmyluckyday. Do you still think there may be some questions as far as challenges that Verrazano needs to answer?
Bryan Sullivan: Well, you know, not in my mind, but I can see where people say—I mean listen, the horse is doing tremendous right now. One hiccup happened to be on a racetrack that he didn't care for, plus kind of got stepped in going into the first turn. So, you know, listen. Everyone has opinions. The way he ran on Pegasus day, you know, it's terrible to see something like that happen to a horse, especially a top horse. I'm not sure anyone's going to beat him that day, regardless. I mean, he won about as easy as a horse could win.
Ron Flatter: You glad Power Broker is not coming?
Bryan Sullivan: Yes, listen. I would like them all not to come, but with this horse, when he runs his race, I'm very, very confident. He's that kind of horse. I mean, we've owned horses where you go to these races and you say, “Well, maybe we need to go fast upfront, or this needs to happen, or maybe I need some rain; I need some help.” When this horse is right, you know, he's a very, very good animal.
Danny Brewer: You talked about when he's right he's very, very good. How close to right do you think he is right now?
Bryan Sullivan: I think he's probably as close as he possibly could be, you know, talking to Todd, watching him train. I was up there about 10 days ago. Physically, he looks great. I think he's matured a lot. He's carrying great weight. I mean, the one thing we have noticed is that in the mornings he's a lot smarter. He knows what he's to do and not to do, and so yes, he's always giving us the indication that this is the type of horse that will probably just get better with age as well. So, he's doing really, really well.
Oxbow and Micromanage and Golden Soul, and I'm sure they're going to scare some other people in there, are very, very nice horses, so it'll be a good test.
Danny Brewer: You know, before the Derby there was a lot of hoopla surrounding Verrazano, and he was the next super horse, and then the Derby happened and we know how this sport goes. Is this a chance for him to find a phone booth there in Monmouth and bust on out and show that he really is that super horse everybody thought he was?
Bryan Sullivan: Yes, you know, I think so. It's tough. I mean, this horse had—I don't want to say he gets no respect, but he—we crammed a lot in in about four or five months to get to the Derby, and we spaced everything and we did it properly. But to go from un-raced as a two-year-old and to the—you know, essentially the Derby favorite or co-favorite, was a lot to ask. And no excuses, Orb was the best horse that day; it wasn't our day. But, you know, he just—I mean, I remember walking over the track; I knew we were in trouble. I mean, we had talked before, the week leading up to it. We just didn't want it to stop raining. We wanted it to rain the whole day, and it essentially stopped two hours before the Derby and it turned into peanut butter. And you could just tell when he broke, he was holding his head high, and he just did not like it. You know, it's not an excuse. It's just a very, very tough race to win. But like you said, as soon as you stub your toe in this game, I mean, you're yesterday's news. So, we're looking to get back on the front page.
Bill Finley: As we speak on July 23rd, I think it's pretty unclear who the top three-year-old in the country is. Certainly, Verrazano enters into the equation. If we're having this same conversation about two months from now, do you expect that Verrazano can sort of take over this division which is wide-open right now, and what does he have to do to get that done?
Bryan Sullivan: I think he's got to win on Sunday. I mean, that would be, to me, the first step. You know, I don't know how to rank him. I think you're right. There's probably four or five horses, and maybe there's some we're not even talking about that could win this thing. But, Orb's got two Grade Ones. You know, Palace Malice is a nice horse. And so to me, we need to win our second Grade I and then we can kind of plot out going from there. But, it's going to be a tough two or three months to kind of sort through all this, and I think races like the Haskell, like the Travers and Jim Dandy. And then, where do you go from there in the fall, that's really going to be the case. I mean, some of these races—maybe the Kelso. Some of these races—I mean, they're going to be the races that could kind of sway who's on top. And I think to a certain extent we may not even get any clarity, but maybe it comes down to performances. So, maybe we need to awe some people going forward and to show that we're the horse that we know we are.
