NTRA Communications Road To the Triple Crown Previewing the 141st Kentucky Derby
Trainer Mike de Kock
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin
Owner Ken Ramsey
Jim Mulvihill: Welcome everyone to our final Road to the Triple Crown teleconference in advance of the 141st Kentucky Derby on May 2, just 11 eleven days from now. The final preparations have all been run, the field is more or less set, and clearly we’re blessed with what appears to be one of the most talented and consistent crops in recent Derby memory. As of today, would expect the Arkansas Derby winner, American Pharoah, to be the favorite, although Mike Battaglia, the Churchill Downs odds-maker, has said he wants to see which way the buzz is blowing before finally setting that morning line, which we’ll hear on Wednesday—next Wednesday, that is. Three-time Derby winner Bob Baffert, he’s got the probable top two choices in American Pharoah and the undefeated Santa Anita Derby winner, Dortmund, and another top Derby winning conditioner, Todd Pletcher, trained the likely third choice—that’s the Blue Grass Stakes winner Carpe Diem. We’ve had both Baffert and Pletcher on our calls the last few weeks, so you can go to ntra.com in the News section and look at the transcripts, if you need any quotes from those two regarding their Derby horses.
Now, the Derby is obviously more than those three and in addition to having those ultra-talented favorites, this field also has unusual depth. Today, we’re going to talk to the connections of three horses that will be right behind those favorites in the wagering and together they complete the top six spots on the Road to the Kentucky Derby points’ leaderboard. Those are: International Star, he swept the three-race series at fairgrounds, including the Louisiana Derby, and he’s the leading points getter; Frosted, the Wood Memorial winner; and Mubtaahij, the UAE Derby winner seeking to become the first Derby winner to have prepped in Dubai.
Now, before we get to the guests, I want to give a quick reminder about the broadcasting schedules. NBC Sports Group has 14 hours of Derby coverage lined up next week. That starts with the post-draw on Wednesday at 5:30 Eastern on the NBC Sports Network. The NBC Sports Network also has The Oaks, the Derby Undercard and Derby post-race coverage, and of course the Kentucky Derby broadcast will be on the flagship network NBC on Saturday, May 2, from 4:00 to 7:00 pm Eastern. Meanwhile, the Horse Racing Radio Network has 20 hours of Derby coverage next week. That goes from the Trainers’ Dinner on Tuesday all the way through the race, and as always, you can find that on Sirius 220 or XM 206, or online at horseracingradio.net, and also on those satellite radio stations you can hear Steve Byk, whose At the Races is already broadcasting live from Churchill Downs every morning.
Now, let’s get on to the main event, the guests today. Later in this call, we’re going to be joined by Kiaran McLaughlin, the trainer of Frosted, and Ken Ramsey, the owner of International Star, but first we’re thrilled to welcome in Mike de Kock, the trainer of the easy UAE Derby winner, Mubtaahij, and I’ll give you some quick background on Mike.
He’s one of the most successful horsemen in the world. He’s a 49-year-old South African who’s been training on his own for 24 years. He first learned to get a horse fit in the army, as a member of the South African Defense Force’s Equestrian Unit. He worked as an Assistant to a few trainers after his stint in the army, and when his boss, Ricky Howard-Ginsberg, passed away unexpectedly, Mike took over the training of a 50-head stable. Since then, he’s trained the winners of nearly a hundred Group 1 events, including several in recent years for Sheik Mohammed of Dubai. Mike’s won races on four continents, including North America, and you might remember even brought one of his top horses ever, the South African Triple Crown winner, Horse Chestnut, to win at Gulfstream in 2000. Now, it’s been 44 years since a Derby winner prepped outside of the United States, going back to 1971, in Canonero II, but if anybody can do it in this day and age, it’s this man.
Mike de Kock, you’re on with Jim Mulvihill in Kentucky. Thanks for being here.
Mike de Kock: Thanks very much, Jim. Thank you.
Jim Mulvihill: It’s our pleasure. We really appreciate you taking the time, I know you’re busy around now, but do you mind if I ask where you’re talking to us from today?
Mike de Kock: We’ve got an auction starting tomorrow, so we’ve been viewing horses all day in South Africa, sort of south of Johannesburg.
Jim Mulvihill: Terrific, terrific, all right. Well, we’ve got a lot to talk about, but first I’d like to start with the most immediate news about Mubtaahij, and that would be the work this morning at Arlington Park. A few hours ago, he breezed three furlongs officially, and I’m curious what kind of report you might have heard back from your Assistant there.
Mike de Kock: Yes, well, he actually breezed—he kicked off from the mile and breezed the last four furlongs. Yes, very happy, just very easy work. You know, I mean, he travelled probably just under a week ago, or just less than a week ago, and he’s taken it all very well, and, yes, at this stage we’ve been pretty chuffed at the way he’s come out of things.
Jim Mulvihill: You said he’s taking it all well. Just tell us what gave you the confidence even going into the UAE Derby—when you first started talking about the Kentucky Derby as a target, what’s given you the confidence that he can deal with all this travel and quarantine and new surroundings and such?
Mike de Kock: I think a lot to do with the horse’s temperament. Sort of many months ago, I’m not sure when the entry was exactly, I think in January, but at that time Pat Cummings and he said, “Have you ever thought of the Kentucky Derby?” and I just said, “To be honest, no,” and he said, “Well, if your horse comes through the Triple Crown races in Dubai, you ought to consider it, so why don’t you enter it?” So, we said, “Well, we’ll enter.” The way he came through all the races, plus his whole demeanor and his temperament, and the fact that he’s an easy horse to travel, you know, we thought why not, let’s give it a dash, and then when he goes and wins really well in the UAE Derby, you know, I suppose you get a little bit of confidence and you think “What the hell, let’s have a crack at it.” But, to be honest, I probably picked the worst year when it comes to the opposition, but, you know, at the end of the day you never know. It’s a sporting event, it’s a horse race. Who knows? There’s no guarantees, let’s face it.
