National Media Teleconference Transcript and Audio (Pletcher, Stevens, Casse, McPeek)

May 11, 2017 – NTRA National Media Teleconference

Preakness Stakes Preview

Guest (probable entrant)

  • Trainer Todd Pletcher (Always Dreaming)
  • Jockey Gary Stevens (Royal Mo)
  • Trainer Mark Casse (Classic Empire)
  • Trainer Kenny McPeek (Senior Investment)

Click below to listen to the Teleconference and scroll down to view the transcript.

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

 

 

Todd Pletcher, Trainer, Always Dreaming

 

Gary Steven, Jockey

 

Mark Casse, Trainer, Classic Empire

 

Kenny McPeek, Trainer, Senior Investment

 

 

 

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

 

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Thanks to all of you on the line today for this, our annual Preakness Stakes Teleconference.  Most of you know by now how this works.  I’ll introduce our guests and get the conversation going with one or two of the most obvious questions but then we’ll open it up and the Operator will prompt on how to ask anything at all that you need to know from these great guests.  We’re fortunate to have four of them today, so let’s not waste any time.  Later on, we’re going to get to Gary Stevens, looking for his fourth Preakness win, and then Mark Casse, trainer of the derby fourth place finisher, Classic Empire, and we’ll finish up with Kenny McPeek, trainer of the Lexington Stakes winner, Senior Investment.

 

But first, as is custom on this Preakness Call, we welcome the trainer of the Kentucky Derby winner, Todd Pletcher, of course.  Won his second derby last Saturday with Always Dreaming.  The derby winner is already at Pimlico, getting ready for his run at the second leg of the Triple Crown in nine days.  Todd, it’s Jim Mulvihill, thanks for joining us.

 

Todd Pletcher:

 

Pleasure, Jim.  Thank you.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Congratulations on your second derby win, just an extraordinary achievement.  Let’s talk first about what’s happening at Pimlico.  All the reports so far is that Always Dreaming came out of the derby in great shape and with plenty of energy, so if you would just tell us what you’ve seen and what you’ve been hearing from your team at Pimlico for the past few days.

 

Todd Pletcher:

 

Actually, I’m out with her right now, and got here yesterday afternoon.  The horse looks terrific.  Had a nice mile and a quarter jog this morning, seems to have settled in a while.  And just very, very pleased with the way he’s came out of the derby and the way he looks at Pimlico and he seems to be proud of himself and doing well.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Very good.  And I just read before the call that you’ve decided not to have a time breeze between now and the Preakness.  I saw, alright, I got to hear this great interview that you did Bill Finley for a TBN podcast, and you were talking about comparing Always Dreaming’s recovery from the derby to Super Saver’s.  Can you just talk a little bit about what you learned from Super Saver and how that might have then formed the decision not to breeze Always Dreaming.

 

Todd Pletcher:

 

Well, I think if I had a do-over with Super Saver I probably wouldn’t have breezed him at all.  We just try to go an easy three eighths with him, which in retrospect probably didn’t put any energy into him.  I don’t necessarily think it took any out, and I’m not 100% sure that it would’ve really mattered if we did or didn’t breeze him.  But that being said, we have a very good horse on our hands, having the benefit of having run a mile and 1/8 and [inaudible] Preakness in a mile and a ¼, he’s putting plenty of energy into his gallops and I just don’t see the need for a breeze. So, I’m just trying to focus the two weeks on kind of refuelling the tank a little bit, and hopefully, he can show us at the Preakness all that he has [inaudible] and be ready to go.

 

Art Wilson:

 

Congratulations, Todd, on your victory.  I was wondering, this, you know, as usual, with the large 20-horse deal this year, you had the usual jostling and bumping and horses having trouble, trips and everything.  And, you know, there’s a feeling for some people out there who think that the derby would be better if it was limited to 14, like the Oaks is.  And then the other school of thought where, you know, hey, leave it the way it is because it’s all part of what makes it arguably the toughest race in the world to win.  Well, how do you stand on that, Todd?

 

Todd Pletcher:

 

Well, I first of all, I don’t think it’s going to change so it’s probably just a conversation piece really.  But, you know, a few years ago when we ran Dreaming of Julia in the Kentucky Oaks and Princess of Sylmar won, I think that day was a relatively short field, maybe an eight-horse field, and Dreaming of Julia had clearly got completely annihilated at the start.  So, you know, those things happen in all kinds of races: short fields, big fields, big races.  I think when you have the auxiliary gate and there’s maybe that little bit margin for where horses can kind of break in, move outward.  But, you know, like I said, that happens in all kinds of field sizes so it’s not limited to just big fields only.  So, like I said, I don’t think it’s going to change.  I think from a business perspective it’s going to be 20 for the foreseeable future.

 

Art Wilson:

 

Right.  And, so, I mean, even if there was a chance, and I agree with you, it’s not going to change, but you would be in favour of keeping it the way it is?

 

Todd Pletcher:

 

Yeah, I think that’s part of what makes a great is 20 people get a chance to do it, and 20 different horses get an opportunity, and that’s part of what makes it so difficult to accomplish.

 

 

 

Ron Flatter:

 

Hi, Todd, congratulations again.  Just looking back on when you took, when you got a hold of the horse late last year it looked like when he was in his sprints he was held back a little bit or he was taken back in those races, and since then you’ve obviously moved him closer to the lead on even on the lead.  What showed you in that time that you had him, when you got him, that he was better off being taken to the lead?