Bill Finley: Bryan, and I know I'm guilty of getting ahead of myself, but a Haskell—I'm getting way ahead of myself—but a Haskel-Travers double would certainly be a major accomplishment and no doubt put you ahead of the division. Any thoughts yet—the brain trust for you, Todd, and the team so far as what the plans are for the Travers?
Bryan Sullivan: You know, we haven't even mentioned it, this has been our focus. And sometimes you get in trouble in this game, you look too far ahead, and so we haven't even mentioned the word Travers. We're solely focused here, and if we can get this done, it comes out in a good order, you know, I don't see any reason why we wouldn't. But to answer your question, we haven't discussed anything past this race.
Tom Pedulla: I wanted to ask you, as you reflect on Derby Day, I guess first of all, what was that day like emotionally, and do you think there were one or two factors that contributed to the performance, or ultimately what went wrong?
Bryan Sullivan: You know, it's an incredible feeling to have a horse in the Derby. It was great to be there with Kevin and to be there two years in a row. Yes, I think our investors were rewarded with that, and so in that regard, it was—it's a tremendous experience. It's exhausting, when it's over. It's such a mental grind to get there and get through it. But, you know, like—we were over the moon to be there.
As for what went wrong, I mean, I tell people, I said, I don't know why I try and win this race every year. It's so hard to win. I literally think about it—I don't know—10 times a day, every day of the year, and then you get there and you say to yourself I've got to run against 20 horses over a track that's been rained on for an hour and a half and, you know, there's just so many factors you can't control, so it's such a tough race to say I want to win because luck is such a big part of that race. As for what happened to us, you could take your pick. I mean, it could've—I don't think he cared for the Churchill surface as a whole, to begin with. I mean, he works good over any racetrack, and he worked good over that racetrack. But did he relish it? Probably not. I know he did not like what we ran over, as a number of horses didn't. And if you go back and you look at replay, speaking to Johnny after the Pegasus, you can kind of see where he gets stepped on by Vyjack going into that first turn. It wasn't Vyjack's problem. It was just—you know, it's the Derby. There's too many horses, probably, in the race to begin with. And so that probably didn't help, either.
Now, if you ran that race on that surface the way it was, we're never going to win it. You can run it a hundred times. We're never going to win that race with that pace setup. And so, you've just got to move forward.
Ed McNamara: Before the Derby, the consensus was that Verrazano was an absolutely brilliant horse, but the question was how far he would run. Do you think he might have some distance limitations and that this week could find him out?
Bryan Sullivan: I think all horses have distance limitations, but regarding Verrazano, I think a mile and an eighth is well within his scope. So, that doesn't bother me. If you say how do you feel going a mile and a quarter, well, I'd say, “Hmm, well that probably depends on the track, the pace setup, a bunch of different things.” But I don't think he has any limitations. Todd's never thought he has any limitations. The way he trains, the way he's kind of matured in the last two months I think kind of lends to that. And yes, he's a very, very push-button type of horse. So I think this race will tell us a lot about Verrazano, and maybe more importantly, you know, does he have distance limitations. But, you know, we firmly believe that he doesn't and we're just excited for Sunday.
Jim Mulvihill: Bryan, I'll ask you to touch on one more topic before we let you go. You know, everybody on this call would probably agree that racing could use more young, enthusiastic owners, especially playing at the highest level like you guys have been the last few years. What has being an owner and racing brought to your life and what kind of advice would you have for someone who's thinking about getting into the game?
Bryan Sullivan: First off, it's incredibly tough work, this line of business. Everyone comes up to me and says oh, you're in horse racing; you're so lucky; it's so prestigious. And they don't know how much work and preparation goes in behind the scenes, i.e. with Todd and his staff, the hot walkers, the grooms, all the help. It's a tremendous amount of work goes into getting these horses ready for these big days. I don't think people appreciate how much work goes into it.
