NTRA Conference Call: Past Winners of the Triple Crown
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Jim Mulvihill: We're now only 11 days away from the Belmont Stakes, and California Chrome's historic attempt at a Triple Crown. By now you probably all know the pertinent numbers. There have been 11 Triple Crown winners dating back to Sir Barton in 1919. The most recent of those, of course, was Affirmed in 1978. Since then, 12 horses have swept both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, only to be denied in, or not make it to, the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, known as “The Test of the Champion.”
The 1970s, of course, were blessed with three Triple Crown winners, starting with the great Secretariat, who ended a 25 year drought in 1973. In 1977, Seattle Slew remained undefeated and virtually unchallenged through his first nine starts, while taking all three classics. In 1978, Affirmed bested his great rival, Alydar, in the Triple Crown races, including a Belmont where those two were never more than a half-length apart in the final seven-eighths and charged down the stretch virtually in tandem.
Who would've guessed at that point we would go this long, 36 years, without another Triple Crown? None of the Triple Crown winners are with us anymore – Seattle Slew was the most recently departed back in 2002 – but their legends only grow and their feats seem more unbelievable with each passing year and so many failed attempts at matching them.
Today on this call we're fortunate to be joined by some of the connections from all three of those Triple Crown heroes of the 1970s. Representing Secretariat we're delighted to have owner and first lady of thoroughbred racing, Penny Chenery, as well as jockey Ron Turcotte, winner of two Kentucky Derbys and five of the six Triple Crown events between Riva Ridge in '72 and Secretariat in '73.
On behalf of Seattle Slew we're joined by co-owner Dr. Jim Hill, a partner in the Tayhill Stable, as well as, hopefully, trainer Billy Turner. We're still trying to get in touch with him, he's scheduled to be on the call, and jockey Jean Cruguet.
From team Affirmed we welcome Patrice Wolfson, who co-owned the colt with her late husband Louis, racing as Harbor View Farm, and jockey Steve Cauthen, then the youngest rider ever to win the Triple Crown when he was 18.
So let me just quickly explain how we'll do this. All of the guests will be on for the entirety of the call. I'm going to jump around a little bit here, ask a few questions to each of them to make sure we hear from everyone, but then we'll leave the second half of the call for questions from all of the media assembled here.
So without further ado, let's get to our guests. I'm going to start with our owners, and Ms. Chenery, we'll give you the first word. Thanks for joining us today.
Penny Chenery: Hi, there.
Jim Mulvihill: When Secretariat won the Triple Crown, he ended a 25 year drought. Now we're at 36 years since the last one in '78. Why, in your opinion, is winning the Triple Crown such a difficult feat?
Penny Chenery: Well, we don't breed horses for stamina so much these days, and we don't train horses to run so frequently. Today's horse maybe will run six times a year. We're asking these horses to run three times under tough competition in only five weeks.
Jim Mulvihill: Now having been around Secretariat, and you also saw the subsequent Triple Crown winners, in your opinion, what kind of characteristics do they possess that make them extra special? What does it take to win a Triple Crown?
Penny Chenery: Well, versatility. You can't win a Triple Crown if you're a sprinter. You can't sprint for that long.
Jim Mulvihill: Right.
Penny Chenery: Three different race tracks; unfamiliar settings for the jockeys. They may know each other, but you lose the home team advantage when you travel around. It's just we don't have the kind of—horses today are (inaudible).
Jim Mulvihill: It is definitely different today than in 1973 for sure. One more question for you. What are your thoughts on California Chrome?
Oh, maybe we lost Ms. Chenery. Well, let's check in with one of our other owners as we try to get Ms. Chenery back on the phone. Patrice Wolfson is with us, and for those that don't know, Patrice is from a leading family of the American turf. Her father was Hall of Fame Trainer, Hirsch Jacobs. Patrice, are you there with us?
Patrice Wolfson: I'm here.
Jim Mulvihill: Okay, thanks for being on the call. Let's get your opinion on the Triple Crown drought. How can it be 36 years since Affirmed and we still haven't had a Triple Crown?
Patrice Wolfson: It's a very difficult task.
Jim Mulvihill: Can you elaborate on what makes it so difficult?
Patrice Wolfson: Well, in our case, we had to run against Alydar, who, you know, was just a little superstar of his own.
Jim Mulvihill: Right.
Patrice Wolfson: That was a big challenge. I think horses years ago were tougher, and they campaigned harder, and they usually relished racing. They loved to run; all these Triple Crown winners of the seventies particularly.
Jim Mulvihill: Right. When you think back on '78, what stands out in your mind? What was it like to own such a special horse, and one that was so tough, like you were saying of all the Triple Crown winners?
Patrice Wolfson: Well, we came out of California, like California Chrome, and trained there all that winter; terrible weather, rained most of the whole season. In the East you had Alydar who was in perfect weather in Florida in the Flamingo and in Kentucky in the Blue Grass, and so he looked like he was having it his own way. Laz was having a very difficult time trying to get Affirmed fit enough, but he did it on his own, and got on the plane and got to Churchill Downs and was probably better right then, and I think Steve will agree, he was just in peak condition and ready to take on Alydar. Of course, we were frightened; fearful of him.
Jim Mulvihill: Sure.
Patrice Wolfson: But it turned out to be, you know, just three phenomenal races.
Jim Mulvihill: Patrice, have you gotten to follow California Chrome, and what do you think of his chances in the Belmont?