Jim Mulvihill: Well, in the Kentucky Derby especially, I’d say you never know. Now, for you, shipping a horse internationally for Group 1 races isn’t unusual, but here in the States, and especially regarding the Derby, you’ll probably understand there are some skeptics, especially when it comes to this race and shipping in, so I’m wondering if you can just share with us a few examples of the furthest distance that you’ve travelled a horse for a Group 1 win, and maybe what you’ve learned along the way about how to acclimate a thoroughbred travelling overseas for a big race like this?
Mike de Kock: You know, locally, in South Africa, we train in Johannesburg and we’d race in Cape Town, which would be roughly an 18- to 20-hours van ride to Cape Town from Johannesburg, to race, and it’s something we do very regularly. In the season in Cape Town, which is basically December, January and February, I’d do that more than once and I’ll do it multiple times and, you know, the horses win Group 1s regularly, and that’s 18 to 20 hours on a van. I’ve shipped to Hong Kong and won multiple Group 1s there, but that would be less, that would be maybe 12 hours door to door. It’s not something that’s actually foreign to us and it’s not something that puts us off.
I think the key to transporting horses is (a) the horse has got an appetite, he’s got to be able to eat, or she, and got to take in fluids, and if you can get the balance of the two right, you’ve got half the battle won. It’s not something that would put us off, and 18- or a 20- or a 24-hour journey even to a destination to race, I must be honest with you. I think it’s just because we’re probably used to it. We’re used to it in our own country. I would put a horse on a van on a Friday afternoon, travel eight hours the next day and race, and very successfully, you know. I suppose it’s just to be comfortable with that sort of scenario.
Jim Mulvihill: How has this horse taken all this? I mean, you’ve said he’s done well, but tell us about some of the challenges, unexpected ones that you’ve had along the way in getting to Chicago, and his travel companions and such, and how it’s all gone.
Mike de Kock: Yes, it’s close to 24 hours door to door. When he got to Chicago, my Assistant there, Trevor, he just felt that he looked a little tucked up, so, I mean, right there and then I took the decision not to travel him down to the yard we were going to near Louisville, which was going to be two or three days later, and I just thought, you know, let’s just stay in Chicago. We’re very comfortable in the track there, we’ve had horses there before, we’ve raced fairly successful at Arlington, and, you know, we sort of switched plan mid-stride, and I think we’ve done the right thing, because within two or three days the horse was really sort of just bursting out of his skin. He never stopped eating, he never stopped drinking, and whatever weight he lost visibly, he put on very quickly, you know.
Jim Mulvihill: So, that’s what you mean when you say he was “a little tucked up,” was just that he had lost a little weight on the flight?
Mike de Kock: Yes, according to my Assistant, he just looked that way, just didn’t look like he did when he left home, and so we just went to Plan B and said, “You know what? Why should we put him on a van, two or three days later, and another eight hours shipping? Let’s just stay where we are, let’s just recover, and let him get used to his surroundings,” and I think it was the right call. I think, as horsemen, we have to be flexible when it comes to these kinds of things. I think the horses talk to us.
Jim Mulvihill: Very good. Well, Mike, I’m going to check with the media and see what questions they have for you. There’s a lot more to ask Mike de Kock about, not just the shipping, but he’s going to be running without race day medication, which is unusual in the Derby, and I imagine we might have some questions about the pedigree, as well; it’s a very interesting one. So, Michelle, do you want to check with the media and see what they’ve got for Mike.
Louisa Barton: I wanted to ask you—you already mentioned a little bit about your travelling and things. So, with Mubtaahij, how much of the new diet, having to change that, and not having his usual groom, just those kind of changes, how much would they possibly affect him for this race, with the travelling and the changes, and what kind of diet changes have you had to make?
Mike de Kock: That’s actually a great question, because I think that is probably the most significant thing with all the travelling. It’s obviously something that is out of our control and it’s an FDA regulation, and the feed that he was on is not registered in the US, so I do understand where they’re coming from, but no trainer ever, or athlete, would like to change the regular diet going into any sort of event. The diet that I’ve changed to is obviously something I do know a little bit about and have used before, but, effectively, it’s not what he’s used to regularly. How much bearing that would have on his performance, quite frankly, I’m not that sure, but just from a trainer’s psyche, it’s not ideal, let’s put it that way.
Louisa Barton: He relaxes early it seems, which is a very positive quality, especially in the Derby. It seems like it’s not the stone-cold sober that wins, but, you know, the tactical horse that can maneuver and really relax in the beginning and get in a good position. Do you think that could be a really big thing in his favor in the Derby this year?
Mike de Kock: I think so. Given the little I know about the horses that are in American racing, the emphasis does seem to be on speed. He’s a horse that can relax fairly well at quite a hot speed or hot pace, and he does kick—he will be doing his best towards the end. Whether we can, you know, then, overall, the horses that have got away with all that speed is, you know—we’re not sure that’ll happen, but certainly I’m not there to try and match the American horses for speed, because I don’t think we have that ability, but I do know we have the ability to get to 10 furlongs and I do know we have the ability to come on strong the last three or four furlongs.
