2014 Road to the Triple Crown Conference Call - March 4, 2014
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Jim Mulvihill: Thank you, Michelle, and thank you, members of the media for joining us today, and happy Mardi Gras to all of you. This week we continue on the Road to the Triple Crown with two Kentucky Derby Championship Series races, the Tampa Bay Derby and the San Felipe at Santa Anita. Both stakes are worth 85 points towards Kentucky Derby qualification, including 50 points to the winners. The biggest race of the week, though, which we’ll also be talking about on today’s call, isn’t for three-year-olds, it’s the Santa Anita Handicap for older horses and this renewal is truly the race of the year to date. Note that the Big ’Cap will be featured on a special edition of The Jockey Club Tour on Fox; that’s Saturday at 7:00 Eastern on Fox Sports 1. Also, the Horse Racing Radio Network will broadcast the Tampa Bay Derby and the Hillsborough. That coverage kicks off at 4:30 Eastern on SiriusXM and the HRRN affiliates.
Now, on today’s call, we’ve got you covered on all fronts – the Derby Preps and the Big ‘Cap. Later on, we’re going to talk to trainer Mark Casse. He’s got a pair of live shots in the Tampa Bay Derby. We’ve also got Gary Stevens, who rides Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, Mucho Macho Man in the Big ‘Cap, as well as Bayern in the San Felipe the same afternoon; and then, we’ll wrap up with Willis Horton, the star of January’s Eclipse Awards, best known as owner of last year’s champion three-year-old, Will Take Charge, who came up a nose short to Mucho Macho Man in the Breeder’s Cup Classic and will also try the Big ‘Cap on Saturday.
But first, to start us off, we’re pleased to welcome in Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Baffert has trained four Santa Anita Handicap winners, General Challenge in 2000, Misremembered in 2010 and, of course, two-time winner, Game On Dude, who Saturday will seek to become the race’s first three-time winner. Last year, Game On Dude won the Big ‘Cap by seven and three-quarter lengths. That was the largest margin in the race’s 77-year history. Also on Saturday, Baffert will settle Bayern and Midnight Hawk in the San Felipe. Bayern was a 15-length allowance winner last month at Santa Anita, while Midnight Hawk comes off a solid third in the Bob Lewis. The San Felipe is a race Baffert has won four times before with three-year-olds Pioneerof the Nile, Preachinatthebar, Point Given and Prime Timber. Bob, welcome to the call. You’re on with Jim Mulvihill in New York.
Bob Baffert: Thanks for having me.
Jim Mulvihill: Yes, of course. Well, we got a lot to cover this Saturday, but we’re going to start with the Big ‘Cap and Game On Dude. Last year, he started his campaign with an easy win in the San Antonio. This year, he tried to go the same route but weakened to fifth in that race. What happened there? Was that just a matter of being too close to the fast pace that day, maybe a bit headstrong off the layoff?
Bob Baffert: Well, he might’ve been a little bit too fresh and the thing about Game On Dude is pace has always been—he’s needed to be up on his pace and I think both jockeys were trying to make the lead early, so it took its toll in the race, but since that he’s come back. I think he really probably needed a race like that and Mike Smith said he took care of him once he knew he wasn’t going to hit the board. He wasn’t too hard on him after that, so he’s come back since then. He’s worked well, so it’s going to be a tough race. I mean, the lineup is pretty strong, it’s like a Breeder’s Cup lineup, so he’s going to really have to run one of his top performances.
Jim Mulvihill: Well, we mentioned he’s a two-time winner, that only four horses have won the Big ‘Cap twice. He doesn’t have a lot left to prove at this point, but if he were to win three times, would that be significant historically?
Bob Baffert: Well, the thing is I just want the horse to run well and, you know, keep him at that top level. You know, as they get older you have to use your right judgment and make sure that your horse is doing fine. If he looks like he’s going to run a big one, you run him. If I didn’t think so, then I wouldn’t run him. So the main thing is that make sure that I put him in a position where he still can compete at that top level.
Jim Mulvihill: Gotcha. Well, I’m sure the media will have some questions about Game On Dude, but before we go to them, I also want to talk about the three-year-olds, specifically Bayern. He wins by 15 lengths last time out, facing winners for the first time. What did that race tell you about this colt’s potential?
Bob Baffert: You know, we were pretty impressed by it. I thought he was doing really well and he got out there and kept running. You know, he’s a fast horse, stretched out nicely, and, you know, you never know—we thought he could stretch out, but you never know until you do it and the way he did it was pretty impressive. So it was exciting but I think this out we’ll learn more about him. You know, he needs to get another race against some really—it’ll be a pretty tough race this weekend so we’ll learn more about him and Gary Stevens has worked him the last couple of times and he seems happy with him, he’s still trying to figure him out, trying to see what he likes and that’s the whole key of these three-year-olds.
You’re trying to find out their style and make sure you don’t get in their way, and so he’s been working him the mornings. Gary’s the best at that, he’s a really good horseman. I think he’s a great jockey. He’s a good horseman. He always comes back and says, “You know what? I think I learned something from him today. I’ve learned something from him,” and he can get on a horse and tell you, “You know what? He doesn’t want this. He doesn’t want that. That was the wrong thing to do.” Just like Point Given, after the Derby, he came back and said, “Boy, I know what this horse wants to do,” and after that he never got beat. But, you know, sometimes you don’t find out until you’re in a tough race to find out how they want to run.
Michael Pointer: Hi, Bob. Good morning. Hey, just wanted to check with you and see how the colt that is our city’s namesake (Indianapolis) is doing and when’s the next time we might see him on the track?
Bob Baffert: Well, we sort of have a setback with him, so he got sick and then the rain came, so I’ve had a little setback with him. I haven’t really planned anything yet, so there’s not much I can tell you about him now.
Michael Pointer: Am I right in saying you haven’t even worked him recently or anything like that? He hasn’t been on the track at all? You’re just trying to get him better?
Bob Baffert: Yes. He’s been jogging, but nothing serious. He’s just in light training.
Michael Pointer: Okay. Does he have any chance considering the time of the year? It looks like this has been—you say there’s really no scheduled spot for him. Does he have any chance to run in the Derby at this point, or is that just really kind of out of the question at this moment?
Bob Baffert: It’s really—you know, these horses, I haven’t really—what I do is I just let them come around on their own and I did the same thing last year. I’m not going to push him. If they can’t make that window, I don’t really press on, so I probably won’t know for another couple of weeks but, you know, I’m not even thinking about it right now.
Jon White: (Audio interference).
Bob Baffert: I didn’t get that one.
Jim Mulvihill: It sounds like Jon was asking about Game On Dude’s most recent work.
