National Media Teleconference Transcript and Audio (Casse, McLaughlin, Espinoza)

June 1, 2017 – NTRA National Media Teleconference

Belmont Stakes Preview

Guest (probable entrant)

  • Trainer Mark Casse (Classic Empire)
  • Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin (True Timber)
  • Jockey Victor Espinoza (Gormley)

Click below to listen to the Teleconference and scroll down to view the transcript (available Thursday afternoon).

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Thanks to everybody joining us for our annual Belmont stakes teleconference.  We don’t have a triple crown on the line this year and we don’t have the Derby the winner or the Preakness winner participating.  What we do have though is an extraordinary afternoon that a lot of folks would say has now established itself as annually the second best day of racing and betting in the US behind only Breeders’ Cup Saturday.

 

The Belmont Day card features six Grade 1 races, nine graded stakes overall and when you consider also the high-quality Thursday and Friday programmes, the Belmont Stakes racing festival offers an important stakes race in every single Eclipse Awards division and then some.

 

The focus of this call though obviously is strictly on the three-year-olds and the 149th Belmont Stakes.  Later on, we’re going to talk Kiaran McLaughlin who’s a past Belmont Winner.  He’ll saddle True Timber.  And jockey Victor Espinoza, newly inducted into the hall of fame, who didn’t have a Belmont mount last year.  And so this will be his first Belmont ride since winning the Triple Crown on American Pharaoh two years ago.  He’ll be on Gormley of course.

 

But first, we’re happy to welcome back, Mark Casse, trainer of last year’s champion two-year-old Classic Empire who was fourth in the Derby with a challenging trip and then a very game second in the Preakness.  And despite not winning either of the first two classics this year, you all, the media were impressed enough to make him the nation’s top three-year-old in our most recent NTRA poll and he would be expected to be favoured in the Belmont.  Mark Casse, thanks for joining us.

 

Mark Casse:

 

Thanks for having me, Jim.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Yes, of course.  We’re always happy to have you on.  Before we get to talking about the Belmont, would you mind just recapping the Preakness and giving us your impressions of Classic Empire’s effort in there?

 

Mark Casse:

 

Whether I cried or not?  I was really proud of him, you know, going in, all I said was that I wanted after the Kentucky Derby to just have a fair shot and, you know, he had a fair shot.  I think he ran his rear end off and we just – we just beat unfortunately.  But I was proud of him and had no regrets.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

And speaking of having no regrets, I mean, he – you know, thinking about the way the race unfolded, do you think he had to press the pace?  I mean, you wouldn’t want to leave the derby winner on an easy lead.  Were you happy with the way the race unfolded for your horse?

 

Mark Casse:

 

I did and it wasn’t that the pace was extraordinarily hot.  So I wouldn’t sit there and say that the reason we got beat was because we ran too fast early.  I just think – I don’t know why but obviously, we all know Always Dreaming wasn’t the Always Dreaming we’d seen all spring.  And if anything, it probably caught us by surprise and caught Julien a little bit by surprise, caught the horse by surprise that he retreated as quickly as he did.

 

It’s my feeling is that if Always Dreaming had ran another 16th of a mile and kept Classic Empire focused, I think we would have had a much better shot at winning the Preakness. So, but as it turned out, Always Dreaming kind of gave it up before the quarter pole and he we were out on the lead and nothing to focus on.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Interesting, interesting.  Well, I think it is a credit to his effort that he’s number one in our three-year-old poll right now when you take into consideration the Derby and the Arkansas Derby and everyone else’s entire campaign is to this point.  Do you train the best three-year-old in the country in your opinion?

 

Mark Casse:

 

I think I do.  I think the more and more, now seeing what happened with the Kentucky Derby, you know, our horse had just an unbelievably bad luck – bad luck in there.  And you know what, he ran hard in the Arkansas Derby, he ran hard in the Kentucky Derby, probably ran harder in the Kentucky Derby than any of the races.  And then he showed up again for the Preakness.  And that’s – it’s one of the reasons we’re going to show up for the Belmont too.  We still feel that we have the best three-year-old and we just – we want to prove it.  We’ve been so close and we just feel we’ve been a little unlucky.  So hopefully third time’s the charm.

 

Ron Flatter:

 

Hi, Mark.  Looking back over Classic Empire’s first nine races, as you look to the Belmont, is there any of those that you’d look at and say, that would be the pace setup that I would like for him in this race?

 

Mark Casse:

 

You know, that is a good question, Ron, because I think, you know, everybody looks at – they look at the Kentucky Derby and they  say will come around and they say, well, he’ll be better in the Belmont or they were finishing in the Preakness, they’re going to like the Belmont.  It doesn’t work that way.  Belmont is a different ran race because of the pace.

 

So, I think one thing and I’m hoping, if you’ll – if you’ll notice when our horse won the Breeders’ Cup and in the Preakness, Julien got pretty aggressive with him early to get him on to the bit and getting him up there.  You can see him hustling pretty hard.  In the Belmont, I’m not so sure we want to do that.  I’m hoping that he’ll just kind of fall out of there.  There – I don’t who the pace is going to be and the pace is very hard to determine because as I said, the mile and a half is just an entirely difference race.

 

But I’d like to see him, you know, probably a little bit like let’s go for the Arkansas Derby where he was back a little bit mid pack and came with his run. So, I guess that if I look back on those races, probably the Arkansas Derby.

 

Ron Flatter:

 

And as you look back on his races too, we could certainly argue that he was done in by bad luck in the Derby and then the circumstances you described in the Preakness, is there a race you’d say over his career, you’d say that is Classic Empire? That’s the one you’d put on the highlight reel as his best period.