 

Todd Pletcher:

 

Well, I think a big part of that is every race that we’ve run him in has been a two-turn race and just by stretching him out in distance there’s a lot of natural speed that put him closer in to the flow of the race.  And he’s a horse with good tactical speed, as he showed in the derby, he’s capable of when he gets into a rhythm of clicking off pretty solid crash and then he’s continuing to go.  And I think that’s one of his great strengths, he’s got a tremendous gallop to him and he can get into a high burst of speed and then sustain that for a distance of ground.  So really, we feel like he doesn’t have to be close to the pace but certainly part of our strategy in the derby was to get away from the gate and try to clear some of the traffic getting to the first turn.  And, you know, we were fortunate he broke well and that he was able to move forward and then pass State of Honour and cleared him and Johnny was able to make his way to the outside.  To me that was the technical part of the race, where he was able to kind of become the stalker instead of being on the inside and then be pressured the whole way.

 

Ron Flatter:

 

And looking at the Preakness field right now it looks like you’ve got, you know, a lot closers but you have a handful that might want to, or be comfortable on the lead, not the least of which is the horse that’s coming out of the 2,000 Guineas, Overseas.  Is the unknown of that horse, does that, is that something you look at or do you try to go to video?  How do you gauge the speed in this race when you have that unknown quantity?

 

Todd Pletcher:

 

I think the main thing you focus on is your horse’s strengths and what he does well.  You know, some of it will be determined by post position and a little will be determined by how well he gets away from the gate and some things like that, but we’re not looking to change our style much.  We’ll let him do his thing and, you know, we’ll just have to see what some other people have in mind but it will be a good thing for him if we can just get him into that rhythm, that cruising speed that he has, and let him take advantage of that.  That’s our focus.

 

Debbie Arrington:

 

With – you’ve had a lot of great horses over the years.  Does Always Dreaming remind you of any of your past stars?

 

Todd Pletcher:

 

I think his, some of his characteristics remind me ofa lot of better horses we’ve had.  And, his gait and body is very unique in his own right, just his athletic build and kind of slender nature.  He’s a great mover and a great galloper and he’s got such an efficient use of his body that I think that’s part of what makes him so good.  I’d say the characteristic he has with some of the better horses we’ve had over the years like Quality Road and Lawyer Ron, and some of those horses that were really successful at these types of distances is they have the ability to get into that high cruising speed, just maintain it over a mile 1/8 to a mile and a ¼.  And you know, it takes an elite horse to do those types of things and that’s what he’s proven to us that he is capable of doing – proved to us in the derby as well.

 

Debbie Arrington:

 

Yeah.  He seems like he’s a pretty smart horse too.  What’s he like to be around in the barn?

 

Todd Pletcher:

 

He’s actually very great, well-natured horse around the barn.  He’s very gentle in the stall.  He’s very curious and alert.  He’s always at the front of the stall, kind of, has his head out and his ears up and taking in the scenery, and he’s not an overly aggressive horse in the stall.  He’s fairly kind to groom.  And, he’s still a cold fish at times.  But really, he’s good-natured and really a very gentle horse to be around.

 

Debbie Arrington:

 

And does Always Dreaming, his name, you know, does he fit his name?  Is he kind of a dreamer?

 

Todd Pletcher:

 

It’s a good question.  I don’t know what’s going through his mind sometimes.  But he’s certainly curious so I get that would fit the category.

 

Tom Pedulla:

 

Hey, Todd.  Could I ask you to talk about the strength of your relationship with John Velazquez and what that has meant to your career?

 

Todd Pletcher:

 

Well, we’ve had a very long relationship which I think is somewhat unusual.  He’s basically our first-call rider for I think going on close to 17 years now and we have a very good working relationship, we have a good friendship.  And we’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of success together so I have a tremendous amount of confidence in John and his ability in his decision making.  And so, you know, whatever we have [inaudible] that we feel very confident.  And that it’s just been a lot of fun I think for both of us to finally win the derby together.  We both wish that we could have won it on our own before, but I think winning it together was something that we always hoped for, and dreamed of and glad that we were able to accomplish it together.

 

Tom Pedulla:

 

Did you say much to each other or are you right back to work kind of guys?

 

Tom Pedulla:

 

After the race?

 

Tom Pedulla:

 

Yeah.

 

Todd Pletcher:

 

I think that we kind of said all those things.  You know, it’s kind of unspoken beforehand that we wanted to win one together and we were pretty happy about it and it was pretty much like that. Johnny said that he always hoped that he could win one for our team, and I felt the same way with him.  And so, it’s kind of in some ways a lot of it was unspoken but we did share those sentiments as well.

 

Tom Pedulla:

 

And then just the last thing from me is the bond beyond business level, Todd?  I mean, is there a relationship there beyond the track and perhaps to the setting of the family at all?

 

Todd Pletcher:

 

Oh, yeah.  No, we’re good friends in addition to that, and our families are good friends.  We have children that are similar ages and we talk about the kids getting ready to go to college, and Johnny’s daughter is a freshman in college and my son is going to be a freshman next year.  And sort of how, you know, family life is starting to change a little bit and things like that.  And our wives are good friends and we live pretty close together, and in terms of his house is literally less than a mile from ours.  So, yeah, we’re good friends in addition to having a good working relationship.

 

Tom Pedulla:

 

Have you ever had any rupture that endangered the relationship?

 

Todd Pletcher:

 

No, no.  We’ve always gotten along great.  And I’m sure there’s been a time or two where he didn’t think I did such a good training job, and a time or two I didn’t think he rode great.  But the one thing that, you know, I’ve always said is that I can’t emphasise enough that I’ve never ever felt like I didn’t get 110% out from him.  And, you know, for as long as he’s been riding for us it’s remarkable to me that he’s maintained the level of commitment that he has and the level of, you know, his desire to compete and come back from injury and just to show up every time and give you that big effort.  Being a jockey is a demanding career and it’s not seasonal, it’s year-round, and to show up at least five days a week in most cases, sometimes six, and ride competitively and consistently do it at that level is – pretty special that he’s been able to do that and at the level in which he does.

 

Pat Forde:

 

Hi, Todd.  You alluded to this in an earlier answer, but given the way your horse has run this whole season, especially this last Saturday, is it up to his opponents to adjust to him and as opposed to you trying to adjust to anything with your horse?

