National Media Teleconference Transcript and Audio (O’Neill and Hollendorfer)

August 22, 2017 – NTRA National Media Teleconference

Travers Day Preview

Guest (probable entrant)

  • Trainer Doug O’Neill (Irap)
  • Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer (Songbird)

NOTE: Vinnie Viola, co-owner of Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming, was scheduled as the second guest but could not be reached.

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

James Mulvihill: 

Welcome everybody to our Travers Day preview. Doug O’Neill is our first guest. He is the trainer of Irap who broke his maiden by winning the Blue Grass, before finishing 18th in the Kentucky Derby. Since then, he’s come back with two wins in big money Midwestern derbies; the Ohio Derby where he nosed out the next Haskell winner, Girvin; and the Indiana Derby where he was much the best, winning by five lengths. Doug O’Neill, thanks for coming on with us.

Doug O’Neill: 

Well, thanks for having me. 

James Mulvihill:

Well, it’s our pleasure, always appreciate your time. You know, before we talk about Irap specifically, I’d love to just get your take on this Travers field overall, as deep as it is.

Doug O’Neill:

Wow, yeah, it is just jaw-dropping the amount of talent in this race and it really is, you know, the midyear derby if you will.  And we’re so excited and so grateful to be part of it.  And I think any one of them could win and I wouldn’t be shocked.

James Mulvihill:

Right.  Well, tell us how Irap is doing. I mean, he’s got two straight wins now. So maybe you can just describe how he is now, relative to earlier this year when it took him awhile to break through.

Doug O’Neill:

He’s doing really, really well. He’s always been a big strong colt and always physically more mature than his peers, if you will.  But it’s really took him a while to mentally kind of figure it all out. You know, I think Ohio Derby really sent him forward and then we saw it again in the Indiana Derby. He continues to train like a mature horse mentally.  And we’re optimistic that we’re facing a lot of these horses that were part of the derby where we got annihilated. But I think just the traffic, the 20-horse field, he just wasn’t mentally ready for that. Hopefully, come Saturday, we’re going to be ready for the biggest challenge of his life since the Kentucky Derby, which will be the Travers.

Ron Flatter:

Hi, Doug. How do you see the pace scenario working out in this race?

Doug O’Neill:

Hello, Ron. Yeah, I’m eager to see the draw and everything, but I would think there’d be a pretty realistic, solid pace. I just know, watching our guy the last few days, he can definitely sit off a hot pace and he can come inside, outside, in between, which months ago I couldn’t say that about him. But without looking at the actual PPs of the race just yet, Ron, I don’t have a great idea of how hot and heated the pace will or will not be. 

Ron Flatter:

You just touched on something I was going to follow up about, because it seems like your horse might want a slower pace to chase. But you’re saying – do you think, based on the last two races, he’s shown you something that he can go ahead and go after the fast pace?

Doug O’Neill:

I do, Ron. Early on in his career, you had to kind of keep him in the clear. You had to kind of get after him leaving there, and have an outside position and be poorly placed, or else he didn’t seem as willing. I really think the trip and the Ohio Derby where the pace – they weren’t going that quick, 48 to the half, 1:12 to three, there’s the three-quarters and he was behind that pace. Julien Leparoux was on him that day and he was able to navigate a pretty nifty course to give him the winner’s circle.  And it really just showed how everything is starting to click now for Irap mentally. So I think if it’s slow-paced we’ll be closer than we have maybe been. But if it’s a realistic pace, I have no problem seeing him four or five off set early.

Debbie Arrington:

Well, Irap has been through a lot this year. How has he handled it mentally and are you seeing him mature? What kind of personality is he around the barn?

Doug O’Neill:

You know, he’s a good-feeling colt, but very manageable and high energy, but not in a mean or violent way, by any means. But just like you said, he’s been all over the place, from New Mexico to Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana; he’s been all over the country. But to look at him, he, weight-wise, just looks perfect. His coat looks like he’s wearing a wetsuit. He looks tremendous. So it definitely seems like he’s coming around at a great time and he’s going to need to be at his absolute best to win on Saturday, and we’re hoping he is. 

Debbie Arrington:

He must be a good traveler to – I mean, he’s got a lot of frequent travel miles right here.

Doug O’Neill:He has. He has been on more planes than Trump, I think, in the last few months. Yeah, he definitely has no problem traveling which is such a huge asset for a top horse, and a great thing.

Debbie Arrington:

And this three-year-old championship is still really up in the air going into the Mid-Summer Derby. How would you handicap it right now?

