January 22, 2018 – NTRA National Media Teleconference
Eclipse Awards and Pegasus World Cup Preview
- Steve Asmussen, trainer, Gun Runner
- Tim Ritvo, COO, The Stronach Group
- Dallas Stewart, trainer, Seeking the Soul
- Mike Smith, jockey, Collected
Click below to listen to the Teleconference and scroll down to view the transcript (when available).
Jim Mulvihill: We’re here to preview two events really, the Eclipse Awards on Thursday evening and then the Pegasus World Cup on Saturday. The star of both shows of course is Gun Runner. He’s the favorite to win Horse of the Year and Champion Older Dirt Horse on Thursday. And it’ll be installed as the morning line favorite for the world’s richest race when entries are drawn Wednesday.
Later on we’re going to talk to Gulfstream Park President, Tim Ritvo, plus trainer, Dallas Stewart and Hall of Fame rider, Mike Smith. But first most appropriately, we’re delighted to be joined by Gun Runner’s Hall of Fame trainer, Steve Asmussen. Steve, it’s Jim Mulvihill here, thanks for being on the call.
Steve Asmussen: Glad to be here.
Jim Mulvihill: Gun Runner got his final time worked this morning, not just his final work for the Pegasus but the final one of his career, easy half in :49. I would guess you’ve seen the video and talked to (Scott) by now, what can you tell us about that work and how you feel about him?
Steve Asmussen: Well obviously everybody’s very happy with how he’s coming into the Pegasus. It’s a little, you know, obviously with this being his last race, there’s a lot of emotions from, you know, from the whole team.
Jim Mulvihill: Can you elaborate on that a little bit? I know, you know, anytime you’ve got a standout horse like this that is running its last race you get a little sad about seeing them leave the barn but he also has the chance to go out on this very high note. So, in the final days around the barn what’s it like when you’re ((inaudible)) …
Steve Asmussen: Well I think that’s a very personal thing. I just – you know, it’s a very, you know, very personable thing for me and as well as everybody else involved. And it’s just impossible to put into words to tell you the truth.
Jim Mulvihill: Well as I said, we want to talk about the Eclipse Awards in addition to the Pegasus so, you know, being an overwhelming favorite to win Horse of the Year on Thursday, I just wanted to ask what qualities of his campaign most impressed you this year? What is it specifically that makes him a Horse of the Year?
Steve Asmussen: I just – how he stepped up when called upon and just met the challenge and, you know, how do you say, got it done. He’s truly a special horse mentally and physically. And we’ve, you know, been on a tremendous run with him. And, you know, just appreciate being in his presence.
Jim Mulvihill: Absolutely, and I’m curious about, you know, the decision to go to the Pegasus. I mean if you had called it a career for Gun Runner after the Breeders’ Cup with a stallion career ahead of him, nobody would’ve blinked at that but what made this race a must-do for you and Ron and David Fisk?
Steve Asmussen: Well I think that we all can feel a little somewhat loss over the lack of an opportunity to running in it last year. And hopefully this is a – it puts us in a position to correct that.
Ron Flatter: Steve how badly do you want the lead for Gun Runner early in this race?
Steve Asmussen: I – we’ve had a lot of success letting Gun Runner decide where he wanted to be and we continue to do that – we plan on doing that.
Ron Flatter: Is that a must-do? I mean what would your conversation with flow be in that regard?
Steve Asmussen: Anything but what you just said.
Ron Flatter: And what’s – do you have a Plan B or do you need a Plan B in case you draw outside?
Steve Asmussen: No we’ve got, you know, we’ve got one plan and that’s to run Gun Runner, you know. If we focus on what we have control over and feel good about that and that’s all we can concern ourselves with at this point.
Ron Flatter: Okay, and finally I mean if you – can you compare this race to any other where you’ve seen so much speed that he’s had to face?
Steve Asmussen: He’s – if he lasts Thursday hopefully and expectedly, he’ll be named Horse of the Year. And I think that covers quite a bit of questions, so anyway, very pleased with his preparation going into the Pegasus. Obviously, the post-position draw will dictate where a lot of horses are early in the race and then how they are able to use that or overcome it, however it may be is yet to be seen.
Danny Brewer: Hey, the run that he’s been on since the Clark, can you compare that to the run Curlin went on when Curlin won like, seven of eight or is there any comparison different horses, different times? It’s been pretty incredible, wouldn’t you agree?
Steve Asmussen: Definitely feels like it’s, you know, been incredible. The similarities between Curlin and Gun Runner is the uniqueness of each of them and the fact that how in control of the situation they always seem to be. And, you know, I appreciate that about both of the horses.
Danny Brewer: Whenever you think about the grand scheme of it all, has it been a little bit overwhelming to have a horse that’s had this kind of – I mean you’ve been there before. You’ve won a few races but when you think about what’s happened do you kind of paint yourself and hey am I asleep or awake or dreaming or whatever?
Steve Asmussen: I think, just to be in his presence, to be around him, to have the privilege to train him as well as run him, you know, it’s a dream come true. Everybody’s well aware of my background. I grew up in a racing family and that’s what I dreamed of being a part of and I’ve realized how blessed I am to be in this position. And I think that the appreciation is kind of the key to it for me. You know, and I think it’s most obvious and what I feel the most.
Tim Reynolds: Hey Steve, I’m curious when you first heard, I guess it was 18 months or 24 months ago or whatever, that the first notions of this race started getting out, did you think this was Number 1, something that would work and Number 2, I mean with the concerts and the red carpets and the enormous personnel that is – how good of thing is this for racing, do you think, you know speaking, you know, in a broad sense?
Steve Asmussen: Well I wasn’t able to participate in it last year. Obviously, we’re very excited about it this year. That probably makes me a little more anxious because, you know, we’re not running in it last year when we had kind of planned on it. I feel that a horse at this level, the Breeders’ Cups, Dubai World Cup, the Triple Crown Races, it just – it doesn’t get any more exciting than that for me. It’s just, growing up in a racing family, this is what I’ve dreamed about my whole life and I just appreciate the opportunity that we’ve, you know, we’ve been given. And, you know, Saturday is, you know, definitely very exciting for me.