 

Mark Casse:

 

Personally, two races I would say.  His Bashford Manor, he beat a horse called Recruiting Ready who won a nice race at Pimlico.  On Preakness week, he’s an extremely fast horse.  It was Classic Empire’s second start of his career and he kind of ducked in as horses often do going across the shoot at Churchill and here’s a two-year-old, looks like he has no chance of winning.  He’s probably 10, 12 lengths out of it after an eighth of a mile and he wins and then goes 109 and change.  This is a two-year-old in end of June.  I thought that was – when I saw that, I knew that he was exceptional.

 

And I’m not so sure the Kentucky Derby.  If you go and you look at – there are a lot of good horses that got nothing in the Kentucky Derby.  Irish War Cry looked like he was sitting in just the perfect position and he backed up.  I don’t care what anybody says, there was a definite – an inside bias on Derby Day especially for the Kentucky Derby.

 

Now, some people are missing out and Mike Watchmaker is one of them is that the track changed during the day.  As it started drying out, there was not as big an inside bias but between the last dirt race in the Kentucky Derby, we had a ton of rain.  And when it rains, all the water goes down to the inside, packs down the inside.  I’ve been training horses for 37 years at Churchill Downs.  I know a little something about Churchill Downs.  So, I think Kentucky Derby was a great race.  So, I’d say the Bashford Manor and the Kentucky Derby.

 

Ron Flatter:

 

Very good.

 

Mark Casse:

 

Long answer for a short question, sorry.

 

Beth Harris:

 

Hi, Mark.  A two-part question for you.  Number one from a competitive standpoint, are you disappointed not to be having the Derby and the Preakness winners in the Belmont and what are your thoughts on horses that don’t run in all three legs?

 

Mark Casse:

 

Well, you know what, it’s a toughie.  Of course, I think I would love the horses all to run in all three races because then it’s – I think it truly proves who the best horse is and who’s not only the best but the toughest.  And I mean, I’m not disappointed at all Always Dreaming’s not coming because I think the Preakness showed that he’s not at the top of his game right now.  So, I think those connections are wise.

 

Disappointed that the Preakness winner is not going to be there.  He’s fine; why not? We took him on after six weeks.  He had six weeks’ rest.  We had – we ran two races in five weeks.  We ran the Arkansas Derby and then came back three weeks later and ran in the Kentucky Derby and then went – and two weeks later ran in the Preakness.  So yes, I really don’t know why he’s – he’s not there but they own him.  Chad trains him so they get that privilege.  But I’m disappointed he’s not there.

 

Tom Pedulla:

 

Yeah, Mark.  You know, you sort of just noted your horse has had a difficult schedule.  Do you see it taking any toll on him?

 

Mark Casse:

 

I’ll tell you this, Tom, I thought going into the Arkansas Derby that he looked good.  I thought going into the Kentucky Derby that he looked better in the Kentucky Derby, trained better into the Kentucky Derby than he did into the Arkansas Derby and he looked better.  I thought when we were at Pimlico that he looked better at Pimlico for the Preakness than he did for the Kentucky Derby.

 

So, I think our horse is handling it well.  I mean, he trained great this morning and he just seems to be thriving.  I’ve trained a lot of good horses in my career.  I don’t know how many great ones were but you know, like Tepin.  Tepin thrived on running and I think Classic Empire thrives on running.

 

And so, to answer your question, if we get beat in the Belmont, we’re not going to go and say, well, we were tired.  We know what – we know our horse.  We know what we’re up against and we’re ready for the challenge.  If we get beat, I’m sure not going to blame the schedule.  He’s telling us he wants to run so we’re going to let him run.

 

Tom Pedulla:

 

Okay.  And this is the second part to that if you don’t mind, just the mile and a half, is that appealing or daunting to you?

 

Mark Casse:

 

It’s unknown.  You don’t really like unknown.  I can’t sit here and tell you that oh, I’m going to – he’s going to love the mile and a half.  I just don’t know.  I don’t know.  I mean if you can run a mile and a quarter, and remember, he ran a mile and a quarter and was still running at the end after running 70 feet farther than the Derby winner and 90 feet farther than the second placer.  He was still finishing on a tough race track going a mile and a quarter.  So, I’d find it hard to believe that he couldn’t go a mile and a half.

 

 

Danny Brewer:

 

What have you learned – no, you’re not.  Believe me, you’re not.  Hey, what have you been – what have you learned from Classic Empire?  Has he taught you anything?  I know you’ve taught him some things.  Has he taught you anything?

 

Mark Casse:

 

He’s taught me to be patient.

 

Danny Brewer:

 

There you go.

 

Mark Casse:

 

I mean, I think I’m already patient but he probably pushes it a little bit.  And the one thing that I would say that he’s taught me, maybe he didn’t teach it to me but he reconfirmed it and that is great horses can overcome a lot of things.  And you know, a lot of been – things have been thrown at him and us and the – I really believe the only thing that’s beat us is bad luck.  I think our horses come to the race ready to play and hard every time.  And there’s no question bad luck killed him in the Kentucky Derby.

 

The Preakness, we, you know, hey, we should have won the Preakness but a better horse beat us that day.  I do believe circumstances played a part of it but I can’t really give us an excuse.  But we – we ran hard, we played hard and so I guess that’s probably what it’s taught me.  Great horses can overcome things that good horses can’t.

 

Danny Brewer:

 

And is that why he’s running in the Belmont Stakes because he is a great horse and he deserves the opportunity to showcase that in the Belmont Stakes?  Is that one of the main reasons he’s running there?

