May 10, 2019

Preakness Stakes Preview

Guests

  • Mark Hennig, trainer, Bourbon War
  • Mike Smith, jockey, Improbable
  • Mark Casse, trainer,War of Will

 

Full transcript (note: transcript has not been edited)

C O N F E R E N C E   C A L L   P A R T I C I P A N T S

 

 

Mark Hennig, Trainer, Bourbon War

 

Mike Smith, Jockey, Improbable

 

Mark Casse, Trainer, War of Will, Company

 

P R E S E N T A T I O N

 

 

Operator:

Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the NTRA Road to the Triple Crown – Preakness Preview Conference Call.  At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode.  Following the presentation, we will conduction a question-and-answer session.  At that time, participants are asked to press star one to register for a question.  As a reminder, this conference is being recorded.

It is now my pleasure to introduce your host, Ms Alicia Hughes.  Please go ahead, Mrs Hughes.

Alicia Hughes:

 

Thank you, Adel.  And welcome, everyone, to this week’s NTRA Teleconference on this year’s Road to the Triple Crown.  This week, we have three scheduled guests to catch up with in advance of the second league of the Triple Crown, the 1.5 million Preakness Stakes taking place on 18th May at Pinnacle Race Course, a race that’s figured to be a wide-open affair as the top four horses across the line in the Kentucky Derby are all sitting this one out.

You can’t have a Preakness stake without having someone mention the phrase ‘new shooters’.  And, indeed, we’ve got a handful of live horses waiting to start in Baltimore who did not contest in the first Classic.  One of those trying to put his fresher legs to good use is Bourbon War, runner-up in the Fountain of Youth stakes and most recently fourth in the Florida Derby.  Bourbon War is trained by Mark Hennig who will be seeking his first Classic win for his charge, pull off the upset next Saturday.  Mark, thank you for joining us today.

Mark Hennig:

 

Thank you for having me, Alicia.

Alicia Hughes:

 

First and foremost, I saw that Bourbon War work yesterday and company, that he worked with blinkers again and I understand that the plan is going to be for him to wear the blinkers in the Preakness.  Is that correct?

Mark Hennig:

 

That is the plan, yes.  So, it’s just a – they’re very minimal blinkers, but we just kind of tried breezing him down at Gulfstream and I thought we got a good reaction to him and I’ve used him subsequently to gallop occasionally and then in the breezes.  So, I think that they’ll have a positive effect on him.

Alicia Hughes:

 

I was going to say, is the – you know, is the plan for him potentially, especially with that additional equipment, is the plan for him to maybe show some more speed?

Mark Hennig:

 

Well, I guess that could be a side effect.  I think that our biggest concern kind of was that he’d be a little closer, maybe turning for home and be a little less distracted and turning for home.  He just kind of looked like he got out of his rhythm in the Florida Derby a little bit; and even in the Fountain of Youth when he kind of swung wide and took a minute to switch leads.  I think if he had transitioned a little better in that turn, he might have been even closer to Code of Honor in the Fountain of Youth.

Alicia Hughes:

 

And with, you know, with him, was the plan always to kind of point for the Preakness when it became clear that the Derby wasn’t going to happen?  Or did all of the fallout that we’ve seen from the Derby, did that help make your guys’ decision to go ahead in this spot?

Mark Hennig:

 

Well, it definitely helped us make the decision, but we were open to the Peter Pan or the Preakness.  You know, through the running of the Derby and the subsequent days after we had – I had a conference call.  I think everybody involved confidence swelled a little bit with the result of the Derby and then, you know, later getting information that a lot of those who still wanted to kind of move forward to the second leg made it even more encouraging.

Alicia Hughes:

 

Sounds good, Mark.  Okay, it looks like we’ve got a lot of media on the line.  So, with that, I will throw it back to our operator and we will check in with the media to see if they have any questions for you.

Mark Hennig:

 

Okay.

Operator:

 

Thank you.  If you would like to ask a question, please press star one on your telephone keypad.  If you’re using a speakerphone, please make sure your mute function is turned off to allow your signal to reach our equipment.  Again, you may press star one if you wish to ask a question.  We’ll pause for just a moment to allow everyone an opportunity to signal for questions.

Thank you.  We will now take our first question from Stephen Whyno, Associated Press.  Please go ahead.

Stephen Whyno:

 

Hey, Mark.

Mark Hennig:

 

Hi.

Stephen Whyno:

 

Mark, thank you very much for doing this.

Mark Hennig:

 

You bet.

Stephen Whyno:

 

To follow up on Alicia’s question, obviously, when you don’t have a Triple Crown winner on the line, a lot of people outside of horse racing maybe might think there’s less excitement.  But as a trainer, not having a potential Derby, not having a Derby winner in there, how much more wide open does that make this race for you?

Mark Hennig:

 

Well, it – I think not having the Derby winner or the horse to finish first or even, you know, Code of Honor in there makes a big difference, you know, from a competitive standpoint.  But I think there’s a lot of fresh faces in there that – you know, we’ve seen years where the Preakness yielded the better part of the 3-Year-Old class than the Derby and you never know until the smoke clears out how that year is going to shake out.  I mean, the Derby is the most recognized race in America for the casual fan or the non-fan at all for that matter.  But, you know, I think true horse racing fans know that, you know, the best 3-Year-Olds come from these races, whether they ran in the Derby, they ran in Preakness, or they didn’t run until the Belmont.  So, you know, a lot can happen as the year goes on and these horses mature at different rates.

Stephen Whyno:

 

To follow up on that, just how old – how tight do you expect the competition to be at the Preakness despite not having those top four horses from the Derby there?

Mark Hennig:

 

How what?  What about the competition?

Stephen Whyno:

How tight do you – the competition to be?  Obviously, Improbable will be there, War of Will will be there, your horse obviously, Bourbon War, will be there.  How high a level of quality of horse is there still in this race?

Mark Hennig:

I think it’s an excellent – you know, will – without any impediment, would it be tough?  And Improbable had a bit of a rough trip.  And some of the new shoes, I was very impressed with them.  One day I was [inaudible] in Lexington, always mining[?], spin on a tear.  You know, there are some fresh faces that could have a lot to say in this division before the year is over.

Stephen Whyno:

Thank you.

Operator:

 

Thank you.  We will now take our next question from Danny Brewer at Horse Racing Scoop.  Please go ahead.

Danny Brewer:

 

Mark, how are you?

Mark Hennig:

Good, Danny.

Danny Brewer:

 

So, when we talk about the final furlong in the Fountain of Youth, Manny made up ground.  That was a – the Bourbon War was probably as good as some Tennessee whiskey right there.  What’s your thoughts on that and what did that tell you about your horse?

Mark Hennig:

Well, visually, it was very impressive the way he closed in that last 16th, especially – I mean, I – it told me – the last furlong told me a lot – told me the wire came up, well, too soon for us with that sort of run into the first wire, all screamed that day.  But it also, you know, he – that was kind of – watching the replays of that and seeing him come off the turn and maybe just taking a little longer than we wanted – wanted him to transition to his right lead and finish up.  You know, he really dropped down and finished the last 16th, but it would have been nice if he had gotten that run started just a little sooner.  So, that probably was our biggest takeaway was that there was still room for improvement.

Danny Brewer:

You know, Alicia touched on as far as the blinkers and adding the speed.  So, you know, not to ask you to divulge your game plan completely, but obviously, you want him to be closer to the pace and then cut loose with a run like that, right?