Bob Baffert: Oh, okay. Yes, he went by—he worked by himself. He worked—he went around there, you know, nice and in hand, so he looks good. He looks like he’s coming in to race great, so I don’t see anything there that would make me think that he wasn’t ready for it.
John White: How would you compare his condition going into the Big ‘Cap this year versus the way he trained into the Big ‘Cap when he won it so impressively last year?
Bob Baffert: I can’t even remember that far back. You know, in the last race I knew he might be a little short. I really haven’t cranked on him to just race. I thought maybe he could get by on his own merit, you know, but he got really tired, but he’s come back well and he looks really good on the race track. So much has happened between last year and now, I can’t really—you know, he always looked good just going into the races, so he looks good again going into this race.
John White: Your biggest concern coming into the Big ‘Cap this year?
Bob Baffert: My biggest concern is probably a horse called Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge.
John White: Okay, Bob. Thank you very much.
Bob Baffert: All right.
Danny Brewer: Hey, Bob. How’re you doing today?
Bob Baffert: Fine, thanks.
Danny Brewer: Okay, Game On Dude, his first Big ‘Cap win, a real war in the stretch; I mean, it was a battle royal. Does he have that kind of fight left in him, you think?
Bob Baffert: Well, I think he does as long as you allow him. You know, he’s a kind of horse that he’s got a certain style and everything’s got to go well for him because otherwise he’s not effective, so he needs to be—you know, he’s fast. He doesn’t like to go real, real fast. He went just way too fast last time and, you know, we were aware of it. But, he’s a horse that, you know, he’s not going to come from out of it, but he has to be in the fight early. We have to give him a chance and, you know, it’s got to be a reasonable pace. It can’t be a ridiculous pace but, I mean, those races are always fast anyway, so I’m sure he’ll be going pretty fast there. But, you know, it has to unfold the right way for him and if it does, then he’s very effective.
Danny Brewer: I want to talk a little bit about Kentucky Derby history. Obviously, you’ve had your share of success. Years and years ago, there were the Jones boys, Ben Jones and Jimmy Jones. They had 15 starters over the years, eight wins, three seconds, and one third and, of course, you’ve had your fair share of success with seven horses finishing in the money. Will we ever see somebody do what the Jones guys did based on how horse racing is today?
Bob Baffert: Probably not because, you know, back in the day, I—what I know of is that the horse population wasn’t as—you know, I don’t think there were that many horses being sold every year. I think the big outfits like the Calumets, they had all the majority of the big horses so there’s so many more horses now and it’s the parity, you know, and I think it’s tough. And then with a 20 horse field and you need so much luck. You need a really good horse because you need a lot of luck, but it’s changed so much. You can’t even really compare it, the way it is now.
Danny Brewer: Okay. Lastly, with Gary Stevens you talked about Point Given. When you have a jockey with the experience of Gary, does he help you in your game planning for the race?
Bob Baffert: Excuse me, repeat that again.
Danny Brewer: Having a jockey with the experience like Gary Stevens, do you turn to a guy like that to help you game plan for the race when you’re sending your three-year-olds out for these races?
Bob Baffert: Well, yes. I mean, I think, you know it’s a lot of pressure, especially if you have a heavy duty contender. But, I mean, I’ve seen those jocks—the Derby won by first time jockeys, you know, and the main thing is you have to have a horse and the horse has to be doing fantastic, and we always have an idea of that. Though, after the last prep, you sort of have an idea to send probably five horses that you know that are going to be factors in a race, unless it’s just—there’s a complete pace meltdown or something weird happens in the first part of the race, which, usually it happens with 20 horses. So, it’s just a long shot coming up and winning it or whatever, but everybody knows going in. Like, the last couple of weeks after their last prep, you know if you have a chance or not.
Danny Brewer: Bob, I appreciate the time, and I wish you the best of luck.
Bob Baffert: Thank you.
Art Wilson: Hey, Bob. You already touched on the fact that the Big ‘Cap is like a Breeder’s Cup type of race with the horses that are in it. Yes, and you’ve got the four-year-olds, you’ve got the six-year-old, and then you got your seven-year-old, Game On Dude, which is rare having older horses racing against each other now. How important to the industry, to the sport do you think that a race like this is?
Bob Baffert: Well, I think it’s important for just our fans that go out to Santa Anita. You know, every time we have big horses run, the place really fills up, it’s amazing. We have a pretty good fan base here at Santa Anita. You know, they come day in and day out, and even when the weather’s bad, they still show up. So I think everybody loves a big show, a good show, and people will always come out when good horses are running. Santa Anita, it fills up, you know, and that’s one of the things, is when you win a big race on a big day like that when the stands are pretty full and a lot of cheering and it’s loud, really it’s a good feeling. That, to me, that’s the good feeling story, when you see a lot of people out and they’re cheering for home and you can hear the roar of the crowd, there’s nothing better feeling than that. Winning—when you win one of those—under those circumstances, that’s what makes racing so exciting.
Art Wilson: Now, this is only the second time we’re going to have the first and second place finishers in the Breeder’s Cup the previous year face off in the Big ‘Cap. Last time was ’88 with Alysheba and Ferdinand. What do you remember? There were 70,000 there that day. What do you remember most about that day in ’88?
Bob Baffert: Well, I was still at Los Alamitos training quarter horses and wearing a cowboy hat, so I...
Art Wilson: So you were…
Bob Baffert: I had no idea.
Art Wilson: You weren’t at Santa Anita that day, then?
Bob Baffert: No, I was just—I was still training quarter horses. I wasn’t even thinking about Thoroughbreds.
Art Wilson: Okay. What—you’ve already had Bayern prove to you that he can go two turns. What are you looking—what do you want to see from him on Saturday?
Bob Baffert: You know, you want to see one, two, three; you want to see good effort. And you want to see how they handle the—you know, he just ran a big race a few weeks ago—come back. Running in a big race and see—it’s just going to be—from here on out, the preps are going to be so important. It starts meaning a lot more and so we want to see a good effort. We want to see—win, lose, or draw you want to see he’s going the right way. We want him to be moving forward at this point.
Art Wilson: Right, and lastly, I know you’ve told me that you don’t plan ahead, that you take it one race at a time, but are you thinking that both Midnight Hawk and Bayern will stay in California, or is there the option that you could send one of them out further in the next prep?
Bob Baffert: Oh, I don’t know. We’ll just run them this week and then just decide after that, see how they come out. I really don’t like to make a decision until I have to.
Art Wilson: Right.
Bob Baffert: It’s just like a horse like Indianapolis; I really can’t make that call until, you know, a couple of weeks. But these horses, you know, it changes from week to week, so right now, the thing is, is to try and keep them from getting sick and keep them healthy, and you just can’t look beyond or I just feel like I’m going to jinx myself. So I really don’t like talking about it too much because it can change overnight. So, right now, we’re just keeping them together, keeping them healthy, and that’s the hardest part right now.