 

Mark Casse:

 

Yeah, I think, yes.  I think we feel like we should have one the, you know, we should have won the Kentucky Derby or I shouldn’t say that.  I mean, Always Dreaming ran his rear end of, deserves to win and I’m not sure if everything went perfect if we could have beat Always Dreaming on that day.  And so – but we would have been a lot closer.

 

Danny Brewer:

 

But you feel like you you’re – you feel like you’ve got a horse that’s good enough.  You feel like he’s certainly good enough to win it.

 

Mark Casse:

 

Yeah, I think he deserves to win one of them.  And you know what, as long as – as long as he’s – and you’ll look at it.  We probably get criticised for it sometimes.  Some people like it.  One thing about us, we’re not afraid to run.  Now, maybe we don’t have a 25% win percentage and maybe – but we’re not in a, you know, we’re not afraid to run and it’s a sport.  I mean, I think too many horses sit in the barn when they should be running.  If we can run, we’re going to run and he’s ready to run so we’re going to do it.

 

Danny Brewer:

 

This is a Noble Bird question, is he Foster – you think Noble Bird, will he – will he fly into Foster, you think?

 

Mark Casse:

 

No.  No, he – he’s actually at home in Ocala and is just going to aim for a fall campaign and he just wasn’t himself.  And we’re just – he’s been going long and hard so we gave him a break.

 

 

Tom Jicha:

 

In the Preakness, you seemed to prioritise not letting Always Dreaming get away and steal the race.  It doesn’t appear there’s any kind of real tough speed or classic speed in this race.  There are some that will go early.  Is there any horse that you – you’re going to tell Julien to keep an eye on or is it going to be strictly ride your race?

 

Mark Casse:

 

I think we have the best horse and we’re just going to – we’re going to let Julien do what he does best.  And I mean, honestly, I’d love to see a little bit of speed so some – I think our horse likes a target.  Our horse is a fighter and he likes a target.  So ideally, he’ll shut off, he’ll relax and turn in for home, he’ll have a couple targets to run at.  And that’s all we’re going to – we’re going to try to do.  If nobody wants to lead, I guess we’ll be on it – not really what I want to do but we could, I guess.

 

Tom Jicha:

 

Yes, and I’ve seen a certain place – I don’t even know if it came from you that one theory was that he really didn’t see Cloud Computing coming in the final stride.  Do you buy into that at all?

 

Mark Casse:

 

No, not really.  I think he knew he was there.  I think Cloud Computing had some momentum on him.  You’ll see, our horse fights back and ties.  And then even as they went on out after the race, he took kind of –– it wasn’t like he was some horse that fell flat on his face as soon as they went by the wire.  He took off again and was, you know, galloping out and I know a lot of people, there’s some people who like to gallop out, some people don’t.  They say, well, the race is over.  So, what does it matter.

 

I still like to see a horse that at the end isn’t totally spent and I don’t believe for a second that Classic Empire was totally spent.  I think he saw the horse coming.  He fought back.  The horse had a little momentum on him and beat him.  He ran a great race, you know?  He deserved to win just as much as we did.

 

Jon White:

 

Mark, the job that you and Norman did with Classic Empire to get him ready for the Arkansas Derby and win the Arkansas Derby was really just outstanding.  And I was wondering if perhaps you could discuss for a moment the contribution that your son and assistant, Mark, has had with the success of Classic Empire.

 

Mark Casse:

 

Well, I mean, Norman is usually where I’m not and as you say, this horse was very trying, you know? All early spring, when you have the Breeders’ Cup winner champion and he’s not doing what you want him to do, it gets difficult.  And it was – it was just truly a – a true team effort, I mean, from everybody down at Palm Meadows, I mean, what a great job when we brought him to Ocala to our training centre there.

 

And I mean, a lot of people – I’ll tell everybody something right now that not everybody knows and just Julien took some heat after the Preakness which I didn’t think was deserved.  But Julien had as much to do with this horse making it to the races as anybody.  Here’s a guy that would get up – him and Norman would get up at three o’clock in the morning and drive from South Florida to Ocala, you know, to get on the horse and to working.  So, it was an effort by many and Norman was a big part of it.

 

Debbie Arrington:

 

Hi, Mark, and thank you again for coming on here.  And you’ve really – you and your horse have entered a lot this spring.  You know, so the Triple Crown can be absolutely, you know, devastating on horses and people, you know, because it is such a gruelling series.  And other horses, they seem to thrive on all that work and competition.  How is Classic Empire doing and does he fit into that second category?

 

Mark Casse:

 

Oh yeah, most definitely.  If not, then we wouldn’t be here.  As I had said earlier in the call, you know, he – he is thriving.  We had our veterinarian who is a back specialist who after every race goes and checks on him.  She flies in because he had hurt his back – he hurt his back this spring when he hurt his foot.

 

Debbie Arrington:

 

Wow.

 

Mark Casse:

 

And then so we have a – we have a lady that flies in and looks at him and she went and looked at him on Tuesday and told me that he never looked better.  So, and I thought when we were at Pimlico that it was – he looked the best I have ever seen him.  So, he’s actually getting bigger and stronger with the racing than with other horses, some of the other horses do.

 

Debbie Arrington:

 

Very good.  And, you know, we’ve seen these horses, you know, a lot this spring and, you know, they’ve – we’ve had different results in the first two classics and we definitely will have a different result in the Belmont.  How do you rate this group and do you think overall that they’ll mature into some very good handicap horses as we go on?