Patrice Wolfson: Yes. I think he has that wonderful quality of versatility; easy to rate, easy to ride, responds, you know, has a wonderful acceleration, and now it's just going to be a question if he can handle the mile and a half. And the little travelling he's done, and I say little compared to our ’70s horses.
Jim Mulvihill: Certainly. Well, Patrice, I'm sure we'll be circling back to you with some more questions, but let me get to Dr. Hill, the other owner on this call. Dr. Hill, are you there with us?
Dr. Jim Hill: Yes, I am.
Jim Mulvihill: All right. Dr. Hill, I'm sure you're aware that California Chrome has some Seattle Slew in his pedigree. That comes via A.P. Indy and Pulpit. I'm curious if that makes this potential Triple Crown any more personal for you? Is that significant to you?
Dr. Jim Hill: That it does. I think that's one of the real traits that Slew had is he has passed his DNA along quite (inaudible), and so I think it's exciting for me.
Jim Mulvihill: And is it hard to resist looking for traits of Seattle Slew in California Chrome? Do you see any of those?
Dr. Jim Hill: Frankly, I've only seen California Chrome on his last two races on TV, so it's very hard for me to really have any kind of an opinion on that. He certainly has been dominant in all three of those races. He's had excellent trips, wonderful rides, and when they asked him for what they needed, he was able to give it to them every time.
Jim Mulvihill: Exactly. Well, Dr. Hill, if you'll hang on for a few minutes we'll get to some questions from the media in a little while. But now I want to check in with our riders real quick. We've got Ron Turcotte, Jean Cruguet, and Steve Cauthen all here. Gentlemen, thanks for joining us.
Now, if you would, I'd like to ask each of you to just describe your Belmont wins aboard these Triple Crown winners, and tell us what still stands out about those rides all these years later. So, Ron, let's start with you and one of the great performances in racing history, the '73 Belmont.
Ron Turcotte: Yes, sir. He came out of the Preakness in very good shape. He really galloped in the Preakness, and I didn't want to take too much out of him but enough to get him real tight for the Belmont. He was wonderful for the Belmont. We put a good tough work into him, and he was really ready to run. He—I can't really describe, I mean, his race. I was so confident with him, but I said, hey, you know, let's go. I really didn't think—that no other horse could go with him or catch him because of how he worked. I had won the previous Belmont with Riva Ridge, and this horse was working like two full seconds faster, and every move I made (audio interference) the distance.
Jim Mulvihill: Ron, despite the great workouts and how confident you were, you couldn't have foreseen the margin of victory and just how dominant he would be that day?
Ron Turcotte: No, nobody could've foreseen that. But I was looking for something special really. I mean, when you work a mile in better than 34, gallop out in a mile and an eighth in 47 and change and full out, really he was really two minutes. So that's—and he was coming back really good, you know, and I was blowing and I was really—and when I blew him out the last time I worked him was fast, five eighths of a mile in 58. I know I've seen some figures—different figures there that they put up there like they put down he worked a half-mile, but he did not work a half a mile, he worked five eighths of a mile in 58.
Jim Mulvihill: Interesting.
Ron Turcotte: He came back real good. You know, he was hard to hold on the ground (inaudible).
Jim Mulvihill: That's unbelievable. Well, let me check in with Jean Cruguet and ask, Jean, your Belmont was also the easiest of your Triple Crown races. What do you remember about Belmont Stakes day?
Jean Cruguet: Right. (Inaudible), you know, he likes to (inaudible) up to the quarter of a mile, the first quarter of a mile to me the race was over. You know, I went up to him and he was walking, and then when he went up to me for (inaudible) he win and (inaudible) first quarter of a mile, and that's what (inaudible). He was the best horse that day. They couldn't get to him. Nobody went, you know, faster than me. I went (inaudible), you know, where I won.
Jim Mulvihill: Yes, the race was essentially over once you were controlling the speed.
Jean Cruguet: Yes.
Jim Mulvihill: Let's try Steve Cauthen. Now, Steve, your Belmont win wasn't quite so easy. You actually got headed in the stretch by Alydar, did you not?
Steve Cauthen: Well, you know, he probably got on level terms with me. I don't know, if he passed me, it was by a fraction of an inch. But, you know, it was just—it was one of the greatest races of all time, yes, to watch and to be involved in. It was just exciting, and, you know, two great horses, you know, continuing on a great rivalry; never giving up, and it lived up to the hopes and expectations that everybody had for that race.
Jim Mulvihill: I would say so. And, Steve, maybe you can address a bit of the media circus around California Chrome, because, you know, there was certainly so much interest in you as an 18 year old phenom. How did you handle the spotlight of the Triple Crown, and what kind of advice would you give to somebody like Victor Espinoza or all of these connections who are dealing with this intense focus these next two weeks?
Steve Cauthen: Well, Victor's been there before, so I don't really see him having any issues with it all. You know, he had War Emblem, and although he didn't win, you know, it was just—you know, it wasn't anybody's fault it was just, you know, things didn't work out.
Jim Mulvihill: Right.
Steve Cauthen: You know, he broke slow and never got in the race. But I think Victor, you know, Victor's fine. I think he's very well connected with California Chrome. I mean they've got a great relationship. You know, the horse obviously, you know, he—it's fun to watch because it reminds me a lot of Affirmed. As Patrice was saying, you know, he's got a lot of options with him. You know, he can go to the front, sit second, third, fourth. You know, the horse seems to settle wherever he wants him, and he can pick up in an instant when he asks him, like he did on the turn, you know, at Pimlico when that horse challenged on the outside. It looked like he didn't even have to ask him, the horse just did it on his own, and that's how Affirmed was. So, you know, in that respect, you know, I think he's ready. I mean he's got all the talent. Tactically he's, you know, in great shape. It's a question of, you know, if he can really stay a mile and a half. You know, he's just—to me, he looks just like a freak horse, but, you know, he can probably do things that are beyond his breeding. So, you know, I'm looking for him to really pull it off, and I like the way Art Sherman's training him. Laz was very—couldn't do a lot with Affirmed in between the Preakness and the Belmont. I think that was important. I think—it sounds like that's what Art's going to do with California Chrome, and I think, you know, that'll be important.