Mark Hennig:

Well, we have no intention of trying to be part of the pace.  I don’t think anybody has got that in mind.  It’s just that you’d like him to be a little more focused.  And, you know, by being focused, I think having him on the bridle is more important than – you know, some of these, they’re ready when the jock asked[?] him rather than, you know, taking a little while to get that run started.  So, I don’t know that it puts us that much closer to the pace as much as it puts us that much more in the game.

Danny Brewer:

More in the game?  Okay, all right, great, fantastic.  I appreciate your time.  I wish you the best of luck.

Mark Hennig:

Thank you.

Operator:

Thank you.  Just a reminder, if you would like to ask a question, please press star one on your telephone keypad.  We’ll pause for just another moment to allow anyone else an opportunity to signal for questions.

Thank you.  We will take our next question from Tom Pedulla at America’s Best Racing.

Tom Pedulla:

Hey, Mark.  I wanted – Mark, I wanted to ask you about the layoff between the Florida Derby and the Preakness.  Is it less than ideal for you, the time between races?

Mark Hennig:

 

I would qualify it more as ideal.  I’m really excited about the seven weeks between races.  I think it benefited him when we left New York for the Remsen and moved to Florida and he had seven weeks to prepare – to come back in that allowance race at Gulfstream.  I think he was keener, he was on the bridle, he was – you know, fought his way through traffic that day.  Granted it was just an allowance race but, you know, Cutting Humor was in there, there was a solid group of horses anyway.  And I thought that he’s a horse that would do well on rest all the time because he’s still a horse that’s developing.  So, I liked the seven weeks between races.  I think it works – should work out well for him.

Tom Pedulla:

 

Okay.  Just about that – was there anything that worked against the Peter Pan?

Mark Hennig:

Worked against the decision to go there?

Tom Pedulla:

Yeah.  In other words, you were thinking Peter Pan is reigning the [inaudible] here’s why we don’t want the Peter Pan direction.

Mark Hennig:

No.  I mean it was – the reason we chose the Preakness over the Peter Pan was, you know, $1.2[?] million in purses and, you know, the prestige of obviously the Preakness Stakes and having the opportunity to run in a Triple Crown race.  So, I think after watching the Derby and seeing Code of Honor and Maximum Security run so well, we just felt like the horse was deserving and worthy of a start in a Triple Crown race.  And, yeah, we could run in the Peter Pan and wait around and hope to have a shot in the Belmont, but as we saw in the Derby, things happen that prevent horses from making a race and he’s doing well, why not seize the opportunity when we can.

Tom Pedulla:

Okay, great.  Thank you very much, Mark.

Mark Hennig:

All right.  Thank you, Tom.

Operator:

 

Thank you.  We will now take our next question from Louisa Barton, The Horse Talk Show on The Sky 97.3.  Please go ahead.

Louisa Barton:

 

Yes, hi.  Thanks for being with us today.  My question is, do you think that the combination of Improbable and Mike Smith is going to be the tough one to beat in this race?

Mark Hennig:

Well, you know, Baffert and Smith are always going to be highly thought of.  They were the favorite in the Derby, I believe, or – Improbable was without Mike Smith.  So, I think, you know, Mike adds a lot to the game.  I think I’m happy to have Irad riding our horse because he’s – nobody could be more familiar with Improbable than him at this point.  So, you know, I think he certainly always got to be respected, those two as a combo especially.

Louisa Barton:

 

Thank you and good luck to you.

Mark Hennig:

 

Thank you.

Operator:

 

Thank you.  It appears there are no more questions at this time.  So, I’d like to hand it back to Ms Alicia Hughes: Please go ahead.

Alicia Hughes:

 

Thank you.  Mark, I know you – I know you’ve got some horses today, so we won’t keep you long.  I just wanted to ask you real quick though about Strike Power who made a big return last month to the winner circle.  How is he doing?  And is the True North still the plan for him?

Mark Hennig:

Yeah, he’s doing great.  He had a nice breeze yesterday and he came out of it really well.  And he just seems like that win really helped him bloom since he’s gotten back up to Belmont.  He seems like he’s really training aggressively.  And we are, at this point, looking forward to the True North, so it looks like the plan.  And I think Johnny Velazquez will probably ride him there.

Alicia Hughes:

Perfect, sounds good.  Again, like I said, Mark, I know things are busy, so I just want to thank you again for taking the time out to come on and speak with our media today.  And I look forward to seeing you in Baltimore in a handful of days.

Mark Hennig:

Yeah, thank you very much.  I enjoyed it and always happy to help.  See you down there.

Alicia Hughes:

Thanks again, Mark.  Continued best of luck with everything.

Mark Hennig:

All right, thank you.

Alicia Hughes:

And next up, we are going to check in with Hall of Fame Jockey, Mike Smith, who is slated[?], as we just heard, to have him aboard Grade 1 winner, Improbable, in the Preakness Stakes.  Improbable across the wire fifth but was elevated to fourth in the Kentucky Derby via DQ, while Smith guided Cutting Humor to a tenth-place finish in the race that day.  Mike, thank you so much for joining us today.

Mike Smith:

 

Thank you for having me on.

Alicia Hughes:

Thank you again.  I said, as much of a roller coaster as the Derby result was, I know you yourself had already been through the ringer that week when you were mounting morning-line favorite, Omaha Beach, had the scratch.  When you look back at just how the Derby is set up and how the track was playing in the sloppy conditions that day, is that hard for you not to think about what might have been had Omaha Beach been in there?

Mike Smith:

Yeah.  I mean, you’d think about the – well, you look at the way the race shaped up and where you think you would have been and, you know, we all certainly know that he – he really, really loves a – you know, a sloppy race track.  He’s run extremely well over, I think, in three different occasions or at least two.  So, yeah, I’d love to have gotten the opportunity for me and Mr Porter and especially Mr Mandella as well, would’ve been awesome to – to have that chance, but it is what it is.  I mean it’s racing and that’s just the main goal.

Alicia Hughes:

 

And obviously, it’s a new – it’s a new [inaudible] on Improbable, but you certainly bring against him, you know, especially in Arkansas.  What has been your impressions of him or what has Bob maybe told you about him and how much upside you think he still has?

 

Mike Smith:

 

Well, I certainly think that we haven’t seen his best race yet, although he showed signs of brilliance at different times.  You know, if I can just get – get on him for first time, which sometimes really works well for me and get him to run one of those AA-plus races.  He’s not without a huge chance of, you know, winning the whole thing.

Alicia Hughes:

 

So, I think Bob is actually – I think Bob was actually quoted on TV the other day, saying that he originally wanted you or was hoping to try – was trying to get you on Improbable, you know, it maybe his first few starts.  How – how close did you come to riding him previously?

 

Mike Smith:

 

Yeah, I’m – you know, you have to talk to Bob exactly about all that.  But I mean there’s been talk of it in the past and just – the opportunity never came.  I was riding Roadster for Bob at one point and then when he was coming open in the Arkansas Derby, of course, I had Omaha Beach going in.

So, I’ve been admiring him from afar, so to say and sometimes from behind him.  You know, because he’s outrun me a few times.  But just happy to have the opportunity.  I was talking to Bob yesterday, he said he came out with really good energy, he came out of the race the best of his three.  And he wanted to move forward with him and I was blessed to pick up the mount.  So, we’ll see what happens.

We’ve been very fortunate and done well together, me and Bob in situations like this and hopefully this will be – hopefully this will be another one of them.