John Pricci: Good afternoon Steve. A couple of things, in reading your quotes all year, I don’t know I guess this columnist didn’t read words into it, we’d have nothing to write about, but it seems to me that you don’t think that maybe a lot of people are giving Gun Runner the kind of respect that certainly you give him and the kind of respect, more importantly, that he deserves.
And Part 2, you said before that you – one of the things that endears you to him is, has been his ability to step up. Well does he have to step up again on Saturday to win this race? And then, you know, and also, is he getting more respect in the overall?
Steve Asmussen: Well he has to step up. I, you know, it’s unique for this caliber a race for it to be in January. You know, we definitely had targeted peaking at the Breeders’ Cup Classic when we brought him back in training. And so that is a bit unique and he does need to step up from it. And I think that he is exactly, right now with his victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, thought of and spoke of the way that I had hoped for.
And reading into it or not, as far as the horse not being respected for who he was, he does have a pretty good form and I think a horse of his talent level I’m pretty sure that he wasn’t the favorite until the 7th start of his career which is, you know, kind of odd. Or an indication of it, didn’t like him as well as somebody else in the race.
John Pricci: Right, could that also be part and parcel to the fact that he was late developing in terms of three-year-old picture. I mean, you know, he was terrific on the early trail yet last year and through the Triple Crown, but quite obviously Gun Runner has raised his game like starting last fall and through this year.
Steve Asmussen: Right, yes, he went from a very good horse to, you know, as we’re all hoping and expecting, for him to be named the Horse of the Year on Thursday, you know, on Thursday night at the Eclipse.
Larry Stumes: All right, Steve have you ever had a horse at this quality combining speed plus evidently stamina and a power – finishing power — speed and finishing power?
Steve Asmussen: His Breeders’ Cup Classic under the circumstances the way the racetrack was playing was probably my strongest run to date of probably any horse. And it was the circumstances that brought that out and he stepped up to it and it just – it raked up my reaction. I couldn’t have been prouder of him.
Hal Habib: Hi Steve, I wanted to ask you a little bit about the irony of his last race being here at Gulfstream. Given what happened last year ((inaudible)) your emotions, as that whole thing played out. And what if anything do you wish that maybe you had done differently or I’m sure I can guess what you wish the track had done differently.
Steve Asmussen: Well it was a unique situation with the quarantine in Louisiana and dealing with racetracks as well as states. It’s a, I think the unsureness of it is, you know, out of your hands. But what we felt like last year before the Pegasus was that we were going to have a very good year with him hether we got to run or not and cannot lose sight of that and to stay the course. And I think that we will be rewarded for doing that with hopefully the Horse of the Year, you know, Eclipse on Thursday night.
Hal Habib: And if you should win on Saturday, I’m sure winning $7 million takes care of itself, but will it be all the more sweeter given what occurred last year?
Steve Asmussen: I want to very much want Gun Runner to go out to the way that we feel that he deserves and that would be on top and heralded like he has been since the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, Steve Asmussen, trainer of Gun Runner with some very interesting comments including the Breeders’ Cup Classic by Gun Runner was probably his strongest run to date and that’s quite a statement when you consider Curlin and Rachel Alexandra and number of other Grade 1 winners and top runners that have come from that barn over the years.
In any case, the Eclipse Awards are set for Thursday at 8:00 pm eastern. That’ll be live on TVG available on more than 45 million homes nationwide. There’s also a preview show on TV and a separate red-carpet preview on Facebook live that’ll be hosted by Gulfstream Parks with Acacia Courtney starting at 7:00 pm.
On Saturday the Pegasus will air live on network television, NBC from 4:30 to 6:00 pm, that’s Eastern Time. And our friends at Horse Racing Radio will also have live coverage from 4:00 to 6:00 pm on Sirius XM and online at HorseRacingRadio.net. And as always, we’d appreciate it if you could work that coverage in or work those details of the broadcast coverage into your stories just, so fans know where to find us.
With that, we’d like to welcome in our next guest and that is the Stronach Group’s Chief Operating Officer, Tim Ritvo. The Pegasus is of course the vision of Frank Stronach but Tim has been largely responsible for realizing that vision the past few years. Tim it’s Jim Mulvihill from the NTRA, thanks for joining us.
Tim Ritvo: Yes thanks for having me.
Jim Mulvihill: Our pleasure. You know, you’re five days out from the Pegasus so I’d just kind of like to turn it over to you for some thoughts about both the field that you’ve assembled and the preparations for the fan experience and everything that goes along with the race.
Tim Ritvo: Yes so, a combination, you know, it’s a combination of two great minds, (Shy Polinder) and Mr. Stronach. One is from the racing perspective of how do you keep the older horses racing and competing at the highest level and obviously $16 million purse helps because the intent was to always try to give these horses another opportunity and maybe even another reason to stay racing for another year.
You know, with a $16 million purse here, the $7 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, the Dubai World Cup, that’s always been Frank’s spot is to how do we get these great horses to compete at the highest level. And, you know, the one thing in racing that’s happened through the years is people had a tendency and sort of big dance to avoid each other. This race that we’ve assembled here is an exceptional race of all the greatest talent in North America and some in Europe. We’re still not completely satisfied until we get some Asian horses but we’re getting there.
And for the second year this race is spectacular. And then from the entertainment component side, you know, Belinda Stronach and her team continues to grow awareness in Miami and in the nation about the entertainment component of it, how we can make horse racing exciting to the average customer, the customer that’s not accustomed to knowing everything about the horses but will come out to a really special event.
Jim Mulvihill: Tim you just laid out perfectly what makes this race so significant. And yet it still seems to be a lightning rod for various criticisms and online chatter. And, you know, between a $16 million purse that doesn’t come out of the purse account, being on national television giving these horses a reason to keep racing and not retire at the end of the year, do you ever just look at this situation and ask like, what more can we do? What more do people expect of us?
Tim Ritvo: Yes great question, and it frustrates me sometimes when I do talk to some of the reporters within the industry and say, listen, you know, we are far from perfect, but we are innovative. We are trying to do new things, try to bring new heights. The first couple of years like any start-up business will make no money.