Ron Flatter: Mike, good morning or afternoon, whatever the case may be. What’s your feeling on why you’ve gone Lasix with a couple of your horses that you’ve brought over to North America, with Oracle West and River Jetez, but you’ve gone without Lasix for the others?
Mike de Kock: I think it’s purely, as I’ve stated before, about bleeding. As I understand things, Lasix is there to assist horses that are known bleeders or have bled in their time. This horse has never bled, not even a suspicion of any bleeding, and I’m not sure what he’ll do having been given Lasix. He’s never had it in training, whereas those horses, obviously, I knew that they’d bled before in training and, therefore, they would have been administered Lasix in training, and I would have had an idea that they would have performed to a reasonable level having been given Lasix. So, it’s purely just a belief, you know, the fact that he doesn’t bleed, he hasn’t bled, touch wood, until now, and I’m not prepared to gamble on his performance being altered having been given Lasix, because I’m not sure what he’ll do, to be quite honest.
Ron Flatter: He had what appeared to be the perfect trip at the UAE Derby. Does he need the same thing in the Kentucky Derby?
Mike de Kock: I’d say he’d need something similar, sure. I think he’d need the speed to be on. He’s a horse that has courage enough to deal with the kick-back. I’m not sure that I’d like to be right down at the rail, I may be wrong, because you probably would get a lot of the kick-back there. We may just want to try and give ourselves the easiest passage, sitting a little off the gallop, maybe a little wide, out of all the trouble, and, you know, riding for (inaudible), as I would put it.
Ron Flatter: Last one for me. In terms of going to a dirt race, this is only the second time you’ve come to a dirt race in North America, and the first one was Horse Chestnut.
Mike de Kock: Yes.
Ron Flatter: Can you take anything from that experience 15 years ago, or is this a whole new animal for you?
Mike de Kock: I think I can take a lot from what we saw in Dubai. The dirt track there, there was a fair amount of kick-back, and I think if he could deal with that, he could probably deal with most dirt tracks. Horse Chestnut was probably a different beast. I’m not sure that he’s a Horse Chestnut, but he’s got a lot of courage, this horse, and he can deal with adversity. He’s got a very good temperament.
Danny Brewer: Listen, what about the passing gear on this horse, because in the UAE Derby he kind of liked drew up alongside and then he was gone. Is that something that you’ve seen before and you knew he had, or had you worked on that, or just talk about that for a moment?
Mike de Kock: I’m not so sure that in the UAE Derby they went a little too quick early on, and that’s why his acceleration possibly is a little flattering. The two Japanese horses really took each other on upfront and he was able to relax behind them and really get the perfect trip, let’s face it. He does have acceleration, though, and he does get to 10 furlongs, and he does run hard to the line. So, he does have acceleration, yes. It may have been a little flattering in the UAE Derby given that the speed was a little crazy upfront. There were four taking each other on at really marking in a suicidal pace.
Danny Brewer: Whenever you think about that and you think about the Kentucky Derby and the fractions that can be set in a race like that early, does that mean he’s made to order for something like this?
Mike de Kock: I don’t know if he’s made to order, but I do know that he has the ability to sit behind a lot of speed and accelerate off that, and that’s probably in his favor. However, I think in America we’re taking on a different animal in that they can probably relay the speed down and keep it going. So, you know, we have to accelerate, we can’t wait for them to come back at us.
Danny Brewer: Last question for me. Talk about Kentucky Derby fever South African style.
Mike de Kock: You know, thy were quite flattering in saying I’m 49 years old. I’m actually a little bit older than that. So, since a young man one looks at the Kentucky Derby in awe. It doesn’t matter what country you come from. There’s great race meetings around the world and everyone likes to think that their meeting is the greatest, but I think the Kentucky Derby meeting has proven it’s got to be—if it isn’t the greatest, well, tell me which one is, and to be part of that is really special for us, and to go there with a horse that’s not a 100 to 1 shot; it would be fantastic if he ran well—it is mind-boggling. I think it’ll comprehend and it’ll settle in when one’s there and one sees the real scenario and the real spirit around it all. I don’t think I’ll be disappointed and I hope to gain everything out of it that I expect. It’s something that has been an ambition and a dream from a very young man in this industry, and I’m really honored and privileged to realize that right now.
Jonathan Lintner: I was just wondering if you knew or what you knew about where he got his name and maybe what that means.
Mike de Kock: That’s a difficult question. I’d be fluent in Arabic if I knew what all the horses’ or trainers’ names meant. To be honest with you, I’m not a hundred percent sure, but —I’m actually not going to hazard a guess, to be honest with you.
Jim Mulvihill: Sorry, it’s Jim Mulvihill here. I was just going to jump in. Pat Cummings told me this morning that this name means “elated.”
John Pricci: I was wondering if you had a chance to look at any of the tapes, if you have any idea how you assess the competition thus far?
Mike de Kock: I have, fortunately, watched a few of the trials, and I have also been chatting to Mr. Zayat on just racing matters unrelated to the Derby, and he told me in no uncertain terms that I’m in trouble when it comes to American Pharoah, which I think is a very well named horse, mind you, considering the ownership. Yes, I am very impressed by what I see, and obviously, as I said earlier on, I probably picked one of the worst years to try and come to the Derby from another country, but there’s some very serious horses, there’s not only American Pharoah, there’s some proper horses there, so, you know, a healthy respect for them, there’s no doubt.
John Pricci: Did you see anything from American Pharoah that gives you any hope that perhaps 10 furlongs might be a little bit beyond him?