Alicia Hughes:

 

Yeah, to say that you guys have had good luck together, that’s pretty much the understatement of 2019.  I said, Mike, like I said, thank you.  We’re going to go ahead and throw it back to our operator and check in with our media and see if they have any questions for you.

 

Operator:

 

Thank you.  Just a reminder, if you would like to ask a question, please press star one on your telephone keypad.  If you’re using a speakerphone, please make sure your mute function is turned off to allow your signal to reach our equipment.  Once again, you may press star one to ask a question.  We’ll pause for a brief moment to allow everyone an opportunity to signal for questions.

Thank you.  We will take our first question from David Grening from the Daily Racing Form.  Please go ahead.

David Grening:

 

Hey, Mike.  How are you?

 

Mike Smith:

 

I’m great, David.  How are you doing?

David Grening:

 

Good, sir.  Mike, can you just talk a little bit about when you decided – when you had the conversation with Bob and you told me you were going to pick Omaha Beach.  Were you at all concerned that there would be any repercussions or did you just, you know, this the ‘my best hope’ – no offense Bob, but this is ‘my best hope’ type of thing?

 

Mike Smith:

 

No, you know, honestly, Bob is really good that way.  He is – that’s why he’s good on both sides of it, man.  If he’s having to make the change, well, he’s the first one to tell you and it’s nothing personal.  He just felt for that – this race coming up for whatever reason, I need to do this or do that.

And he’s extremely just the same the other way.  If you take up one of yours, he totally understands, I’ve never seen him get upset about it.  As a matter of fact, he was before even – it come close to making a decision, he said, ‘Listen, you know, we’re good no matter what, you know.  You just – you make your decision what do you think is going to be best for that race.’ And that’s what I did.  And he was really, really good about it.

David Grening:

 

And when you did come up to him, did you reach out to him just, you know, just doing a due diligence to say, ‘Hey, if you, you know – I know you’re already hired another jock, but if you want me, I’m here,’ type of thing?

 

Mike Smith:

 

Not – not – you’re right.  I did talk to him afterwards, letting him know that I was out.  But I didn’t go after really any horse, period.  I – he didn’t – certainly didn’t offer it to me and then an hour later, I was offered another mount.  Going in, it was, you know, they were – I know – when I picked up Cutting Humor – Corey had picked him up last minute as well.  So, it wasn’t like it was costing him, you know, another mount, which, you know, I mean, as far as I know, anyway.

And, you know, the connection we had just coming off a big year, they [inaudible] part of Justify and they wanted me to ride and they’re asking me to kind of step in to be a quarterback in the Super Bowl and I – you know, I certainly didn’t turn it down.  Anybody – in doing so, I mean both riders were going to receive the same amount of prize money, whatever I was going to make, he was as well, so.

David Grening:

 

Last question just – is there a different mindset?  You know, last year you’re coming to the Preakness with the Derby winner.  This year you’re – that’s not the case, but you’re still more – you know, most likely to have the favorite – is your different mindset coming into this year than with last year?

 

Mike Smith:

 

Well, yeah, I mean I’m not coming off winning Derby, of course, and you’re not thinking, you know, Triple Crown, you know, because going in, Justify had certainly that kind of ability and he showed that he could, you know, he could handle the distance.  And then, you know, he was heading in and I felt that if we could – if we could pull the Preakness off without having to use him too much, he would be very difficult to beat, you know, at Belmont, with a big chance of winning the Triple Crown, you know, where this – you know, this – I’m picking up a horse for Classic which always is huge.  And as far as, you know, going in to win, the mindset is not different.  I’m just trying to wait and see who’s all going to go in there and where we draw and come up with a game plan that I can get an A-plus race out of this horse, because I know there’s a lot – there’s a lot in there we haven’t seen yet.

David Greening:

 

Thank you.  Best of luck.

 

Mike Smith:

 

Thank you.

Operator:

 

Thank you.  We will now take our next question from Stephen Whyno at the Associated Press.  Please go ahead.

 

Stephen Whyno:

 

Hey, Mike, thank you very much for doing this.

 

Mike Smith:

 

Sure.

Stephen Whyno:

 

Obviously, you’ve had great horses when you’re working with Bob that then you can ride in.  But what is it about that kind of the magic that’s worked when it’s a Bob trained and Mike Smith ridden horse in the Triple Crown?

 

Mike Smith:

 

Well, I mean, first of all, he’s just, I mean, one of the great – you know, one of the greatest.  He’ll go down as one of the greatest trainers of all times.  So, – and he knows how to get these three-year-olds right for these kind of races.  We have a lot of mutual respect for each other.  And when I ride, he let me ride with a clear mind and no handcuffs.  Man, I get to do what I feel is right – as I’m riding.  I mean, I might call it complete auto bowl[?] and I know that he’s going to be okay – but he, you know, he might, well, you know, ‘What was that?’ you know, and, ‘Well, this happened.’

And he understands, I mean, he’s not only is a great trainer, but he – he’s a good coach.  He let me play and he let me do my part, you know.  He’s done his part and then he lets me do mine and it really works together.  We have a – you know, when you can have a good relationship with any trainer you ride for like that and feel free to do what you feel is right and you’ve had the experience, you know, underneath your belt to at least think what you’re going to do is right, you know, and it really helps a lot.

Stephen Whyno:

 

Sure.  How different is this for you?  Obviously, not riding the same horse from the Derby to the Preakness, Irad switching mounts.  How different is this, knowing a horse you’ve ridden, knowing a horse you’re going to go on and kind of the musical chairs that’s going on with this Triple Crown Season?

 

Mike Smith:

 

You know, it seems to be a little bit more than maybe most of the time, but this isn’t – this isn’t uncommon, you know, this happens and especially, you know, during this Triple Crown stuff are – there’s a lot of musical chairs.  A lot of people picked up horses to the last minute and one – pulled one to Derby, one to Preakness and the Belmont for that matter.

So, it’s not uncommon.  And I haven’t – I don’t know and so do other riders.  Sometimes, the first time you ride one is the best time.  I mean I have a knack with that sometimes.  I don’t know what it is.  I wish I could – whatever it is, it seems to work at times really well.  So, I’m just hoping for one of those again.

Stephen Whyno:

 

Sure.  Thanks very much.

Operator:

 

Thank you.  We will now take our next question from Danny Brewer from Horse Racing Scoop.  Please go ahead.

Danny Brewer:

 

Hey, Mike.  How are you?

 

Mike Smith:

 

Doing great, Danny.  Thank you.

Danny Brewer:

 

Hey, you know, when you won the Alysheba, afterwards you said, you know, McKinzie was talking to you and you listened to him and that’s why you won.  When did you start speaking Thoroughbred and who was your instructor on that?

 

Mike Smith:

 

You know, horses talk to you with body language, you know, there is no, of course, no language.  But if you’ll just – just listen to what their body is saying, they’re usually telling you something at times, rather they’re uncomfortable where you have them or if you’re asking them to do too much or if you’re not letting them do enough for that matter, it’s all just body language.

He was just – he’s down in there.  He was kind of flipping around a little and he was down inside tight, and he just want to have you there, wanted his happy place.  And I knew that I wasn’t done.  I know there was, you know, I had – I know this horse and what he’s capable of and he was, you know, he hasn’t done enough – enough to, you know, to have been tired or getting tired.  And, you know, he did not run very well in the Breeders Cup, so I’m thinking, you know, ‘Let me just give him a chance at this point.’ And the – and then in saying that, you know, I just kind of got a hold of him and just kind of backed him out of that situation just to see what he was going to do.