You know, even with the pari-mutuel handle, expect it to exceed 40 million even with the, you know, the facility itself, it’s a little bit smaller than the standard racetrack that has, you know, 40 or 50,000 seats, which is not available at Gulfstream. Even with all of that, you know, the industry, it really, you know, the Stronach family they owe some gratitude to the family for being innovative, for coming up with these kind of concepts and ideas that we’ll evolve overtime and get better and better.
But the idea that we can get the top five Breeders’ Cup horse finishers — one, two, three – one through five. There’s Stellar Wind, some of these other Breeders’ Cup winners. Course they’re all from Europe that was 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup Classic race and we can get them all assembled in one race in the second year is truly an attribute to the family’s commitment to the sport.
So yes, as it is frustrating and sometimes I’ve brought those points up, you know, everybody finds the negative in everything. And obviously anytime you start up something like this it takes time to evolve but, you know, we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished in the second year. You know, for somebody that’s ran Preakness’s, that’s had 140 years of history, it’s kind of like a well-oiled machine. This to start up something like this at this level and have the success we’ve had after two years is a real compliment to the staff and the crew and the commitment of not just the Stronach Group but everybody that works for us.
Tom Jicha: Hi Tim. The first year you had the 12 commitments back in May. This year it’s been a little tougher assembling them. Have you had discussions on what you can do in the future to resolve that issue?
Tim Ritvo: Well I think actually this year Tom, good question, is going to be a turning point, right. The first year no one really knew what to expect and they jumped right in and wasn’t sure how the revenue splits were going to work and everything else. And after that this year was a little bit tougher. We got nine participants by the due date, December 15 and we had three available spots that the Stronach Group bought. It was really probably one of the smartest moves we’ve made and I could tell you why as I touch on it.
Right away immediately, people had come to us to see if they could buy the remaining three spots after the deadline. We said no the deadline has passed. And the people that decide to run in the race after the deadline, in our opinion, would not get as good a deal as the guys that – the nine guys that joined up. Now, and I did talk to Mr. (West) and I’ve talked to some of the other shareholders, (Dean Reeves) and (Joe) – Mr. (Gallow) and they were very pleased to hear what we were going to do. So, what we ended up doing is anybody of the last three spots that were going to run could not buy a spot. They would have to contribute 50% of their earnings back to the nine original shareholders. So once that was formatted we think that’s maybe a turning point that people were talking about, how do they get in next year; how do they assure their spot?
So, you know, as these things evolve, and this just kind of came to play right at the last minute when we only had nine spots, we said, you know what, we need to buy up these last three spots, make sure that the people that decide to run in these three spots regardless of how good their horse is, were only committed to a certain part of that deal so that the people that did buy-in have a better advantage to keep all of their money that they earned. I hope that helps. I know it’s a little confusing. Yes.
Tom Jicha: Yes, it is a little confusing. I just want to clarify that. So, if someone wins the seven – of the last three wins the $7 million prize, 3.5 million will go back to the original nine?
Tim Ritvo: Minus the entry fee. In other words, the Stronach Group will collect back the first $1 million, right. So, if somebody, one of the three, the final three came in, they only get – they get 50% minus the entry fee. So, the bottom line is the $1 million would come out and there’d be $3 million leftover for them and $3 million would go to the other nine participants.
Ron Flatter: Tim the suggestion’s been made even from the outset because of the outside bias against – in, you know, races over a mile at Gulfstream, that this race needs to be lengthened. John Pricci’s mentioned that mile and 3/16. It’s been said that maybe a mile and 1/4 would be optimal. How much discussion has been paid to that?
Tim Ritvo: A lot, yes and that’s one of our biggest issues so obviously we struggled to try to figure the balance. The reason the original mile and 1/8 were selected was to try to get horses that were even good dirt milers, that they would probably stretch to a mile and 1/8 for that kind of money. But we’re seeing that picking up a dirt miler is definitely not as valuable, let’s say as the people complaining about getting 10, 11 and 12.
You know, we still, you know, struggle with that and trying to figure out what the solution is but the compromise could be a mile and the 3/16 and backing it up a little bit. Or even a mile and 1/4 but then it’s kind of become a true classic distance race where you wouldn’t be able to get a miler over, you know, a mile and 1/4. So that’s been one of the issues that we think in the years to come maybe next year, the distance definitely has to be looked at.
But it’s something you can’t change, you know, leading up to a couple weeks before the race because it’s not fair. It has to be pretty consistent where people bought in, this was the distance and they knew. And, you know, yes, as tough as it is to win from out there, you know, we just don’t know who’s going to draw that. The draw is always so very fair and, you know, everyone has as good a chance to get an inside post as someone else.
Ron Flatter: It would be easy to say the solution, and the easiest solution, considering your higher profile across the country, would be to move this to Santa Anita. So how much discussion’s been given to that?
Tim Ritvo: There’s been some discussion. Internally it bounces back and forth. Talking to Belinda a few days ago, she just seems really – she’s starting to really feel at this speed is becoming a big Miami event. And she’s, you know, we’re still going to have a bunch of discussions leading up to it the next couple of days and then obviously after it. And we’ll make a decision.
It makes all the business sense in the world to move it to Santa Anita from a – try to sell tickets and everything else. But at the same time she’s really thinking that we’re making an iconic event in Miami that needs to stay. And especially with the statue and then we could talk about creating another event for Santa Anita similar to something that we have here.
So anyways, those are the discussions that we’re having so all of those kind of tie together, right, the distance of the race, the ability to sell 40 to 50,000 tickets and, you know, and the future of where the event is held. So, all of those discussions will take place a lot before the race and few days after the race and then I’m pretty sure she’ll come up with an announcement.
Hal Habib: Hi Tim, I wanted to ask you a little bit about what happened last year as well with Gun Runner. Looking back is – do you feel like the track did what it had to do or knowing what you know now about what Gun Runner has done, do you wish that anything had turned out differently?
Tim Ritvo: Yes of course. I mean the last thing we wanted to do was keep a horse of his caliber out of the race. There was a lot of pressure from not just the facility but – and lots of other participants in the race but also other stables that were concerned about the wide-spreadness of this. And we true truly, we went down there and we did a lot of investigating. We sent our own medical director down there. And obviously Steve Asmussen and his crew are at the highest level of care for their horse. And that was not an issue, but we were still concerned a little bit of the protocols that were put in place and why that spread as fast as it did and took as much time to get under wraps as it did.