In terms of getting more people in, I'm all for getting younger people in. It's a unique niche that I found. I got lucky that I was able to learn a lot of the game via my father-in-law, Jim Scatuorchio, and Todd and J.J. Pletcher have been great the last 10 or 15 years teaching me. I kind of have a leg up, so to speak, being 37 and being involved in this game since I probably was 20, 25 years old. So, a lot of people don't get the experience that I have until their later—older in life or retired or something like that. With technology the way it is and the websites and the clocking and all the stuff, you can take advantage of it. It's not easy, but it's just like anything. If you put your mind to it and dedicate some time, you'll be surprised on how much you can pick up and learn.
Jim Mulvihill: Excellent. Well, once again, we appreciate your time and good luck on Sunday.
Bryan Sullivan: I appreciate it. Thanks, guys.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, Bryan Sullivan. Thank you very much. And now, we're going to move on to our next guest on this call, and that is trainer Wayne Catalano. Wayne trains Grade I winner, Stephanie's Kitten, who's in Saturday's $600,000 Grade I Diana at Saratoga. That one, of course, is part of the NBC Sports Network Summer at Saratoga Series from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. On Saturday. Stephanie's Kitten is a three-time Grade I winner. She took the 2011 Alcibiades at Keeneland prior to winning that year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Filly Turf. This year she's two for two, including her last start in the Grade I Just A Game at Belmont. Wayne Catalano, thanks for joining us.
Wayne Catalano: Hey, how are you, son? Nice talking to you guys. How are you all doing today?
Jim Mulvihill: Likewise. I'm doing great and appreciate you coming on with us. Wayne, this filly got a lot of time off last year after her campaign. I think she got about seven months before coming back at Churchill. Is that time off benefiting her now as she goes for her third win in a row?
Wayne Catalano: It looks like, she matured and she moved right on and never skipped a beat. The time really helped. We just freshened her up. We had her about ready to run, she had a little splint pop on her, which is no big deal; just kind of gave us a little more time getting it ready.
Jim Mulvihill: And then as you look ahead to the rest of the year, I mean, what kind of campaign—not to get ahead of ourselves here, but what kind of campaign have you mapped out for her and do you think this is a filly that has the ability to be a champion?
Wayne Catalano: Well yes, she's already a champion, in my eyes and a lot of people's. We're going to have to get through this race Saturday (inaudible), probably the Breeders' Cup, and we'll talk to Mr. Ramsey and Mark, and we'll pick up another part of the schedule for the rest of the year in the fall.
Jim Mulvihill: And what are you expecting this weekend? What are you expecting to see on Saturday? How do you feel about how she's coming into this race?
Wayne Catalano: The filly's doing very well. I mean, she's coming off a big race. She's in form right now and we’re expecting a big race out of her coming into Saturday's race.
Jim Mulvihill: Excellent. All right, well let's open it up for the media and see who has questions for Wayne Catalano.
Danny Brewer: Talk about the fight that this horse displayed in the stretch run in her two wins, especially that last one at Just A Game. It was a—I mean, talk about the fight that she displayed in the stretch there.
Wayne Catalano: Well, she showed game all along in her career, and she put in a very, very big effort. Johnny gave her a good run. Things had developed for her where she needed to get through (inaudible), you know, and everybody was avoiding the fence that day. It was supposed to be a little bit more soft, though, with all that rain coming in. They had a lot of rain. So, everybody thought the inside was a little softer than the rest of the part of the track and it maybe wasn't the best place to be. It gave us a little edge and opened up. She got through, and she ran (inaudible) and got the victory for us.
Danny Brewer: You know, both of her races this year have been against top-notch competition and she's ran extremely impressively. Do you think she's answered any questions that she needs to answer to anybody?
Wayne Catalano: I'll have to say no, at this point. I really (inaudible). Like you said, that was a (inaudible) the other day she'd be. She's done a lot of good races, performing in them, and running against a lot of good company, and we're very happy and extremely excited about the outcome of her races and the career that she has.
Danny Brewer: She ran well off of the long layoff. Depending on what happens in the Diana, do you think that she may take a little time off before the Breeders' Cup, or is she just going to try to map out another two or three races before then?