 

Mark Casse:

 

I mean, we can only speculate on what’s going to happen there.  I find the best – you really don’t know how good a bunch is until you look back a year later or so.  So, I mean, of course I would sit there and love to say well, you know, this is an outstanding crop and they’re going to do great things.  But being a realist, you know, being realistic and trying to predict the future, I don’t know.  You just never know.  I think it’s a good crop.  I don’t think we’ll know – ask me this question a year from now and I’ll tell you.

 

Debbie Arrington:

 

Okay.

 

Mark Casse:

 

Okay.

 

Debbie Arrington:

 

Very good.  And it’s – what indication does Classic Empire give to you that he’s kind of – like a mile and a half?

 

Mark Casse:

 

I just think – one thing about him, he broke his maiden going four and a half and as I said earlier, he was running at the end of the mile and a quarter.  So, I think the indication is that he is just a great horse, a true athlete and he can do a little bit of anything.

 

Jay Privman:

 

I was wondering who else you might be bringing to New York for all the other six races that weekend.

 

Mark Casse:

 

You got – do you have a lot of time?  We have – we’re bringing a bunch.  We’re bringing World Approval, Salty…

 

Jay Privman:

 

Hang on, hang on, wait.  World Approval would be for the Manhattan, right?

 

Mark Casse:

 

Yes.

 

Jay Privman:

 

Salty would be for the…

 

Mark Casse:

 

We’re bringing Salty for the Acorn.

 

Jay Privman:

 

Right.

 

Mark Casse:

 

Acorn.  We’re bringing Awesome Slew for the Met Mile.  We’re bringing Corporate Queen and Dream Dancing for the Wonder Again.  We’re bringing Holding Gold for the Jaipur.  Trying to think.  We went over Holding Gold.  I don’t think that there’s any others.  I don’t remember right this second to be honest.

 

Jay Privman:

 

So that’s seven in total including Classic Empire.

 

Mark Casse:

 

Yeah, there’s a shot we could run Wicked Macho in the Easy Goer.  We’re thinking about that.  Let me just see here if I’m missing anybody.  Oh, yeah, we’re bringing Pretty City Dancer for the – whatever the filly…

 

Jay Privman:

 

Jersey Girl?

 

Mark Casse:

 

Well, the Jersey Girl, yes.

 

Jay Privman:

 

Okay.

 

Mark Casse:

 

And we had contemplated bringing in the two-year-old filly but we’re not going to do that.  I think that’s got it.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

All right, Mark, we’ve covered a lot of ground so I’m going to let you go.  Really appreciate the time and best of luck in New York next week.

 

Mark Casse:

 

Well, thanks, Jim and hopefully the next we talk, I can say we have a Belmont winner.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

We hope so.

 

Mark Casse:

 

Okay.  Thank you Jim.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

All right, thanks, Mark.

 

Mark Casse:

 

Thank you everybody.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Bye.  All right, Mark Casse with all kinds of good information covering everything especially awesome stuff on – on the other Triple Crown horses and their decisions to bypass this Belmont Stakes.  In any case, now let’s check in with some of the other Belmont contenders.  Hopefully everyone’s familiar with Kiaran McLaughlin by now but you might know much about his likely Belmont entrant and that’s True Timber.  He’s by Mineshaft out of an unraced Tiznow mare.  He hasn’t won this year but he was competitive in all of Aqueduct’s Derby preps.  That includes a fourth in the Wood Memorial and a third place finisher in that race was Cloud Computing.

 

Last time out, True Timber was third in the Sir Barton on Preakness Day and also mentioning of course Kiaran won the Belmont with Jazil in 2006 which was another year where neither the Derby or Preakness winner showed up for the Belmont.  So now let’s see if we got Kiaran on the line.  Kiaran, it’s Jim Mulvihill in Lexington.  How are you doing?

 

Kiaran McLaughlin:

 

Great, Jim.  I’m here.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Excellent.  So, glad to have you on, always appreciate your time.  True Timber is a pretty intriguing candidate for the Belmont.  Just tell us why you decided to give him a chance in here.

 

Kiaran McLaughlin:

 

Well, you know, he’s run every month.  He might be as fit as anybody.  He’s run every month since he first started.  And we thought that he might have a chance going a mile and a half.  He seems to always stay running late in a race.  He doesn’t just quit.  So, you know, it seemed to be pretty wide open if Mark Casse didn’t decide to run.  So, Classic Empire is going to be very tough.  But we’re in and we want to give him a try and he’s doing very well.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Well, and Classic Empire aside, how much did the rest of the field play into your decision?  I mean, would it have – would it have mattered at all if the Derby or Preakness winner showed up or were you in regardless?

 

Kiaran McLaughlin:

 

No, yes, it would have mattered probably.  But he’s just doing very well and we just thought it was worth a shot, to take a shot at it.  And we’re here at home.  It’s easy.  We don’t have to travel so he’s training well and we’re just going to give it a try.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

And Calumet Farm obviously has been keen to win another classic and kind of highlight how far they’ve come the past few years.  Did not come into play at all or was this entirely in your hands?

 

Kiaran McLaughlin:

 

Yes, it did come into play and I think that, you know, Mr Kelley has done a great job getting Calumet back out there and talking about these races and running in these races.  And he’s putting them back on the map whether or not we did it in the winner’s circle or not, you know?  Calumet is participating in a lot of key races and it’s great and it will get lucky.

 

Ron Flatter: Hi, Kiaran.  Do you have a jockey yet for True Timber.

 

Kiaran McLaughlin:

 

Yeah, Paco Lopez.  He was fourth on him in the Wood Memorial so he will ride him.