So, there was some fundamental issues that bothered us. Obviously, we – and we understand the Gun Runner team not wanting to do the swab because they do throw some negative tests sometimes. And the bloodwork was not good enough for our medical director and our medical team decided that the swab had to be done to prevent any, you know, any worse scenario.
So yes, so when you look back, obviously regardless of what he’s done this year, and I mean the greatest horse that he is, we would’ve loved to have him last year. Would’ve helped with the pari-mutuel handle, it would’ve, you know, he’s a great, great horse and now he’s even a better horse than then. And we’re just thrilled to have him this year and we’re real sorry we – you know, I know there was a lot of anxious times and a lot of back and forth rhetoric but the bottom line is, we had to play on the side of caution for all the other valuable horses that were here.
So, it was a really, really, really tough decision and anybody that says it wasn’t. But in the end, we were just as much losers as the Gun Runner team was but not be able to bring the horse because we would’ve done better from a pari-mutuel perspective we believe. But it was just too much of a risk to bring him in with everything that was going on down there.
Hal Habib: If I could, I’d like you to put your old trainer’s hat on for just a moment. If you were Steve in the position of swab or no swab, what call do you think you might’ve made?
Tim Ritvo: I probably wouldn’t have done it if I was Steve because of the history they have said of false positives. It may have put him out of commission much longer, right. And so, you know, he would’ve had to give up the one race but then he would be fine the rest of the season. If he had done the swab I don’t know if it come back positive, what would’ve happened.
Listen, you know, it’s a year ago and I’d have to put myself in his place and his time. But, like, I said I don’t blame them for not doing the swab and I wanted them not to blame us for not allowing the horse on the property, right. I just think each person did exactly what they thought was in the best interest, of one, their business or the condition of their horse. So, you know, I’m not saying that I would’ve done anything that they did different. And I hope that they would’ve looked at it from our position and said we did what we had to do.
Frank Angst: Hey Tim. First of all thanks for outlining how those Stronach Group spots would work if one of them places. Could you just outline the purse payouts this year by placing?
Tim Ritvo: You know, I don’t have them in front of me, but I think it’s, obviously it’s $7 million to the winner. I’ll probably get those to you because there’s been some adjustments to the time but it’s, yes, 1:8 – I mean I can definitely make sure those are made available to the whole entire crew.
Frank Angst: That’ll great, yes, that’s good. And what – how did you guys kind of arrive at them this year? What was that process and what was the reasoning for any – go ahead.
Tim Ritvo: Yes, I got a little – so every, like we said, being the second year, you know, and making sure that each participant got back 650,000. So, each of the 12 participants receive a minimal of 650,000. So, in reality your only risk is 350,000, which is a lot of money still. But so – but, you know, obviously that has to come from somewhere. So, there’s always been a different line of thoughts.
Every time we get 12 people together and trying to agree on something in horse racing, you know, do you weight and put the $12 million up in the top five and the top six and no one gets anything underneath. Or do you – to try to make a full more competitive field, spread it out a little bit. So those are the issues we had but as we each year develop more solid partnerships and more people that want to continue to be in it every year, I think we’ll see eventually get to a structure that everybody is exactly comfortable with.
Personally, I like personal structure didn’t get passed but mine would’ve been that the top four horses make money, the middle four horses broke even, and the bottom four horses would lose most of their money, you know. And that’s kind of in my head, that’s kind of how I always start. But it didn’t get as much traction as I would’ve liked but it’s a work in progress and I think everybody was happy with what where set it this year.
Frank Angst: And there’d been some talk of adding a turf race at some point. Is that still something that’s a possibility?
Tim Ritvo: Yes, for sure. There’s definitely talk about adding a turf race. The question is do we run another big event on another day at Santa Anita if we, let’s say, don’t move it. Or do we have a big race in Washington D.C. at the International as a prep towards the Breeders’ Cup. So, there’s definitely talk about adding a turf race, whether it would be on the same day or another whole event, we’re not sure yet.
Obviously not only in North America have we’ve seen a huge transformation from dirt racing to turf racing but, you know, all throughout the world most of the racing is done on the grass, especially at the higher level. So yes, I mean it only makes sense to throw one in there. But at the same time, you know, guys like Gary West who were really happy to be – is really glad to see that we have a classic, another classic race on the dirt to continue to keep the dirt horses having a value and places to run.
John Pricci: Hey good afternoon Tim. A couple of questions here ((inaudible)) some of the future of Pegasus. First of all, the ((inaudible)) Oaklawn, that was like a herpes virus related and not a reaction to the bonuses that were being offered to shippers in terms of competition of horses. I just wanted you to verify whether it was bonus related or did you think it was virus related or what is that story?
Tim Ritvo: Yes, I think that they’re just being cautious, right. I mean there was a horse that actually was between Laurel and Belmont that came from supposedly New Bolton and tested positive. So, I personally don’t consider to tackle it all, I just think they’re just being cautious, you know, and I can’t see how any racetrack would want more horses from all over different jurisdictions. So, I just, yes, I just think they’re being cautious and, you know, at this time. That’s just my…
John Pricci: Okay, now I have a question, you know, the question of the run up has come up a lot with turf racing. That’s the story for another day but can you tell me what the normal run-up is for mile and an 1/8 races on the dirt at Gulfstream? You know, ballpark normal…
Tim Ritvo: Yes, it’s about 60 feet. So normally they gain is – you know, and that’s mostly a normal run-up in America where the gain is set just a little bit off of where the horses break and they run-up.
Tim Ritvo: There has been some talk of backing it up just a little bit more to like 100 feet where Del Mar has, I believe has had run-ups up to 200 feet. And it would make it better obviously for the outside horses but the one thing for sure I can promise you is that decision will be made before anything is every drawn. As of right now it’s a 60-foot run-up. And then before we decide to draw the races, there has been some talk of whether we should, you know, back that up even a little bit further to give more benefit for the outside horses. But at the same time, not change the distance of the race.