 

Todd Pletcher:

 

Well, it could be.  It doesn’t mean we want to go and do anything foolish go way too fast just to be close to the pace, but we also want to play to his strengths and a lot of it I think will depend on sort of how things unfold under the first turn and a close position to have some plan but, – what we were able to do on the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby are probably his preferred running styles.  We’re not looking to make any major adjustments but I do think his personal results have already proven in a paceless race he can get [inaudible], he’s also proven that he can be a productive stalker.  So, I think if the situation presented itself and he was third, fourth or even fifth behind horses I don’t see that being a big issue.  So, I think that gives Johnny plenty of options to ride a race that he feels comfortable in and make the correct and smart decision.

 

Pat Forde:

 

And, secondly, the – I know you’re not a big fan of two weeks between races.  Is that at a factor in not breezing him or does it change your game plan in any way as far as just preparation for the race?

 

Todd Pletcher:

 

No. I think definitely it makes the decision not to feel like we need to breeze him in between.  And, you know, it is a quick turnaround, and sometimes you don’t know how horses are going to respond to that until you get into the stretch of the race, and that’s really when you find out what they have left in reserve.  But we like what we’re seeing so far.  All the indications are he’s bounced out of the race quickly.  I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly he cooled down after the race and recovered so well even the evening of the derby.  And all the indications since then have been great.  But, you know, like I said, sometimes you don’t know until you’re in the heat of the battle if they’ve got that extra reserve.  But we’re hoping so and feel good about it from what we’re seeing.

 

Tom Jicha:

 

Hi, Todd, congratulations.  The previous caller pretty much asked the question I was going to ask, so I’ll phrase it another way.  Even if it was in the 20-horse field until American Pharoah went through the series undefeated a lot of people thought the spacing of the races should be a bit more extended, and you are not a guy who brings back horses in two weeks.  What are your feelings about that?

 

Todd Pletcher:

 

Well, the history of the race is toward the races and the Triple Crown series so important.  And I think, you know, had American Pharoah not won the Triple Crown I think there’s probably a movement that could have potentially led to maybe a little bit of the changing of the spacing, but I think since that happened it’s likely here to stay the way it is.  And, you know, I’m fine with that from a historical perspective.  In addition to American Pharoah winning it, I mean, there’s been quite a few horses that have come awfully close in the last 15 years or so.  So, I think it’s proven that it’s doable and part of what makes it so special and so hard to do.

 

Tom Jicha:

 

And to just follow on that slightly is the two-week turnaround the reason why you’ve been a relatively infrequent participant in the Preakness?

 

Todd Pletcher:

 

Yeah.  I think that’s part of it.  Also, that, you know, our home base is in Belmont, and [inaudible] is a special race to us and we’ve kind of taken our best shot at that by taking a pass in the Preakness and using that five weeks to prepare for the Belmont.  But it’s really a tremendous respect for the Preakness, it’s something I’d love to win it’s just in a lot of cases we felt like that our horses need a little more time to recover, and not all of them have bounced out of the derby as well as it seems like Dreaming has so far.

 

 

Edward McNamara:

 

I was talking to Wayne the morning after the race and he said he was very proud of his adopted son and that he had not been so excited about a race he hadn’t been in in a long time.  What did you learn from him as a mentor?

 

Todd Pletcher:

 

Well, I leaned and basically when I went to work for Wayne in 1989 I was essentially right out of college.  And even though I had been around horses my whole life and had worked for various trainers and my Dad and Wayne and Charlie Whittingham and a number of guys.  But when I worked for Wayne it was really the first time that I started my career as hopefully a trainer someday.  So, it is just the general workings of running a barn and a stable and the basics of training and all of that.  I was learning every day while I was there.  And Wayne is a terrific conditioner, he’s a terrific caretaker, he’s detail-oriented, very organized and has so many great qualities as a trainer and a judge of horses and just the ability to run an organization.  And there’s just so many things you learn just from observing how he handles those situations.  But, like I said, there’s too many to mention, I’m sure.

 

Edward McNamara:

 

At what point in your career did you decide that you wanted to run an organization like his?  Because you certainly have, and in some ways, you’ve surpassed him in terms of numbers of wins or did that just kind of happen along the way?

 

Todd Pletcher:

 

It just sort of evolved, you know.  I think it was a very intimidating situation to leave and go out on my own when I did.  In December 1995 we had the strongest stable in the world probably, and to leave a secure assistant job, and a great job around the best horses that were in training at that time.  It was a tough decision to make and an intimidating one, and I didn’t really know what to expect. I was just hoping to accumulate enough horses to get going and establish a reputation.  And so, I didn’t really anticipate what it would grow into, and it just sort of evolved along the way.  And I think by having worked for Wayne and being in an organization like his certainly helped me be able to adapt to that type of, you know, growth.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Thanks so much for your time and congrats again on the derby and best of luck at Pimlico next weekend.

 

Todd Pletcher:

 

Thanks very much, appreciate it.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Alright, Todd Pletcher, only the 19th trainer in history to record multiple wins in the Kentucky Derby.

 

Now we’re going to check in with some of the folks looking to put an end to the Triple Crown dream of Always Dreaming.  We’ll start with Hall of Fame jockey, Gary Stevens.  He’s won the Preakness three times.  His chance of a fourth will come aboard the San Inita third place finisher, Royal Mo, who just missed drawing into the derby field.  Gary, it’s Jim Mulvihill, thanks for coming on.

 

Gary Stevens:

 

Thanks for having me, Jim.  It’s always a pleasure.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Excellent.  The pleasure is ours.  Before my first question, I just want to remind everybody, Gary has got a really busy morning and he rides the first at San Anita this afternoon so I’m just going to ask everyone to limit themselves to only a couple of questions per person and we’ll try to keep this moving for Gary’s sake.