 

Ron Flatter:

 

And what sort of – I mean, the big mystery I suppose in this race isn’t just whether the horses can get the distance but who’s going to set the pace.  What kind of a spot do you want to see True Timber in during the course of this race?

 

Kiaran McLaughlin:

 

We’ll see how it breaks but he would be forwardly placed.  He is most of the time so if he breaks, well, he would probably be forwardly placed and we’ll let Paco decide that.

 

Ron Flatter:

 

And one of the other things that happens in the Belmont, it seems that horses who know the track do pretty well.  And while he hasn’t raced on it, he certainly trained a lot on it.  How much of an advantage do you see that for him?

 

Kiaran McLaughlin:

 

Well, I think the big question is who can get the mile and a half and nobody really knows so you never know.  I don’t know if it’s a big advantage to be here but it is nice that we don’t have to ship.  So, training over the track everyday has to help.

 

Debbie Arrington:

 

Hi, Kiaran, and thank you very much for coming on.  It seems like Calumet had horses all over the country with several different trainers this spring.  How many horses do you have from Calumet and could you tell us a little bit more about how active they are in selecting their horses and which races they’re going in?

 

Kiaran McLaughlin:

 

Yes.  I have four two-year-olds and True Timber is the only older horse I have, a three-year-old.  And they do like to help select races for you.  It’s great that they’re in contact all the time.  I’m in touch with Eddie Kane and we talk about the different spots and we’re happy to give it a try.  He’s a big colt that has a big stride and we think he might get lucky to get the distance and that’s so important.

 

And they have – Calumet has a lot of trainers.  I think the team, different trainers across the country and it’s getting to train for and very active and it’s great to deal with and they have quality horses.  And we’re happy to train for them.

 

Debbie Arrington:

 

And did you have any say in the selection, the two-year-olds, when they were purchased or are they home-bred or how did they come to you?

 

Kiaran McLaughlin:

 

You know, they just called and said they had four or five for me and I was happy to take them.  And funnily enough, there was a couple of them that I had trained [inaudible], Trappe Shot and then Invasor.  So, you know, it’s nice.

 

Tom Pedulla:

 

Yeah, Kiaran, is this one of the stranger three-year-old seasons you’ve seen?  I mean, Classic Empire for instance is at the top of the three-year-old poll.  But you know, he hasn’t won either Triple Crown race.  I mean, could the best three-year-old still be, you know, still surface?

 

Kiaran McLaughlin:

 

Yes.  I mean, Classic Empire obviously was a top two-year-old and then we had the good horse in California with Baffert that got injured and it is wide open today.  And that’s why we’re in Belmont because we – pretty open other than Classic Empire is probably the big favourite now.  But you never know about a mile and a half.  It’s a tough race.

 

Tom Jicha:

 

You’ve had a lot of success with imports and I believe you trained in Dubai for a year or two.  What do you think of this Japanese horse coming over, Epicharis?  Have you any – I guess you might have saw the race on World Cup Day.  But is it too much to come over from there or – because it seems that they’ve had no luck at all bringing horses from there.

 

Kiaran McLaughlin:

 

Well, the world seems to be getting smaller and everybody used to think that coming back and forth from Dubai was really hard on horses and it is proved that it is not so difficult on horses to travel across the world.  So, I would think the Japanese horse belongs here in the race and would have a good chance.  It maybe hasn’t gone great in the past but he is a nice horse with a chance and like I said, the world has gotten smaller and smaller and people know how to ship now pretty well.

 

Tom Jicha:

 

And if I could, I believe you’re going to run Mohaymen in the Met Mile.  Is he coming around and have you been able to figure out yet what happened to what looked like a sensational two-year-old and early three-year-old and something happened?

 

Kiaran McLaughlin:

 

Yes, sometimes it’s hard to figure out.  He hasn’t – we haven’t quite figured it out but he’s doing very well.  He had a black leatherwork the other day and we’re going to hope that it all comes together next Saturday.  He’s doing very well.  He matured a lot, put on weight and looks fabulous but we have to get in the winner’s circle again.  So, we haven’t quite figured it out so we hope we do for next Saturday.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

All right, Kiaran, I just wanted to follow up on one of Ron’s questions about the pace.  I mean, you seem likely to be forwardly placed but I’d just like to get your take on the Belmont Stakes in general and a mile and a half and how different the race is for a jockey?  I mean, are there any special instructions?  Is there anything that separates a 12-furlong race from other two-turn races that we see every day?

 

Kiaran McLaughlin:

 

Yes.  You know, the half mile post just pulling you to the [inaudible].  So, you still have a long way to go when you’re hitting the second turn.  But usually you want to be forwardly placed.  It’s hard to come from last especially if it’s not a fast pace.  So, it’s just a tough distance and we don’t run it very often – trainers or jockeys or horses a mile and a half.  So, it’s demanding and it’s a tough race and you just have to hope that you can get the distance and have a clean trip.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Yeah, yeah.  All right, well, very good.  Kiaran, thanks for your time.  We look forward to seeing you in New York.

 

Kiaran McLaughlin:

 

Okay, thank you, Jim.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

All right.  That is Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of True Timber.  They’re going to take a shot in the final leg of the Triple Crown a week from Saturday.  And that brings us to our final guest and that is jockey, Victor Espinoza.  Victor is set to be inducted into the hall of fame this summer.  He’ll be on Gormley in the Belmont.  And since he didn’t have a mount in the race last year, it’s a return of sorts to the site of his greatest triumph, the Triple Crown winning ride on American Pharaoh in 2015.  And also note that this Saturday, he gets to ride one of the nation’s top mares, Stellar Wind at Santa Anita.  So, we’ll have a lot to cover with Victor.  Victor Espinoza, are you with us?