Art Wilson: Sure, okay. Good luck Saturday, Bob.
Bob Baffert: Thank you.
Operator: Thank you. The next question comes from Debbie Arrington of Sacramento Bee. Please go ahead.
Debbie Arrington: Hi, Bob. Thank you very much for coming on today. Game On Dude is on the verge of history here, if he can pull it off on Saturday. He’s tied with John Henry, Milwaukee Brew, and Lava Man for two wins apiece. What would it mean to you if Game On Dude could get that three-peat?
Bob Baffert: I mean, it’d be sort of an emotional race for me because the horse is such a nice horse and he’s so nice to be around in the barn. He’s a really sweet horse. I mean, you can walk up to him and he’s like a pet, you know, and he’s just so—you know, little kids come up to him and he’s just a really gentleman kind of a horse, and he tries so hard. You know, that’s why when people say things about him, it sort of hurts our feelings because you’re talking about one of our kids, you know? So, he’s got some big ones left in him and so it’d be very exciting. Anytime you win the Big ‘Cap, it’s exciting no matter what horse you have it with, you know, but he needs to run against those good horses and, you know, we’d like to win those races.
Debbie Arrington: You touched a little bit on this, you know, the Big ‘Cap, it’s a very special race, especially for folks out here in California, you know. Do you have, like, an all time favorite Big ‘Cap moment?
Bob Baffert: Oh yes. I think when I won it with Misremembered, it was the house horse. That was really exciting. You know, I bred the horse. You know, when you breed a horse yourself and then you win the Big ‘Cap, it’s like, you know, the odds of that, it’s so tough. So I’ve been fortunate. Jill and I, we’ve been fortunate to win Grade 1 races with horses we’ve bred or we owned, and I think that was really, really an exciting race and winning the first time with General Challenge, that was exciting, because the Big ‘Cap—when I first came over to Santa Anita, winning the Big ‘Cap was the race to win, you know. It’s just always been the race here at Santa Anita, along with the Santa Anita Derby, but it’s—you know you win the Big ‘Cap, you feel like you’ve really accomplished something big.
Debbie Arrington: Yes. Very good. Well, best of luck.
Bob Baffert: Thank you.
Jennie Rees: Yes, Bob, obviously you’ve won the Santa Anita Handicap, you’ve won the Dubai World Cup. Can you talk about—it just seems like, since the advent of the Dubai World Cup maybe until this year, it’s taken some marquee horses out of the Big ‘Cap and maybe, while the Big ‘Cap was really big in California, it didn’t get the national attention that, say, this one is. So can you just sort of talk about this particular race and the buzz around it, and do you think it’s getting back to where the Big ‘Cap will be—the Big ‘Cap and the Dubai World Cup will not have the same influence on it?
Bob Baffert: Well, I think Dubai World Cup, it sort of changed once they went to the new track and change of the surface with Tapeta, which it makes it a little bit—there’s always, you know—before, when they had the dirt, I loved the old Dubai Cup—configuration was really—it was sort of a different—it was sort of unique and everything, and then dirt and you could go there. It was tough to ship there, but you knew American dirt horses, you know, ran really well there and when they changed to the other track, it’s too much uncertainty now when you go over there. You just don’t know. It can be so different. You don’t know how it’s going to be and so once a race has so much uncertainty, I think it loses its buzz. It’s still huge. You know, horses from Japan, South Africa and all that, they go there, but it’s really taken away from the American horses there a little bit, you know? You need basically some turf pedigree to be effective there, you know, and you’ve seen horses over there and—but I think it’s, you know, before—I know I took Silver Charm. I was going to run him in the Big ‘Cap and he came up with a hot hoof and he was off, you know, it was from the rail and otherwise, I would have run him in the Big ‘Cap. It was going to be the big showdown. It was Gentlemen and Silver Charm and then, you know, that’s why I left.
Jennie Rees: Yes. Can you comment on the national attention that the Big ‘Cap’s getting this year.
Bob Baffert: Well, I think it’s more like the championship. It’s like a heavy weight title fight. Before, if it’s the same horses in California running it probably doesn’t get that much attention, but anytime you have a horse that’s shipped in and you have Mucho Macho Man with the best handicap horses in the same race, that’s what brings the attention because you’ve got your Breeders’ Cup winner, you’ve got the champion three-year-old, and so it’s like it’s a no brainer. It better get attention or you guys aren’t doing your work.
Jennie Rees: Well, switching to—usually the three-year-olds have front and center, but not this week; but I will ask you about running Midnight Hawk against Bayern. They seem to have sort of similar running styles and…?
Bob Baffert: Bayern, he’s a horse that, you know, he ended up on the lead the other day because nobody wanted it. Midnight Hawk, we sort of took him back a little bit and I don’t think he really liked it. We’re going to probably let him break out of there and, you know, run. He’s relaxing a little bit. He’s really coming into this race really well, but, you know, it’s his chance. He’s going to have to show me something in this race, and I think last time he was a little bit—I think he had backed off a little bit off that last win that he’d had. I’d run him twice. He had two hard races and he took a little bit of a step back, but I think he’s moving forward. I worked him today and he looked great this morning and he’s still a pretty good horse, so it’s going to be a tough race. You’ve got California Chrome. You know, his last race was pretty impressive, and Bayern, so this is when, to me, the press is when they start getting really serious, you know. You know, we’re two races out now, so we’re in, like, the Sweet Sixteen.
Jennie Rees: Well, normally you’ve made great use of the Rebel over the years. Do you have a Rebel horse, or is it just the way the weather in Arkansas is too uncertain that, you know, you’re not going that path?
Bob Baffert: No, I have some Rebel horses, but I just don’t like to really get too far ahead of myself, but everybody’s doing well. What I do is I just nominate everywhere and whatever’s doing well, you know, coming up to that week, then that’s what we’ll go with. Look, I have horses, but I’m just waiting for them to—when they tip me off, then we go.
Jennie Rees: Okay, final question; have you become a fan of the Bayern Football Club?
Bob Baffert: I know about the Bayern. Kaleem Shah, he was telling me he’s a big fan of it and so I know they’re really, really good. So I’ve yet to watch them play because, you know, I’ve never really followed soccer that much. You know, I’m into hockey now. See, we have Blackhawks. We’ve got the Blackhawks hockey against the Bayern soccer team, so I’m conflicted there, you know?
Jennie Rees: Yes, and you have baseball too, Joe Torre.
Bob Baffert: Joe Torre; we got all the sports going this week.
Jennie Rees: All right, good deal. Thanks, Bob.