Mike de Kock: The thing that impressed me about American Pharoah is the last time he set off with speed and accelerated fast, and that any opposition wouldn’t have enjoyed seeing, but I’m sure the Zayat camp would have been very impressed by, and I’m sure Bob, as well. He doesn’t seem to have any flaws at all, so I really think whoever beats him will be the winner.
John Pricci: One final one for me. You talked about your strategy and the fact that your horse can kick off fast fractions. Will you sit down, you know, the Derby, with your rider and look at some tape and work out some strategy, or would you leave that up to the rider altogether?
Mike de Kock: Not completely. I mean, Christophe is a hell of a nice bloke to work with, a very intelligent man and an extremely good jockey. We do like to analyze things. He would have himself looked at many tapes and studied the field. I believe he would have a game plan in his mind. I don’t like to interfere too much with jockeys, because I don’t want to hold them to any tactics. I really believe if one employs a jockey—you know, you could sit down and you could have a game plan, but there’s no race that’s ever run on paper, so you have to really have the faith in your men, and if the game plan changes in the first 400 meters of the race, well so be it, and one needs to just accept that. You know, that’s just the way I feel about jockeys. The reason why I’ve got Christophe Soumillon riding the horse is because I trust the man, I think he’s a very good jockey, and I’m going to live by the decision he makes.
Nicolle Neulist: I have one question and it goes back to more the beginning of Mubtaahij’s career. He ran his first two races on turf, was off the board, and then went to Dubai and started really succeeding on the dirt. Was dirt the long-term plan to begin with or was that a switch in tactics? Was he originally going to be (inaudible) switch from turf to dirt?
Mike de Kock: I wish I could tell you that it was a calculated decision, but it wasn’t. It nearly never happened. In fact, we were quite disappointed with his first two starts in England. He was shining, as I said, but at home. But, I think he was a kind of horse that was very immature and probably just wanted a little bit of time. In fact, there was a great debate amongst us whether to take him to Dubai or not. We almost left him in England just to do the winter there, and then I thought, well, you know, what the hell, let’s get him to Dubai, get a bit of sun on his back and see what he does, and when he got to Dubai, he just seemed to mature and enjoy himself, so we thought, well, you know, let’s have a crack at the Maiden, and he goes and wins that and just keeps improving. I can tell you now categorically it was never a calculated thing, it probably happened by chance, and I suppose we’ll just accept the result as it is.
Kellie Reilly: Thank you so much, and Mr. de Kock, I just wanted to thank you so much for your terrific website and all the work that your team does to just keep all the information on there. It’s just a tremendous resource for anyone trying to follow your stable, so thank you for that.
Mike de Kock: Thank you.
Kellie Reilly: I just wanted to ask about Mubtaahij’s history. You said that he has been prone to having respiratory infections in the past and that’s why he’s been stabled outside in Dubai, for the fresh air.
Mike de Kock: Yes.
Kellie Reilly: Is that a potential concern going forward in a different stabling environment here, or is that perhaps more of a babyish issue that he has since matured out of?
Mike de Kock: Yes, it’s a very good question. Yes, he was very prone to it. He has been fine of late. He could have grown out of it, but one can never be sure, but we always stabled him outdoors. Thankfully, he has gone pretty well with the travelling and where he is at the moment and there’s been no sign of it, but it was very much a concern early in his career, as a lot of young horses do have. I would like to believe he could have grown out of it and that he’s got a lot stronger, a lot tougher, and hopefully his immune system has progressed accordingly.
Kellie Reilly: You also described him as being a little bit like Rocky, in terms of his fighting attitude and his spirit. I just wanted to know if you’d like to expand a little bit on that.
Mike de Kock: Yes. He’s got a very good mind and he’s got a very competitive spirit. He’s not a horse that ever lays down. If you worked him in company, which I don’t do often, funny enough, because he’s actually that competitive, he’s a very competitive horse, he wants to win, he’s got a competitive spirit.
Tim Sullivan: First of all, I have two questions. One, I wonder if you could clarify how old you actually are.
Mike de Kock: Fifty-one.
Tim Sullivan: All right.
Mike de Kock: There’s not much in it.
Tim Sullivan: Oh, we just want to get these things right. The second thing is you talked about the Derby being a dream and I wonder how close you have come previously and how often it enters into your thinking, that you might have a horse that is capable or worthy of that race?
Mike de Kock: You know, the thing is being based in the Southern Hemisphere and one is always purchasing Southern Hemisphere horses. I’ve won the Derby five other times than Mubtaahij with Southern Hemisphere horses, where in Dubai you get an allowance, or the Northern Hemisphere horses get an allowance. So, it’s never really been on the radar, although it’s always been in my thinking. Then, with our movement restrictions out of South Africa, our strategy needed to change, in that we needed to start buying Northern Hemisphere horses, and I think this is when the sort of the psyche was changed, in that one thought, well, hang on a second, if this can win running in Dubai, maybe we need to be looking at possibly an Epsom Derby or a Kentucky Derby. I mean, let’s face it, they’re the two most famous Derbies in the world. So, once our buying strategy changed—and basically that was forced on by the protocol with the export out of South Africa—one started to think about it. But, you know, as far as I can remember, in my mind, Kentucky was always the race one stayed up late at night to watch and always was in awe of what took place there.
Tom Pedulla: What you thought of this morning’s work and what is planned for the horse as far as another work, you know, distance, and when that might be, and also when you and the horse will get to Churchill?