John Pricci: Right, and no I understand that but even, you know, even if you doubled that 60 feet I don’t think too many people would object. So, the thing is that that’s still under discussion and if you decide, let’s say you make a decision that well we’re going to make the run-up 100 feet or 120 feet, you will announce that simultaneously so that all the horsemen will know what the deal is, you know, before they get in the starting gate?
Tim Ritvo: That’s right. We would tell everybody going in that this is the decision that we made that the run-up would be 120 feet, let’s say. That decision will be made some time today or tomorrow and before, obviously before the draw. So that we don’t – we’re not making a change based on who gets the outside post.
Richard Kieckhefer: Hi Tim. I believe I heard you mention that you were interested in having participation from Asia. And I’m wondering what kind of outreach you’ve been making in that regard. It seems like your best bet would be to have horses from Japan looking to go to Dubai but what other thoughts do you have about that?
Tim Ritvo: Yes Mike Rogers who’s our president of Stronach Group and myself have made trips to Japan and Hong Kong working with the delegations from their team, you know, to try to – one, to show the interest that we have to see what it would take to bring those horses over. You know, all the logistics and the quarantine issues have been discussed multiple times. We’ve reached out to many of the owners. We have invited some over for the race.
So, you know, we’ve got – the first year we just kind of made the introduction and people watched the race. This year there was actually more serious interest and it just didn’t happen. And I feel really comfortable by next year we will see a horse or two come over here from either Hong Kong or Japan.
Richard Kieckhefer: And what about South America?
Tim Ritvo: South America, we can see the reach out to them. We think, you know, once – I think once we do a grass race we’ll see more interest, right. Some of their better horses are on the grass. We have, you know, tried in the past last year, Mr. (Mackenville) brought the Argentinian horse over. And they just, you know, they just haven’t been able to compete at that level at this time, but we’re continued to the idea of making it a world cup race is – you need participation from all over the world. So, there is definitely some, you know, work to be done to make that happen but we won’t stop until we get there. And then especially if there is an addition of a grass race, we really think we have to really reach out around the globe.
Tim Reynolds: Okay and I’ll limit mine to one because of the constraints. Last year I know a lot of the marketing here in south Florida was built around the uniqueness of this event. And when the group gets together and starts talking about either moving it or having a similar event elsewhere or multiple similar events, how much of a concern is there on the part of the group that it will lose that unique appeal here in Miami if it was to get – if something was to stay at Gulfstream that is?
Tim Ritvo: Yes, I mean I think it’s a very good question and what you have to do all the time is recreate yourself, right. And what is it become, how do we make it more exciting, how do we – I still think we have a lot of things that we could do from a marketing perspective that can really make this race more exciting or as exciting as it is now and even in the future.
But, you know, there’s – the participation of international horses would be one of the things that would really help us. You know, we just did the Classic Caribbean which is, you know, it’s been held in Latin America for 50 years. Obviously not the quality of racing that this is by any means but the idea of the participation where eventually good international participation, it kind of becomes, you know, for a better word, almost of a soccer game cheering where people come from different parts of the world and country to try to make cheer for their home team horse and stuff like that. So that’s one of the marketing initiatives.
But on top of that, Belinda’s initiatives are how do we make horse racing exciting again; how do we bring the best of the best together. And creating these events and getting these kinds of level of horses is really tricky. And the only thing to do that moves them is money at this time, right. Of people it’s about – they’re running in this race because there’s a $16 million up for grabs and $7 million to the winner. So, the idea is to continue to figure out ways to subsidize purses like this that can’t subsidize themselves to pari-mutuel handle because there’s not enough bet on them.
But, and at the same time continue to grow the sport so that, you know, this – the United States is 10% of the world’s pari-mutuel handle. So, there’s 90% more out there. So how do we make the world a smaller place and that’s the goals of this international race.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, there’s Tim Ritvo the Stronach Group. Never shying away from a tough question from the media and we appreciate that.
Let’s get back to the horsemen now. We’re going to check in with trainer Dallas Stewart. He’s taking a shot in the Pegasus with the Clark Handicap winner, Seeking the Soul. And again, just as with Steve, we’ve got some Eclipse awards angles to talk about as well. Of course, Forever Unbridled seems the likely champion older female so we want to hear about that. Dallas Stewart are you on?
Dallas Stewart: Yes.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, it’s Jim Mulvihill checking in. Thanks for being with us. Before we get to the Pegasus, I want to ask about Forever Unbridled. She is the deserving champion in my opinion and I expect that she will be on Thursday, but I have seen a handful of voters who have scoffed at a campaign with only three starts so I’m just curious what your response is to that opinion that’s floating out there.
Dallas Stewart: Well she had three starts and three wins. She not only had three starts, she had three wins, so. And she had – two are Grade 1s. She beat a champion. She won a Breeders’ Cup race, so any other races would’ve been insignificant.
Jim Mulvihill: Makes sense to me, I mean, you know, we always…
Dallas Stewart: She didn’t get started until June because she was coming off a – she also was coming off surgery. So even said all that, it’s a big accomplishment.
Jim Mulvihill: Agreed. We always want our trainers to manage their horses according to what’s best for them and you did that and then there are people that wish that there were more starts but you can’t do much better than an unbeaten campaign. But with that let’s talk about Seeking the Soul and a very interesting contender for the Pegasus. I want to ask first just about all the speed lining up for this race and how that might help your cause, just how do you see this race unfolding?
Dallas Stewart: Yes, I mean it’s going to be a great race. You know, there’s going to be some speed in there. Everybody’s going to have their horses cranked up ready to go and think we’re going to be one of them. And, you know, Seeking Soul has a tactical type race scenario and it should work out well finally. Hopefully he’ll be the best horse at that there are.
Jim Mulvihill: And you had a final breeze yesterday at the Fai Grounds. Can you just tell us a little bit about how that went and how you feel he’s doing?
Dallas Stewart: Just a nice – yes just a nice sharp half coming off a good solid 3/4 work. So, he’s been consistent in his works, he always has been but he’s looking great. Beautiful hair coat, dapples all over, he’s eating well, so excited about getting him down there Wednesday.
Danny Brewer: Is this a perfect pig in slop situation for you where – I mean you got no pressure, you got a horse that’s been really running well lately and you got a chance to run for 16 million and a piece of that, well how about it?