Bob Baffert: Thanks.
Dick Downey: Bob, are you pointing Chitu toward any race, realizing you wait for them to tell you and then you go, but—or do you have a race in mind for him?
Bob Baffert: Well, yes, he’s nominated, I nominate my horses everywhere and so, I mean, he could be at the Rebel, he could be at Sunland; I’m not sure yet where he could go, or he could show up maybe in New York, or somewhere. He’s just nominated, but I really haven’t—you know, really I’m not—I just don’t like to discuss too much if I don’t know myself, and I haven’t gone over it with the clients yet, so it’s really—I would be getting ahead of myself. But he’s nominated everywhere and he’ll show up somewhere.
Dick Downey: Okay, I understand. Thank you.
Bob Baffert: All right.
Liz O’Connell: You’ve got Midnight Hawk, you trained Midnight Lute; do you see any kind of similarities from one generation to the next?
Bob Baffert: Well, one thing I’ve noticed with the Midnight Lutes, he throws like he was -- brilliant. He’s a brilliant horse himself, brilliant speed, big horse. You know, he was a huge horse with a long stride and this horse has a big long stride and he’s showing that brilliance where you can see it in him, and the same about Midnight Hawk. He’s really not quite as manageable in his races as we’d like him to be and we’ve been working him, just trying to get him to come off the bit a little bit earlier in the race.
He likes fights a little bit too much, in which he’s been wasting a lot of his energy. Last time, he was just—he was a little rank on them, you know. He was just trying to get in. He was rank and when they turned for home, he just sort of didn’t have a lot of kick because he was just—you know, he’d already—you know, if he was taken out earlier. So when he will learn to be able to not be as rank and shut it down a little bit, he can—he’ll be a much better horse, but the Midnight Lutes, so far he’s throwing that brilliance. You never know. I’ve had all these good horses and they go to the breeding shed and they just can’t duplicate themselves, very few of them do, but he seems like he’s duplicating himself, which is a big plus.
Liz O’Connell: Okay, well, thank you.
John Pricci: (Inaudible), Bob. Some have made comparisons between Bayern and Bodemeister. Have you seen that? What do you think of that analogy?
Bob Baffert: Well, I mean, you know, I thought of him when he ran—the difference is they’re both lightly raced. They showed some brilliance. You know, Bodemeister was a very fast horse. Bayern, he might be a little bit different type, maybe a little bit more manageable where he won’t be as speedy one dimensional as Bodemeister was. You know, Bodemeister was just pedal to the metal, just brilliant speed, but they’re both pretty impressive horses and I think this next out we’ll probably know more about it. I remember Bodemeister broke his maiden really impressive and the next time, he got beat. Then he ran a huge race so, you know, that second time going long, usually, you know, sometimes they’ll take a step backwards on you and then they’ll move forward, so we just need to get this one out of the way, just for a little bit more foundation.
John Pricci: Bob, in context of that great ability, would it be fair to say that maybe he has a little bit more upside at this time of the year than Bode had when he was racing in his season?
Bob Baffert: Well, I think Bodemeister, when he broke his maiden, we were, like, pretty wowed by it and I mean,you know Bodemeister, you could see, for the short time that he was running there, the brilliance was there, you know. That’s the thing, you know, you see brilliance. You see a horse like Big Brown, the brilliance comes out, so you’re looking at—there’s really nice horses and there’s the horses that just have—you know, they have different gears, so it’s hard to compare them yet. You know, I think that he’s a pretty nice horse. I mean, Gary Stevens, you know, he’s pretty excited about him. You know, you can talk about him all you want, but to me, I’m like everyone else. I want to see it proved on the race track, and you know, I think he’s a really good horse. He’s the right size. He’s got the pedigree, you know, to do it, but I just don’t want to get ahead of myself and I’m always cautiously optimistic so I’m just really looking forward to it all.
John Pricci: Well, have a safe trip on Saturday, Bob.
Bob Baffert: Thank you.
Operator: Thank you. There are no further questions at this time. Please continue.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, Bob, we’re going to let you go. We really appreciate you giving us so much time today and all of us wish you a lot of luck on Saturday.
Bob Baffert: All right. Thank you for having me, anytime.
Jim Mulvihill: All right. That was, of course, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. He’s got defending champion and two-time winner, Game On Dude in the Santa Anita Handicap, as well as Bayern and Midnight Hawk in the San Felipe on Saturday.
We’re going to move on now to our next guest and that is jockey Gary Stevens. He’ll be in the Santa Anita Handicap aboard Breeder’s Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man, and he rides Bayern in the San Felipe.
Gary, you’ve ridden in a number of Big ‘Caps. We were just talking to Bob about the history of this race. How does this field stack up with some of the best that you’ve ridden in and also seen over the years?
Gary Stevens: It’s definitely one of the best that I’ve ever seen as far as competition in the top three. I’ll just say the top three, and I think we know who that is, and it’s the most contentious one that I’ve ridden in as far as quality goes.
Jim Mulvihill: You got a chance to watch Mucho Macho Man work between the races at Santa Anita on Sunday. What were your impressions of that move, as well as just what you’ve seen from him in the mornings, in general, coming up to this?
Gary Stevens: I watched him train every morning that he’s been out here. We missed one day of training due to heavy rainfall and a lot of traffic on the training track on Friday. He went to the training track on Saturday and then had his breeze on Sunday and, you know, there were a few people critical of his work, and anybody who’s watched him up close like I have leading up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he’s a horse you want to have happy and his main breeze was two weeks ago when he went 58 and change, out in 10 and change at Gulfstream Park, and then just had a little maintenance breeze prior to flying out here. He’s a horse that likes to have a good time. A lot of people wondered why I didn’t work him and I’d never—I’ve been on him three times and those were his three races that I’ve ridden him, and our theory is if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Nicky (Petro, exercise rider) has a way of getting along with this horse, making him happy and he was definitely a happy horse in his workout, so I went to the track this morning and he looked great out there on the track this morning.
Jim Mulvihill: Gary, I want to ask you a question that relates to both Mucho Macho Man and Bayern. When a horse wins by a really huge widening margin, a lot of times the skeptics will say, “Well, who was in that race?” But when we’re talking about allowance or stakes caliber horses and a horse wins by 14 or 15 lengths, that’s a pretty special feat, regardless of who else is in the field, no?
Gary Stevens: Yes, definitely. So I think one thing that should be reminded, though, is when these horses win by this type of margin and it looks like they win very easy, it still takes a little bit of a toll on them, you know, no matter what the competition, and again, going back to the work on Sunday, I’m glad I wasn’t on him for the fact he knows when I’m on his back, he knows it’s race time. It was an afternoon work and there was probably a pretty good chance if I would have worked him, he was going to go in 58 and change out in 10 and change, and that’s not something we needed right now. But, you know, races look deceivingly good and you think that they’re easy races and they’re not necessarily so.