 

Now, Gary, regarding the San Anita Derby, you had the break from the far outside and it was really anyone’s race in that final 1/8 coming home so I’m curious how much you think your post position compromised your chances in that race?

 

Gary Stevens:

 

Well, it definitely didn’t help in the way that I had to ride him.  But I gained so much respect for this colt, and being my first time on his back, of what he could cope with.  When we walked up to the starting gate I was literally on the crest of the track drastically dropped off to the right for drainage purposes, and I’m seeing then I’m right on top of this thing.  And there were these big sun umbrellas on the outside stand, and I’m thinking there’s no way he’s going to be paying attention to breakaway from here.  And none of that phased him.  I mean, he left there, you know, with run on his mind and I used him a lot more than I would have liked to get over on safe ground into the first turn, so that absorbed a lot of his finishing energy in my mind, and he was still around at the end.  And actually, they jostled pretty hard in the last 50 yards to the battle of midway came out quite a bit and made some solid contact with us.  You know, otherwise, I thought like I was going to be second, along with Victor knocked the stick out of my hand.  And I thought I was going to be second, I really didn’t think I was going to get by Battle of Midway.  And then when the other horse came to my outside, when Gormley came to my outside, he re-engaged.  And he reminded me a lot of Silver Charm with his fight, and just like a street fighter.  I mean, he loved it.  He loved being in the battle.  And I came back and I told John that it reminded me of Silver Charm’s San Anita Derby when he finished second to Free House, and we came back and won the derby.

 

So, you know, I don’t want to go on and on about it.  But I’m pretty excited about, you know, headed to Baltimore.  And what I saw on Derby Week, in fact I spent the whole week back there, and I saw a colt that was a lot more in tune with things as far as he was sharp, his eye was bright, and he was training great.  Yeah, I’m disappointed, but who’s to say the extra two weeks isn’t going to be a blessing at the end of the day.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Absolutely.  And if I could ask a little bit more about the San Anita Derby.  You know, it was, it’s been discounted a little bit before the Kentucky Derby, we had Jerry Hollendorfer on, and he said that you had told him that the track on San Anita Derby day was about two seconds slow.  And then his horse goes and runs second in the derby.  What does the Battle of Midway finish in the derby say about where Royal Mo is going to fit into this picture?

 

Gary Stevens:

 

Well, you have to like that he finished a respectable third in the race.  I think the form held up very well from the San Anita Derby.  Gormely obviously didn’t fire at all in the derby and still finished, I believe, seventh.  You know, I think the form holds up very well.

 

 

Debbie Arrington:

 

Hi, Gary, and thanks very much for coming on today.  You know, you’ve had a lot of great, great races at Pimlico over the years.  Does – do you still generate the same excitement?  And, you know, you’ve, you know, you’ve been back and forth retiring a few times, what keeps you going and up for races like this?

 

Gary Stevens:

 

Well, I mean, these types of races is what I came back for.  You know, and I was disappointed we didn’t get in the derby.  The derby is the Preakness.  It’s the Maryland people of Baltimore, people love their racing.  It’s by far to me the most enjoyable of the three Triple Crown events because of the way we’re treated as the horsemen are treated back there.  And with the enthusiasm of the fans, you know, it’s a big party and, you know, on race day and the atmosphere is always electric.  You know, this is what I came back for.

 

Debbie Arrington:

 

And how are your knees feeling?

 

Gary Stevens:

 

Well, it’s my right knee.  There’s been a lot of misunderstanding that I had both knees replaced.  And it was my right knee that was replaced, and my left hip that was replaced.  And, you know, I feel like I feel I’ve got two brand new body parts and then the rest of me is 54 years old.  So, the knee and the hip are doing excellent and, you know, I feel rejuvenated.  I’m enjoying my work right now.  It’s always nice not to be in pain and I think, you know, my riding record in the short time that I’ve been back after the hip replacement shows that.

 

Debbie Arrington:

 

Yeah, your riding is fantastic, and you’re riding 20 years younger than you are at least.  And with all that you’ve got to watch, Always Dreaming, what do you think about him and what do you think his chances are in Maryland?

 

Gary Stevens:

 

Pure respect for Always Dreaming.  I liked him going in to the derby.  I loved him going in to the derby as a spectator.  Once I found I wasn’t going to be riding in the derby, my feeling was that if he repeated his Florida Derby, which it seems a lot of people, just maybe it’s because of the five weeks out, who know, but I don’t think he got the respect.  To me, that was the most impressive derby trip all spring long, was his performance in the Florida Derby.  And he repeated that.  You know, the way he has been acting up earlier in the week I wondered will he be himself in the post-grade in the paddock with the big crowd and everything, and he didn’t.  You know, and I think that I’ve got full respect for him.  And, you know, he’s going to have a target on his back.  Unfortunately, that target’s going to be tough to catch.  It’s his race to lose if he repeats the Kentucky Derby.  He won it with authority.  And who knows if somebody would have come up and engaged him late in the race.  I think there was probably there more to see, but hopefully I’m the one to find that out on a couple of weeks from Saturday.

 

 

Art Wilson:

 

Hey, Gary.  This year in the derby we had our usual 20-horse deal, and you had a lot of bumping and jostling and, you know, the usual stuff.  And, as Todd said earlier in the conference, the format, the current format, is not going to change as far as the numbers in the field.  But as a rider who has ridden in many derbies how do you feel?  Would you like to see it limited to 14 like they do in the Oaks or do you say leave it the way it is, it’s part of what makes it the toughest race in the world to win?