Wayne Catalano: Well, you know what? It's pretty hard to say, you know, (inaudible) kind of silly. She's not the biggest filly in the world. She's long and lean and, she takes our races pretty hard. So, we'll just have to see how she comes out of the race here.
Jim Mulvihill: Wayne, Johnny V has been on this horse for I think all of her Grade I wins. What do you like about Johnny and how does he fit this filly?
Wayne Catalano: Well, Johnny's world-class jockey and you're always happy to have a world-class jockey on your horse. Johnny, he makes the moves and he's got riding instinct’s, riding in those big races. He's got the patience, and he's just a very top rider, you've got to be very happy when you can get Johnny. (Inaudible) we're just excited to have him. Johnny's won a lot of races for us so we're hanging on, obviously. We go to Johnny first call.
Jim Mulvihill: Yes. All right, and I'll ask you one last question, then we'll let you go. You've got stalls at Saratoga this season. I know last year you shipped up when she won at Saratoga. How is it different being there for the meet and do we—should we see this as a step toward you being on the NYRA circuit year-round?
Wayne Catalano: Well, actually, last season was my first season there. We had (cross talking).
Jim Mulvihill: Oh, you were there. I'm sorry.
Wayne Catalano: Yes, it was—that was my first season. We're happy with it. We're thinking about putting a string of horses here year-round. They've got a lot of money and the race is good, and if we can get some people here that want to race here.
Jim Mulvihill: And would you be splitting strings elsewhere, or you would commit to New York with your entire stable?
Wayne Catalano: We have a couple strings and we'd have some places that we would race.
Jim Mulvihill: Gotcha, all right.
Wayne Catalano: In the Midwest and South.
Jim Mulvihill: Yes. All right, that makes sense. All right, well, Wayne, thanks for your time today and good luck on Saturday with Stephanie's Kitten.
Wayne Catalano: Thank you very much. Have a nice day.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, moving on to our last guest on this NTRA national teleconference. That guest is Ahmed Zayat, the owner—one of America's top owners since he got into the game in 2005. Zayat Stables has led the North American owners by earnings once prior in 2008 and has owned three Kentucky Derby runner-ups, Pioneer of the Nile, Nehro, and Bodemeister. Today, though, we're glad to have Mr. Zayat here to talk about Paynter. Paynter will surely be the fan favorite in Saturday's Grade II San Diego Handicap at Delmar. If not—he'll definitely be the fan favorite and possibly the betting favorite.
Jim Mulvihill: You know, Paynter was the winner of last year's Haskell, but for those that don't know the story, although that's probably very few people on this call at this point, Paynter was near death not long after the Haskell after bouts of colitis and laminitis. His recovery ended up earning the NTRA Moment of the Year as voted on by fans, and then he came back to the races last month, scoring an emotional win in an allowance race at Hollywood that sets him up well for this Grade II race this weekend. Mr. Zayat, can you take us back to last month and try to describe what you were feeling in the Winner's Circle after Paynter's win?
Ahmed Zayat: Well, if you don't believe in miracles, you certainly have to start believing in one, because seeing Paynter—first of all, his attitude, his—he's a warrior. He's a champion. He has an incredible heart. The way he inspired me, fans, trainer, everybody; the fight he put and his tenacity was unbelievable. It's just—words cannot describe it. It's just—we were in tears. We were—tears of joy, happiness, a mixed bag of feelings that was a moment not even to forget.
Jim Mulvihill: Of course, and now he's poised to perhaps come back and win a Grade II stakes this weekend. He worked—he had a really impressive work on Sunday, 47-and-1, with Rafael Bejarano up. What did you hear from Bob about that work, and what does that tell you about how he is coming into this race?
Ahmed Zayat: I think he came out of the race in a great shape. The day he came out of it, I mean, he looked like he wanted to go another round. I know this is an overused word, but he was not really blowing hard. It was mind-boggling for Bob to do such an incredible job. He came at the very tough and unique distance at seven-eighths and in a very decent field and, you know, let alone a horse not going through what he went through, but just layoff and to run the way he did, and his gallop out was just absolutely insane.