But, you know, you said there's been 12 horses that had a chance, and a couple of them—Big Brown being one even looked like a lock-in, and you just you never know. That's why they have to run the race. But I'm, you know, I'm pretty optimistic that this horse has got a great chance of pulling it off.
Jim Mulvihill: Billy Turner, are you there?
Billy Turner: Yes, I'm here.
Jim Mulvihill: Okay, great. It's good to hear from you. You're the lone living Triple Crown winning trainer. You managed Seattle Slew not only through three races in five weeks, but going back to his final prep in the Wood, that's four races in seven weeks. I'd love to hear from you what kind of challenges you recall facing throughout that time, and just talk about keeping a horse in top form for, you know, not only the Triple Crown, but the spring leading up to it, what kind of challenge is that?
Billy Turner: Well, Slew was a little bit different than a lot of the horses that we see in the Triple Crown, in my lifetime anyway, and my biggest concern with him was trying to figure how to get him settled down enough so that he could go the mile and a half in the Belmont without going the first three quarters of a mile in 9.
Jim Mulvihill: Right.
Billy Turner: That was the—that was my biggest concern when I started training him in the—(inaudible) his three year old year.
Jim Mulvihill: How did you accomplish that?
Billy Turner: Well, I mean he was—the thing is I trained him hard after all that campaigning, he ran—he won the Flamingo, he won—first of all, he set a track record at Hialeah going sprinting distance in his first start. Then he came right back and won the Flamingo. Then he came right back and won the Wood. Then he went down and won the Derby and the Preakness, and I had—and he kept getting stronger and stronger as we went on, so I drilled him harder for the Belmont than I trained him for any race coming—previously, and just so that he would be a little bit tractable, and then so Jean could handle him a little better, and then—well, it all worked out.
Jim Mulvihill: That's very interesting, because I think a lot people's assumption would be that you wouldn't want to do a lot with a horse coming into the Belmont after having a succession of hard races.
Billy Turner: Well, this horse had so much energy. He was an absolute monster, and all he wanted to do was train. He wasn't lovey dovey and so forth. He liked people, but he didn't want anybody fussing over him. He just wanted to go out there and train. Once you'd trained him he'd settle right down, but you couldn't give him enough.
Jim Mulvihill: Wow. You know, talking about that speed, it's interesting to me how almost all of the Triple Crown winners had brilliant speed. I mean we get so caught up in who has the pedigree to go a mile and a half, but really it's the ability to run horses off their feet and get the position you want. That's just as important, no?
Billy Turner: Oh yes. In horse racing, no matter how—you might be a mile and a half horse basically, that might be your best distance, but you have to have speed to compete and at the top of the game in this business.
Jim Mulvihill: Now, Billy, you're still stabled at Belmont, correct?
Billy Turner: Yes.
Jim Mulvihill: Have you seen California Chrome in the mornings?
Billy Turner: Yes, I have.
Jim Mulvihill: What's your impression?
Billy Turner: He's just such a nice horse. He goes out there—he goes out there jogs off the—gallops around, does what everybody would like him to do, walks around, walks home, sort of notices the crowd, and just seems to really enjoy what he's doing.
Jim Mulvihill: That's great to hear. Okay, now before we open it up for questions, I want to just ask everybody where they're at today, and what they're up to? So, Ms. Chenery, can you hear us?
Penny Chenery: Yes, I can.
Jim Mulvihill: Can you tell us where you're talking to us from today, and how things are going in your world?
Penny Chenery: I live in Boulder, Colorado. All my four children are here, and I stay in touch with the fans via Secretariat.com. My (inaudible) is telling me people still sends me things to sign and write letters. I've always told her take care of the fans because they're so important to us and racing.
Jim Mulvihill: That's terrific. Patrice Wolfson, how about you? Where are you at today?
Patrice Wolfson: Yes, I'm in Old Westbury, New York. I have a little summer home here, and I'll be at Belmont for the Belmont.
Jim Mulvihill: Terrific. That's so great to hear. Jim Hill, how about you?
Dr. Jim Hill: I just left my family in (inaudible), South Carolina. We had a week's vacation there all together. I'm on the Florida-Georgia line as we're speaking. I'm heading to Ocala to watch some little three year old babies that I have there that are in training.
Jim Mulvihill: Fantastic.
Dr. Jim Hill: Hopefully I'll be back to Belmont, the good Lord willing, for the race.
Jim Mulvihill: That's great to hear. Now, Billy Turner, we know where you'll be. You'll be at Belmont because you're there every day, right?
Billy Turner: Yes, I am.
Jim Mulvihill: Excellent.
Billy Turner: I've been there for 40 years.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, and how about our riders? I understand all three of you guys are going to be there that day signing autographs, correct?
Male Speaker: Yes.
Male Speaker: That's right.
Male Speaker: As far as I know.
Jim Mulvihill: And related to that, so my understanding is that this is the first time that you all will be signing autographs on Belmont day. It's the first time ever I believe that you'll all be together on Belmont day. Is there a special connection between you guys being—aside from just the camaraderie that all riders share—but being Triple Crown winners?