 

Gary Stevens:

 

No, I mean, I would love to see it limited to 14 horses.  Is that going to happen?  No, absolutely not.  It won’t happen until something bad happens.  And I hope that doesn’t.  But as rough as the derby was this year I’m afraid that something is going to happen.  It was Mike Smith said it was the roughest by far derby he had ever ridden in.  And we’ve both ridden in some rough derbies so I’ll take his word for that.  But it’s refreshing we’re going in to Baltimore with a limit of 14 horses.  And, you know, just to give you an idea there’s a race run in France that has always been run going into a flat mile, and it’s a very unfair race for horses.  If you draw outside you have absolutely no chance of winning.  They’ve moved that race last year to Deauville, and trainers like John Gosden said, you know, we hope they keep that race in Deauville because the best horse has a chance of winning.  And I think the best horse did win the Kentucky Derby this year.  And, you know, horses like Classic Empire, man, for him to have finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby after what happened to him at the start, his performance was spectacular in itself.  So, yeah, I’d like to see it limited to 14 horses, but that’s not going to happen.  The derby is the derby.  And that old saying, it is what it is.  That usually means that you just got screwed.  So, it is what it is but it’s not going to change.

 

 

Art Wilson:

 

Of all the derbies that you’ve ridden in, any stick out in your mind that was the roughest?

 

Gary Stevens:

 

Well, the roughest – well, they’re always rough.  If you don’t get away good it’s like a giant sea of horse is coming over towards the inside rail.  But the roughest one I’ve been in, I can’t remember the year, I was on General Challenge with Bob Baffert, and he kind of created his own problems and I thought I was going down in the first turn.  But, you know, watching this year’s derby repeatedly there were several incidents throughout the race that, you know, they were lucky that horses didn’t fall, especially at the 3/8, pole.  Behind what was going on up front, there was some heavy, heavy contact going on that a horse or multiple horses could’ve fallen.  So, you know, having just observed this derby it’s right up there with the roughest that I’ve witnessed.

 

Ron Flatter:

 

Gary, the two wins that Royal Mo had, I know that Victor was on board for those but they were both front running wins.  Does he need to be out front?  And as you look at the Preakness field with so many closers and you know all of the screaming is going to be up front, you’ve got a horse coming from overseas that will be up front, does he need to be on the lead to get a win?

 

Gary Stevens:

 

Not on the lead, no.  If I can get away from there, which is very important in a big race, which is just to get away in good order and get him into a nice rhythm he can match strides with any horse out there early on.  My job is going to be, you know, to check the pace out and ride my race accordingly, you know, and make sure I’ve got plenty of horse to finish with.  He’ll be forwardly placed just because he has natural speed.  He has, you know, he had seven furlong sprints, and he showed that in the San Anita Derby.  We were on an extremely fast track and therefore that’s why they finished a quarter of a mile was so slowed down with a dead race track.  But, you know, if he’s on his game he’s going to be forwardly placed and I can guarantee that.  That’s one of the, that’s one of his attributes, and it’s a big benefit for me as his jockey.

 

Tom Pedulla:

 

Gary, just how unusual is the strength of the relationship that exists between Pletcher and John Velazquez? How unusual in your business is that?

 

Gary Stevens:

 

It’s very unique, to have a trainer that you’ve had that type of relationship for decades.  And they’ve watched each other grow up, they’ve grown up together.  And I would say that they’re more like brothers than business associates.  You know, they just know each other’s habits, as far as Johnny knowing what his training habits are and Todd knowing what, how Johnny rides races.  And, but it’s pretty cool to see.  I read some quotes from Johnny on how special it is to him to have won this Kentucky Derby for his long‑time associate.  And it’s unique.  But it’s – I’ve been fortunate to have had that with a couple of different guys and it takes all the pressures off of, you know, the competition, we put enough pressure on ourselves.  And Johnny is a competitive man, he doesn’t need somebody pushing him; he’s pushing himself all the time.  And it’s pretty cool to witness and see that kind of loyalty over so many decades.

 

Danny Brewer:

 

Hey, touching on what Debbie had talked about earlier, man, you remember Steve Austin, the $6 million man?  If we could rebuild him – man, you’re like the bionic guy, only since this is the 21st century would you be $6 million or are you more like $60 million?  What do you think on that?

 

Gary Stevens:

 

Maybe $60,000.  No, I feel really good.  And, you know, I just feel very fortunate and lucky that the technology and techniques have come so far, I was told that they would eventually.  And I was told that I needed a knee replacement over 20 years ago, but wouldn’t do it if I was going to compete professionally.  My doctor told me at some point in time they will have knees and other, hips and other joints that would be replaceable where people could compete at the highest level but you probably won’t be around riding still when it happens.  Well, here I am.  And thank God that I was able to see it and feel it with my own body.

 

Danny Brewer:

 

Having watched the derby, and with Royal Mo coming [inaudible] pressure, what’s your thoughts as far as game plan or do you have plan A, plan B, plan C like most riders usually do?

 

Gary Stevens:

 

You always have a plan A, B and C.  And until, you know, they draw for the race that’s when it gets serious about what the game plan’s going to be.  But I know what his style is, I know how sharp he is right now, especially with the extra two weeks off he’s going to be very sharp.  So, you know, John’s probably going to tell me to ride my own race, so use my judgement.  And he knows I’m aware of what this horse’s biggest assets are: he’s a fighter and he has speed, and he reminds me of Silver Charm.  I think I can be more tactical with him than I was in the San Anita Derby.  I wasn’t, with my post‑position draw I wasn’t allowed to be too awful tactical, but I think I can be more tactical with him in Baltimore hopefully that I was forced to do in the San Anita Derby.