 

Victor Espinoza:

 

Yes, how are you?

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

I’m doing great, Victor.  It’s Jim Mulvihill of the NTRA.  We always appreciate your time.  First off, we mentioned that you didn’t ride in the Belmont last year but just to make sure that we word this correctly.  I was trying to remember and I’m sorry I didn’t have time to research but have you been back to Belmont for other – for other mounts since American Pharoah?

 

Victor Espinoza:

 

No, no.  I think that was the last time I was there.  I mean, I went there but I did not have any horse to ride last year, just for appearance.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Oh, I see.  So, you made some appearances but you didn’t ride?

 

Victor Espinoza:

 

Yes, exactly.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Excellent, got it.  Got it.  And what’s it going to be like for you to be back on the track and riding there for the first time around that big mile and a half oval?

 

Victor Espinoza:

 

I know, right?  A lot of memories, a lot of good memories and also bad memories too from before.  So, I balanced it out, good and bad one but the last one it was great.  It was a great, great memory so, you know, it’s one of the things that I would never forget as long as I, you know, I’ll be around.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Yeah, it kind of changes your view on shipping to Belmont and kind of erases some of those previous bad memories.

 

Victor Espinoza:

 

Exactly, yeah.  But you know, it balanced it up well, all the good ones from when I won the Triple Crown.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Very good.  And just tell us a little bit about Gormley and you know, the race that he had in the Santa Anita Derby and just how you feel about Gormley coming up into the Belmont.

 

Victor Espinoza:

 

You know, Gormley is a nice horse and interesting because the times that he performs is the way he is supposed to and sometimes he has performed a little bit, you know, poor.  But it’s kind of, you know, one of those things.  They’re trying to figure out as a young horse and then some races he runs like he is supposed to run and some like in the Kentucky Derby, he did not show up that day.  You know, he did not perform his normal ways.  So, Santa Anita Derby, it was a great race for him and I thought he will improve for that one to go on the derby but I guess I was wrong.

 

But that’s what I expect in those types of horses like young horses are still, you know, learning.  And I’m going to tell you a little bit surprised that he’s still in that stage because he ran already quite a few times and it seems like he is still not trying to get it like going forward.  But as of right now, he has a little, few weeks off and train –  he’s training very well.  So, I worked him last time six furlongs since like he lost a little bit weight from – after the derby.  But he recovered and it seems like he’s gone in the right direction.

 

I don’t know what exactly, you know, John, he’s going to do from now on.  I think he’s just waiting for his next work.  I’m sure if he works great and everything goes well, he will ship her to Belmont but you know, it’s still one of those things that we had to wait until he works.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Sure, sure.  I understand that.  And it sounds like from what you just said that there was no excuse in the Kentucky Derby.  I mean, it was a roughly run race.  I remember he did get maybe taken out a little bit in the stretch but you – but he just wasn’t the same horse as the Santa Anita Derby that day.

 

Victor Espinoza:

 

No, exactly.  I was just going with flow since the first turn.  I don’t feel like he was even trying to run.  I mean, not much which is kind of disappointing than the early, you know, in the early race.  Like loping around.  He don’t even try and it’s the worst thing because I’m thinking there’s still a long way to go.  I can’t believe that he’s not running and still a long way to go.  The race just got started.  But hopefully, he’ll come along and if he runs in the Belmont, I think the distance would be good for him and I think he will run a big race and a big track.

 

Debbie Arrington:

 

Hi, Victor, and thank you so much for coming on the call this morning.  Again, congratulations on your hall of fame induction coming up.  That it so exciting.  What does that mean to you to be going into a race and hall of fame?

 

Victor Espinoza:

 

For me, I think it’s more pressure because every time I go out the track and ride a horse [inaudible] make any mistake, they’re going to criticize and say look, there’s a hall of fame jockey -right?  But if I perform good and if I ride good, they’re going to say, well, that’s why he is a hall of famer, right?  So, it’s, you know, I have to deal with those consequences in the long way.  But it should be fun.

 

Debbie Arrington:

 

Yeah, yeah.  Have you thought about the ceremony this August and what you’re going to say and who you’re going to have come with you and who’s going to introduce you?

 

Victor Espinoza:

 

Not yet, not yet.  I’m like just trying to work out and be more focused in the Belmont.  After Gormley goes to the race, that’s my goal right now.  One step at a time, you know?  I never – honestly, the only time I’ve ever been in Saratoga, I’ve been there twice when – the last time I was there was when American Pharoah got beat but honestly,  I have no clue how this thing works to be in the hall of fame yet because I’ve never been in there.

 

Debbie Arrington:

 

Well, it is a great honor and you know, you very deserve to be in there.  And a lot of the horses that you’ve ridden, you know, like Pharaoh and Chrome, you know?  They’re destined for the hall of fame also.  Do you – have you had any time to think about, you know, Pharoah and Chrome, and you know, and what they’ve accomplished and, you know, what you’ve accomplished with them?

 

Victor Espinoza:

 

Yes.  There’s a couple, a few times, yeah.  I mean, just to think about how lucky, I was in those years to have one of the world’s best horse, California Chrome and the following year, have one of the greatest Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah.  You know you can dream to have those top, top horses back to back and I was just the one, you know, part of that and ride them.  But that requires a lot of energy, a lot of work and a lot of time too and a lot of pressure too also and also a lot of fun.

 

Debbie Arrington:

 

Well, especially when you think of good memories.