You know, the—a couple of days after the work, he was—really, really wanted to do more and he went back right to the track, and he had been training wonderfully. He's a very happy horse. He loves and enjoys what he does. He likes being back at the box barn with his—all his friends, and he's loving it. He's feeling extremely well. We are very happy the way he's coming into the race, and we're expecting good things.
Jim Mulvihill: You mentioned that he's a happy horse. This is a tough thing to see in an animal, but has his disposition been different since coming back to the racetrack, and how do you tell that he's a happy horse and perhaps even changed?
Ahmed Zayat: Well, you have to know Paynter. Paynter is Paynter; he's full of himself. He knows who he is, and he's kind of a horse that, you know, you can't pet him, really; he'll bite you. So, he's showing this tenacity, this fight in him. He (inaudible) on the rider. They can't restrain him. He loves going in the morning and showing off and training. So, you can see that he's back to his old self and being happy, and that's really what we love to see and what makes me and my family fortunate to have—to be around him.
Danny Brewer: This is the spirit of Paynter; you talked about him, you know, wanting to bite and stuff like that. Is that spirit one of the things you think that kept him alive and that fight that he's got within?
Ahmed Zayat: Yes, definitely. There's no doubt about it. Actually, there is a joke between myself and Bob Baffert. Bob used to tell me, “You know, if there is any horse in the world that would really characterize you, it's Paynter. He's as fun of a character as you are,” quote, unquote. And basically, yes, he's an incredibly tough horse. He loves fighting. He thrills in competition. He has been an—but the same Paynter who's tough is an unbelievable gentleman. He knew what he had to do. When he was sick, he really let all his vets—he was like a (inaudible), that—you know, “I need to be taken care of. Please take care of me. I will cooperate. I will be sort of the nice boy.” It was amazing. Laura used to tell me how unbelievable—when I was describing Paynter that I know to her, she would not believe that is the same Paynter as the patient. So, this is a very smart and really bright horse who knows what he has to do at every point in his life. He s a survivor. This is the right word for him. He's an incredible survivor.
Danny Brewer: So, if you and Paynter kind of have this connection going on where he's like the—represents you on the track, can this give you a lot of satisfaction that some of your other horses—I mean, you've got plenty of money; we know that. So, can he give you a lot of satisfaction in what he achieves on the track because of what he's been through and what you've helped him get through?
Ahmed Zayat: Listen. To be quite honest with you, it's a very hard sometimes to keep your ego in check, and God knows that all of us have—at least I do. And I try as much as possible to say that this is really about the horse, he deserves what he is going through right now. He fought so hard. And thoroughbreds love—are born to run, I believe, and the good ones love running and love being competitive and compete at the highest level. So, I believe we are doing what needs to be done mostly for the horse and for Paynter, and I've told Bob at any point, “If you tell me he's not right, he's not feeling right, I'm pulling the plug. He doesn't owe anybody anything.” And therefore yes, I'm extremely thrilled and happy to see the way he has progressed and liking what he's doing.
Tom Pedulla: Yes, Mr. Zayat, frankly how close did this horse come to dying? Was there a day or a time where it looked hopeless?
Ahmed Zayat: Hi, Tom. It actually hurts me, thinking about the track now, and not to be corny about it, because it's very tough calls and memories. At some time you need to respect the dignity of somebody. Myy father is a physician. I grew up around medicine. I believe sometimes that quality of life means a lot, and it was very important for me that the horse level of pain is being managed properly.