 

John Pricci:

 

Good afternoon, Gary.  Getting back, your reference to Deauville and the outside post where previously you had no chance and that’s where John Gosling said that, you know, that Grace should stay in Deauville.  Just talking about the safety factor in the Kentucky Derby, I mean, you referenced also what happened at the 3/8 fall and, you know, very, a lot of heavy bumping going on.  But I’d like to concentrate on the start, if I could.  What do you – do you think if it is possible would you strongly endorse the Churchill Downs commissioning a 20 slip starting gate so that at least, you know, you could move the gates a little more forward, a little more to the outside so that one horse doesn’t have to run a straight course into the fence, and the fact that you can possibly eliminate some of the stuff that happens when the outside gate horses commence position – you also referenced that Classic Empire and that of course he looked like he was one of the ones who took the worst from the start.  Do you think a 20-horse starting gate would do a lot to increase the safety, not only the safety, but allowing the best horse to win the race?

 

Gary Stevens:

 

Yeah, I think that’s a great idea.  And I don’t know if my observation was correct, but many of the replays that I’ve seen from the overhead shot, it didn’t even look like that auxiliary gate was in direct line with the rest of the starting gate.  There was a pretty good gap in between those two, in between the main gate and the auxiliary gate.  And it almost looked like to me like the outside horses were being forced to point – they, the outside gate was ahead of the rest of the gate.  It didn’t look like it was in a straight line.  And that sent all of the auxiliary gate directly down towards the centre of the racetrack.  And that was just sort of an observation that, maybe it was an illusion, I don’t know.  But I think it would be great if they did have just one 20-horse starting gate.  And I don’t even know if that’s possible, if they could manoeuvre it or whatever, but it would be a great idea.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Alright.  Well, Gary, thanks so much for all your time today.  Best of luck in San Anita this afternoon and for the Preakness.

 

Gary Stevens:

 

Alright.  Well see you, see you all next week.  Thank you.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Alright.  See you in Baltimore, Gary.  Gary Stevens, by the way, is set to extend his own record with is 19th Preakness mount.

 

Let’s check in now with Mark Casse, the trainer of the two-year-old champion and Arkansas Derby winner, Classic Empire.  He was the morning line favourite for the derby, but he got slammed at the start, as we’ve talked about already on this call.  And he also went wide into the stretch and got bumped again in the final 1/8.  He also got nailed in the eye with some mud along the way, so plenty to recap here with this trainer before we even get to the Preakness.  Mark Casse, it’s Jim Mulvihill in Lexington, thanks for coming on with us.

 

Mark Casse:

 

Thanks for having me, Jim.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Of course.  I don’t know that anyone’s trip necessarily cost them the race.  But as I was just describing, yours might have cost you a placing or two.  How much of a difference do you think all of that made in the final result of the derby?

 

Mark Casse:

 

You know, it’s hard to say.  But if so many things go wrong, any of which could cost you the race – I know, I just saw last night, when I first looked at the, in the Saturday evening there was no Trakus.  But then I looked last night, he ran 75 feet farther than the winner, 90 feet farther than the second-place horse.  He got wiped out at the start.  At some point in time, I don’t know whether it was from a stick or dirt or what it was, but he couldn’t open his right eye on Sunday morning.  So, I think it cost us a few placings at least.  You know, one can only speculate on what the, you know, the outcome of the race would have been had he been given a clear trip.  But that’s never going to happen so we have to move forward.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

And can we talk about the eye a little bit more, I know it’s not going to be a big deal moving forward to the Preakness.  But since it has been out there and it does sound kind of gruesome, especially to non-racing folks that might be following the Triple Crown, can you just talk more about what happened there and how it looks five days now after the derby.

 

Mark Casse:

 

Well it’s, the day after he had abrasion in his eye and he also had a very tough time keeping his eye open, it was seeping.  We of course started treating it right away and looks great this morning.  It’s, you don’t see it happen a lot times in dirt races.  It’s not a, it’ll happen sometimes in turf races where they’ll take a clog, you know, a turf clog.  So, it’s a little, you don’t see it as much    in dirt racing.  Of course, when you do have slop it does make it a, you know, more likely when you do have slop.  So, I don’t know if he got hit by a rock, because there are rocks, you know, there are little pebbles on the track.  I, every time I walk back and forth the Churchill Downs I throw them, I pick them up and throw them off, so you always have a few stones.  I don’t know if he got hit by a stone.  Something, he got hit by something, not that it made an abrasion, just on the surface of his eye.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Okay, well thanks for that.

 

Mark Casse:

 

And I caught the end of Gary’s, talking there.  And he’s not the first person he’s told me he thought the gates were tilted.  And then the other thing is, it’s 13.5 feet between the main gate and the auxiliary gate, so it’s fairly large.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

And so, everybody knows, the NBC Sports coverage there actually shows the start from the aerial footage so it’s very easy to pull up a replay and see how the gates were positioned, if anybody wants to check that out.  And NBC Sports on Twitter posted that replay shortly after the race.  So, 6th May, if you want to go back and look at the replay.  Mark, I’m going to step aside and see what questions the media has for you.

 

Art Wilson:

 

Yeah, Mark, obviously more than anybody you, you know, know about the rough derby this year, how, you know, the jostling and bumping and everything.  And I asked earlier in the call Gary and Todd about their feelings on if you had a do-overs, if it was possible, would you like to see the derby field limited to 20 like the Oaks or is your thought leave it the way it is because it’s part of what makes it the toughest race in the world to win?

 

Mark Casse:

 

Art, it’s limited to 20 now.  I think you might be thinking limited to 14, the Oaks is limited to 14.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Right.  Yeah, that’s what he’s asking.

 

Mark Casse:

 

Yeah, you – yeah, I think you, unless I misunderstood.  So, your question to me is, you know, is the derby better at 14?  On a personal note, it would’ve been better for us this year.  But I don’t think you can do that.  One of the things that makes the derby so great is the 20 horses.  And, unfortunately, yes it hurt our chances this year, but I just don’t think you can do that.  One of the reasons why they limit the Oaks to 14 is because of the short run to the first turn where going a mile and a ¼ you have 5/16 of a mile to run to the first turn and run a mile 1/8 you only have 3/16 of a mile so that’s one of the reasons why they limit the Oaks to 14.  If they move the Oaks back to a mile and a ¼ they would probably limit it to 20, so that’s the reason they do that.