In the case of Mucho Macho Man and the Sunshine Millions Classic, I actually shut him down inside the 16th pole, probably well before the 16th pole. He’d done enough and they weren’t looking for any track records or anything, whereas in Bayern, when I rode him the other day, I pulled up after the race and Mike Smith came up galloping behind me and he said, “Man, you might have broke the world record,” and I said, “How?” He said, “Do you know how far you won by?” and I said, “No, I have no idea,” and he said, “A pole; you won by a 16th of a mile,” and I actually made Bayern gallop out after the race because it was like, if I mess up a workout in the morning, if I feel I haven’t done enough, I’ll make them go out after the wire, and that was the case with Bayern.
Jim Mulvihill: All right. Thanks, Gary. I’m going to kick it back to our Operator and we’re going to see if there are questions from the media for you.
Gary Stevens: Okay.
Danny Brewer: Hey, Gary. How’s it going today?
Gary Stevens: Doing good, Danny, thank you.
Danny Brewer: Okay. With Mucho, considering the way he loves the track, his size, how he’s trained, is there really any particular plan, or are you just going to let him break well and just let the big dog eat?
Gary Stevens: Well, first of all, you know, everybody rants and raves how much this horse loves this racetrack. You got to remember that we’re racing against a horse that’s won two out of the last three Big ‘Caps in Game On Dude and racing against a three-year-old champion that probably ran his best race in defeat last year to Mucho Macho Man, so I’m not taking anything lightly. I know what this horse is capable of. I’m not going to give any secrets out right now on this teleconference as to how I’m going to ride him, but I’m going to ride him with a lot of confidence that I’m riding the best horse in the world. That’s my attitude going in.
Danny Brewer: Now, let’s switch gears for just a second and talk about Kentucky Derby. I’m not saying you’re old, but you’ve ridden in the Kentucky Derby in four different decades now, so do you still get Derby fever? Is that still one of those things that still grips, that encompasses you, even though you’ve done this many, many times?
Gary Stevens: I think it’s the whole evolution of a year. You know, you feed into certain times of the year, whether it’s the Breeders’ Cup you’re focusing on or the Triple Crown, and as soon as—the day after the Breeders’ Cup, I started—and probably before that, I started looking for my three-year-old for the Derby and I’m pretty loaded right now and it’s a good spot to be in, but heck yes, man, that’s what drives us. The Derby drives me. The Breeders’ Cup drives me and all the races in between, and I think that’s what keeps us fresh and keeps us motivated.
Danny Brewer: Gary, I appreciate your time, man, and I wish you the best of luck.
Gary Stevens: Thanks, Danny.
Operator: Thank you. The next question comes from Art Wilson, The Los Angeles Newspaper. Please go ahead.
Art Wilson: Hey, Gary. This is certainly one of the most anticipated Big ‘Caps since the Alysheba-Ferdinand matchup back in ’88 when they had 70,000 out at Santa Anita. What do you remember most about that day, the atmosphere?
Gary Stevens: Well, those are, unfortunately, bygone days and man, the buildup for that was just incredible; TV ads, people were chatting about it, you know, all over Los Angeles, and I don’t know what it is now and maybe I shouldn’t be saying this, but the only thing I’m reading about this big weekend—and it’s not just the Big ‘Cap; we’ve got the San Felipe, we’ve got the Kilroe Mile, we’ve got seven stake races on the day and I Tweeted the other day, this is Breeders’ Cup in March, you know? To me, it’s a huge day and, unfortunately, I haven’t seen any TV ads or anything else. I see it in our daily trades for thoroughbred horseracing, but in the general public—I mean, this is a day that anybody that doesn’t know anything about horseracing, we can grab them and it’s just a special day that we’ve got going on; and you’re talking about the Alysheba and Ferdinand race, that was huge for me on that day, just looking forward to it. Even though I was in the jocks’ room and wasn’t riding that race, it was a moment I couldn’t wait for.
Art Wilson: Right. You know, it’s rare these days now when we see a great six-year-old like Mucho Macho Man and a seven-year-old like Game On Dude square off against each other. How important are races like this for the industry, Gary?
Gary Stevens: It’s huge in promoting our business and, you know, what the Reeves have done, keeping Mucho Macho Man in the game and now, Frank Stronach, you know, in the partnership, it’s huge and Game On Dude, you know, him sticking around, a gelding, and doing what he’s already done and still competing at a high level and then having the three-year-old champion in Will Take Charge who was defeated by a nose, it doesn’t get any better than that. I mean, to me, it’s a better race than Alysheba and Ferdinand.
Art Wilson: My last question concerning Bayern. You’ve already ridden him around two turns with that big win in the allowance race. What do you want to see from him on Saturday?
Gary Stevens: You know, the win was huge. He was in front. Bob made a comment after the race, “Were you test driving him a little bit?” I was test driving him down the backstretch that day when I let a horse run by me a half a length and just see what he was capable of doing, but he’s actually shown me more in his last two workouts after that race than he did in that actual race. He showed me some versatility and the thing about Bayern, he’s got a great mind and he’s going in the right direction, and we’ll see what happens on the weekend, but I expect a big performance from him. I don’t see any reason he won’t with what I’ve seen in the mornings the last two times I’ve been on him.
Art Wilson: Okay, great. Good luck Saturday, Gary.
Gary Stevens: Okay, thank you, Art.
Dick Downey: Gary, you said you were pretty loaded with three-year-olds in Bayern and Candy Boy. Could you elaborate on who else you had in mind when you made that statement?
Gary Stevens: Well, those are the two main cannons right now and things tend to sort themselves out. I was at Barretts yesterday, and I wasn’t out there buying anything. I was seeing a few people and the old saying, going to see a man about a dog. I saw Mr. Pletcher out there yesterday and a few other people, but there’s some very nice three-year-olds out there right now and I want to make myself available in any races that I’m not committed to right now, and I don’t feel at liberty to give you any names right now, but I’m pretty happy where I’m sitting. But, you know, you’re racing for a lot of money in some other prep races. We saw the Gotham the other day, a Grade 3 where they’re running for $500,000, so these are big races in their own right. You know, even if horses may not make it to the Derby or whatever, you want to put yourself in a position that you can ride in those events as well.
Dick Downey: Sure thing, and did you say that you met with Todd Pletcher?
Gary Stevens: Just a general passing by and, you know, I rode a colt for him named Gala Event when I was back to ride Mucho Macho Man. He’s a turf horse and he won a Grade 3 stakes over the weekend, the same day as the Swale, and there was conversation about him and this and that, and you just want to—you kind of want to keep some irons in the fires, you know, in a lot of different places with a lot of different people.