My instruction to his angel Laura was “You need to be very much in tune about how much this horse can or cannot take,” and therefore, it was very important for us that we are attending to how he's feeling literally hour after hour. And yes, there had been a lot of moments that we (inaudible) only after having—and we had maybe—no exaggeration here—at least 10 vets involved worldwide, everybody in his specialty. I've spoken to every single consultant under the sun, God knows, and our agreement between me and she, we are the only two people who would make the decision when to pull that plug and basically by monitoring what is the horse telling us to do. And there was a lot of time when we felt that—maybe three or four times, to be accurate—that maybe it's just—let him, rest in peace, so to speak. And we will keep telling each other, “Let's give him another half hour or 15 minutes and talk.” And somehow every time, when we are so close, he'll just perk up. He'll do something that will give us an indication that “Don't give up on me yet,” like if he was having, like, the constant diarrhea, it will, you know, let out, if this is the right word, for like, you know, 15 minutes, or he will all of the sudden, like, have an appetite to eat. Like, he—there was a certain time where every time we were close to pull the plug, he has given us every indication that not yet.
Ed Zieralski: Mr. Zayat, there was a time here at Del Mar you weren't a real fan of the Polytrack. Has it changed any, in your opinion, or are you still not a real fan of the Polytrack?
Ahmed Zayat: No, I'm not a fan of the Polytrack. I think the Poly track is glorified plastic, that neither horses nor jockeys like it. Nobody likes the kick-back in the face. Nobody likes when—particularly in De Mar, when the sun is very, very hot and the wax starts melting and it's so uncomfortable on the horses' feet, and all of a sudden you find that horses are running awkward and are not comfortable and the riders are not happy. No, I'm not. I think that Poly is a superb surface to train on. It really does help fitness. It helps horses particularly with some softer tissues to be—it's much kinder on them. But generally speaking, I'm not a fan of artificial surface because the beauty of a thoroughbred is its majestic—the way they move, the way they're able to move and when you put an extra dimension, complexity, in races that is not needed, since we all know there is so much variable in any race, no, I'm not a fan. So, if I answer it very clearly, no, I'm not a fan.
Ed Zieralski: You've change—you've (inaudible) some companies around your time. What do you think of—how would you change California racing, and what do you think could help California racing improve?
Ahmed Zayat: That's a loaded question. I'm not really qualified. I don't know. I do not know too much about the politics of racing in California. I've loved and supported California because we just love the state, we love the weather, we love the track. Santa Anita is one of the most gorgeous tracks in the world. Del Mar is a fun place to be. Hollywood has its history. My number one trainer is Bob Baffert, is there. So, there's a lot of reasons for us to support and race in California. But, you know, I read what you all read about the politics of California, and I really don't have very well educated opinion, since I'm really not involved.
Ed Zieralski: Mr. Zayat, one more question. Paynter's certainly a success story in terms of how he came back from the dead, basically. We know Bob has had—Bob Baffert has had some issues with horses dying on him up at Hollywood Park. You're one of the owners that obviously has stayed with him, just said he's your number one trainer. What do you think happened there, and have you talked to Bob much about that situation?
Ahmed Zayat: Let me tell you something about Bob Baffert. Bob Baffert is one of the reasons that I am in racing up 'til this day, because he truly knows how to bring in new blood. You know, I was young. I was, like, 42 or 43 when I got in. I've invested a lot of money. It's because he taught me and gave me the courage to understand the fragility of these horses and how this sport has its ups and downs and you have to enjoy the moment. I am not ducking your question, but I will answer you. So, he is the person.
Not only that, now watching Baffert as a trainer, I can tell you that I've been around a lot of the best trainers in America, and one thing I can tell you that stands out about Bob Baffert, Bob teaches horse. A lot of people can train, but Bob would come and tell me “This horse has these issues, and I'm going to teach him to try to learn to do something new.” So, he actually teaches and educates. I don't know I'm sure most people know how Bob Baffert micromanages, literally, work, breathes—I mean, he uses two-way radios with his riders. It's scripted to the absolute second.