 

Dan Ralph:

 

Just to be, I don’t want to assume anything, so Classic Empire will run in, will run in a week and a half?

 

Mark Casse:

 

As long as everything continues to, you know, go – his eye is much better.  We still had some bad weather in Louisville today so he just went out and jogged.  But Norman’s very happy with him, said he’s full of energy.  I left, I’m in Ocala for a few days before heading to Baltimore.  But, yes, that’s the plan.  The plan is to run.

 

Danny Brewer:

 

Baseball coaches bat their hitters, the good hitters, high in the line-up because they want them to get more pitches to swing at, they want them to get more bats.  Is that why, is that one of the reasons why you’re running Classic Empire in the Preakness because he’s a heavy hitter and he deserves more pitches to swing at?

 

Mark Casse:

 

Well, I’m running him, you know, we’re running him because we think he’s the best horse.  And we sure didn’t change our mind given the results of the derby, so that’s why we’re running him.  And you know what, he’s a tough son-of-a-gun.  And if at any point in time we don’t feel that he’s himself we will, you know, we would withdraw.  But, no, I’m running him because we feel, we still feel he’s the best horse and we want to prove it.

 

Ron Flatter:

 

Mark, with so many closers lining up, at least it seems right now, for the Preakness how do you see Classic Empire fitting into a pace scenario with maybe so many horses behind him and, you know, maybe Always Dreaming, and the horse coming in from overseas perhaps out in the lead?

 

Mark Casse:

 

Well, I think it sets up nice for us.  Of course, I thought the derby was going to set up nice for us.  I, in my mind, I thought we would be laying fourth or fifth in the Kentucky Derby, and after the start we were 13th going into the first turn.  Now obviously, there are not going to be as many horses.  I think, just given the races that I’ve watched, I think Conquest Mo Money will be up running, I’m not so sure he won’t be on the lead.  I don’t know a lot about the horse you’re talking about coming in from another country, but I just know Conquest Mo Money likes to be up on the lead, he’s fairly fast.  A lot of it will depend on how Always Dreaming breaks and how Johnny wants to manoeuvre him around.  But I would think there’s going to be a fairly fast pace and I would love to be sitting right behind him.  That being said –

 

Debbie Arrington:

 

You know, with some horses, you know, particularly really talented ones like Classic Empire when they lose and get disrespected, with the mud in the eye, they get mad and they want to, they come out of the race feeling like they’ve, you know, they want back at the track right away.  Do you get that sort of vibe from Classic Empire?  Does he want to get back at it right away?

 

Mark Casse:

 

Well, I don’t know if he does.  We do.  He doesn’t seem – he amazes me given everything that happened to him on Saturday.  It took him about less than 30 minutes to eat his dinner.  He, and yesterday when we trained him he was full of energy and like put be back in coach I’m ready.  So, I – maybe he is ready.  He amazes me because whatever you throw at him he keeps coming back and saying okay that we can.  You know, he’s had a lot of things thrown at him this year and he continues to fight back.  And that just shows you how great he is.

 

John Pricci:

 

Good afternoon, Mark.  I had asked Gary a question and he thought it was a good idea, I don’t know if you heard that part of the answer.  If it were possible for Churchill Down to commission the building, if it’s even possible, of a 20-horse slip starting gate do you think that that would go a long way in a) being safer for the horses in that the one horse if he doesn’t make a right-hand turn he’s going to run into that rail and we would also eliminate if there were any issues about the outside gate being pointed inwards, and we had that had 13.5 foot gap that you referred to, and, you know, obviously that was a contributing factor in terms of what happened to Classic Empire soon after the start.  What are your feelings about a possible 20-horse starting gate?

 

Mark Casse:

 

Well, John, I think that they should look into something in that even if there is a better way to maybe hook up the auxiliary gate to the main gate.  The problem is when you get so big, I don’t know about the, you know, being able to manoeuvre it around.  What made it so bad, and why Classic Empire took such a hit is that in normal gates when a horse goes left or right there is no room for momentum.  So, they may bounce left and right almost like a domino but they have no room to fall, so they kind of keep each other up if you know what I mean.  Where in this case there was so much room that they kind of, it was like having a running start to hitting.  So, Julien, when he came back he said I don’t know how we stayed up.  He said I didn’t get bumped, I got clobbered.  So, I think if we could eliminate that metal gap, it would definitely be a big benefit.

 

Dan Ralph:

 

Mark, if I may just switch gears and have one question about State of Honor and what’s next for him?

 

Mark Casse:

 

He’s on his way this afternoon to Woodbine to start thinking about the Queen’s Plate.  Jose said, you know, we wanted him up on the lead, said he didn’t handle the mud at all.  He said he struggled pretty well from the beginning.  And so, we’re going to throw that one out, we’re going to see how he trains.  And if all goes well he’ll be in the Queen’s Plate.

 

Larry Stumes:

 

Hey, Mark, even with all the trouble your horse had in order to turn the tables on Always Dreaming you’re still going to have to make up 8 ¾ lengths and you’re confident you’re able to do that?

 

Mark Casse:

 

Larry, he ran 75 feet farther than Always Dreaming.  If you, [inaudible] that’s what, nine lengths just in running farther.  Then look into the factor that we got wiped out at the start.  I mean, who’s to say he didn’t have the air knocked out of him, he got hit so hard.  So, I feel pretty confident given a level playing field we can make Always Dreaming a run for his money.  And that’s the great thing about our sport, everybody can think and believe, but we get to prove it on the track.  So, you know, maybe Always Dreaming will still beat him but we’re ready to take that shot.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Alright, Mark.  Thanks so much for this info and best of luck in the Preakness.  We look forward to seeing you in Baltimore.