And the reason I had confidence doing it again is because I was riding for Bob and I know that I can explain it to him that he would understand it.  I mean he might not be happy if I wouldn’t have won, but he would have listened to what I was trying to say.  If you watch his body language, he’s actually – you could see it – I mean if you – if you know horse body language.

So, I – and doing so, I felt very confident that I’d be able to get back out again because the horse to my other side was going – was travelling extremely well.  So, I knew when he turned in loose, he was probably going to open up on the field at some point.  And I have, you know, a place to go forward and out, if I need be – if there’s work.  And as soon as I backed him out, you could see him, he jumped back in the bridle, his whole body language changed and he was – well, I was loaded.  I mean, all I needed was a place to go.  And sure enough when I got that separation where I could ease out, where he just – well you saw what he did, he just turned it on, man.  He ran very, very, very good.  I think he was only fifth to the second off-track record.

Danny Brewer:

 

Oh, very, very impressive.  Now, I know that you’ve been on McKinzie a lot and you haven’t been on Improbable a lot.  Is it hard to pick up on that horse language when you haven’t been on a horse a lot, or are you experienced enough that you feel like you can kind of read them no matter what?

 

Mike Smith:

 

Yeah.  They don’t speak a different language, so it’s not like – it’s not like you got to worry about, you know, Spanish –

Danny Brewer:

 

Not like French or Spanish or anything, right?

 

Mike Smith:

 

Yeah, exactly, you know.  It’s just the horse body language.  They have a universal language, man.  They tell you when they’re happy, when they’re not.  Anybody who’s around horses could tell you that and it’s just a matter if we’re going to listen to him at times.

But lately, if the horse next to my outside, although my horse is uncomfortable, if he was at traveling good, where I thought that he would make some room for me, I wouldn’t have gotten behind the horse that I didn’t think was going to go anywhere.  So, I had to probably just kept him there, rather he was happy or not.

But in this situation, I felt confident that the horse to my outside at some point was going to kick on and I would be able to give him some room.  So, you know, it’s universal language and all horses have it and it’s just a matter of listening to it at times.  And I don’t always do it myself, but this time I went for it and I thought, ‘Well, if this don’t work, this thing will be good.’

Danny Brewer:

 

Mike, you’re doing a great job there.  I’m sure you’ll do a great job in the Preakness.  Wish you the best of luck, man.

 

Mike Smith:

 

Thank you, I appreciate it.

Operator:

 

Thank you.  We will now take our next question from Marcus Hersh from the Daily Racing Form.  Please go ahead.

 

Marcus Hersh:

 

Hi, Mike.  I’m wondering, you might have not been able to see it at all, but I’m wondering, did you see the incident that led to the Derby disqualification while you were the riding the race?

Mike Smith:

 

Not necessarily.  I just knew something happened.  I didn’t know exactly what happened.  I was to the outside of the course, that mud I kick back.  It’s all over you, man.  You can’t – you know, I was lucky that I could make sure not to run in to anybody myself.  So, no, I didn’t really get to see it.  Although I knew – you know, you certainly know something happened and next thing you know, we’re all kind, you know, get carried out pretty wide, so I knew something happened down there.

Marcus Hersh:

 

There was a chain of reaction even as far back as you were?

 

Mike Smith:

 

Well, it trickled, you know, it trickles, you know, away back, you know.

Marcus Hersh:

 

Looking – I’m going to guess you’ve watched the race.  If not then the question is moot.  But assuming that you have, from your expert veteran eyes, what did you see happening up on the front end there with the winner that was eventually disqualified?

 

Mike Smith:

 

You know, I don’t really have a dog in this fight and I’d rather just stay out of it, to be honest with you.  You know, there’s a lot of different scenarios and different things that he could’ve saw, could’ve happened or what happened exactly, you know, I don’t really know for a fact, you know.  You certainly just don’t want to see, of course, you know, that kind of outcome where the race is in somebody’s arms, the next thing you know it’s not.  But then again, someone gets put up and, like I said, I’m staying kind of out of this.  So, there’s been enough opinions about it and my little opinion ain’t going to matter a whole lot.  So, I’d rather not talk about it.

Marcus Hersh:

 

That’s fair enough.  A quick question about Improbable from speaking to the connections and/or watching his races.  Do you think that that horse kind of struggled on wet tracks at all?  I mean, I’m just kind of watching the way he goes and it’s hard to tell from the outside.  I’m just not sure that he loves the mud.

Mike Smith:

 

I could agree with you a lot.  I’ve seen him when he’s – love something in his body action.  You know, there has been a time that too early on when Dryden[?] rode him, where he made – he just threw away and he looked, like, like, a Secretariat running down through the lane, or a lot like Justify and honestly, he even looked, like, other than the sign.  And yeah, his body language does change a little bit in the off track.  Although he’s talented and he’s a trier.  So, he’s going to keep – he’s going to keep trying but yeah, I agree.  I don’t think there is [inaudible] race track but he certainly will give it a go, I’ll tell you that.

Marcus Hersh:

 

Okay, thanks Mike, appreciate it.

Operator:

 

Thank you.  Our next question is from Louisa Barton at the Horse Talk Show on The Sky 97.3.  Louisa, please go ahead.

Louisa Barton:

 

Hi, Mike.  How are you?

Mike Smith:

 

I’m doing well, Louisa.  Thank you.

 

Louisa Barton:

One of Improbable’s weapons is definitely his great stride.  And he got a little bogged down in the Derby.  Seeing how Irad rode him in the Derby, does that, kind of, help you with your strategy for the Preakness in, kind of, keeping him more open so that he can use that stride?

Mike Smith:

 

Not – you know, well, yeah somewhat, although I thought Irad did a great job, he had him in a really good spot, actually.  You know, I don’t think that the mud is disfavored, depending on the pace.  I might do a little something different, you know, depending on how the race is setting up, that I think is going to work.  I’m going to really pay a lot of attention to him and see if that works as well on what he’s – what he’s liking and what he’s not liking.  Because I know if I can get him happy, he’s going to run big.  I just got to find that place.  But where it’s at right now, I can’t honestly tell you, Louisa.

It could be on the lead, it could be sitting dead last.  I have no idea yet.  It just depends on who all goes in there and where we draw.  And then honestly, and how I feel that he’s doing as the race is developing, and where I want to put him.  You know, certainly he’s good out of the gate.  So, you know, I never take away, nothing becomes easy, and then go from there, you know.

Louisa Barton:

 

Wonderful.  And you have said, really, your entire career, that you love the pressure of the big races.  Can you talk about how that makes you really focused?

Mike Smith:

 

Yeah, you know, pressure is a good – could be a really good thing, and I guess, it can be a bad thing, depending on how you handle it and what you do with it.  I choose to let it slow things down for me and just really, really, really just follow what I’m feeling is working really, really good and aggressive at times, or even maybe, backing out of the spot.  Whatever it is, when the money’s down, I don’t know, it just – it takes me to a different place for some odd reason.  And then, you know, I just – I just really, really focus and everything seems to slow down for me a lot.  Whatever that is, I don’t know, it’s just, kind of, the way I handle it.

I’ve also – I’ve been in situations when I was younger and everything went way too fast for me, so slowing it down works a whole lot better for me.