Steve Cauthen: It's fun to be a part of, and we do things together through Derbylegends.com. You know, we go to the odd occasion and sign and meet and greet and people. So, yes, we get together from time to time and it's always fun.
Jim Mulvihill: Very cool. All right, well at this point, I'm going to kick it back to Michelle, and she's going to check in with all the media on the call. If everybody can stand by, they'll let you know when they've got a question. Michelle?
Mike Klingaman: Hi, this is for Steve Cauthen. Steve, first—it's a two-part question. What is your first—what is your favorite memory of that Triple Crown season? Second, did the competition with Alydar make Affirmed a better racehorse, and did it make the kid a better jockey?
Steve Cauthen: Yes, it (inaudible) definitely Affirmed pushed Alydar and Alydar pushed Affirmed to be the best that they could be, and I, you know, I think I—riding with Jorge Velasquez as my competition, you know, mainly through the Triple Crown, you know, he was a great rider, he was a great friend, and, yes, I certainly think I learned a lot being involved in that Triple Crown. You know, as far as the Belmont, it was one of those races where, you know, nobody could—I couldn't afford to make a mistake, so luckily I didn't, and, you know, it was just—that was the greatest memory I've had in racing is that race. It was as good as it gets.
Danny Brewer: First for Ms. Wolfson, secretly are you rooting against another Triple Crown, because, you know, Affirmed was the last one to do it? And does it hold special memories since it's been all these years and he's still the last one to do it, or would you like to see another Triple Crown for the sport?
Patrice Wolfson: Well, I think a horse going for it like this California Chrome; this is really what's wonderful about it. You know, whether he does win it now and we have a new Triple Crown added to the list, I think I'm about ready to give up the last of the Crown winners. Sometimes I think that's my name, Mrs. Last Triple Crown Winner. So we'll have a lot of collectibles, and you'd just like to see a great horse win it, and I think he's got the potential to possibly be a great horse, so we'll be cheering for him.
Danny Brewer: Very good. The next one I have is for Billy Turner. You know, you talked about what you did with Slew. Is that—knowing your horse, was that the key to it, or did you think you were taking a tremendous gamble by working the dog out of him before the Belmont, or did you know your horse so well that you knew that was the right thing to do?
Billy Turner: Oh, I was absolutely convinced that was the right thing to do. That's what had to be done to put the horse out there right. He wanted that kind of work, and he might be unique in that respect, but he wanted that kind of work, and when you gave it to him he thrived off it. Now if he had backed up off it, well then I would've figured, well, I'd done the wrong thing.
Danny Brewer: Okay, and the last question I have is for Jean Cruguet. As far as getting Slew to the front, is the key to winning the Belmont knowing when to say when; when to hit the gas because it's a mile and a half? So is that—do you think that's the key to wining this race, knowing when to say when as a jockey?
Jean Cruguet: Yes, probably. You know, if I wasn't (inaudible) a horse (inaudible) and ultimately, you know, getting (inaudible). I think he can win. He's got feel (ph) and he's (inaudible) fast to me. I've actually been to, you know, to see him. He's got (inaudible).
Darren Rovell: This question is for each of the owners. The syndicate value in current day value, obviously in '73 Secretariat sold before the season for after his career, but it's somewhere in between 30 and $50 million from, you know, just the inflation values of what they sold for, you know, after their careers. How much do you think California Chrome is worth? Do you think it is in line with that, or would it be worth more and why?
Jim Mulvihill: Well, let's go in the order we've been using. Ms. Chenery, can you address the potential value of California Chrome?
Penny Chenery: No, 100 million is not—that's the highest figure I've heard. I like his pedigree. He's got a lot of our great (inaudible) in him. It's just a question of do we have some new shooters in the game; people who are willing to make major investments in standing and siring (ph) and upgrading their broodmares. It'll be interesting to see how he's received as a sire.
Jim Mulvihill: Very interesting. Thank you, Ms. Chenery. Ms. Wolfson?
Patrice Wolfson: It's so much different now with syndications, and I don't think I could even venture to think what his value would be worth.
Jim Mulvihill: Dr. Hill?
Dr. Jim Hill: Yes, I have to agree with Patrice; it's just very difficult. But he will be worth—if he wins the Triple Crown, he will be worth an unimaginable amount of money, and I think quite a worthy (ph) (inaudible).
Darren Rovell: Yes, that's perfect. I would just say one more thing if I could just follow-up with each of you. How is the—how was the merchandising at the time, and how do you think it will be different today in terms of souvenirs and things like that? Obviously I think horseracing was probably maybe bigger back then, but, you know, when you look at maybe what California Chrome Triple Crown trinkets would be like compared to Secretariat, Slew, and Affirmed?
Jim Mulvihill: Ms. Chenery, was there a process for trade-marking Secretariat's name in '73? How did all that work?
Penny Chenery: We didn't trademark him that early because merchandising for famous horses had not gotten established. But it was the beginning of domain names on the Internet, and this nice young man called me and said, I have bought Secretariat.com, could we talk? It's turned into a wonderful extension of my career, and it's an avenue for people who love the horse. And Secretariat.com, if you log on you'll find all kinds of merchandise, and I think it's good for racing to—that it's a fashionable thing today, and we should be in the game.
Jim Mulvihill: Well then who was creating Secretariat merchandise while he was racing? How did that work?
Penny Chenery: Oh, we didn't do it while he was racing.
Jim Mulvihill: Okay, so it was just wide open but nobody actually was doing that then?