Dick Downey: All right. Thank you, Gary.
Gary Stevens: Okay, thanks.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, Gary. We really appreciate your time today, and we wish you luck on Saturday; safe trips for the rest of the week.
Gary Stevens: All right. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Jim Mulvihill: There we’ve got jockey, Gary Stevens, riding Mucho Macho Man in the Santa Anita Handicap and, of course, Bayern in the San Felipe.
Next up we’ve got Mark Casse. Casse started to run his father’s training operation in 1976 at age 15 before officially taking out his license at 18. He’s an eight-time leading trainer at Woodbine, four-time leading trainer at Turfway and also holds a Churchill Downs training title. He’s a five-time winner of the Sovereign Award as Canada’s Outstanding Trainer, including the last two years, and today, he joins us to talk about his pair in Saturday’s Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby. Mark Casse, thanks for joining us today.
Mark Casse: Thanks for having me.
Jim Mulvihill: It’s our pleasure. I’m going to start with Conquest Titan. He’s had two huge races since you all changed up his style to have him make one big run in the stretch. Was that a change in tactics that you suggested, or did that come from Shaun (Bridgmohan) in the race, or where did that come from?
Mark Casse: Well, you know what? We had to do something to regroup after his poor performance in the Breeders’ Cup and so, you know, he’d shown a lot of talent but we just didn’t seem to be—we just couldn’t get it all to click, so I guess it was probably my idea. We went back to Churchill Downs after the Breeders’ Cup and said, look, we’ve got to do something different, and so we started taking him back and then relaxing him in his works and, you know, it shows in his chart there at Churchill that he broke slow, but that was my plan and we told Shaun, “Just take him back, get him to relax and try to come with one big run,” and it worked. It doesn’t happen very often, but it worked that time.
Jim Mulvihill: Now, the Holy Bull is looking like a key race, Intense Holiday comes back and wins the Risen Star, how does that boost your confidence in your horse?
Mark Casse: Well, you know, I think you’re judged by the company you keep. When he won that allowance race at Churchill, I wasn’t sure what he’d beat and then when General a Rod came back and ran him so well, that was impressive and then, again, you know, I read in a few places, all the experts said, “Well, somebody had to be second in the Holy Bull.” So Intense Holiday’s race coming back and winning the Risen Star, I believe you’re judged by the company you keep and we seem to be keeping some pretty good company.
Jim Mulvihill: Matador’s looking pretty promising too. I mean, he makes his three-year-old debut and it was anyone’s race there the final 16th. Coming off a layoff like that and also looking like he had a wide trip, too, were you pleased with that effort?
Mark Casse: I was very pleased. A few things, like you said, the wide trip, I think he ran something like 35 feet farther than the winner, 25 feet farther than the second place horse, but a couple of things that didn’t get pointed out. One, was when he was making his move and looked like he was going to go to the lead at the top of the lane, the rider of Asserting Bear, Joe Rocco, went to hit his horse and hit our horse right over the top of the nose. You can see where our horse turns his head and I think it stunned him for a second and, you know, so that was one thing, and then the other thing is, you know, our horse hadn’t ran in three months and it was his first start on dirt. So you’ve got to expect that he’s going to improve, and I can tell you who really likes him a lot is Julien Leparoux. He’s rode a lot of good horses. He thinks a lot of this horse and he’s excited, so if he’s excited, I’m excited.
Jennie Rees: Yes, Mark. Could you just talk about the decision not to go in the Fountain of Youth, and after the race, your thoughts on that, and then switching to the Tampa Bay Derby, any concerns about a horse that’s never run over that track before, running on it?
Mark Casse: Well, Jennie, there’s always a concern at running at Tampa Bay. You know, sometimes horses don’t like it. We’ve found over the last few years, though, horses that train well at Palm Meadows normally run fairly well at Tampa, and to answer your question about the Fountain of Youth, there were a couple of things. I thought it was a little too quick back for him, and the second thing was, you know, you sit there and you watch race after race after race run at Gulfstream and there’s definitely a big bias there and, you know, normally a horse that sits close or mid-pack, it’s one thing, but this horse comes from so far out that he’s at just a great disadvantage and I didn’t think it was fair to him to make him run against that again.
Jennie Rees: This horse was the international good thing before he ever ran. What was it about him, and did you expect him to be a horse that would ultimately end up wanting to drop back so far?
Mark Casse: Well, you know, normally, I like my horses to drop back and come with a run; that just goes with where we race. You know, we race a lot at Keeneland, we run a lot at Churchill Downs and we run a whole lot at Woodbine, and at those racetracks, you need to get your horses to learn to relax and come running, so that’s always what we’re looking for, to, you know, trying to get our horses to do, and then you go to Gulfstream and it’s the exact opposite. You have to get after them and get them up near the lead, and if you’re not one to turn him for home, you really don’t have a chance. So it’s a little difficult, but like I said, we always try to get our horses to relax, so whenever I have any young horse, if we can get him to do it, that’s our first goal.
Jennie Rees: So what were your expectations before he ever ran—for this horse? Did you think, this is my Derby horse?
Mark Casse: Well, I have to tell you, a lot of hype came with him. Shaun had talked about how great he was. My son, who’s been with me, you know, he’s been my assistant now for five or six years, you know, he brought a lot of hype. But I’m kind of one of those guys, you got to show me first, in fact, you got to show me more than once. So I was excited and I was happy that everybody was excited about him. Obviously, I thought when we bought him at the March sale that he was a really good horse. We wouldn’t have paid the money we paid for him. So from the day we bought him, he came with expectations, you know, but there are so many variables to get to the Kentucky Derby, or even to get to where we are today, you know, it’s a dream.
Jennie Rees: So, you said you’re the kind of person who has to be shown, or show you more than once. Has he shown you more than once now? I mean, have you seen what you want to see?
Mark Casse: Well, I thought his race at Churchill was impressive when he won the allowance race, and I thought his last race was really good. He still hasn’t convinced me 100%, but he’s getting pretty close and I have to tell you, he trains like a good horse, so putting all those things together, I’m pretty convinced.
Jennie Rees: Final question, is Louisville and Derby Week ready for your owner, Ernie (Semersky)?
Mark Casse: I think it would be special for everyone. You’re not going to find too many people like Ernie Semersky. He’s just a wonderful man, loves life, loves this business, and I mean, it’ll be fun for everybody. Ernie’s one of these guys, whoever he meets, he touches their lives and they remember him and you wouldn’t believe, through my travels, everybody is like, I hope he gets there for Ernie because Ernie loves it and you couldn’t find a better spokesman for horseracing, and not only that, him and Dory (Newell), they love horses. Any horse that they have, it will be taken care of for the rest of their lives so, you know, he’s just a—he’s a wonderful guy.