Mike de Kock: This morning’s work was, quite frankly, just an easy piece, just let him stretch his legs and just have a little bit of a blowout, so I’m more than happy with that result. I might just work him on the weekend again. We tend to (inaudible) horses a lot more often than the American trainers; it’s just the way we train. Yes, on the weekend, he might do another piece of work. We get to Churchill on Monday, to Louisville on Monday. We’ll have a look around the track there on Tuesday. I don’t think he’ll do much more than that.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, Mike, we’ve taken up plenty of your time today, so I just want to wish you luck and safe travels over here to the States and we look forward to seeing you in Louisville.
Mike de Kock: Not a problem. Thank you very much. Thanks for the support.
Jim Mulvihill: Absolutely. That’s Mike de Kock, the very pragmatic Mike de Kock, telling us quite a bit about Mubtaahij, and before we go on to our next guest, I’ll just let everybody know that if you need to know how to pronounce that horse’s name, Mubtaahij, Pat Cummings, who Mike mentioned, of Dubai Race Night and Track, and who Mike mentioned first suggested this horse pointing to the Kentucky Derby, Pat suggested going to Google Translate and entering that word “elated” and there you can listen to the audio of how that name is pronounced properly.
So, with that tip, let’s move on to our next guest, and that is going to be Kiaran McLaughlin, the trainer of the Wood Memorial winner, Frosted.
Kiaran’s a native of Lexington and a UK grad. He started out as an Assistant to multiple trainers, including Wayne Lukas. He also worked for a while as an agent for jockey Chris Antley, who we just found out yesterday will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer. He’s won more than 1,200 races in North America, and that’s after several years as a top trainer in Dubai. In 2006, he won an Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer. That was the year he trained both the horse of the year, in Invasor, and the Belmont winner, in Jazil. He’s had five Derby starters, with his best finish a second in 2005, with 71 to 1 closing argument, and he gets another shot this year with Frosted.
Jim Mulvihill: It’s Jim Mulvihill of the NTRA here in Lexington. We’re obviously here to talk about Frosted and we’ve got a lot to ask about him, but before we get to that, we were just talking to Mike de Kock about Mubtaahij, and with all your experience training in Dubai and with Sheik Mohammed, I’m wondering if before we get to Frosted if you might share your thoughts on the challenges of shipping a Dubai-based horse for a major race, and also if you think that a horse based in Dubai can eventually win the Derby.
Kiaran McLaughlin: Yes, I trained there for 10 years, and when I was there it was dirt, too. Now it’s gone back to dirt, and I think that helps to see if they really like dirt, because synthetic was a tough way to go. But, I think that horse, with Mike de Kock as trainer, was impressive on World Cup night in the UAE Derby and can very easily win the Kentucky Derby, and if not this year, definitely one year they can do it with the right horse.
Jim Mulvihill: Very good. Well, thank you for that. Now, let’s talk about your Derby horse, who is owned by Godolphin, of course, but bred at Darley’s Kentucky farm and has raced here in the States. I want to start by going back to the Fountain of Youth. You looked like a winner, cruised into the quarter pull, but then Frosted rather suddenly seemed to stop trying. I know he’s been a project for your team, so I’m wondering if you can talk about what happened that day in the Fountain of Youth and then what you’ve done to correct—or what you did to correct it before the Wood.
Kiaran McLaughlin: Yes, we weren’t sure exactly what happened that day. I thought, like everybody else in America watching the race, or around the world, that he was going to win easy, and when Irad threw the reins to ask him to go, he seemed to just put his head up and stop. So, we were quite frustrated, myself and my team, so we decided to just change everything that we could. So, first, we weren’t sure if he pulled himself up when he got to the lead, because he was two lengths in front and he seemed to definitely pull himself up or stop, or did he have a displaced soft palate which caused him to shut down his air, and did he not like the hit or the way he threw the reins at him, or did he hate the racetrack, because it was a very demanding, tiring racetrack. So, we changed everything. We changed the jockey, which, you know, I don’t like to do, I’m very loyal to jockeys, but I had to change everything, and Joel Rosario worked him behind two horses in very fast three-quarters of a mile for me, which I don’t do very often, and I asked him to go by the two horses and make sure go on by them, I want to see if he tries to pull himself up. Because, when he broke his maiden, his only other win, he did switch leads when he got to the lead and kind of angled into the rail, and like almost pulled himself up. He won by five, but he definitely changed his action. So, that work went great, and then we did a staphylectomy procedure, to help him from displacing, and he only missed one day of training, not even that. So, we took care of that, and then the racetrack, we decided to change racetrack, so we went back to Aqueduct, where he did break his maiden and where he ran second in the Remsen. So, we changed everything that we could.
Jim Mulvihill: Having changed all that then, do you think that the minor surgery helped to correct the breathing, or do you still not a hundred percent know exactly what the problem was, but it seems like it’s been fixed, whatever it was?
Kiaran McLaughlin: Yes, correct, we’re not sure. The other thing is we put blinkers on him for the first time in the Fountain of Youth and we cut the blinkers back a little bit, from a three-quarter cup to like just a one-inch cup and case. When he hit him, he ducked down or ducked in, when Irad hit him in the Fountain of Youth, so we decided to keep the blinkers on but just cut them back. So, we changed everything and whatever it was, it worked out great on April 4 at Wood Memorial.
Jim Mulvihill: It certainly did, but now going into the Derby, do you feel like you’ll keep everything the same because now he’s been figured out, or are there still more adjustments that you might make here going into this race?