Doug O’Neill:

I know. It is just an absolute – you can go so many directions. I really think that this Saturday is going to make the picture a lot clearer. Obviously, if any of the Triple Crown race winners were to win, they’d probably lead the way. But if we were so lucky as to win on Saturday, I think we’d be definitely in the mix. So, this race has got so much – it’s so exciting anyways, but it’s got a lot riding on it as well, as far as the end-of-the year-awards go. So we’re pumped.

David Grening:

Hey, Doug, you talked about the pace earlier. You know, he’s a horse that could – you know, his last two he’s come from off of it. In Blue Grass, he was on it.  And I was just wondering when you look at him then, versus him now, how different is he in terms of wanting to be in the front. Because there isn’t a lot – I don’t think there is a lot of pace in the race. It looks like Always Dreaming – with Outplay not in there, it looks like Always Dreaming might be the main pace.

Doug O’Neill:

Yeah, hey, David. You know, the Blue Grass was [inaudible] posted seven horse fields, and with Julien, he had been working him a little bit.  And he still kind of had some growing pains mentally and there’s this thought, keep him – it looked like the race didn’t have a lot of pace either, so keep him up out of trouble. So it was just a different mentality I think from all of us surrounding Irap, going into the Blue Grass, and it worked out perfectly. But as we’ve gone a few months down the road, we’ve seen him mature mentally. I think we’re all much more confident that if there is heated pace that we could be a little bit more strategic. But I like what you’re saying. Hopefully, that’s the case, there’s not a lot of pace and we can be poorly placed and stay out of trouble.  And I know it’s going to be a big field. So, that’s always a concern, traffic troubles.  And without a hot pace, we’ll hopefully stay out of any kind of slow pockets of trouble.

David Grening:

Also, I was wondering, they shipped today? He’s en route today, or have they arrived yet?

Doug O’Neill:

They did. Yeah, I haven’t heard, so I’m assuming they haven’t yet.  But within the next couple hours they should be landing and on their way to Saratoga.

David Grening:

And did you send – you were going to send Frank Conversation and Ann Arbor Eddie and the New York filly. Do they all come, as well?

Doug O’Neill:

Yep, they’re all on the same plane and, yeah, Cause We Are Loyal on Friday and then, like you said, Ann Arbor Eddie and Frank Conversation and Irap for Saturday. So, we’re looking forward to a lot of competition and hopefully there’s a couple of winners in that group somewhere. 

Jim Mulvihill: 

I just wanted to hear about the work on Saturday. Irap’s working company was Shane’s Girlfriend, who’s the Delta Princess winner.  When we see in the PPs a six-furlong time, it doesn’t necessarily tell us much about the work. So maybe you can tell us about that breeze and how he finished up that morning.

Doug O’Neill:  

Yeah, he’s really training well and, as I was saying, well-documented. Del Mar has been in really good shape this summer and it’s actually had a pretty cushion on it, and it’s been a tad demanding, if you will. So, to see Irap put in that nice six-furlong drill with a really good gallop out, I think we got him going the mile in like 1.42. It just really kind of consolidated our optimism going into Saturday’s race. So, he’s doing really, really well.  And hopefully what we’ve been seeing here on a daily basis, we’ll see it Saturday afternoon.

James Mulvihill:

Excellent. Glad to hear it.  And then real quick, I just wanted to follow up on the other ones that are in on Saturday that Dave mentioned. Frank Conversation had a pretty tough trip last time, so I think he’s kind of an interesting one, and the Sword Dancer based on that trip.

Doug O’Neill:

I agree. And Frank Conversation, that was a lot of human error going on there. He left the paddock with a tongue-tie and then he came back after the race without one. So somewhere between leaving the paddock and the time that the race ended, his tongue-tie came off.  And it’s a pretty big piece of equipment for Frank. So we’re going to put a line through that race.  And if we can get back to the previous couple he ran – he ran such a dynamite race in the Whittingham Stakes there at Santa Anita – we think he’s got a chance.  So he’ll be an outsider. People might think that last race is an indication that we can’t hang with those horses, but we’re going to pick another starter and see what we can do.

James Mulvihill:

Interesting, and then just some thoughts on Ann Arbor Eddie and Allen Jerkins.