Danny Brewer: When you talk about Conquest Titan and his change of styles, is that a versatility that you like and you think can really lead to big things for this horse?
Mark Casse: Well, I’ll tell you, Danny, the thing about him is he has such a tremendous turn of foot. If you watch him in this race against General a Rod at Churchill Downs, and also even in this race in the Holy Bull, he runs five horses – and they’re not just horses; they’re good horses – with such quickness it’s amazing, and of course, when you can do that, it’s important because—especially in big fields like the Kentucky Derby. When you—you know, it’s a rider’s race. We know. We watch year after year after year where a lot of times the best horse doesn’t win, and one of the things—one of the ways to be able to get through traffic is when you can push the gas and get a quick response, it allows the rider a little more confidence and a little better trip a lot of times, so I think those things are to his advantage.
Danny Brewer: When you talk about the variables that are involved with this season and getting to the Kentucky Derby, do you ever second guess yourself or wonder, “well, man, should I go to Tampa Bay or Fountain of Youth,” or do you just have to have confidence in your plan and roll with it?
Mark Casse: I’m a pretty confident person and I don’t normally look back so, you know, right now what it is—you also have to go by when your horse is peaking and when he’s doing his best. You know, right now, I said to somebody, it’s like holding your breath every day because one little misstep and it’s over for the Kentucky Derby and, you know, like for myself, I’m 53 years old. Since I was about 10 or 11, it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do is win the Kentucky Derby, so it’s a little hectic but I don’t second guess myself. I try to play the cards as they’re dealt to me, and this is what was dealt so we’re going to play it this way and you know what? All’s I can do—we can do is do our best.
Danny Brewer: Well, Mark, your best has been pretty good, so I wish you the best of luck, okay. Thanks a lot.
Mark Casse: Thank you, Danny. Have a great day.
Operator: Thank you. Your next question comes from Keith McCalmont of Woodbine Entertainment Group. Please go ahead.
Keith McCalmont: Hey, Mark. How are you doing?
Mark Casse: Keith who? No, I’m just kidding. Hey, Keith, what’s going on?
Keith McCalmont: I think the hidden story behind the Tampa Bay Derby seems to be that this is a bit of a plate trial with three Canadian bred horses in it. Can you talk a little bit about where the Queen’s Plate fits into your schedule and what it means to have so much Canadian talent in—at this level?
Mark Casse: Well, Keith, you know, I always am trying to buy good Canadian-breds and find good Canadian-breds because, as anybody that runs around Woodbine knows, it’s one race that’s eluded us and we really want to win it. So we’re always looking for Canadian-breds, but when we look for the Canadian-breds, that’s not just our goal. We want to think we can buy a horse that can compete, you know, anywhere and we’ve been fortunate. We’ve had some good Canadian-breds, you know, Uncaptured can run anywhere. We had Dynamic Sky last year and we’ve got Dixie Strike. There’s a lot of good horses but I think it just shows you how good, you know, some of the Canadian breeding has become and we’ve had a little setback in the last year or so because of government, but I’m hoping we can get it going again.
Keith McCalmont: With regard to Matador, he had a really rough trip in the Coronation Futurity. Do you think he sort of validated his talent with his performance in the Sam Davis, and will he still be Queen’s Plate bound after this Derby run is done with?
Mark Casse: Honestly, I thought he had a rough trip in the Coronation, but some of that was his own doing. I don’t think he was running as well as he should have or could, and I think he got himself in some trouble. I have some questions. We over the last two years, we figured out a lot that, you know, we have turf horses, we have synthetic horses, and we have dirt horses. Our feeling is that Matador is superior on the dirt. We feel like he trains much better on the dirt than he ever did the synthetic and that was our reason for taking him to the Sam Davis, because if you look at his previous form, you couldn't hardly believe that he deserved to go to the Sam Davis. We need him to step up and continue to run better on the dirt for him to be considered a good horse. The question is, are we going to go back to the Queen’s Plate? We’ll have to see. He’ll have to show me more on the synthetic. We would probably—if, for some reason, he doesn’t make the Derby route, then we would go back and attempt to get him to the Queen’s Plate, but I’m not so sure that’s in his cards.
Keith McCalmont: I appreciate it, Mark, and look forward to seeing you run on Saturday.
Mark Casse: Okay. Have a great day.
Bill Doolittle: You have mentioned that—earlier today that your father and your son being involved with the—in horseracing and you talked about how you wanted to win the Derby since you were 11, and I know your dad had a big collection of Derby memorabilia. I’d just like to follow up on that a little bit and, to start with, do you have Derby fever all the time?
Mark Casse: Oh yes. I’ve had Derby fever since I was a little boy. They did a—it might have been when I was 10, they did a special on my brother and I and it was on TV, I think NBC, or something. They did a special about young kids and business, and I said then, I said, “I want to win the Kentucky Derby,” and as my dad says, if it doesn’t whinny, I don’t know anything about it. So, like, I wasn’t even sure who was playing in the Super Bowl until the day of the Super Bowl. I just—it’s all—I live, eat, and breathe horseracing and if that’s what you do, you know, to me—I have to tell you, I love the Breeders’ Cup and I love all the big races, but there’s only one Kentucky Derby.
Bill Doolittle: Well, in following up on that, you know, that horse racing as a trainer, I don’t think that’s the biggest mystery occupation of all time, what a trainer does, but it does seem like that you have a whole lifetime to pursue your career. You can look for something and it’s kind of a lifetime endeavor. You don’t have to be an 18 to 30-year-old player like a basketball person. It’s an interesting sport in that it can be a career for you.
Mark Casse: You know what? I think about that all the time. I think it’s so wonderful because I look at, you know, football players and baseball players and jockeys and think, you know, they have a limited time that they can do this, but I would say more than likely that I’ll do this until the day they put me under, because I love it. When I’m away from it, I want it and I just can’t get enough of it.
Bill Doolittle: Switching to your horse, Conquest Titan, I was looking at his pedigree. You didn’t mention that in the Derby, it’s a really nice advantage to have quickness and be able to run by a horse to get position or, you know, and that kind of thing, but he’s by Birdstone and everybody talks about having stamina too, and I wondered if you thought that he might have that—the kind of stamina that you need.