Kiaran McLaughlin: No, we would just like to adjust the tough field, but we can’t do that. It might be the toughest Derby that we’ve had in quite a few years. We can’t (inaudible), we don’t want to look for any changes. We actually flew him right back to Florida where he trained up for the Wood Memorial, and we worked him once during his training there, and will work again Friday or Saturday, depending on the weather.
Andrew Beyer: For many years, Godolphin was trying to win the Derby by bringing their good three-year-olds to Dubai and training them there. Now, Frosted has a really orthodox preparation for the Derby. I wondered if Godolphin has kind of backed away from its old approach.
Kiaran McLaughlin: Yes, I mean, it appears that way, but I’m not sure, it could change again, you know, this next year, but this year they decided not to take any of the two-year-olds turning three. They did take a few older horses, but they didn’t take any of the two turning three this year, so you never know going forward, because they are back on dirt over there and they might take some this fall, and I hope someday I’m able to give them one that can win the Derby from Dubai.
Danny Brewer: Talk about the Wood Memorial and the challenges it presented, and how Frosted kind of answered the call there.
Kiaran McLaughlin: Well, we weren’t sure of what happened in the Fountain of Youth, but we did everything that we could do to change everything, to hope that it all worked out on race day, and it did. The track, the jockey, the blinkers were cut back, and being off the pace and passing horses from well back, and Joel, the jockey, and the track, was part of—the (inaudible), the small throat procedure we did, everything just worked to perfection that day, and we hope that we can continue on to May 2 and hope all goes well again. Although it’s a very tough group of horses, it’s going to be hard to get by them all, but we hope we can.
Danny Brewer: Do you think that his ability to come from behind and kind of weave his way through traffic, even the 120 horses, but still, was that a real positive for you coming out of Wood?
Kiaran McLaughlin: Absolutely, because so many of the major contenders have speed, so it was great that we could come from well back that day and handle the dirt well. Even though he pulled in down the back side because the kick-back —he thought a little bit severe that day, he had plenty of dirt on his blinkers and on his face. So, yes, we like the style that we have.
Jeffrey Riddle: I was just wondering, as referred to earlier by Andy Beyer, I’m just wondering—Godolphin obviously had a lot of challenges in the Kentucky Derby over the previous years. I’m just wondering how you would (inaudible), a bit about the sort of desire to win this race internally, you know, through conversations that you’ve had with people in the organization over the last few weeks.
Kiaran McLaughlin: I think that Godolphin’s camp is always wanting to win the big races around the world, and they have been fortunate to win so many of them, but the Derby has eluded them till now. I don’t know about the changes or desire, but everybody in the horse industry wants to win the Kentucky Derby and I’m sure the Godolphins are the same, and I know that Sheik Mohammed probably would like to do it from Dubai, and I’m sure that it can be done with the right horse sometime. It’s the best facilities in the world in Dubai, and now that they’re back to dirt, I like the chances of winning the Derby from Dubai, but this year, I’m lucky to have the horse here for them, I’m happy to be part of the team, and I think between us all, we all want to win the Kentucky Derby for sure.
Louisa Barton: Up until this point that Frosted is Godolphin’s best chance so far at winning the Derby, and how important is it for you and them to win this race?
Kiaran McLaughlin: Yes, I feel like last year we had a great chance with Cairo Prince and he got injured April 14 and missed the Derby. He was probably going to be their best chance. They own half of him. So now, this year, obviously, we feel like it’s our best chance, between trainer and owner. The race is priceless, you can’t put a price on winning the Kentucky Derby, and I would love to win it myself and I would love to win it for Godolphin, and I’m sure Godolphin would love to win it also, and it’s kind of special that it’s a home-bred, you know, because Sheik Mohammed spent plenty of money in the past trying to win it, but also he’s so passionate about the sport and wants this. He’s been so supportive of the thoroughbred industry over the years. He deserves to win it, more about his passion for the sport than money spent.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, Kiaran, I just wanted to ask one more follow-up. You mentioned a few times how you wish you could change the field if you could, or that’s the one thing that you can’t change. Can you just talk about your impressions of the rest of the field, especially since you’ve had the chance to see the horses both in Florida and New York, just tell us what you think of this field?
Kiaran McLaughlin: It’s a very, very strong field. I mean, between Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher, they’re both very strong. Upstart is a very nice horse, for Rick Violette, and, I mean, I just feel like 10 or 12 horses that can certainly win, and very strong horses, so American Pharoah, Carpe Diem, and just so many of them are just so talented. It seems like one of the most talented groups of three-year-olds that I’ve seen.
Jim Mulvihill: Excellent. Well, Kiaran, we appreciate your time today and we look forward to seeing you at Churchill Downs very soon.
Kiaran McLaughlin: Thank you very much.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, thanks. Kiaran McLaughlin, the trainer of Frosted, and we roll on now to our last guest on this NTRA national media teleconference, and that is owner Ken Ramsey, who’s got International Star in the Kentucky Derby. Ken’s also a UK grad, just like Kiaran. Along with his wife, Sarah, the Ramseys have been the Eclipse Award winners as outstanding owners and breeders the last two years, to go with two other outstanding owner honors in 2004 and 2011. They’ve won owner titles at tracks around the country, and right now they’re in a tight race for a ninth title at Keeneland.
Ken Ramsey, you’re on with Jim Mulvihill. Thanks for coming on.
Ken Ramsey: Glad to be on, glad to be on.
Jim Mulvihill: Very good. Well, we’re always happy to talk to you, and congratulations on a terrific spring by International Star down in New Orleans. We’re used to seeing you in the Derby the past several years, but, frankly, the Kitten’s Joys are typically better suited for the turf than the synthetic track, so just tell us how this horse might be different from some of the others you’ve brought to the Derby.