You know, when I had Pioneer of the Nile, he used to come and, after the breeze, watching the horse cool down, and we will be together, and he'll be looking and staring at the horse literally, like, 20 or 30 minutes. And I'll be next to him. I said, “Bob, what are you looking at? What do you keep, like staring at a horse for 20, 30 minutes?” He tells me, “Ahmed, it's all about these unbelievable details.” It's just—he's so detail-oriented and knows his horses inside out. He loves the animals. This is his livelihood. And I'm almost—I'm very sure that Bob will—wants nothing but the best for his horses, his owners, and the sport. He's the most recognizable trainer in America. He is Ambassador of Racing. Bob Baffert is somebody who I respect, love, and I could not endorse enough.
Now, commenting directly on the instant of having a lot of these horses dying on the track, it's an absolute tragedy. It's sad. As a horse lover, it's bothering me. It kills me. The numbers, at first sight, look at it as it's tremendous percentage in one barn. So, it needed investigation and it needed people to look at it to understand what's going on. My understanding in my reading all the reports that they have looked into this matter thoroughly, and it's puzzling a lot of people. And they are comfortable that there isn't any fault or wrongdoing, whatever the word you might want to say, and I'm very comfortable with Bob Baffert as a trainer who loves animals, that these are his livelihood.
Jon White: And you've talked—mentioned Pioneer of the Nile. I wondered if you could tell us about your Pioneer of the Nile two-year-old Colvir.
Ahmed Zayat: Well, first of all, it's an unbelievable thrill to not only have raced Pioneer but now to own Pioneer as a stallion and to see him stand at WinStar. His babies are—I mean, we have been very, very high on them. I mean, time can only tell, but if they race to their looks, and they have been doing wonderfully, this stallion would be—in my opinion would be—of course, I'm biased—could be a really, really nice prospect for us to get excited about.
We have a lot of babies. Two of them right now are at the Baffert Barns, or will be starting pretty soon. One was named Zcoleman (ph) but changed to Colvir. He's pretty close. Bob likes him a lot. He thinks he's—“is a runner” and Bob can tell; trust me when I tell you. And we have another Pioneer of the Nile out of the dam that won every Grade I for me (inaudible) by the name of My JoJo. She's a beautiful filly. So, we are very, very excited about Pioneer of the Nile babies.
Jon White: And why was the name changed to Colvir?
Ahmed Zayat: Let me tell—this is actually a very nice story, if you want to hear it. The name was named after a kid who I've never met in my life except a couple of weeks ago that called himself Paynter Zayat. He actually was tweeting as Paynter Zayat. He's not related to us; we never know him. He's a 15-year-old kid who became a fan of Paynter and decided to call himself Paynter Zayat and tweet and follow Zayat Stables and to become a fan. So, in honor of him, I picked what I believe one of my best two-year-olds and I asked him to name him, and he picked an abbreviation of his name and his brother's name, who is 13 years old. And we had to put—the name, believe it or not, was taken, so we had to stick the V in front of it to have the Jockey Club accept it. And we did, and most people in Bob's barn were having a very hard time pronouncing the name, the grooms, riders, and other, and Bob told me the name is (inaudible) tough. So, we went back to Coleman (ph), the name of the kid, and asked him, “Listen, I want your permission to change the name, but you must pick a name that you would like.” And I think he and Justin Zayat maybe spent three weeks submitting name after name, maybe 15 times. Everything was rejected, and finally they came up with that name, which is Col, which is after his name Coleman, and vir in Latin is man.
Jon White: Oh, that is a very interesting story. Thank you very much, Ahmed.
Tom Pedulla: Yes, so Mr. Zayat, I wanted to ask what is the grand plan with Paynter. I mean, do you know what might be next? Do you allow yourself to dream about the Breeders' Cup Classic? And also, given everything you've been through, do you want to campaign him past this season?