Louisa Barton:

 

Well, I’m glad to see you in the Preakness, Mike.  And I think it really helps the sport a lot that you’re there because I think a lot of us that were very disappointed with the DQ and everything that happened, were like, ‘Oh, we’re not going to go to the Preakness.’ But now, I think a lot of us go because we’re glad to see you back on one of Bob’s horses.  So, we’re excited and wish you all the best.

Mike Smith:

 

Well, thank you.  Yeah, and I’m riding a really nice horse.  I mean this horse has a lot of talent.  So, I’m hoping he will show up for me.

Louisa Barton:

 

I hope so too.  Thanks Mike.

Mike Smith:

 

Thank you.

Operator:

 

Thank you.  Just a reminder, if you would like to ask a question, you may press a star one on your telephone keypad.  We’ll pause for just a moment to allow the opportunity to anyone else to signal for questions.  Thank you.  We have one question from Tom Pedulla at America’s Best Racing.  Tom, please go ahead.

Tom Pedulla:

 

Yes.  Hi, Mike.  Thank you for doing this Mike.  Obviously, you’ve ridden a long time.  One day, I asked you with the deaths we’ve had at Santa Anita and our controversial Derby, is this one of the tougher times in racing since you’ve been involved?

Mike Smith:

 

I would have to say it is, Tom but inside, I’m really proud of the people in the industry.  We’re getting together, we’re trying to figure things out, and we’re getting stronger and better.  And although the Derby was very controversial, you know, it got a lot of media hype and still is, a lot of opinions have come around from around the world, I think people are still very, very interested in racing, and as you could see in the ratings, they – it’s still pretty popular, you know, despite – despite the tough year.  And people in Santa Anita are working hard to get everything right and tracks the – it seems to be doing well.

You know, we have a lot of bad weather during that time for a solid two months and, you know, it just played a big part and everything.  And, you know, sometimes, you know, good things will come out of – although it’s very sad, will come out on tragic situations.  So, I think we’re doing a good job.  We’re going to get through this and it’s going to be big.

Tom Pedulla:

 

Okay.  Just if I may, one other question, when we asked Mark Casse on why Tyler didn’t claim foul, he referred, you know, riders having friendships.  Is that sometimes – does that sometimes influence riders on whether they do or do not claim foul?

Mike Smith:

 

Not to be moved up from second to first by no means.  I don’t care who your friend is, you know, he was falling out of a money and just didn’t think it was going to do him a whole lot of good to move up a place.  More than likely, it’s probably why he didn’t claim a foul.  You – you’d have to ask him, Tom.  I really don’t know why he didn’t or why he did, but I know if I got bothered and I finished second, I don’t care who – I don’t – if my mother could be riding a horse in front of me, I’m claiming a foul on her.  But if I’m out of money –

Tom Pedulla :

 

Okay, you know, it’s more the larger question, Mike.

Mike Smith:

 

Yeah.  I’m sorry, I’m not going through [inaudible].

Tom Pedulla:

 

Okay, thank you.

Mike Smith:

 

You bet.

Operator:

 

Thank you.  It appears there are no more questions at this time.  So, I’d like to hand it back to Alicia Hughes.  Ms Hughes, please go ahead.

Alicia Hughes:

 

Thank you.  Mike, like I said, again, I know, like, everybody, things are busy for you.  So, I want to thank you again for taking the time to come on and share your thoughts and your wisdom with everybody on this call today.

Mike Smith:

 

Thank you, thank you for having me on.

Alicia Hughes:

 

So, Mike, again, thank you so much for your time.  We’ll see you in again four days in Baltimore.  Safe travels and best of luck.  Continue – best of luck with everything.

Mike Smith:

 

Thank you.  Bye-bye.

Alicia Hughes:

 

And last but certainly not least, we’re going to go to trainer Mark Casse who conditions multiple graded stakes winner War of Will.  War of Will was elevated to seventh in the Derby via DQ after being interfered with by Maximum Security, but managed to avoid disaster and emerged in good enough order where he’s going to march on to Baltimore this coming week.

Mark, thank you so much for coming on our call today.

Mark Casse:

 

Thanks.  Thank you very much.

Alicia Hughes:

 

Mark, I know it goes without saying, probably, since around the five 16th mark of the Derby, it’s been one emotionally charged moment after another for you this week.  And I know that you were very emotional the morning after the Derby saying that – in saying how fortunate you felt that you still had your horse in one piece.  When did you first get a chance to really watch the replay of the Derby and realize how close things came to being a real disaster out there?

Mark Casse:

 

Well, obviously, when they were showing the, you know, the replay on the screen, it’s when I really got to see exactly how bad it was.  And then, of course, I went later on, probably, not maybe a day or two later, and watched the race even closer.  I was watching the race from – with my family and friends in the paddock.  So, interesting enough, I don’t think Churchill’s view of the race, the pan shot, was quite as good.  You know, a lot of people got to see a little better shot when they were watching, say on NBC, or something on TV.  So, I didn’t realize how bad we were interfered until with – until after the race was run, you know, and maybe five, ten minutes later, watching the review – the replay as well, the stewards were making the decision.

Alicia Hughes:

 

And I know there’s been a lot of things written.  There’s been a lot of statements.  There’s been a lot of finger pointing since the Derby.  And you’ve been very impassioned in defending both your horse and Tyler.  Was everything that has, kind of, transpired, is there any way to put into words just how significant it would be to you if War of Will ends up becoming your first classic winner next Saturday?

Mark Casse:

 

Well, I mean, anybody that knows me and followed me and talked to me knows how much I think of War of Will and I just think he’s a great horse.  He’s been through a lot of adversities and continue, you know, continue to show his class.  And it’d be – it would be wonderful for him to be able to pick up a classic win.

Alicia Hughes:

 

All right, Mark, like I said, I know, I’m going to guess that the media on the line probably have some questions for you.  So, with that, we will throw it back to our operator and see if anybody has any questions.

Operator:

 

Thank you.  If you would like to ask a question, please press star one on your telephone keypad.  If you’re using your speaker phone, please make sure your mute function is turned off to allow your signal to reach our equipment.  Again, you may press star one to ask a question.  We’ll pause for just a moment to allow everyone an opportunity to signal for questions.  Thank you.  We will take our first question from Marcus Hersh at a Daily Racing Form.  Please go ahead.  Just a moment please.

Marcus Hersh:

 

Hello, Mark.

Mark Casse:

Hey, Mark.

Operator:

 

Please go ahead.

Mark Casse:

 

Hey.  Hi Marcus.

Marcus Hersh:

 

Hey, Mark.  I hate going first, how it goes to get you warmed up.  I guess we’ll just dive right into it.  Are you –

Mark Casse:

 

Okay.

Marcus Hersh:

 

Are you surprised though on how this whole – at the whole Derby disqualification and all of its attendant activities has, kind of, blown up?  I mean, I guess I am.  Are you surprise at how much attention devoted in particular to your horse and your rider, I mean just the way that –

Mark Casse:

 

Absolutely.  I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m so closely involved; but even with our Triple Crown winners, I don’t know if they got that much attention.  It’s been crazy and it’s been with – I have friends that know nothing about racing that, you know, watched one day a year and watched the Kentucky Derby and they’re already waiting to watch the next race, you know, which I wasn’t.  I mean, it’s definitely drawn a lot of attention good or bad to horse racing.