Dallas Stewart: Yes, I mean there’s a little bit of pressure because you got to put up a bunch of money to run so you better hope you can try to make something back, you know. But, you know, I mean it’s a big race, a lot on the line, you know, great horses, great race, you know, it’s a great job. It’s just going to be a great race, so you want to be competitive and show up and run hard.
Danny Brewer: Now what these last six races that three wins and three thirds, what kind of flipped the switch for him or is it just maturing? What do you think about that?
Dallas Stewart: Yes, I mean he’s just learning, you know, he’s just learning how to win. You know, he went up at Saratoga, – it was allowance win, but it was a good win. And then he came back with an okay race in the Lukas Classic but he’s just put it all together. He’s – we always thought a lot of him but maybe just the time and the being a little older and we’ll knock on wood, he’s very healthy. So, he’s just learning how to win, and his last two races have been over different racetracks which I like that. You know, you should be able to take his game down to Gulfstream okay. So that angle looks good for me.
Ron Flatter: Dallas, Johnny getting the ride this second time in a row after you’d switch jockeys a few times. How much of that was just because of the availability of jockeys and how much of that was you just wanting to try something different each time?
Dallas Stewart: I really don’t understand the question.
Ron Flatter: In other words, you had (Flo) and then you had (Brian) now you got Johnny, why did – what went into the whole reason for changing jocks each of those times?
Dallas Stewart: Just one of those things, you know. (Brian) rode him great. Johnny won the Breeders’ Cup for us and won to Mr. Fipke and felt a nice little mojo going there so we signed him up for this horse. He was happy enough to ride him so that was good enough for us — and he rode him great.
Ron Flatter: How huge is the draw for you on Wednesday?
Dallas Stewart: I mean it’s like anything else, you know, you want to draw good and it’s – you want to get out of the – you always want to get out of the gates good in every horse race. You want to get bumped around so that’s – those things are sometimes a little bit uncontrollable but just want to get a good break and, you know, be where you need to be.
John Pricci: First of all I’d like to congratulate you on your, you know, a great 2017 and the campaign that you managed through the Philly. Could you tell us a little bit about what it’s meant to you personally, I mean as you look back, I know it’s only January and your eyes are focused on Saturday, but if you could look back on 2017 and tell us about some of the emotions you felt at various times of year?
Dallas Stewart: Well, you know, I was – basically with Forever Unbridled you talking?
John Pricci: Say again?
Dallas Stewart: Yes, but Forever Unbridled…
John Pricci: Well ((inaudible)) just the whole thing. I mean, you know, you did win the great one with Seeking the Soul and of course you managed what appears to be an Eclipse Award campaign. So, I just meant the whole thing.
Dallas Stewart: Yes well John, you know, she’s a real special horse. And, you know, like I said, she was coming off an injury and she just got herself really ready and ran her at Churchill, it was great. And then she had to go from one race right to hooking a champion at Songbird and it was a great race.
So, I mean that was just – that was very solid, and I felt good about going to the Breeders’ Cup. Spacing her races out, keeping her healthy and, you know, she just loves to train so that was, you know, that was one thing that was in my favorite. And she loved to train, and her workouts were good.
And, you know, as she was winning and developing, this horse started developing and we picked up a few things on him. Like when he ran in the Lukas Classic, (Ferar Sheru), you know, gave him a basic ride and kind of hit him with a stick a little bit and I just noticed that he just – he looked like he was slowing down when he was getting hit with the whip. So, when (Hernandez) rode him over at Keeneland, I told him don’t hit him with the stick and he broke the track record.
So, you know, we think we kind of picked up on something on that and (Johnny) rode him and he did veer a little bit in the stretch, but he has a tendency to do that sometime, but he got the job done and it was a great finisher for 17. And they’re both, you know, horses – they’re good horses, they’re healthy and it was a good 17, yes sir.
Jim Mulvihill: All right Dallas, one more quick one before we let you go. Forever Unbridled was a possibility for the Pegasus for a while. I’m just curious if you can give us an update on her status?
Dallas Stewart: Yes, she’s doing very well. She’s training at – she’s here at Fairgrounds and she gallops every day and we’re just – we’re going to – everybody to be together down in Florida. We’ll be talking about a campaign for her. So that’s where it’s going to go. She’s healthy and she’s doing good and I’m very happy with that.
Jim Mulvihill: Excellent, glad to hear it. Well Dallas, thanks for your time today and we’ll look forward to seeing you Thursday night at the Eclipse Awards.
Dallas Stewart: Thank you it’s going to be a great race and great horses. I’m glad to be a part of it. Appreciate it.
Jim Mulvihill: Awesome, Dallas Stewart who’s going to have Seeking the Soul in the Pegasus on Saturday. And as mentioned before, we’ll likely see him on stage at the Eclipse Awards Thursday night.
Now our final guest is a Hall of Fame rider and he also is a key player in both the Eclipse Awards and the Pegasus, Mike Smith is an Eclipse Awards finalist for Outstanding Jockey, an honor he’s won twice before in the early 90s. He had 15 Grade 1 wins in 2017 including the inaugural Pegasus on Arrogate. And Saturday he’ll ride Collected for Bob Baffert. Mike Smith, thanks for joining us.
Mike Smith: Yes, thank you for having me.
Jim Mulvihill: So – absolutely, doing great and so happy to have you on as always. You were on Collected last time in the San Antonio. You never really got into that race. Just wondering if you can tell us about that effort and what gives you hope for a better performance this Saturday.
Mike Smith: Yes, you know, I mean going into the race of course, you know, his first race back from the Breeders’ Cup and, you know, wanting to get a good race in him and thinking that, you know, I could probably sit off the pace this time, thinking it was going to be a whole lot more pacing then in what actually developed. You know, we certainly didn’t want to have to make that gutting race. You know, we didn’t want to have to go very fast early and of course, what you can do is they have to hold off the closers and go fast late. So, the way we felt that it was going to, you know, work out was it was going to be a couple of them though.
And during the warm-up, when everyone’s warming up like they’re going to go so I’m thinking all right, I’ll just leave here real steel. So, I left the gates real steel and what I didn’t know about Collected is you can get him to turn off just as easy as you can get him to turn on.