 

Victor Espinoza:

 

Yeah, exactly,good memories and one of the times when American Pharoah got beat in Saratoga, a lot of pressure over there, because there – animals can only do so much, you know?  If animals were like humans and then by that time I thought that American Pharoah,  – he was not 100% going to the race and I want to think positive.  But I know deep inside, it was going to be a challenge to win the race.

 

Debbie Arrington:

 

And Gormley, you know, you worked him the other day.  Does he remind you more of what he was like going into Santa Anita Derby?

 

Victor Espinoza:

 

Yes.  He’s more mellow now.  I don’t know if it will be a good thing or bad thing but he’s not as hyper as before.  Yeah, I think the Kentucky Derby race, he was – it got him [inaudible] to think about it like I’ve got to be behaved to save my energy for the race because you know, it is not easy just to, you know, waste it before the race.  But I think he’s learning and hopefully it’s a good thing because like I say, he’s more calm and more just more relaxed when we – than before.  Before, he was just full of energy before the race and can’t stay still for one second.  But like I said, hopefully it’s a good thing for him for – and save a lot of energy for the race.

 

 

Danny Brewer:

Talk about working with John Shirreffs.  He seems to almost take like a professor-like approach in some of his training method.  So, what’s it like being associated with John on this horse?

 

Victor Espinoza:

 

It’s quite an experience for me to be part of his team.  As always for me, I’m all about learning something new and being part of the John Shirreffs’ team is very interesting how he trains his horses and how he really cares about his horses.  It is for me to be watching and talking to him in how he trains his horses, it’s amazing.  You know the way I see him, it’s just amazing how he really cares about his horses and trains his horses to go to the race.  And that’s why, he’s one of the successful trainers in the world and that’s why he used to train the best mare in the world which is Zenyatta because his talent, he always thinks about what’s best for the horses.  And really,I admire him for that.

 

Danny Brewer:

 

And of course, I know that he had done a few things differently to prepare Gormley for the Kentucky Derby.  Has the strategy changed a little bit for the Belmont because of the track and the distance and whatnot and what you guys have been doing to prepare Gormley?

 

Victor Espinoza:

 

For his training? I really don’t know.  I have no idea because all I can tell you is how when I work him, you know, what’s the difference, the one work to the next.  As the daily routine train, I really don’t know because I’m not there every day.

 

Danny Brewer:

 

Right, right, right.  You’re there when you’re there and that’s it.

 

Victor Espinoza:

 

Yeah, yeah.  For me as a jockey, it’s my job to go up there and train or try or study what’s best for the horse and he can perform the best in that day even if he is sometimes – well, we all want to win but even if you’re going to win, if I can do something better for him so he can run his best race of his life, you know, sometimes it works, sometimes we would push him to the limit.  But it’s always a learning experience for horses like, Gormley because it’s a little bit of a challenge.  You don’t know what – what he’s going to do.

 

Danny Brewer:

 

Right, right, yes.

 

Victor Espinoza:

 

And for me as a jockey, I would like, okay, I have to try something new to make him get his best performance.

 

Danny Brewer:

 

Right.  Well, best of luck to you, Victor.  Hopefully, you’ll get him figured out and you’ll be going back to the winner’s cycle.  I wish the best of luck, okay?

 

Ron Flatter:

 

Victor, looking at where you might want to put Gormley in this race, I mean, you ran him at the front in the Frontrunner and you had him near the front in the Sham but you had him sitting back on a slow pace of what turned out to be a slow time in the Santa Anita Derby.  Where do you think you would want him here?

 

Victor Espinoza:

 

You know, John Shirreffs, he always thinks that he is betterncoming from off the pace.  I know when I rode him early in his earlier races, I always ride him in the front.  There was a time that I wanted to take him back and teach him something – to be in behind but there was no speed in the race so I ended up to going in the front with slow pace.

 

The Santa Anita Derby, it kind of worked out because they went a little bit fast in front and I sat back.  With John, he always wants me to just sit back and make one run because he thought – he acknowledges, he thinks that he will be better in the long way to come out a little bit off the pace than go into front.  It helps because in the Santa Anita Derby, they went pretty quick and then the end, they were a little bit tired and then he really performed well.

 

I thought that he was going in the right direction for – going into the Derby but, you know, even in the Derby, I sit back a little bit but it was not his game.  Right out of the gate, I feel like he was not even running at all.  But like I said, John, his idea is keep things – obviously, he knows his horse.  He probably thinks that he’s better a little bit off the pace and I always think that too since the early races but like I say, when it’s slow pace and there’s no speed I can take my other race and just do something new for him.  But I think in the Belmont, I think if he runs, I think it’ll be a good race for him.

 

Ron Flatter:

 

Got it.  Your most recent Belmont experience has been on or has been near the lead but I go back to A P Valentine when you finished second on him and you took him from off the pace.  Is there anything from that experience that you could apply to Gormley this time around in the Belmont?

 

Victor Espinoza:

 

Oh yeah, absolutely.  You know what, I learned something that in the Belmont, it’s a mile and a half obviously if you won the race.  But in reality, if you’re trying to ride a horse like just to think about it, you know, to run a race like a mile and a half, it seems like it’s not work – it’s not going to work out.  Something that I learned and figured out that the horses that run a mile and a half in the Belmont, I think, you know, in my opinion, I would ride it just the way the race comes out.  Don’t just think about it as a mile and a half because, you know, you’re trying to do too much.  You’re saving too much early that the horses are going to fall asleep and they’re not going to finish in the end and they’re not going to get there in time.  So, you can’t really – take them out of this game early because they will shut down and it will be hard for them to come back.  I think riding a mile and a half is just the same like basically like a mile and an eighth.