Marcus Hersh:

 

Yeah.  Not that my opinion matters but I didn’t feel like the rider did anything wrong for you.  But I guess that one criticism I have [inaudible] just stayed inside.  Do you feel like – what would have happened if he had just waited there?  And do you think he did the right thing by coming out when he did, which put him in the spot where he eventually got fouled?

Mark Casse:

 

Well, Marcus, I went and I – I went and I went two days later and watched NBC, and I actually did a frame by frame – I took photos 18 or 17 frames, you know, every second.

Marcus Hersh:

 

Yeah.

Mark Casse:

 

And if you watch, if you watch, at no point in time could our rider went inside.  And also – and, you know, I didn’t come out, I didn’t say for one instant that Luis was drunk.  I simply said, ‘Have you ever followed behind a drunk driver and tried to figure out which way to go?’ And what I meant by that was, in those 17 photos, Maximum Security never continued to stay in the same lane one time.  So, to answer your question, to answer your question, Marcus, we – I called the one – the big event, but we were actually bothered before the big event.  You can call it whatever you like.  I call it a little bit of herding.  But Maximum Security actually comes out and put – and you will see where our head – our horses’ head is always positioned on the outside of Maximum Security.

And, of course, I would love for Tyler to have been able to stay on the rail.  But Maximum Security take out the rest of the field to the six or seven path, and shoot to the inside because today, we would be talking about Mark Casse, the trainer of the Kentucky Derby winner because that would have been a humungous turnaround.  We would have got three or four links at least.  And the other thing, everybody would have been running in our snouts[?].  Instead, what happened was he did it – he did it, like I said, once.  Then he did the big event.  And then he sling shots off out of there and then goes down on top of Johnny Velazquez.  I don’t think the photos lie.  Like I said, I charted it, I got where he was and each – and at no point in time could Tyler have made that move.  I heard it said a few times that Tyler should have went[?] inside and, you know, if he had a crystal ball, if he had taken back, if he knew that was going to happen.

But that’s where I got upset.  I was saying nothing.  Look, nobody took a bigger beating than we did.  But in the end, I was just happy that we had a horse in one piece and we have a shot now to go to the Preakness.  So, I was happy.  I didn’t get – I didn’t start defending anybody until people started taking shots at Tyler and shots at my horse, you know.  When that happens, I’m going to fire back, and I did, and I don’t regret anything I said.  I did say one word that ended up and I should’ve used irritated instead of another word.  And, of course, it was somebody’s column as a, you know – so I do regret that.  But I don’t regret anything I said besides that.  Just I was irritated.

Marcus Hersh:

 

Yeah, the – War of Will never – I mean he’s been on the outside, he was on the outside in his races at Fair Grounds when he ran so well.  And to me, and, obviously, I’m not the trainer, he never looked totally relaxed, in fact he didn’t look that relaxed at all being inside and stuck down at the rail the whole trip.  Is that something –

 

Mark Casse:

 

I would agree – I would agree with that 100% Marcus.  You got to remember one thing, given the one post position, we had to come away from their running.  So, –

Marcus Hersh:

 

Yeah.  I mean, no option.

Mark Casse:

 

– Tyler had to step on the gas and he, you know, he sent him away from there.  You can see him he sent him like a guy would send a quarter horse.  The problem is and – is – then he wouldn’t shut off.  And –

Marcus Hersh:

 

Right.

 

Mark Casse:

 

I wouldn’t – I couldn’t agree more with you.  He was not comfortable there.  But all that being said, and I wasn’t happy going down to the backside how he was pulling so hard.  At the five, six – he pulled –

Marcus Hersh:

 

Yeah.

Mark Casse:

 

– my son Norman put his arm around me and said, ‘Dad, you’re going to win this Kentucky Derby.’ And we have been through everything and now we were – you could see our horse was waiting to run, he finally got a clear path and then within a little bit, you know, we were wiped out of the race.  And so much has been said, well, it cost us a link or two links, nobody knows, God knows how, you know.  And for anybody to even begin to say is ludicrous in my mind.

Marcus Hersh:

 

And one more thing, Mark, and I appreciate your time.

 

Mark Casse:

 

No problem.  I’m here and I’m passionate[?] about it.

Marcus Hersh:

 

I know.  A shoe put – flat shoe – little hiccup right after the race, or is that been resolved now?

Mark Casse:

 

It wasn’t – yeah it wasn’t even actually after the race, Marcus.  He was super the next morning.  He was good the next day.  I guess it would’ve been, let’s see, Tuesday morning, we thought he has a fair amount of heat in his foot and a pulse and was a little tender on it.  We pulled his shoe right away, we soaked his foot and put the shoe back on and he hasn’t missed a beat.

And it’s interesting because Kim Caroll as you – I’m sure you know who Kim is, that’s David Caroll’s wife.  She was on him yesterday, because she’s going to – Kim [inaudible] with him, and I wanted her to get to him [inaudible].  So, she told me after the race – or after yesterday’s training, she said, ‘He felt like a million dollars.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s not going to get it.’ And this morning, she was funny after galloping, she said, ‘He feels like 10 million.’ I said, ‘Well that’s better.’

So, – he trained extremely well today.  He trained – he’s training good.  So, you know, that’s not an issue.

Marcus Hersh:

 

Which foot was it Mark?

 

Mark Casse:

 

Right front.

Marcus Hersh:

 

Thank you so much.  Appreciate it.

Mark Casse:

 

Thank you, Marcus.

Operator:

 

Thank you.  We will now take our next question from Stephen Whyno from the Associated Press.  Please go ahead.

Stephen Whyno:

 

Hey, Mark, good to talk to you again.  Obviously, this is going to be a smoother feel than the Derby.  But how do you size this up with Improbable, with Bourbon War and kind of all of the new shooters’ guys – the horses you haven’t – didn’t see in the Derby and how it stacks up to the Preakness?

 

Mark Casse:

 

You know what, it’s an interesting race.  We’ve got some new shooters.  Looks like some of those new shooters have some speed.  You know, for us I’m hoping – I think it’s going to be a great race.  I have the utmost respect for Improbable and Mike Smith and, of course, Bob Baffert.  He’s my biggest hero.

You know, for us, I’m just hoping we get a little better in post.  There’s no doubt, Marcus pointed it out that I’m not sure our horse is that fond of being inside, so I would like to try to get a little – it would be nice to get a little further post outside.  But, sure enough, you can bet, we’ll get number one.  I said before the Derby, give me anything but number one.  It’s kind of – it’s kind of War of Will’s emo, nothing goes easy for him.

Stephen Whyno:

 

Sure.  You obviously had the rough Triple of Classic Empire, but it happened it gave you your first Breeders Cup win a few years ago.  What is it about War of Will that led you to believe he is the horse who could give you your first classic win?

 

Mark Casse:

 

Well, I think if anybody that’s watched him perform, you know, Marcus got to see him a lot of times.  He got to see him train, but most people didn’t – never seen him train.  And we worked in Derby Week and everybody was in awe and they were like, ‘Oh,’ you know.  And I said, ‘Now, everyone sees what I see.’ And it’s his physique.  He’s a beautiful, beautiful horse.  It’s the way he moves and it’s effortless – how he goes so fast and does it effortlessly.  Those are the kind of things, as a horse trainer, you look for.

As great as Tappin[?] was, she didn’t do those same things.  She was just – she would just get it done.  She wasn’t real fluid on the track.  She would trip, nearly fall, give me a heart attack half the time and – but him, he just skips along.  He doesn’t get tired.  He has extremely quick turn of foot when you ask it.