Penny Chenery: No, and nobody had (inaudible) with any ideas about that. We started Secretariat.com in 2002, so all that time there wasn't really anything. Ronnie's always been very good about going to the track and meeting fans and signing, and he has—he sells his merchandise and we sell ours, and I'll be at the Belmont. I wasn't going to go, because I'm getting up in years, but I just—if this horse can win the Triple Crown, I want to be there.
Jim Mulvihill: That's fantastic. Patrice Wolfson, how about you? Was there ever any official Affirmed merchandise, and how did that work?
Patrice Wolfson: Well, Steve, didn't you throw out a little something recently about us possibly doing something; a poster of some kind?
Steve Cauthen: Yes.
Patrice Wolfson: We've had a few things out there. Initially, well, Lou was never in favor of doing anything commercial for Affirmed, so certainly during his racing years we didn't. We did some things for charity, and we do have a few things out there right now. I have intentions of speaking to somebody this week about putting something together. You know, we have the trademark, and—but we use it very sparingly. I'd like to do something for charity with it. That's one of my projects this coming couple of weeks.
Jim Mulvihill: Terrific.
Patrice Wolfson: Give it to charity, yes.
Jim Mulvihill: Excellent. Dr. Hill, can you address that as well? Oh, maybe we lost Dr. Hill at this time. Darren, you good?
Darren Rovell: Yes, thank you.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, Michelle?
Operator: Thank you. Dr. Jim Hill's line is still connected. I'm not sure why he's not answering; just to let you know. Our next question comes from Jennie Rees, Louisville Courier-Journal. Please go ahead.
Jennie Rees: Yes, for Billy Turner. You know, you've watched the last 12 horses going for the Triple Crown. Does California Chrome have something that's different about him that would lead us to think he could do what they were not able to do, or are we all just sort of, do you think, headed for heartbreak again?
Billy Turner: Well, the thing is it's—(inaudible) nothing excites him, he won't get caught up in the speed duel (ph), no—they won't be able to send a rabbit after him in the first part of it to get him going, and things like that, so it won't make any difference. So really I think it boils right down to it's going to wind up being a rider's race, and the rider decides what he wants to do when the time comes whether it's early or late, and we'll go from there.
Jennie Rees: Also, how different is it now—it wasn't until 2000 that a horse that ran in the Derby and skipped the Preakness or a race in between the Derby and the Belmont won the Belmont; it was Commendable. Now it seems to be the blueprint for winning the Belmont. Does that make it tougher? How much tougher does that perhaps make it, because you didn't see the Derby runner-up or third place finisher skipping the Preakness back in the day.
Billy Turner: No, not really, but if you want to win one of them, I think it's—there's nothing wrong with the idea. A couple of these horses that skipped could—I think are going to be formidable foes.
Jennie Rees: Yes, I guess that's what I was getting at. Do you think that makes it one more component to throw into the mix?
Billy Turner: Oh, yes. Oh, definitely. Oh, yes, it does. There's no question about it. If—particularly if the Derby was a hard race I think. If it wasn't, well, then you go and take a shot at the Preakness. But if the Derby was a hard race, like—then you're skipping one, and if you have a horse you know will go the mile and a half, that's going to make you really tough. But then you look at Woody Stephens sitting there, he won five Belmonts in a row, and, well, he, of course, he had Swale that—who was really, really a good horse, and unfortunately he had a—he didn't make it in the Preakness, but he came right back and roared home in the Belmont, so he was a pretty special horse.
Jennie Rees: So you mentioned those horses being formidable, the ones, you know, maybe that you're thinking of like Wicked Strong or Tonalist or something. Do you think he does it or not; California Chrome?
Billy Turner: Well, he's proven already that he's the dominant horse in the three year old ranks today, and regardless of how he runs in the Belmont, he's—well, the thing is, he would be unlucky not to win the Belmont.
Tom Pedulla: Yes, for the owners please, how do you feel about a possible change in the spacing of the Triple Crown races? It's been suggested maybe first Saturday in May, first Saturday in June, and July 4th weekend. How would you feel about that? Would it be going against the tradition of the Triple Crown, or is it fine with you? Mrs. Chenery, may I ask you to begin?
Penny Chenery: Surely. It's not fine with me. I think it would invalidate all the records and all of the times. It would make it just an entirely different event. I know it's hard to win, but I think this horse has a very good chance. I'm just against.
Tom Pedulla: I'm sorry, you said you're against?
Penny Chenery: Against, yes.
Tom Pedulla: Why do you feel so strongly?
Penny Chenery: I'm a traditionalist, and I guess that's my only answer. I guess the feeling is that since it hasn't been won in so long, people will lose interest in it, but I think it just makes it a more interesting challenge.
Tom Pedulla: Okay, thank you. And the other owners, please?
Patrice Wolfson: This is Patrice speaking for Affirmed. It would just be awful. It's unique—it's a wonderful unique set of races, and as Penny just said, if they changed it it would invalidate. It just would not work. It's such a special group of races and the timing is perfect, and a horse has to be up to it. It's super the way it is and nobody should think of ever changing it under any circumstance.
Tom Pedulla: Are the horses durable enough to withstand it, though, these days?
Patrice Wolfson: They have to be. They have to be. That's what makes it the challenge it is.
Dr. Jim Hill: This is Dr. Jim Hill. Yes, I have to agree with Penny and Patrice. You know, (inaudible) is a special thing, and racing needs something that is really special. I can understand this feeling that we need the Triple Crown every few years just to keep the interest up. That's not really what we're trying to do. We're trying to (audio interference), make super horses, and I think it takes not only takes an exceptional horse to win all three races, but it takes great training and management, and it takes good luck. I think all those things should go together, and I don't think that the task should be lessened at all. So I'm not for it at all.