Ken Ramsey: Well, first of all, this is one of the greatest fields I’ve seen lining up, from top to bottom. It almost reminds me—I go back farther and I remember when Northern Dancer beat Hill Rise, and of course that was after Secretariat won and Seattle Slew won. But, I like the shape of the race this time around. In other words, for the first time I’m going into the race with a closing dirt horse. Like you said, the Kitten’s Joys prefer the other surfaces. So, I like the shape of the race. I like the fact that there’s a lot of speed in the race. I think if I don’t drill the one hole like I did last year with Vicar’s in Trouble that my horse will probably be in the superfecta. I’m not tapping him as the winner, but he’s a seasoned veteran, he’s already had nine races under his belt, and he closed eight out of nine times he’s run so far. I don’t think he’s a (inaudible) superfecta. The last seven races, for example, have all been great stake races. I know they’re saying Louisiana may not be the toughest. So, this horse is under the radar, but he’s my best chance ever to win the Kentucky Derby.
Jim Mulvihill: Well, you know, there have been recent years where a horse that’s swept the series down in New Orleans would be one of the most talked about horses. Friesan Fire and Cairo swept the series and they came up here and were one of the top two or three choices in their years. But, what does it say about this field, that International Star might be overlooked or underappreciated coming in here?
Ken Ramsey: Well, it’s always what you’re running against, and I always compare my horse to other horses that he’s competed against. Like Mr. Z, for example, ran dead last in the Louisiana Derby and he went on to run pretty good in Arkansas. So, I just feel like if we can keep our horse happy until Derby day—and his next work is scheduled for 8:30am over at Churchill Saturday morning. I just talked to Mike Maker probably 30 minutes ago and I hate to be trite, but the old cliché goes, that he really couldn’t be doing any better. So, we’re hopefully optimistic, cautiously optimistic.
Jim Mulvihill: Can you tell us more specifically what Mike might have shared with you about the work on Saturday morning at Churchill?
Ken Ramsey: I spoke to Mike at length about the work, and also our jockey, Miguel Mena. Both of them are delighted, they liked the way the horse moved, they liked the way he responded, and they liked the way he finished up. In other words, it was beautiful work, and if we get another one like that Saturday, we’re going to go into the Derby, I think, in very good shape.
Jim Mulvihill: Excellent, and then, Ken, this is a home-bred, but by Fusaichi Pegasus, so can you tell us how this particular mating came about and why this mare went to Fu-Peg in the first place?
Ken Ramsey: No, you’ve got it a little bit wrong on this one. I did not breed this horse. My good friend Robert T. Manfuso bred the horse, along with Katherine Voss.
Jim Mulvihill: Oh, I see, yes. I’m sorry about that.
Ken Ramsey: The New York bred, but Fu-Peg, you know, did win the Derby, so that bodes well for our horse. I know he’s not been all that popular a sire. That’s why I managed to acquire this good prospect for $85,000. The price is going up, though. My last two prospects I had in the Derby, I paid less than that for them. So, it’s kind of hard to get in the Derby with these second and third and fourth-round draft choices.
Ron Flatter: Mr. Ramsey, International Star’s preps could be seen as being tiring for him. How do you look at them?
Ken Ramsey: I’m sorry, I didn’t catch the question.
Ron Flatter: Have the preps for International Star been tiring? Do you worry about the fact that he might have gotten, you know, really fatigued in his preps the last couple of races?
Ken Ramsey: No, he’s been closing—the last race, he closed from seventh and won by a neck. The time before that, he came from six-and-a-half lengths back and won by one. He’s closed every single time, except at Saratoga with the Anticipation race, which was a turf race, and I didn’t buy him for a turf horse, I bought him for a Derby horse. Mike and I had a conversation after he won by five-and-a-half lengths at Belmont, and I said, “Look, I didn’t buy this horse for a turf horse; I’ve got a hundred of them, so let’s get him back on the dirt.” So, no, I don’t think he’s—he’s a little bit lazy and Miguel had to get into him a little more than I’d like to, so far as the number of times he hit him with the whip coming up the stretch. But I’ve got no complaints the way he rode the horse, I’m pleased with my jockey, and we’re going to try to make history over at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. It could be my turn.
Ron Flatter: How big is he? How tall does he measure?
Ken Ramsey: I don’t have the specific dimensions, but he’s big enough to get the job done.
Tim Sullivan: Yes, you just mentioned that it might be your turn and you’re talking about trying to win with second, third and fourth-rate round draft choices. Is that a strategy that you think can work long term, or do you have to buy up to have a realistic chance?
Ken Ramsey: Well, no, it’s the horse, it’s the athlete. We look for pedigrees. We look for trainers that can get the job done. For example, you know, I don’t like to go fishing, even with the very best bait and tackle in a swimming pool; there’s no fish there, so if you want to get to the Derby you have to get a trainer that can get you there, and I’ve succeeded in doing that. Todd Pletcher had two in for me, had one in for me last year and the one before that, so I know who to go to, I know who the good jockeys are, and I don’t think you have to have a million-dollar horse to win a Kentucky Derby. The old saying goes they don’t know what you paid for him. So, we’re looking for athletes with the stamina index—and I’ve got some hoops I make them jump through—that we think can get the mile and a quarter on the first Saturday in May, and this horse measured up. He’s a New York bred, not a Kentucky bred, but in a way I think we’ve got one that’s going to be a prime-time contender come Saturday.