Doug O’Neill

Ann Arbor Eddie, he’s the home bred of Paul and Zillah Reddam’s and he’s just super solid. He’s very consistent. He’s one-half at the start. He’s started eight times with four wins. We think the seven-eighths will suit him just fine.  And there was a split second there where we thought he was of a Kentucky Derby kind of horse, after running second in the El Camino Real Derby as an early three-year-old. But a couple little injuries set us back a little bit and he’s come back really well. A couple of 92 Beyers his last two races and we think he’s got a legitimate shot. He’s also training very, very well.

James Mulvihill:

Excellent. Well, Doug, we said we’d get you out in 15 minutes, so our time is up. Thanks for coming on, and best of luck on Saturday with all your starters in Saratoga.

Doug O’Neill

Thanks for having me. Take care. Thank you.

James Mulvihill:

All right, Doug O’Neill, he’ll be seeking his first Travers win with Irap.  But you’ll recall that his owner, Paul Reddam, does have a Travers win with Ten Most Wanted, who was trained by Wally Dollase.

James Mulvihill:

All right, Jerry. We really appreciate your time. I know you’re busy traveling and so we always are glad to have you on.  And thanks for taking a few minutes with us. Of course, we’re going to talk primarily about Songbird. Maybe the first place to start is just with how she’s doing right now and how you like her coming into Saturday.

Jerry Hollendorfer:

You know, we’ve got her prepared well, we think, and she had a nice work day before yesterday, a half-mile in 47 [inaudible] and nice strong gallop out. So we feel like we have her prepared to run.

James Mulvihill:

Well, it seems like the expectations for her are always so high.  And even though she’s won both her starts this year, just winning by one length doesn’t seem to satisfy some people. So, can you just give your opinion on Songbird? Is she exactly as good as she was as a three-year-old?

Jerry Hollendorfer:

Well, I don’t know. According to what we’re looking at and according to what her rider says, we think that she’s better. You know, she had a nice win first out, and then we came back and ran a mile and a quarter.  And so she didn’t win by open lengths, she won by a length.  So I was very satisfied with the race, as was Mike Smith. And so we’ve been working with her preparing to come back to Saratoga.  And we think that she’s doing better than she was going into the mile and a quarter race, feeling better and acting better. So, you know, I think she’s done everything we’ve asked her to do and she seems to come through every time, so I’m very pleased with her.

James Mulvihill:

Great to hear and she certainly loves Saratoga. Let’s see what the media on the line has for you, Jerry.

Debbie Arrington:

Good morning, Jerry, and thank you very much for coming on today. Songbird has just been an amazing filly, going on three years now that you’ve had her in your barn. How has she matured during that time, and is she a different filly now than when you first got her?  And how she’s grown up?

Jerry Hollendorfer:

Well, around the barn, she acts the same, but she’s bigger and stronger.  And now she’s more willing to be rated in the mornings or go faster, whatever the rider wants. So, she has matured, as you say, and that’s where we are with her, you know, the same around the barn and in the stall, though.

Debbie Arrington:

And it’s always hard to compare horses, but does she rank pretty close to the best that you’ve ever had?

Jerry Hollendorfer:

Well, I don’t like to compare horses, but she’s right up there with everybody, I would say, on anybody’s scale. So, very pleased and grateful to have her and she’s highly thought of by every member of my barn.

Debbie Arrington:

And there was some talk about maybe her going in the Pacific Classic. Have you thought about running against the boys, and is there any plans on that down the road this season?

Jerry Hollendorfer:

No plans as of yet and, you know, we were nominated to the Pacific Classic, but I don’t think we’re ever going to run there.

Debbie Arrington:

And what do you think of the track at Del Mar this season, since this is where we’re going to back for the Breeders’ Cup?

Jerry Hollendorfer:

Well, some folks like it and we don’t complain about what we’re dealt. You know, for the most part, the track has been great for all of the horses, and not as many catastrophic injuries as last year. So I would say that overall, the Del Mar track is a success at this point.

Ron Flatter:

Jerry, just looking back at the two races she ran last year at Saratoga, she was just so dominant. What is it about Saratoga that she likes, or is it just like any other track for her?

Jerry Hollendorfer:

Well, I don’t know, you know, she’s won at a lot of different tracks.  And so to say that she likes Saratoga is probably true. You know, she runs well, no matter where we take her, so whether it be New York or Delaware and back in California. So, that’s just her; she does her job.

Ron Flatter:

What was the mindset when you decided on her program for this summer, by going to New York and then to Delaware, back to Saratoga, the thought about just shipping her so much?