Tom Pedulla: Thank you very much.
Ron Turcotte: This is Ron Turcotte. I agree with what I just heard all around there. I don't think changing the Triple Crown, the dates, would help anything, and I think people will get disinterested in it, and lose an interest. If you start skipping and going three months, you know, I really think that they won't—we won't have that same interest in the Triple Crown.
Jim Mulvihill: This seems to be a pretty hot topic. Billy Turner, you care to chime in?
Billy Turner: Well, of course if you make it—if the whole idea of the Triple Crown is you've got to breed a horse that can perform at both—at—with speed and stamina, and to do—and also have the mindset to stand the pressure of the campaign, you take—you change the campaign, and you give a chance for a lesser horse to compete. Well, that's not what it's all about. It's about making—breeding a better horse, and that's where we are.
Jim Mulvihill: Jean or Steve, either of you care to answer about the Triple Crown spacing?
Steve Cauthen: Yes, I agree with everybody else. This is Steve Cauthen. I, you know, if you change it it's not the same. It doesn't count.
Jim Mulvihill: And Jean?
Jean Cruguet: The only thing that you can you can do (inaudible). You know, right now—and every year we've got new stuff (ph) coming up and (inaudible). You know, that's why they need more time between the races, because (inaudible), you know, it takes more (inaudible). At that point (inaudible). Now they've got all kinds of stuff, and that's what (inaudible).
Don Jensen: Yes, Mrs. Chenery, how much would you like to see California Chrome win this and the Crown (ph)? Can you talk briefly on how it changes your life, you know, for you at least, 40 years. These gentlemen may not know how much it's going to change.
Penny Chenery: It better change your life. It's also a question of how much you want to do with it. I loved it. I just—I love people, I loved the attention, and my trainer and I both felt that we had an obligation to accommodate the fans, accommodate uninformed questions from the media. But these gentlemen are the kind that get up and go to work every day, and I don't think that they will have to do anything different. It's a wonderful story. God bless them and whatever they decide, they have behaved with dignity and charm, and I love the horse.
Tim Wilkin: Yes, this question is from Ron Turcotte, Steve Cauthen, and Billy Turner. Guys, with all the bad news that racing seems to have gotten publicity-wise in the last year anyway, how important do you think it is for a Triple Crown winner for the sport?
Jim Mulvihill: Ron Turcotte, do you want to take that first?
Ron Turcotte: Okay. I'd love to see the horse win. I really love the horse. I love the way he's training, and I really think he's going to win the Triple Crown. I'd just love to see him win it. He's really reminding me a lot of Charismatic. Unfortunately, Charismatic broke down in the race, but I don't look for him to do that, but he reminds me a lot of him the way he runs.
Jim Mulvihill: Thanks. Billy Turner, do you want to jump in there?
Billy Turner: Well, I'm not exactly sure what you're looking for.
Jim Mulvihill: Well, it was in light of all the bad press and negativity circulating around racing in the past year, how much would that contribute to wanting a Triple Crown?
Billy Turner: Well, unfortunately racing's been thrust into a political void, and a lot of that bad press is so inaccurate that it's not even worth commenting on except debunking it. So until we get the facts straight, well, I just—I don’t think—it's a shame that they've made a big deal out of it. So, but the thing is the Triple Crown, I mean when people see a good horse race, there's nothing better, and then, of course, this will be going worldwide and everybody's watching, and I—it's very important.
Jim Mulvihill: Tim?
Tim Wilkin: Could Steve answer that, too?
Jim Mulvihill: Steve Cauthen, are you on? It looks like maybe we lost Steve, too.
Operator: Steve's line is disconnected. We will reconnect with him now.
Frank Angst: This question is for Patrice. Patrice, California Chrome obviously is a California-bred, and we've seen several horses bred outside of Kentucky that have won the Triple Crown. I was curious about Affirmed circumstances. Were all your horses bred in Florida, or was that—just kind of how did that work, and how much did that mean to Florida?
Patrice Wolfson: Oh, I think it was wonderful for Ocala—for Florida. But, no, we had many, many horses bred in Kentucky.
Frank Angst: Why did it fall that Affirmed was bred in Florida, if you recall?
Patrice Wolfson: Yes, well my husband had the farm there, and I think he wanted to—I know he sent them there to Kentucky to breed her, and then she foaled in Ocala, but it was just circumstances. He loved the ground, he loved Florida-breds, so at that particular time he was really anxious for some Florida-breds. But we did breed in Kentucky and had some wonderful horses come out of Kentucky.
Larry Stumes: Hi. This is for Patrice and also for Steve if he's back on the line. Of the 12 horses that won the first two legs, going into the Belmont, which ones did you think were most worthy of the Triple Crown, and how do you rank California Chrome in that list?
Patrice Wolfson: Steve, are you going to take that?
Jim Mulvihill: I think we lost Steve. We're still trying to reconnect with him, so, Patrice, if you wouldn't mind fielding that?
Patrice Wolfson: Yes, I think I have to hear the question again.
Jim Mulvihill: He was asking of the 12 horses that have gone on to take a shot at the Triple Crown since you, how would you rank California Chrome amongst those ones, and which ones did you think had the best shot at the time?