 

Art Wilson:

 

Hey, I wanted to know as a jockey, how frustrating is it for – to ride a horse like Gormley where he’s shown his talent winning the Frontrunner and the Santa Anita Derby and yet there’s other races where just doesn’t show up?  How frustrating is that for you?

 

Victor Espinoza:

 

It is, it is very, very stressful after the race because, you know, you think about before the race, he is training great.  You know, John, he had done everything he can.  He trained our horse 100% to go into the race and we all think he’s going to run the best race of his life.  And we are excited and just, you know, can’t wait for that time.  And when he didn’t run at all, his performance was really, really poor, it’s just really a stressful time.  And just to think about it, it’s like, yeah – what we can do?  But I think in the end, it’s just that’s him, nothing we can do about it and I think because he’s still young and sometimes he just not wanting to do things, the way they’re supposed to do.  But I think it’s over time and as he’d get older, he will get better.

 

Art Wilson:

 

Right.  I wanted to ask you too about Stellar Wind who you’ve ridden throughout her career.  And she’s running of course Saturday in the Beholder Mile.  You rode here in the Apple Blossom.  Did you notice a difference from her four-year-old year to now that she’s getting maybe bigger and even stronger?

 

Victor Espinoza:

 

She’s always been an amazing – she’s a champion, you know?  There was a couple times that she got a little bit unlucky like in the Breeders’ Cup not because she can’t compete with those ones but because she missed the break.  She got left out of the gate in the Breeders’ Cup and that was the last time.  And after that, it was just the race is over.  And all in all, still ran an amazing race but it was too much for her to catch up to Beholder and the other mare.

 

The year before in the Breeders’ Cup,  I think in Keeneland, in the first turn, one horse [inaudible] out and then I had to check and then move back a little bit and I kind of wasted like one or two lengths in there.  And then down the lane the other horse who [inaudible] because I’m in the middle of the race track and that one cost him the race.  So a couple things but it’s not [inaudible] is not – he was not good enough.  It’s just one of those races that you know sometimes they do not work out the way I wanted.  But she’s a champion.  She’s always been an amazing mare.

 

And the last time when she ran in the Apple Blossom, she was amazing.  She came back like her like before.  She never really missed anything – her form. It’s always a good find when the horses come from such a long time off and then they come back and they run as good as before and now even better.  So, I think she’s going to have an amazing campaign this year.

 

Art Wilson:

 

My last question, of course, she was the champion, three-year-old filly.  You guys beat Beholder twice last year and yet she seems to have been lost in the shadow behind Beholder and Songbird last year.  Do you think she’s been a little bit underappreciated?

 

Victor Espinoza:

 

Absolutely, yes.  I mean, think about it, she beat the champion, Beholder, twice not just once, twice.  And then the Breeders’ Cup, like I said, because she got left at the gate, she completely like missed the break out of the gate.   And then she came back first race won and I mean, what else you can ask for?  Basically, she pretty much won everything.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

All right, Victor, I just have one follow-up topic if you don’t mind.  It’s a little out of the ordinary but I just wanted to ask you about the perception that you have a laid-back attitude.  And I’m thinking about it because, you know, during your Triple Crown runs, you were the guy that took naps and watched cartoons and – but then, we get you on this call and you’re so thoughtful about your mounts and you talked about the pressure that you feel.  I’m just curious if you – if you think of yourself as laid back or if that’s a myth.

 

Victor Espinoza:

 

Yeah.  Yeah, exactly.  It’s just the things that I do to not stress myself and not to worry about, you know, what’s going to happen.  You know, I like to think positive and not think negative because you know, don’t forget, as a jockey, we all like- for me, I have – we all have the pressure and all the weight for everyone.  And like I say its things that I do just to distract myself to think negative, what about if you don’t win?  What about if things happen?  So, it’s all in your mind.  You start to think about so many things and for that reason, I just like to go out there and have fun and watch fun things and just laugh and talk to other people, what they think and what their opinions and, you know, you’re going to hear a lot of good and a lot of bad opinions but – good ones and negatives – but when the times, they’re like – sometimes people they talk negative, I just walk away.  I don’t say anything.  I just walk away because I don’t want to hear that.  I want to hear all like positive things.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Well, it seems to be working.  I mean, you seem to have an effective way of putting the pressure to the side or just putting it out of your mind.

 

Victor Espinoza:

 

Before the Triple Crown, I always think about if I win then I will be the best one.  If I lose, then you know  I have to be ready for it.  I always think that I had to be more ready when horses like that like American Pharaoh, California Chrome or even Stellar when they get beat, I think I had to be more prepared for that because a lot of questions are going to come out.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Sure, sure.

 

Victor Espinoza:

 

And when you win, it doesn’t matter what you say, what you do, you’re a champion and I will be champion.  But if I get beat, then I have to be pretty much ready.  I always tell all the jockeys, young riders, like you have to be ready and more prepared when you lose.  When you ride a horse like, you know, the – he won so many races and you get beat, you have to be ready for that time and that moment because that’s the worst time ever.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Yeah, I hear you.  Well, Victor, very good.  I really appreciate your insight and all this information and we wish you luck with Gormley and Stellar Wind on Saturday and we look forward to seeing you back in Belmont.

 

Victor Espinoza:

 

Thank you, guys.  Thank you, guys.

-30-

2017-06-02T12:11:32+00:00 June 2nd, 2017|Categories: News & Media, Teleconferences|
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