Tim Sullivan: Mm-hmm. How much do your emotions enter into the decision to identify a Derby horse? Do you get blinded by Derby fever or are you pragmatic about it?
Ken Ramsey: No, no, I’m very realistic, I know what my chances. We sit down and we do the rag sheet numbers and we see what the competition is before we decide to enter in practically any stake race. If I don’t feel like I can finish one, two, three, I tell the trainer, “Look, let’s pass and find another spot.” So, I think this horse fits the Kentucky Derby. He’s got more points than anybody else, 171, so I think we’ve earned our way in this year.
Danny Brewer: Your life has kind of taken you from outhouse to penthouse and across a pretty broad spectrum. Where does thoroughbred racing fit into that whole—the whole gamut?
Ken Ramsey: I like your description and that is true. I was raised in what you might say a cold-water flat. Instead of having three/four rooms and a bath, we had four rooms and a path. That’s one of the reasons I like the thoroughbred racing, because you meet all sorts of people all over the world. I mean, you meet the movers and shakers, the captains of industry, rulers of countries, and it’s all kind of a level playing field, if you’ve got a horse good enough to compete on that level. I’ve met some people that no way in the world a little boy from Artemis, Kentucky, population 500, would ever even had an opportunity of running across, except through thoroughbred racing. I was introduced to a four-star general out at Keeneland this past Sunday and he gave me a little medal, which I appreciate very much, that says presented by the Adjutant General, and he’s a four-star general for the National Guard, for excellence. So, that’s, how am I going to meet the four-star general without my connection to the horseracing business. So, I love the game, I’m passionate about it. I’ve got children and grandchildren who are interested in it, and we’re in it for the long haul, we’re here to stay.
Danny Brewer: As far as your path goes, I know that’s changed a little bit from when you were a kid. International Star, what do you like most about him, as far as being that that is going to take you down the path of the Kentucky Derby glory?
Ken Ramsey: I like his will to win. He tries every single time. Now, some of these horses, and I’m not going to call any names, they like to run. I don’t know how they’ll fare when they get somebody else looking him in the eye. These horses just had really easy preps and ran off and won with five, six, seven lengths. My horse has been tested. In other words, he’s been behind, he’s come through on the rail in tight quarters, he’s had the steady, he’s checked. I think he’s going to navigate the 20-horse field better than some of them. I think as some of them gets bumped or have to check, or whatever, they’ll get a little frustrated, and I look for my horse to be making a big move, land about (inaudible) ahead of stretch and coming on. I’m not going to say I’m going to win it, but I’ve got a real good shot this time, although it is under the radar, probably go off 12 to 15 to 1, and I’ll be betting on it with both hands.
Danny Brewer: Mr. Ramsey, you talk about your seasoning and (inaudible). The non-race, was that a plan going in, that you said, “Hey, we want to run this horse quite a bit, we want to get him seasoned, we want to test him, we want to find out about him,” was that the plan from the get-go?
Ken Ramsey: No, not from the get-go, I didn’t think this horse was what I was looking for. I thought my Derby prospects would be better next year, because I’ve got more prospects. So, we started out with a very small number this year, and when he won the Lecomte Stakes down there and came through, and (inaudible) and finally got on the inside, that’s the first time a light came on in my mind—that was the 17th of January in the Lecomte—that we may have something special here. Then we come back and ran the Risen Star and they improved again. That’s what I like about this horse; he keeps improving. I’m sitting here looking at his Beyer numbers; he went from 66 to 74 to 84 to 90 to 93 to 98. His trajectory is up. So, if he improves another five fire points, and Andy’s on the phone listening, that could very well win the Kentucky Derby. So, this is very consistent, fires-every-time horse; we’ve got to keep him happy and fit, and I think we’re going to be there on the first Saturday in May.
Jim Mulvihill: You were telling us how you went out and bought this horse and you’ve gotten some of these—what you referred to as the B-level horses at the sales, hoping to come up with a Derby horse. How many of these do you suppose you went and bought chasing this Derby dream from this particular crop here?
Ken Ramsey: Last year, I had six. Next year, I’ve got 23. So, I’m getting a little bit older. I’ll be 80 years old the third day of November, so, you know, I have to take advantage of every opportunity I’ve got. So, I thought next year would be my big year, so International Star—and he is an international star, he’s already won up in Canada and, who knows, he may get invited to Dubai, or wherever, this horse later on, so I hope he lives up to his name and the name turns out to be prophetic.
Jim Mulvihill: You’ve not been shy about saying how badly you want to win the Derby. I feel like we’ve talked about this in past years, but for this particular group of folks on the line, tell us what it would mean to you to get that win, and is this the last thing on Ken Ramsey’s bucket list in a very full life?
Ken Ramsey: Well, I’ll tell you what, I’ll probably put it on an epitaph on my tombstone that I won the Derby in 2015, or ’16, ’17, or ’28, or whatever I win it in. My previous epitaph on my tombstone was, since I’m an entrepreneur, was “I made a lot of good deals but I went in the hole in this one.” So, I hope to change that and put on there that I won the Kentucky Derby in a certain year, and it could be 2015.
Jim Mulvihill: Excellent, it very well could. We really like the look of International Star, and we appreciate you joining us, as always. Good luck in the Kentucky Derby. We’ll see you at Churchill.
Ken Ramsey: Thanks for having me on. I hope I don’t let everybody down.
Jim Mulvihill: Not at all. You never could, Mr. Ramsey. That’ll do it for this Road to the Triple Crown teleconference. My thanks once again to our guests. I also want to thank Tim Sullivan for pointing out there that we had the wrong age for Mike de Kock.