Patrice Wolfson: Yes, well we thought Smarty Jones and Big Brown. I think looking today, this horse has the best chance; just something about him. He's just—he's unique, and some of the others were too, but he just has something special. You know, as Penny said, we like him. We just all think he's special. I think to win the Triple Crown, we want to see a horse that has that excitement, and he has that. Let's hope he shows it next Saturday.
Beth Harris: Hi, this is for Billy Turner. I recall two years ago when Doug O'Neill was bringing I'll Have Another to Belmont that he talked to you about the track. You know, coming from California he wasn't familiar with Belmont. I'm wondering if Alan Sherman has approached you to ask you anything, or if he hasn't, what would you tell him?
Billy Turner: Well, I wouldn't tell him anything. He's doing a pretty good job. The last thing he knows—needs is somebody to cause him confusion. But Doug was mainly—he wanted to know about never having trained in New York and been at Belmont and all that kind of stuff, he wanted to—he just wanted to get an idea of the ins and outs of training on a—training and racing on a mile and a half track. So—and I just told him a few stories about it, and explained the best I could understand why Woody was so successful for five years in a row winning five Belmonts, and what was in common with every—with all that. I thought it was a very smart move on Doug's part.
Jim Mulvihill: Billy, I've got another question for you via e-mail, and then I'll follow-up with the riders as well. Can you talk about any peculiarities with Belmont as far as riding the race; the large sweeping turn? Then over the years is there anything specific that you can share about just riding Belmont?
Billy Turner: Well, I—of course, I'm not a race rider, but the riders that have been successful at Belmont tell me that the natural instinct is to move about an eighth of a mile too soon. The people that do look like winners at the eighth pole and they don't make it. That's what the riders tell me, and Edgar Prado was one that mentioned that to me one time, and, well, he pulled two of the biggest upsets they've had over there, and so I guess he did something right.
Jim Mulvihill: Ron Turcotte, what do you think about riding at Belmont, and specifically the large turns, and the mile and a half circumference, as well as whether jockeys on the outside have a disadvantage?
Ron Turcotte: I don't know if jockeys on the outside have a disadvantage or not, but I can surely answer that question. I think we were one work short with Tom Rolfe back in 1965, and knowing that we were—we missed a work along the way. I moved a little bit too soon with my horse. I made the lay (ph) at the sixteenth pole and I got up on the wire, so that was my fault in the sense that I blew the race. The horse didn't lose the race, I lost the race. So I've seen many riders do exactly what Prado says; they move at the five-eighth pole instead of the three-eighths pole. They are same colored poles, and they are located in the same place. There's a mile track where the three eighth pole is, but that is the five eighth pole at Belmont, should be at Belmont.
Jim Mulvihill: Very interesting. Jean Cruguet?
Jean Cruguet: My (inaudible) most of jockeys at the Belmont. The new jockey, because he's been running there most of the year, and it's hard to know when to move. And then it's—they're all true, they've all been at Belmont. They (inaudible) most of the time (inaudible). At the same time, you can't move early (ph). And at Belmont, you just—you don't just (inaudible).
Melissa Hoppert: Hi. That was actually my question that Jim just asked, but I was hoping that you could expand a little bit upon it. Can you talk about the racing surface? They call it the Big Sandy. Is that a disadvantage for many riders? Also, do you think a horse like California Chrome coming from outside New York who has never raced on the track is at a disadvantage?
Ron Turcotte: Ron Turcotte here. Personally, I don't think there's any disadvantage. I've watched him gallop on the track. He looked to me like he handled it very good, and I don't see no disadvantage. I'm not in agreement with a lot of people about the mile and a half. I think all horses can go a mile and a half if they're handled right, and they've trained for the mile and half, and if they're ridden to go a mile and a half.
Jim Mulvihill: Steve Cauthen, do we have you back with us?
Steve Cauthen: You bet.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, and can you address the surface at Belmont Park and how different horses get over it?
Steve Cauthen: Well, I mean I think it's a very good surface, but it is a little bit different than some of the others. (Audio interference) made it slightly a fraction of an inch deeper, and some horses don't handle it. Some out of town horses come and just run, you know, real bad, but it's because they don't handle the track. But I mean I think it's a very fair (inaudible). I think it's—I don't see California Chrome really having any problem with it. He seems to be training good on it. He seems like the kind of horse that can handle pretty much any kind of surface to be quite honest. You know, like I said when we were talking before, I think, you know, this is (inaudible). I mean he's not going to beat himself. You know, Victor Espinoza knows him inside and out. The horse responds well for him. And like Ron was saying, you know, a lot of (inaudible) in the mile and a half is, you know, how you sort of ride the race. The fact that he'll settle pretty much anywhere, whether it's, you know, (inaudible) there's absolutely no pace or, you know, wherever, it gives him every chance to get the job done. You know, I think his temperament's going to be the biggest help to him going into this final leg of the Triple Crown.
Jim Mulvihill: All right. Melissa?
Melissa Hoppert: Steve, can you just address what Victor needs to do to ride him in this race in terms of how different Belmont is when they were saying like the placement of the poles is different and everything. Can you just address that?
Steve Cauthen: Right. Well, I do think that it helps to have ridden this a lot, and not necessarily have been a regular rider there, but been there enough to get the feel of the track, because it does, as Ron said, most jockeys coming from a mile racetrack when you're passing that five eighths you're starting to think I need to start getting my horse into the race, and really, you know, you're kind of premature by about three furlongs. So (inaudible) obviously Victor's ridden there. I don't know how much he's ridden there, but I know he rode in the Belmont a few years back when he had a chance (inaudible). I think, you know, he'll have that in his mind. I don't think—I don't think he'll be moving prematurely in this Belmont. You know, I think the biggest issue is, you know, (inaudible) it goes, and, you know, there's a chance that there may not be a ton of (inaudible) in the race, so he'll probably just be sitting there relaxed (ph) (inaudible), and it'll be a question of getting engaged in the horse at the right time, because it's—he may—just like everybody said, he doesn't get him running too soon.