Mark Casse: Well, you know, of course. Bill, I have to tell you, when we buy horses, especially for a lot of money, we always buy them with Derby or Oaks type of pedigrees. We’ll occasionally go out and buy some speedy pedigrees. I did that last year a little bit for Conquest Stables, Ernie and Dory, just simply because they were new in the game and I wanted to get them into the game quickly. But in the case of this horse, you know, not only is he by Birdstone, but he’s out of a Mineshaft mare, who, Mineshaft, in his own right, could run long. So I mean, he’s got long top and bottom and then, you know, with his quickness, that’s what impressed me so much at the sale. I think he worked an eighth of a mile in 10 flat and I said, “You know, here’s a horse that has a pedigree that should run all day,” and for him to have that quickness, it was one of the things that drew me to him.
Bill Doolittle: So did you run out and tell everybody you had your Derby horse that day?
Mark Casse: I can tell you this, and to this day, Ernie will show you the text that I sent him when the horse worked past me. I texted Ernie, “I’ve seen a star.”
Jim Mulvihill: All right, Mark. I just wanted to ask you for one status update real quick. Coastline hasn’t worked since the Southwest and I wasn’t able to find any news on him. Can you update us on Coastline?
Mark Casse: Yes. Coastline, I moved him to Ocala to train over the synthetic. He breezed five-eighths this morning, and as long as everything goes as planned, he’s going to show up in the Spiral.
Jim Mulvihill: Terrific. All right, well we appreciate that info, and we are very grateful for your time today. Best of luck in the Tampa Bay Derby on Saturday.
Mark Casse: I always enjoy being there and it means something must be going right. Have a good day.
Jim Mulvihill: Indeed. Thanks so much. Mark Casse, he’s got Matador and Conquest Titan in Saturday’s Tampa Bay Derby.
Now, we’ll move on to our final guest of this NTRA teleconference, and that is Willis Horton. Horton’s a native of Marshall, Arkansas. He ran D. R. Horton Custom Homes until taking that company public in 1992. His stars have included a Kentucky Oaks winner in Lemons Forever and the graded stakes-winning sprinter, Partner’s Hero. His best yet, though, which he now co-owns with Three Chimneys, is last year’s three-year-old champion, Will Take Charge, winner of the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby and, of course, second by a nose in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Last month, Will Take Charge made his four-year-old debut in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream, finishing second to Lea. Mr. Horton, thanks for joining us today.
Willis Horton: Thank you. I’m glad to be here.
Jim Mulvihill: We appreciate you holding on for us all this time. In the Donn, Lea set a new track record going wire to wire and we heard Mark Casse just assert that it seems that Gulfstream is a speed flavoring track, and so lost in the discussion of that race was the fact that your horse was nearly 10 lengths clear of the rest of the field. What were your impressions of that race?
Willis Horton: Well, I was really impressed with my horse. The problem that I seen in the race mostly was we were up close all the time and still, I know that it’s a speed biased track, but you know, we were right there behind the front leaders. We had three horses in front of us and two on the outside of us, and we never could get through, and we had to take the horse back and to bring him out to get him where he could run on open and come with his run like he comes every time and he made up a tremendous amount of ground on a speed biased track.
Jim Mulvihill: He did indeed. I’m curious what you’ve seen in Will Take Charge in the last few months. We hear about horses maturing quite a bit from three to four. Kathy Ritvo’s talked about Mucho Macho Man exploding in size after his three-year-old year. What changes have you seen in the past few months from Will Take Charge?
Willis Horton: Well, he’s gotten bigger and he’s just, you know, more mature all the time and now, one thing, he never was a tremendous work horse when you go to work him. But now, his works are up there with any other horse out there and we still know he’s got that late kick, and we’ll be able to lay him close in the Santa Anita Handicap and that track out there seems to play real fair to a horse coming from behind, and we feel strong that we’re going to win that race Saturday even though we’ve got stiff competition.
Jim Mulvihill: Indeed, and you mentioned that he’s picked it up in the mornings and he worked on Sunday at Oaklawn and posted a bullet there in 47 and four. Were you there that morning, or did Wayne relay anything about that move to you? It sounds like you’re suggesting that he’s doing that on his own these days.
Willis Horton: Yes, he’s totally doing it on his own. He’s not asking him to do it. Yes, Wayne relayed that to me. I was not there. The weather was bad here where I live, but it was fine down there, so he could get a work in him before we shipped to California, but I’ve noticed in his last three or four works, he just keeps getting faster on the front end, and that seems to be what we’re needing to do to go ahead and make our late kick with that long stride he’s got.
Jim Mulvihill: Excellent. Well, Mr. Horton, if you hold on a second, we’re going to check with the media and see if they have any questions for you.
Art Wilson: Yes. Mr. Horton, it’s my opinion that yourself and Dean and Patti Reeves, you all deserve a lot of credit for keeping your horses running and enabling the Santa Anita Handicap to be as big as it is on Saturday because it’s so rare these days. In your opinion, how important is it for racing to have, you know, big races with older horses like we’re going to see on Saturday?
Willis Horton: Well, of course, I’m real involved in horseracing and have been for a long time, but the way I feel about this race coming up Saturday is this could be the race of a lifetime to see, and no doubt about it, it’s going to be a real strong field, but we feel that it will be a big help to the industry to get this type of thing going early in the year instead of being late in the year whenever it happens.
Art Wilson: How tough of a decision was it for you, Mr. Horton, to keep Will Take Charge in that ring?
Willis Horton: Well, that decision was actually pretty easy. I wanted to run him, my family wanted to watch him, and we’ve all enjoyed this horse so much and, you know, this is once in a lifetime to get a horse like this, and so that’s whenever I made a decision that I would sell half the horse provided we run him this year, so that was pretty easy to make.
Art Wilson: Okay. Well, good luck on Saturday.
Willis Horton: Thank you.
Jim Mulvihill: All right. Mr. Horton, you talked about this potentially being the race of a lifetime and we were talking about the quality of the field, but it’s also an important race historically. Can you talk about the significance of the Santa Anita Handicap and especially whether you have any memories of past Big ‘Caps?
Willis Horton: Well, yes. I’ve practically watched nearly all of them, even back with Affirmed and all of those races and everything that’s with it. I think we’ve got as strong a field coming up this week as any field has been in the past, and I just—and I made a decision also. We’re not going to dodge any horse. We’re going to stay in Grade 1 races with high prestige, if at all possible…
Jim Mulvihill: Mr. Horton, are you still with us? Well, it seems maybe we’ve lost Mr. Horton, but we’ve gotten to the end of the questions from the media and we’ve gone over today, so I’ll just go ahead and wrap it up. But I do, of course, want to thank once again Mr. Horton, as well as Bob Baffert, Gary Stevens, and Mark Casse. A reminder that there’ll be an MP3 of this call on ntra.com later today and a transcript tomorrow for everyone’s reference, and thanks to all of you for joining us today. Now I’m going to send it back to our Operator, Michelle.
Operator: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, this does conclude the conference call for today. You may now disconnect your line and have a great day.
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