And so, he just – well he relaxed real quick and at that point got the ((inaudible)) – they all three of them got their standing really good so I thought it was going to work out. When they saw me not coke, everyone kind of focused on me and just backed right on off and then waited for me.
Instead of the 22.6 that I was expecting we got a 24.9 which after that, at that point, like I said, he turned off so quick I couldn’t move. If I move it’s going to be a four-wide move. I’m going to make it a very taxing race and I was at the mercy of the pace at that point, just hoping I could, you know, run them down and they even went slower the second quarter and just turned into a sprint for home. Mistake on my part.
Jim Mulvihill: Well there’s a lot of speed in this race on Saturday and I’m just curious to get your opinion on speed when you’re talking about, you know, world-class horses like this, you know, it seems like sometimes you can’t handicap a race of this caliber the same way because the fast horses might have a little more in them and might not fold as easily as they would. Is there a difference between speed in a Grade 1 race and speed in a Thursday race?
Mike Smith: Well even in a Grade 1 race, it stays a lot longer. You know, they – we stay in it a little longer but again, now you’re talking about a full field. As to a five-horse field, a four-horse field where a lot of times, you know, those kinds of races are harder to win because everyone knows where everyone’s at and it’s just pretty easy to, you know, slow things down or keep someone trapped because there’s no other horses in the race. When you have a full field like this, well you’re certainly going to have some will want a space, some are on a strays.
In saying that, I’m part of that and I’m certainly going to ride, you know, a lot different than I did the other day.
Jim Mulvihill: Yes that’s been every indication from your trainer as well. Well Mike I’m going to see what questions the media has so I’ll ask (Vicky) the operator to check in and see if we have anything in the queue.
Ron Flatter: Hey Mike, Tim Ritvo a few minutes ago suggested that the run-up to the – on the start could be pushed back anywhere from 20 to 60 more feet, 60 feet right now and they could go up to 80 or 100, 120 or something. They may or may not do that. How big a deal would that be especially if you got stuck in an outside draw?
Mike Smith: It would certainly help a little, probably not a whole lot but it would certainly help a little. You know, depending on again, where you drew, do you want them to actually do that or not.
Ron Flatter: And how bad – I mean is it – would it be crushing virtually impossible to win if you get stuck in 10, 11 or 12?
Mike Smith: I wouldn’t say impossible, but I’d be very difficult. You’d have to have some things worked out for you either way. Rather your horses your speed, you’d hope to jump extremely well, take advantage of your break or take them from a ways out of it. Hope to get a horse to your inside a lot quickly real quick and you can just drop right on over. So, I wouldn’t say it’s impossible but it’s very difficult.
Danny Brewer: Okay so why Collected instead of West Coast? Did you have a choice or was that Baffert’s call of which one you was going to be on? What went into that?
Mike Smith: You know, that’s a question for Bob. It wasn’t presented to me on if I had a choice. And that’s – I mean I’m just happy to be on either one of them and they’re both extremely talented. And like I said, just happy to be on one of them.
Danny Brewer: Exactly. Having familiarity with another – one of the primetime contenders in the race, does that help you any at all or do you – are you just solely concentrate on the one you’re on?
Mike Smith: And, you know, I just a little of everything. I mean you concentrate on the one you’re on. You’re hoping to, you know, just first of all get him into position that you’re happy with and the horse is happy with. And then it’s a little of everything. Man, I mean I’m on – I’m checking out who’s in front of me, who’s behind me or if I’m in front, am I going comfortably enough or whatever the situation may be. I mean I’m checking out everything. Once I got my horse in a place that I think he’s happy in a comfortable rhythm, now I start watching and looking on how the race is developing and what I think I need to do next.
Danny Brewer: As the defending champ here, does that give you any kind of advantage since you won it last year you think?
Mike Smith: I wouldn’t say so. You know, those guys, you know, they ride there. The guys that are riding there all the time, I mean it would probably give them a slight home field advantage maybe. You know, just because they – over the course a whole lot more. But at this stage, man when you’re on these kind of horse’s man, they are so straight-forward and so good, I mean you could just – you could run them backwards and they’d figure out how to do it.
Danny Brewer: Well I’m sure that they’d need somebody like you to pilot them. But Mike, fantastic job this year. Wish you the best of luck man and hope everything goes well all right.
Robert Kieckhefer: Thinking back to last year and this race and then going over to Dubai, I just wondered if you could give us some thoughts from your own mind about the importance of international racing and what it means to racing in this country to be part of that.
Mike Smith: It just, it’s incredible. I mean to get to showcase the talent your horse has on an international level is amazing. I mean, you know, people not only got to see how great Arrogate was last year here in the United States, but I mean everyone all over the country, all over the world watched the World Cup. And what he was able to do that night was just astonishing. I mean it just proved and showed people how great this horse really was and is.
(Robert Kieckhefer): We still don’t really believe that that happened but you kind of made…
Mike Smith: I don’t either to be honest with you.
Robert Kieckhefer: You made a little history yourself back in the 90s in Ireland winning – to be the first American jockey to win a – first American horse to win a European Classic. You’ve done some international riding, but it hasn’t been really a major component of your career. Just some thoughts about that?
Mike Smith: Yes, I like it to be. I would certainly love to get to Royal Ascot, you know, this year coming. And, you now, whatever’s left in the years of my career. I was blessed enough to get there once to Royal Ascot. And actually faired very well for the price that the horse was. I was like 90 to 1 probably and he ran third and I’ve got maybe some opportunities to go this year, I’m hoping anyway, we’ll see how it works out. But I’d love to get the chance to win a few bigger races in Europe.
Mike Kane: Hi Mike, could you comment on the difference from last year to this year? Last year you were the hunted, this year you’re kind of the hunter. Did you see a lot of pressure last year? And how are you approaching this year’s race?
Mike Smith: You know, I approach it much the same. I mean of course I’m not going to favored by no means. But if there’s a horse in the race that could turn the table on Gun Runner, I’m certainly on one of them. So, you know, the pressures probably going to be, I would have to say more on the Gun Runner team than our team but in saying that I mean we – I still got to get a lot of things done and done right to even give myself a chance to beat him.