 

Mark Casse:

 

Thanks for having me.  Have a good day.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Alright, Mark Casse, who has a number of reasons to think that Classic Empire can improve off of his derby effort.  Can’t wait to see how that shakes out.

 

That brings us to our final guest who we’re reaching out to right now, Kenny McPeek, the trainer of Senior Investment, who won the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland three and a half weeks ago.  And we’ll find out from Kenny whether he could be coming to hand at the right time.  Kenny, are you with us?

 

Kenny McPeek:

 

Yeah, I’m here.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Alright, glad to hear it, it’s Jim Mulvihill from the NTRA checking in.  You’ve got an improving and a rested colt going into the Preakness, and that’s a dangerous combination sometimes.  So just tell us if you would what you like about Senior Investment that made you want to try this spot.

 

Kenny McPeek:

 

Well, he’s a horse that every time you lead him over there he gives a really good effort.  And, you know, his race in the Lexington, the way he came running late was great fun.  And, you know, he gets another little bit of added distance in this spot.  I would’ve liked to even run him a little bit further, and even the Belmont I think is going to be a good race for this type of colt.  And, you know, he’s really doing well right now.  A lot can happen in these kind of races, as I think I pulled one off a few years back in Sarava, whether this is that type of horse is another, remains to be seen.  But he is a nice horse and he deserves a chance.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

And then tell us about his development from two to three and then into a graded stakes winner and then hopefully still being in the incline, but just his development over the last six months or so.

 

Kenny McPeek:

 

Well, he’s a big horse.  You know, he’s a two-year-old, he made his early start at Ellis Park similar to, you know, Steve Asmussen’s colt ran second in the derby.  And as three, and headed to four I’ve seen getting even better.  You know, you’d like to think that he’ll get a little pace in this race.  I think we’re probably better off that they overlook him to some extent.  And we’d like to see, you know, some of them, you know, kind of take a shot at the pace horses and see if the closers can catch them late.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Alright.  Well, Kenny, hang on the line and we’ll see what the media has for you.  Gina, you want to check with our folks on the line.

 

Ron Flatter:

 

Ken, hi.  Your horse is one of many, many closers in this race.  Do you, maybe – how do you see this whole thing working out amongst all the closers and how far back do you think you can be from the pace as you maybe go into the last turn?

 

Kenny McPeek:

 

Well, you don’t really know that until the draw and it depends on how some of them are.  Sometimes you think there’s not going to be any pace and there’s tons, and sometimes it looks like a whole lot and there isn’t any at all.  So, it’s going to depend on how post positions draw out.  And, you know, I’m interested to see where Always Dreaming draws, I think that’s going to be important.  I think he had a really, on the inside trip was a great place to be this past weekend and, you know, circumstances can change just in the draw.

 

Alicia Hughes:

 

Actually, I just wanted to switch gears a little bit and ask you about Daddy’s Lil Darling, coming out of the Oaks.  I understand you guys are possibly looking at offering, going overseas with her in the coming months.  Is that correct?

 

Kenny McPeek:

 

We are, I’m in discussions with Nancy Polk, the owner, about taking her over for the English Oaks.  You know, this filly has been second in three grade ones and I think is, you know, a long-term bloomer value.  I think if we could win a grade one it would be important, and she has a lot of turf in her female family and she seems to really take to it and I think she’ll like it, especially the mile and a half distance.  The decision is not confirmed yet.  Ms Polk, I think she’s more concerned about her travel plans than she is the horse’s.  But we’ve got all our ducks in a row to make that venture and I’m pretty excited about it.

 

Alicia Hughes:

 

Yeah, I remember when I spoke to you immediately after the Oaks you were probably as about as heartbroken as I’ve ever seen you after a race, you really wanted that one.  What were some of the signs that she was giving you going into that race that really had you confident that she really was going to have a chance to pull that win off?

 

Kenny McPeek:

 

Well, let me address what you just said.  First of all, you’re right, and I apologize that I don’t like running second in a race like that.  The, you know, that notch in your belt, to win a race like the Oaks, is so significant whether you’re the horse or the trainer.  And, you know, I’ve played second fiddle to guys like Baffert and Lukas early in my career and, you know, you really, really like to hang those trophies on the mantle as opposed to hey remember we ran second – no, you don’t.  And so, she did run a great race, and kind of close but no cigar.  And, you know, that’s what makes us competitive at this.  And, you know, when you’re satisfied being second I think that’s – I’m not.  I’m not satisfied being second.  But, you know, you’ve got to keep marching forward.  And her race was, you know, we expected out of her.  You know, she came – she overcame a track bias and she’s obviously a very brave filly and every time we take her over she gives us a good effort.  And I think that continuance this venture to London would be certainly out of the box but I believe good horses handle different circumstances and I think surfaces are irrelevant when you’ve got a really good horse.  And she seems to be the filly that handles about everything.  And, you know, it’s a sporting event.  It’s not life or death.  It’s a big fun game and we intend to enjoy a filly that’s so special.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Alright, Kenny.  Before we let you go, just one more small detail to clarify.  Channing has ridden Senior Investment there last three tries is he going to be back on for the Preakness?

 

Kenny McPeek:

 

Absolutely.  Hard to justify taking the young man off after he did a good job in Keeneland, and he knows then horse quite well.  And we’re excited for him to get that opportunity, yes.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Very good.  Well, Kenny, thanks for your time.  And best of luck in the Preakness, we’ll see you in Baltimore.

 

Kenny McPeek:

 

Thank you.

 

Jim Mulvihill:

 

Alright, and that will do it for this extended NTRA National Media Teleconference.  Thanks again to all of these guests, Kenny as well as Mark Casse, Gary Stevens, Todd Pletcher, and thanks again to Joan Lawrence for lining up these guests.  Joan will be on site at Pimlico starting this weekend, I’ll be there a few days later.

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