Jerry Hollendorfer:

Well, you know, a lot of what goes into where you run a horse is the rate at which they’re getting ready. And I made the statement before that I would have an extra week to get ready if we ran in New York.  And as it turned out, we did have an extra week and we did get her more ready to run. And so that’s why we ran that first race in New York. You know, Rick likes to have input into these races and we like to talk back and forth. And so far, I think our plan for this year is coming up pretty good. We’ll know more about that on Saturday, if we can win. But we would look at this race this weekend and then decide what to do next, which would either probably running in the Zenyatta at Santa Anita or train to the race – to the Breeders’ Cup. If we can get to both races, then we might do that. So, nothing totally in concrete, but we’ve discussed a few things and a few ways to go.

Ron Flatter:

How much are you watching Stellar Wind?

Jerry Hollendorfer:

You know, if I’m out there when John’s breezing her, which I have been a couple times, then, you know, I like to watch a breeze.  And I get a kick out of watching a lot of the good horses, just like many of the other horsemen do. We like to see each other’s work, Sadler and Mandella.  Anybody else that has a good horse, we don’t mind watching them work if we’re up on the stands when they’re working.

 

Ron Flatter: 

Do you have any thoughts about how Stellar Wind has gone this year with her wins and [inaudible]?

Jerry Hollendorfer:

Stellar Wind hasn’t made a mistake yet, so I’d say she’s doing pretty good. 

David Grening:

Hi, Jerry. I just wonder, what was the biggest challenge, if there was one, to get her ready for this year, coming off such a hard and busy campaign of last year?

Jerry Hollendorfer:

Well, you know, I don’t really know how to answer that. I think there’s always anxious moments when you’re bringing a horse back off a layoff. So you want everything to go perfectly and, of course, it doesn’t. So, you know, I think all the trainers have to deal with that kind of thing. So that’s our biggest challenge is being patient and not making a horse do too much, too soon, and you always try to get the mix right and not make a mistake.

David Grening:

Do you feel that you’re back to where you would like to have her as late August of her four-year-old year? 

Jerry Hollendorfer:

I think that I like the way that she is right now, yes.

David Grening:

Just looking at the perspective runners here, I don’t see a ton of speed in the race, and she has a lot of speed. Do you just expect her to do what she does, if she’s on the lead [inaudible]?

Jerry Hollendorfer:

Well, David, you know how I am. I won’t comment on that until actually the race is drawn, and I see it and everything. I like to talk to Mike a little bit about those things. And we enjoy trying to make a little strategy, but we also know that things can change in the race, and so we want to be prepared for anything. So how it’s going to unfold at this time, I don’t know. But we’ll find out soon enough when they draw the race.

Art Wilson:

Hey, Jerry, can you – well, first of all, will Mr. Porter be there Saturday?

Jerry Hollendorfer:

I would expect that Mr. Porter would be there, and I’m pretty enthusiastic about that.

Art Wilson:

Right, and can you just briefly touch on what this horse means to Mr. Porter with his battle for cancer, and what kind of a great tonic or medicine it’s been for him?

Jerry Hollendorfer:

Well, you know, I don’t discuss things like that with him in personal terms. So when you’re talking to him, you could ask him that question. I’m sure he would respond favorably to that question. You know, I think that Songbird helps it. Any of us that are involved with her, she helps us get along all the time. She keeps my spirits up and I’m sure that Rick Porter has had his spirits lifted by her wins, and especially that first one in New York when she was coming off a layoff. He seemed to really like that, so he would answer that question better than me.

Art Wilson:

Right.  And, of course, she’s won 13 of 14, nine Grade I’s at seven different tracks, and yet, some people aren’t happy with that – or are not satisfied enough with that. Does it ever irritate you where the people keep hammering on, either the fans or on social media that they want to see her face the boys? Does that bother you at all?

Jerry Hollendorfer:

You know, maybe a little bit, but that’s just the way things are.  And if the other folks aren’t happy with some of the things that Songbird’s done, then that’s their opinion. But I mean, I’ve stated that I don’t feel like I have to defend her. Her record speaks for itself and she always gives her very best.  And so that’s all we could ask in any horse that we’re training.

John Pricci:

In relation to a question that you answered before, relative to the Del Mar surface, you know, you said it was different, but you don’t complain about the conditions with which you’re dealt. I was wondering if you’ve had any input from people back east about the change in the Saratoga surface, and how the change in the Saratoga surface might affect Songbird this year.

Jerry Hollendorfer:

No, I didn’t mean the Del Mar comment to be a negative comment at all. So I hope people didn’t take it that way.

John Pricci: 

No, no, I didn’t take it that way.