I mean all you have to do is look at the Kentucky Derby.  They were flying, especially the first half mile.  I think they went somewhere in 46 in 2.  And as Marcus said, you know, he was – if there was an opening, he could have went through it like it was nothing.  So, everybody else was down running and he was galloping under snug all behind Maximum Security.  That’s how talented he is and that’s how fast he goes.

Stephen Whyno:

 

Exactly.

Operator:

 

Thank you.  We will now take our next question from Danny Brewer at Horse Racing Scoop.  Danny, please go ahead.

Danny Brewer:

 

Mark, how are you?

Mark Casse:

 

Good, Danny.

Danny Brewer:

 

So, they say that they run the Kentucky Derby to decide who is good enough for running the Preakness.  Obviously, you feel like your horse fits the bill for that, right?

Mark Casse:

I do, of course.

Danny Brewer:

Does he have gears?  I mean, you know, you just mentioned about him and everything.  Is he a horse with gears?  Is that one of the – just one of his many –

Mark Casse:

 

Very much so.  He’s – he can – and I said, going in, and you didn’t get to see it.  I saw – I see the – I saw the same thing with Omaha Beach.  I think that’s what makes Omaha Beach so talented and leading up to the Derby.  And unfortunately, we all know about what happened to Omaha Beach.  But I said to anybody that, ‘Well, listen, the two things that are going to make Omaha Beach and War of Will so tough is their quick turn of foot and the ability.’

Now, I have to tell you this, and I had never seen it, but Maximum Security has that same type.  He’s very quick and does it effortlessly.  You know, a lot has been said about Maximum Security which is – and, you know, a lot of things went wrong.  But you can’t take away that he’s an extremely, extremely talented horse, and Jason Servis did an extremely good job getting ready for the Derby.

Danny Brewer:

When you think back about War of Will’s recent past with the big runs at Fair Grounds and everything, is he – do you think he’s as good as he was then or is he better than he was then?

Mark Casse:

Good question.  I think he’s probably better given that not a whole lot of things went right for us in the Kentucky Derby and he got beat four links.  It speaks volume of how good he is.  So, you take all of those things, you know.  We take away the one post, we take away who knows how much energy, loss, fighting Tyler because he wasn’t comfortable down inside.  And again, one of the reasons why he was so aggressive was because of our post position[?] [inaudible] riding, you know, Tyler had to hit the gas early.  And then, he was – he got some of his momentum taken away going into the half mile poll.  He then, obviously, everybody knows that he – the big event he got stopped pretty good and he even gets – if you watch, he even gets bothered again a little bit and maybe at 16th mile down the stretch.  So, – and he gets beat four links, so that, you know, that speaks volumes.  I think to the Preakness being the, you know, speed usually does a little better, it’s a little shorter, he should be extremely tough.

Danny Brewer:

[Inaudible].  I wish you the best of luck and keep them rocking, okay?

Mark Casse:

Oh, well, thank you, Danny.

Operator:

 

Thank you.  Just a reminder, if you’d like to ask a question, you may press star one on your telephone keypad.  We’ll pause for just a moment to allow anyone else the opportunity to signal for questions.

Mark Casse:

I heard a question as I was waiting, that we’ve asked Mike about me not claiming foul and why I didn’t do it, but I can’t remember who asked it.  But –

Operator:

We have one more question from Tom Pedulla at America’s Best Racing.  Tom, please go ahead.

Tom Pedulla:

 

Yeah, Mark, it’s Tom Pedulla.  I actually had asked – I was the one who did ask about that point and I was going to follow up with you directly.  Yeah, I was around you on Sunday and my question, I guess, really is with the benefit of hindsight, do you wish that, perhaps, Tyler had lodged an objection?  And I just want to sort of understand in the context of – you’re discussing why he didn’t lodge the objection, it seemed that Sunday you were referring to friendships that exist, you know, within the sport and exist among jockeys.

Mark Casse:

Well, yeah.  Tom –

Tom Pedulla:

 

Were you tying the two together, Mark?

Mark Casse:

I’m sorry?

Tom Pedulla:

Were you tying those two together?  I’m really just trying to understand.

Mark Casse:

Yeah.  Yeah, and, you know, I’ve read some things and that’s not really what I meant.  And so, I’d like to explain myself a little better there.  So, what happens is – and I don’t really understand it and I’ve had a problem with this for a long time, and that is I don’t really think Roger should have to make objections.

I think – I’m not so sure that in a regular race day there shouldn’t be four or five inquiries put up by the stewards.  So, let’s just – I want to use an example and I’m going to use a couple of names.  And in no way, shape or form, are these names – I’m not using them in any negative way, but I’m going to use them because they’re famous guys.

So, let’s run a race, we finish fourth, and Todd Pletcher wins the race, and Bob Baffert runs second.  And my rider who rides for Bob, and he rides for Todd and he rides for me, now has to make a decision.  He was bothered by the one – the winner.  And now he’s finished fourth and he can claim foul and have Todd Pletcher move down to fourth, and the best he’s going to do is move up to third, you know, and then, tomorrow, he’s got to go and look at Todd Pletcher and work with him.

I think that riders are put in a bad predicament when they’re asked to do that.  And I think sometimes fouls and inquiries and claim of fouls are not made for that reason.  I don’t know and I was in no way saying that Tyler Gaffalione didn’t claim foul because he’s friends with Luis Saez.  I can tell you this right now.  If my son won the Kentucky Derby and I finished second, and his horse bothered me, I’m going to claim foul on him.  That’s just the way it is.

Now, if my son wins the Kentucky Derby and I finished eighth, am I going to claim foul on him?  Probably not.  And really, I shouldn’t ever be put in that predicament.  That would be what the stewards are there for.  This rule was put in 50 years ago or 75 years ago when they didn’t have all the instant replays.  Do you see – can you see us having the Super Bowl and the wide receiver goes out and the referee says, ‘Hey,’ to the wide receiver, ‘were you – was that pass interference?’ and he goes, ‘Well, I think it was.  I think he hit me early.  Let me talk to the safety.’ ‘Okay.  What do you think?  Did you think you hit your wide receiver too?’ ‘Well no, of course I didn’t hit him too soon.’

That’s what we’re talking about.  It’s nonsense.  It’s the referee.  And just like now, in football, in baseball, we get to watch replays.  Those stewards sat up there and got to look at all the replays.  And the stewards made the right call.  The thing that they did that wasn’t right was the inquiry sign should have went up as soon as they went cross – across the finish line.

And one other thing I wanted to say.  When Tyler Gaffalione came back and him and I were having a discussion about what happened, the inquiry – the objection came up at that point in time saying that Flavien Prat on the 20 Country House has lodged an objection against the winner.

Right there tells you now, everything is under review and should I – would we have claimed foul?  I would have – if I got to watch the entire race, I may have claimed foul because I think that we were bothered more than just once, which irritates me a little bit, and that might have irritated me enough to claim foul.  But I knew – you know, my job is to get – if Gary Barber is going to get placing and he’s going to earn money for it, it’s my job.  No matter who is in front me, if that’s what needs to be done, I’m going to do it.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s my son, my brother, my wife, I’m going to claim foul if that’s – because that’s my job.  My job is to represent my owner.  And so, you know, there was a lot written, a lot said and I’m just happy to be able to kind of tell you.  And I do believe if anything comes out of this, our stewards need to be told to stop worrying about objections and concentrate on making inquiries on their own.