Ron Turcotte: Excuse me. I'll have a go on that. Beaufort (ph)—Andrew Crudell (ph) who had Beaufort, he was—that horse was mainly a sprinter, and Crudell rode him to go a mile and a half and he did last a mile and a half. So it's all in the way you ride the horse that'll carry him the mile and a half.
Jim Mulvihill: Very interesting. All right, Michelle, our guests have been very kind with their time. Do you think maybe we can take two more questions out of the queue?
Operator: Thank you. Our next question will be from T.B. Thornton (ph) of The Boston Globe. Please go ahead.
T.B. Thornton: Hi. My question is for the three owners among the panelists, and I apologize if I'm being redundant. I was briefly dropped off the call, and I don't know if this was asked. But whether it's California Chrome this year or another horse in a subsequent year, when a horse finally does break the streak and win the Triple Crown there will be tremendous economic pressure upon his owners to immediately retire the horse to an astronomically lucrative stud career. Assuming a Triple Crown winner is healthy, is there a responsibility on the owners of a Triple Crown winner to give something back to the game in the form of continuing to race the horse so fans aren't immediately deprived of seeing a Triple Crown superstar in action?
Jim Mulvihill: Ms. Chenery, would you care to field that first?
Penny Chenery: Oh, I definitely think there's a responsibility to racing but also to the horse. We had Secretariat and my father died and we had to settle the will. I would've loved to have seen what he could do as a four year old, and I think this one and done phenomenon in sports is very fairly destructive. People like to get to know a horse and then continue to root for him.
Jim Mulvihill: Right.
Penny Chenery: Certainly I think the owners have the—a great understanding of their responsibility to racing. I know they will be under great pressure, but I bet they'll keep going.
Patrice Wolfson: This is Patrice. My husband, Lou Wolfson, definitely felt that he owed it to racing to race Affirmed as a four year old. As it turned out, he was probably a better four year old than a three year old.
Penny Chenery: Right.
Patrice Wolfson: But I think that it's something that they should do if the horse is sound. They want to run. They love to run, and I think racing needs to see another big champion out there.
Jim Mulvihill: Dr. Hill, Seattle Slew he got almost a year off before coming back as a four year old.
Dr. Jim Hill: Yes, he had some very hard luck (ph) with him (inaudible) and he had time to be moved out and he had to be back. He came back and ran extremely well in the fall of his three year old year. You know, I think the owners do owe it to racing when they have a racehorse to first take care of their horse, and then second, (inaudible) a lot of the fans for the joy of the horse's (inaudible).
Bob Ehalt: My question would be you guys are very strongly in support of not moving the dates for the Triple Crown races. I'll leave this open-ended to whoever has a strong opinion on it. Are there any other perhaps minor changes that you think might be implemented that will not affect the integrity of the series from the past to the present, such as Mr. Coburn after California Chrome's Preakness talked about not letting horses skip races—you know, skip the series after starting the Derby—starting in the Derby—talking about, you know, perhaps participation bonuses. Does anyone have any other—any thoughts on, say, you know, just minor changes that may not alter everything?
Jim Mulvihill: If anybody cares to jump in, just identify yourself and field that one on potential changes to the Triple Crown format beyond spacing the races.
Ron Turcotte: The one I just heard there about the horses that start in the Triple Crown should start in all three races, I think a horse should come first. Not all horses will come out of the race the same way and might come back for the Belmont, so I can't see that. If they pay their nomination for the Belmont, they should be entitled to run in the Belmont if they can't run in the Derby. So…
Patrice Wolfson: I agree with Ron Turcotte. I think that it needs to stay as it is. If it isn't broken, let's leave it as it is.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, we've heard from Ron and Mrs. Wolfson. Anybody else thoughts on other changes to the Triple Crown or other tweaks maybe we should say that might improve it?
Steve Cauthen: Well, I guess (inaudible) the bonuses are good. It makes sure that everybody is going to run in all of them if they can, so I mean I think it's a good incentive to try to make every race that you can. But then obviously you'd need a sponsor for that, but maybe if this horse can win it this year, and (inaudible) will come back, because (inaudible) in the seventies it made—or (inaudible) it was that was punching (ph) at the time involved and hopefully it'll happen again, because now the biggest thing California Chrome can do is reinvigorate racing, you know, nationwide.
Jim Mulvihill: All right. Well, thank you, Steve Cauthen, and we'll leave that as the final word of this NTRA media teleconference. I appreciate everybody who got on the call today. I'm sorry we didn't get to all the questions, but our guests were so generous with more than an hour of their time. If there's anything we can help you with here in the New York office just let us know, and if you want to get in touch with any of these folks individually for one on ones, we can help facilitate that as well.
So once again, I want to thank all of our guests: Penny Chenery, Patrice Wolfson, Jim Hill, Billy Turner, Ron Turcotte, Jean Cruguet, and Steve Cauthen, an incredible lineup of past Triple Crown winners. A reminder our next call is Thursday at 1 p.m. Eastern. That is going to be our Belmont Stakes Preview. Our featured guest will be Art Sherman, and we'll also have some of the competition lining up trying to thwart the Triple Crown.blog comments powered by Disqus