Jerry Hollendorfer:

No, okay. So, I mean, you know, look, we’re dealing with athletes. You know they’re animal athletes, but they’re still athletes.  And so on occasions, some of the athletes are going to get hurt, and no one intends that. Especially some of the horses that got hurt at Saratoga trained by some of the finest horsemen living in the United States. Nobody was sending a horse out on the Saratoga track and thinking that it would be hurt. Now, you know, sometimes the track man has to make an adjustment in what he’s doing and probably he’s made that adjustment. But, unfortunately, even though you think nothing’s going to happen, sometimes it does.  And that’s one of the hard parts about what we do, is having the athletes get injured.

John Pricci:

Well, anyone who’s been around the game long enough understands that, and I didn’t mean to turn this into a track condition controversy. I just meant it in relation to Songbird’s preference. I mean, does she kind of like a top of the ground. Does she like a surface with some give in it, or would she prefer a surface with some give in it? Because, if you’ve been following the races here, you know that it’s kind of a double-edged sword, in that if it’s not wet enough, then it’s not tight enough. But if it’s a little wet, it gets very cuppy and kind of greasy and such. In terms of Songbird’s stride and all of that, I was just wondering if you could tell us something about the kind of surface that she prefers to run over. 

Jerry Hollendorfer:

Well, you know, I don’t know how to answer that because like what was stated before, she’s won at seven different race tracks.  So she gets along on almost any surface. So, you know, if there are adjustments to be made, she seems to make them on any of the tracks that she’s been on. So she likes the fast racetracks out in California, and yet she got along okay on the Delaware track, which was a little deeper and cuppier. And then I would kind of rate Del Mar and Saratoga as in-between those and she seems to handle those also. So I would say that Songbird is adjusting to the surface that she’s on.

Debbie Arrington:

Hi, Jerry. I wanted to ask you about this earlier. I forgot. But you’re going to be honored tonight by the Gregson Foundation, along with Art Sherman, down at Del Mar.  And what does that mean to you to be honored alongside Art, and also with this particular group? 

Jerry Hollendorfer:

Well, you know, I’m very humbled and grateful that I would be chosen, along with Art, to be honored in a special way. So I think it means a lot to both of us, and I’ve been really good friends with Art for many, many years. You know, we were neighbors and our families know each other, so it’s kind of extra special for me to be there with Art.

Debbie Arrington:

Very good.  And so, about how long have you guys known each other? 

Jerry Hollendorfer:

I don’t know.  It’s too many years to remember back how long it is, but it’s plenty of them, I’ll tell you that. It’s 30-something anyway.

James Mulvihill:

Okay, Jerry, I’ll just ask you one last question before we let you go.  And I’m curious just to get your take on the challenges that racing offices have trying to find horses to face Songbird. Just as a trainer of so many other horses, wouldn’t you want to take a shot in a Grade I, just to try and get your filly to be Grade I placed? Is that not the way trainers think anymore?

Jerry Hollendorfer:

I think we’re a Grade I winner with Songbird in a lot of different races. So, you know, the personal [inaudible] fits into our plan for this year and that’s why we’re running there. We hope to eventually end up in the Breeders’ Cup, if we can get there. But this is the race that’s on our radar now. We’re going to do our very best to win it.

James Mulvihill:

I was talking more about the racing secretary trying to fill out the rest of the field, though. Why don’t you think more trainers don’t put their horses in a race against you?

Jerry Hollendorfer:

Well, you know, I have enough trouble figuring out what I’m going to do, and I have great respect for what others do and the decisions that they make. So for my colleagues, I wouldn’t be too critical of their decisions whether to run or not, and they know what’s best for their horses.  And they’re going to look out for their horse and their owners, and do the best job that they can. So, if they think that they should run against Songbird, they will.  And if they don’t, then they won’t. So, you know, I have great respect for my colleagues. They’re making the right decisions.

James Mulvihill:

That makes total sense. Well, Jerry, we really appreciate your time as always, so much wonderful insight.  And congratulations again on the honor tonight, and best of luck on Saturday. 

Jerry Hollendorfer:

Alright, thank you very much.

James Mulvihill:

All right, Hall of Fame trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer.  Thanks so much to Jerry for joining us, and Doug O’Neill as well, of course. And just keep an eye out in your email for a future Countdown to the Breeders’ Cup teleconferences.  And that’ll do it for today. Than

 

2017-08-23T13:31:05+00:00 August 23rd, 2017|Categories: News & Media, Teleconferences|
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