So, I’m not – it’s two different kind of pressures. With Arrogate, man I knew how talented he was. It was just a – we drew the one hole. You know, he’s not known for his speed, first jump or two out of the gates it was very important to get him out of there and I think once I was able to do that, a lot of the pressure was off my back to be honest with you. Now it’s just a matter of giving him a trip because I know he’s going to run. I mean he was in the bridle and wanting to do it, whereas going in this Saturday, I mean there’s just some things that we got to see how we draw, first of all, where we’re at. You know, hopefully jump extremely well. Get out and get into a place that I feel is happy and comfortable for my horse and then see where everyone’s at.
You know, I mean so, you know, there – if anyone tells you they got no pressure in these types of races, especially racing for 16 million, they’re lying.
Mike Kane: Okay. I know you weren’t on Collected in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and we know that Collected went out and engaged Gun Runner and provided the pace pressure. I think he was the only one really there consistently. Do you need to do that and do other horses need to do that? What is it – I guess the basic question is, what’s it going to take to beat Gun Runner here who clearly is the deserving favorite in this race?
Mike Smith: What’s so hard to beat Gun Runner is he’s not a one-dimensional horse. You know, he’s not a horse that needs a lead. He’s a horse that if they go quick enough, we’ve all seen him lag, you know, second, third, fourth, and still run just as well as when he’s had a comfortable lead. So, he’s going to tough to beat. You got to, like I said, I got to fire my A plus race, a few things that’ll go, you know, our way which can happen in horse racing.
And I feel that my horse is going into this race really good although I didn’t breeze him yesterday. I breezed him the time before which was a big breeze. Man, he just worked tremendous. So, we’re going in at least training the right way and that’s a big plus to have.
In saying that of course Gun Runner’s training up of – as good as it can be training as well. So, it’s going to be a tough race but there’s, you know, 11 other horses besides me and him in there and they’re all talented. And any given day they could all jump up and run a huge race. So, we just got to see how everyone draws and see how the race develops the first 16th, 8th of a mile out of the gate.
(Mike Kane): One last question, what – can you recall the atmosphere here last year at Gulfstream Park? What was it like? You’ve been at big events all throughout your career. Did this one feel like a big event right from the rip?
Mike Smith: It certainly got to be as the day went on. We started realizing you’re racing 12 million, the richest race in the world. And you could just feel it get thick. The air just kind of, you know, say wow, you know, I mean this is pretty neat. I think you’re going to even see a more of a big race feel to it this year. Man, it’s going to be incredible. I mean I’ve already got goosebumps just saying it.
John Pricci: Hey Mike, if we could ask you to put on your handicapping hat and let’s assume a clean break for all and let’s assume that you and Sharp Azteca and Gun Runner draw mid-gate so – and we got a fair break into the first turn, who do you think is one, two, three going into the back stretch? And if you find yourself perhaps just off of Gun Runner, would you kind of try to stay on his hip and move when he does?
Mike Smith: Depending on, again, on the fractions of the race, you know, there’s so much that goes into that. You know, I won’t know that and to be honest with you, until – if we’re in that situation it’s just a feel man. Am I already doing too much, you know. It might feel like I have my foot on the accelerator a little too much. Is it, you know, is this going to compromise my chances. Is he doing something that’s going too easy. Is someone else putting the pressure on him where I think, all right, he’s pushing him just enough. I can go ahead and just cruise right here and then see if I’m good enough to run by him, hold off the closers. I mean there’s just so many things that happen and you don’t know that until you’re actually in that situation and you can feel it. I mean you can feel when you’re asking a horse for a bit too much too early. And you can feel when someone’s getting away with something too early. So it just all depends.
And to be honest with you, we’re all three capable of being on the lead. We all three have the, you know, the same – that kind of speed. I know Collected, he jumps well, he’s quick. I mean he can be really quick. I got him to turn off really easy the other day, really fast but I mean he’s just – he listens to your commands. So if he would’ve listened to me asking to go, I mean he’d been in front.
John Pricci: Well okay, good enough. You assume that maybe Sharp Azteca is going to lead. That he may be upsets ((inaudible))…
Mike Smith: Again, Sharp Azteca doesn’t. He’s not a lead – need to lead type of horse. This horse actually runs a well sitting off the pace, right off the pace. But he has been running in sprints so you would say he’s coming out of quicker races, you know, as far as the first quarter goes but I guarantee if you were gearing Gun Runner up for sprints or Collected up, you better be doing the same thing. So that’s what makes it really challenging. It’s what’s going to make it so fun is, man it’s – there’s some really good horses in it this year with the same – with super horses in it this year with kind of the same kind of tactics so it’s going to be a very tactical race.
Jim Mulvihill: All right Mike, one last one from me. Oh, you got to run?
Mike Smith: No go ahead.
Jim Mulvihill: Okay, okay. Well, you know, understanding that you’re not impartial in what I’m about to ask you, I’m still curious, you know, Gun Runner is expected to be named the Horse of the Year on Thursday but back in March we all agreed that Arrogate was an all-time great so I’d just like to get your opinion on the Horse of the Year vote and whether maybe it should be closer than everyone’s expecting it to be.
Mike Smith: Well Gun Runner came back and was unbeaten, you know, so he certainly, I mean as far as Horse of the Year goes, he certainly deserves it. It was just too bad for us that our last, you know, few races were at Del Mar, a track that he just didn’t care for at all. I mean I don’t even think we saw even 70% of him on those occasions. I know in my heart of hearts that as far as – when he would run his A race, I just didn’t think there was anyone in the world that could beat him.
As far as Arrogate goes, coming back from Dubai man, I mean Gun Runner took it up a notch man and you can’t take that away from him.
Jim Mulvihill: Very good. Well thanks for that opinion Mike and thanks for all the thoughts today. We’ll look forward to seeing you in Florida in a few days.
Mike Smith: Sounds wonderful man, can’t wait to see you guys. Thank you.
Jim Mulvihill: All right. Mike Smith the Hall of Fame jockey, interrupting his workout very kindly to take some questions from the media.
That’ll do it for this teleconference. Once again, thanks to Steve and Tim and Dallas and Mike and if there’s anything we can do to help with your coverage of the Eclipse Awards or the Pegasus, please contact myself or (Joan Lawrence) and we’ll do everything we can for you.