Ahmed Zayat: Okay, so with that horse I learned one step at a time, but I will be lying to you, Tom, if I tell you I'm not dreaming of the Breeders' Cup Classic. I think the distance would suit him. As we all know, only his fourth start he got beat on the wire running the Classic, the Belmont. So, we know that mile-and-a-half is not an issue, and of course, the Breeders' Cup Classic is not a mile-and-a-half, so he has zero distance limitation. It's natural for us to think that that would be the optimal race for him. It's going to be running in Santa Anita, anyhow, which is his base. So, for a goal, you know, if you want to put a goal, that would be obviously the ultimate. We have to see how he is going to race this Saturday. He is doing extremely well. We are very happy. He's ready. The question marks I have would be how would he race on Del Mar's surface. But Paynter is Paynter, and Paynter always gives his best, and I'm sure he would. And I have every confidence in him that he would race to the thrill of his fans.
Tom Pedulla: And just if I may, do you have any thoughts of campaigning him beyond this year?
Ahmed Zayat: I'll let the horse tell me. I certainly am not ruling that out at all, that that would be actually what (inaudible) the racing world needs.
Danny Brewer: Mr. Zayat, is the Pacific Classic on the radar? I know it depends on how he handles the surface, but if he handles the surface well in San Diego, could the Pacific Classic be his next race?
Ahmed Zayat: The answer is yes. If he runs well Saturday, it would be a natural progression that we would run there, because otherwise, you probably would have to look somewhere else and ship to Saratoga and maybe for the Whitney or something like that. But anytime that you can avoid shipping is always a better thing for a horse. He's shipped before, but if I can avoid shipping him, why should I? So yes, if he races and likes the surface in Delmar and did well on Saturday, then the natural progression would be the Pacific.
Jim Mulvihill: Mr. Zayat, just to clarify real quickly, the two-year-old that caught Jon White's eye, Colvir, how do you spell that one?
Ahmed Zayat: C-o-l-v-i-r.
Jim Mulvihill: V-i-r, okay. I was trying to find him for my Stable Mail There you go. All right.
And before we let you go, just a few quick updates on some of your other stable stars. Fast Bullet had a work this morning?
Ahmed Zayat: He worked awesome. I personally do not like the way he is training on this surface, although Baffert thinks he's training well. I will discuss it with Bob and Justin. My gut feeling is that we run in the Vanderbilt or pick another spot. That is my gut feeling. We will have—he worked very well today. Last work he didn't work well at Del Mar; his first work ever at Del Mar. So, I was concerned, but today he worked pretty well. Baffert was very happy. But I'm not so sure that this is his best surface, and God knows that on Sunday the race is Who's Who and you really want to run when you are absolutely perfect. And I don't think that the surface would—we will get the Fast Bullet we want. We have been extremely patient with this horse, because he had some issues and we wanted to be kind and right in managing the horse, and we have not been trying to push him. So, I'm very conscious of that. I will be discussing it later today with Bob, and we'll make a decision if we are running in the Bing Crosby. My gut feeling, if it's me alone deciding, he will be not. But I have to hear Baffert and I have to hear Justin Zayat, who makes a lot of decisions.
Jim Mulvihill: Sure, okay. And Justin Phillip is up at Saratoga with Steve Asmussen.
Ahmed Zayat: He worked lights out, literally. We're extremely pleased. I think he got the Bullet. You know, he's got those—last year he lost it in a photo finish, the Grade I Vanderbilt. Maybe we'll get our redemption this time. So, that's one of the other factors that we have to wrestle. Do we run both horses against each other at the Vanderbilt? So, that's another factor that we have to think about.
Jim Mulvihill: Certainly. And Prayer For Relief, for the Churchill Downs?
Ahmed Zayat: Yes, I think he's doing well. I believe he's going to Remington for the Governor's Cup or something. I don't know the exact name of it; I think it's in Remington.
Jim Mulvihill: Gotcha. All right. Well, Mr. Zayat, we really appreciate your time and your stories this afternoon. You know, those of us in the media, we're supposed to be neutral, but I can tell you that a lot of people on this call will be pulling for Paynter this weekend, so thank you for your time and best of luck.
Ahmed Zayat: Well, thank you very much. And you guys have been doing a wonderful job for racing and, you know, all the help we could get would be fantastic.blog comments powered by Disqus