Tom Pedulla:

That’s something good that could come out of this, you hope?

Mark Casse:

I think so.  And then one other thing, while I have everybody, I am not opposed to the 20-horse field.  I think the 20-horse field is what makes the Kentucky Derby what it is.  I am opposed to the current starting gate and I think pressure needs to be put on Churchill Downs to make a starting gate that holds 20 horses.

Too many of our problems happen early on and it had nothing to do with this Kentucky Derby.  It had about at least – I mean, the horse was on the lead, so the 20 horses, 19 horses had nothing to do with our problems.  But every year, we have a lot of problems early on in the race and there is a lot going on, and it’s usually in the middle pack.  It’s because of the way the gates are positioned and because of the big gap in the middle.  So, I do – I wish Churchill Downs would go ahead and get us a 20-horse gate.  They run in Japan, they run in Hong Kong.

I had a nice conversation with Johnny Velazquez the other night, and he said the other thing over there, you’re not allowed to change lanes for the first eighth of a mile out of the gate.  If we did that, if we put a 20-horse gate in and made everybody stay in their lanes for at least an eighth of a mile, we would have a much safer race, and it would a better race, and there would be a lot less horses, you know, having excuses.

Tom Pedulla:

Mark, if I could ask you just one other question.  With the deaths of Santa Anita and now a controversial derby, is this one of the harder times for the sport since you’ve been involved?  And how does the sport work its way through this?

Mark Casse:

Well, there’s no question.  There is no question this is the hardest time, but not near as hard if War of Will had went down and taken four or five horses with him.  I was so thankful after the race that he was fine, that nobody got hurt that I didn’t even care about losing the race.  And I think it would have been the worst day in race horsing – race horse history.  And as you just brought out, we could not afford to have that.

Now, there’s been a lot said that – about rules and regulations and then when – when the stewards had the – you know, stood up to the rules, said, ‘You know what, I don’t care if it’s the Kentucky Derby.  Rules are rules, and we’re going to –’ that was big.  That was saying, ‘Look, we have rules and we’re going to stand by them.’ And the stewards did it.

Obviously, it didn’t make a lot of people happy because she did – they disqualified the favorite.  So, that means the most money, the most people that bet on that horse, so that means the most people were going to be upset.  But the stewards looked at it, said, ‘There was a foul and there’s no question.’ You talk to the experts, the real experts, and I’m talking about the jockeys and the trainers that have watched thousands and thousands of horse – they will all – I haven’t heard one of them, except Bob and I’m going to – and Bob is my hero and I love him dearly, but heroes can be wrong also.  And I’m not sure Bob was a good person to ask since he trains for Mr West.  I don’t think that was a fair question to ask Bob.

So, I’m going to – but you talk – you know, the Gary Stevens, the Jerry Baileys, the John Velazquezes, you ask those guys and they’re all going to tell you the right decision was made.

Tom Pedulla:

Thank you, Mark.

Mark Casse:

Okay.

Operator:

Thank you.  Our last question is from Louisa Barton at The Horse Talk Show on The Sky 97.3.  Louisa, please go ahead.

Louisa Barton:

Hi, Mark.  How are you?

Mark Casse:

Hi, Louisa.  How are you?  Hello.

Louisa Barton:

Good, good.  We both recovered from the derby, I hope.

Mark Casse:

I feel a lot better.  I heard Mike earlier on and he didn’t sound like he – he sounds like he had what I had.  Derby day and notes[?] day.  I was sick.

Louisa Barton:

Yeah.  I think we all left there feeling really ‘ugh’.  Yes, it was quite a weekend.

Mark Casse:

Yes.

Louisa Barton:

The first thing I wanted to say is I really admire your opinion on the result as far as the jockeys go.  You know, I don’t – I think like you, it’s really wrong to put them in that position and I think the same thing, the stewards are responsible, the three of them, to watch the race and call an inquiry.  And I think you really hit the nail right on top of the head with that.

And I think as far as the fans go, looking – you know, from the outside looking in, it would have been much better had it been done that way.  And it was then clear to the non-horse people who tend to attend the Derby more than any other race to have a better understanding of what’s going on and to see the authority as the one calling the foul, not the – you know, not the jockeys because that’s, I think, what less get questionable to so many people.

Mark Casse:

I agree, I agree.

Louisa Barton:

So, I think you really absolutely hit the nail right on top of the head as far as keeping the fans at the race.  So, I’m glad you said that.

The question I have is, you didn’t breeze Classic Empire between the races when he ran, and you’re not doing that with War of Will.  Is that because of the close amount of time, the two weeks between races, and do you think that’s better to give them that time and not breeze?

Mark Casse:

Oh, yeah.  Absolutely, you’re 100% right.  I did not breeze Classic Empire and I will not breeze War of Will.  And normally, in our normal training regimen, we won’t breeze our horse back for a couple of weeks after they run.  It’s just – for me, it’s about – our fitness level is as high as we can get right now, so we don’t have to worry about that.  It’s now more about getting back good energy and get to feeling good and, you know, letting those little aches and pains and muscles, sore muscles, get to feeling better.  And so, I didn’t do it with Classic Empire.

I would be surprised if you’ll ever see me do it with a Preakness horse.  I just – two weeks – I have no problem.  I like running back in two weeks.  We won the Breeder’s Cup last year with Shamrock Rose, back in two weeks after – within a rave and run[?].  And you’ll see I didn’t get – I didn’t breeze her either.  But I like running back in two weeks.  I don’t have a problem with that.  I just don’t – I feel like it should be more of just a nice, easy, you know, in between easy time.

Louisa Barton:

Well, he’s a tough horse and I’m really impressed with him.  He’s got a little bit of attitude even in his walk, so it’s pretty cool.  And on the starting gate, it’s time for Churchill to do a 20-horse starting gate.  Absolutely agree with you there as well.  So, thank you for all the good input.  We wish you –

Mark Casse:

You’re going to see me – you’ll see me – I’m going to be – I’m going to be pushing very hard for that, so we’ll see.

Louisa Barton:

I’d love to see that.  I think that would change a lot of things in the race for sure.

Mark Casse:

I think you’re going to – I think you’re going to see the riders do the same thing.  Like I said, most of the riders I talk to, they have no problem with the 20 horses running in the Kentucky Derby.  They have a problem with the starting gate, though.

Louisa Barton:

Yes, absolutely, I agree.  I wish you all the best in the Preakness and perhaps we’ll see you there.

Mark Casse:

Sounds good.

Louisa Barton:

Thanks, Mark.

Mark Casse:

Okay.  Thank you.

Operator:

Thank you.  It appears there are no more questions at this time, so I’d like to hand it back to Ms Alicia Hughes for any additional or closing remarks.  Ms Hughes, please go ahead.

Alicia Hughes:

Thank you.  Mark, I know you probably set a record this week as far as how many interviews you’ve done and calls – and calls you have taken, so you’re a rock star as always.  Thank you again so much for coming on the call today.

Mark Casse:

Thanks for having me and hopefully we’re going to have a great Preakness.  We’ll see you there.

Alicia Hughes:

See you there.  I’ll see you in few days, Mark.  You take care.

Mark Casse:

Okay, bye.

Alicia Hughes:

And that will do it for this marathon edition today of the NTRA National Media Teleconference.  An audio file of this call will be up later today on ntra.com and a transcript will be available there tomorrow.

Once again, I’d like to thank our guests for coming on toda