Jim Mulvihill: Welcome, everybody, to our first official Road to the Triple Crown teleconference of the spring. We’re now 39 days away from the first Saturday in May, and you may have noticed the stakes on the Road to the Kentucky Derby series are getting higher. Over the next three Saturdays, there are seven races worth 170 points each towards earning a berth in the Kentucky Derby starting gate, and the first three of those races are this weekend. Those are the UAE Derby at Meydan, the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, and the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds.
Today we’ll focus on the two stateside Derby preps as far as our guests go, but I do want to brief everybody on the national television coverage this weekend. Remember that all of this information is included on the transcript of this call, and that goes in the NTRA website, and you can always contact myself or Joan Lawrence for those details. But when it’s appropriate, we ask that you would please consider including the times and networks for these televised events in your previews, and help your readers and your listeners find these important races.
Saturday, the richest race on the planet, the $10 million Dubai World Cup, will be the highlight of a one hour installment of the “Jockey Club Tour on FOX Sports 1”, which is also available on Spanish language FOX Deportes, and mobile app FOX Sports Go, and that’s 12:30 to 1:30 Eastern Time on Saturday. California Chrome, of course, will be there leading the American contingent, as well as Lea, Candy Boy. The Dubai World Cup will be shown live, but you also get to see highlights from the undercard, including the $6 million Sheema Classic with Main Sequence, and the $2 million UAE Derby (audio interference) 170 Kentucky Derby points.
Now, getting back to the big American prep races, later in this call we’re going to talk to both the trainer and jockey of the Lecomte and Risen Star runner-up, War Story. Those are Tom Amoss and Joe Talamo.
First, we’re going to look at the Florida Derby. So we’re very fortunate today to be joined by Rick Violette. He’s the trainer of Upstart, who was first across the wire in the major Florida Derby prep last time out, but was disqualified to second. So let’s bring in Rick now and I’ll tell you a little bit about Rick’s background. Violette’s career with horses started with hunters and jumpers before he started galloping horses at Suffolk Downs in the late ’70s, and in more than 30 years as a trainer he’s won 800 races. More than 30 of those have come in graded stakes, including Grade 1 wins with Dream Rush and Man from Wicklow. He’s trained multiple graded—he also trained multiple graded stakes winner, Read the Footnotes, who was seventh in the 2004 Kentucky Derby. Last year he was represented in the Triple Crown by Samraat, who was fifth in the Derby. He also serves as President of the both the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and its affiliated New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. His current stable star, of course, is Upstart, the New York-bred who was a good third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and then this winter at Gulfstream won the Holy Bull quite easily and then followed that up with his impressive performance in the Fountain of Youth where he crossed the wire first by almost three lengths but was taken down for interference. Now in Saturday’s Florida Derby, Upstart will get another chance against Itsaknockout, who was put up in that race.
Rick Violette, you’re on with Jim Mulvihill in Lexington. Thanks for joining us.
Rick Violette: Thanks for having me.
Jim Mulvihill: We really appreciate you being here. Now, we’ll briefly revisit the Fountain of Youth, if you don’t mind, but then we’ll go back and focus on what’s coming forward. But it’s obviously no secret that you were unhappy with the steward’s call in the Fountain of Youth, so could you just describe how you saw that incident for us and what you think should’ve happened in retrospect?
Rick Violette: Well, of course I’m very subjective here, but we were first, interference was Frosted came out and bumped into us as—inside the sixteenth pole, and Jose hitting left-handed we tripped it out. But before we made any contact, it was actually Itsaknockout who came into our hind end, and riders certainly know or even if you’re driving a car, if somebody bumps you around your right rear tire, the only place your front end can go is to the right. So I really think Itsaknockout exacerbated the problem by kind of knocking us off balance, and we drifted out briefly, but quickly opened up a couple of lengths.
So obviously my vote didn’t count and we were taken down, and it was just frustrating because there were a couple of other decisions on the day both before and after that were frustrating if you were just watching races and wondering what kind of decisions were coming out of the judges’ stand that day. You know, but you have to turn the page. The horse won, he thinks he won, and he got—ran a very courageous race that day. The track was incredibly tiring, and it was a little ugly coming up the lane when you’ve run the last sixteenth of a mile in seven and one, and we probably ran 4, 4.5 seconds slower than we should’ve run that day and horses also overreact when they’re tired, and they get hurt when they get that tired, and fortunately we dodged all those bullets and right now he’s doing terrific.
Jim Mulvihill: Like you said, an impressive performance nonetheless. So now let’s put that behind us and we’ll focus on this Saturday. You know, regarding the last work that he had over the weekend, let’s see, five eighths in 59:20 at Palm Meadows, from what I saw in the comments that were out there in the media you were very pleased. Can you just tell us what you liked about that work?
Rick Violette: His last eighth was his fastest. He went 11:40 from, you know, a half mile to the five eighths, and then he continued on out to gallop out in 12 and change. So it was really what we were looking for. I’ve been fairly conservative early on. I was quite conservative actually between the Holy Bull and the Fountain of Youth because he had done a whole lot in the Holy Bull, and I needed to be careful not over train him and try to let him refuel a little bit. You know, he didn’t do a lot of big things between those two races, and hoping to have a (inaudible). I thought we would regress numbers-wise, and—still show up and win the race. And we did, regress number-wise, but he got there first.
What—there’s no question that he ran kind of off the screen in the Holy Bull, both being fresh I think, but also he had a very similar work, a week before the Holy Bull where he went 59 out in 12 and change. You know, we’re always trying to find what are keys for our horses and what they run best off of; quick half miles, half miles in 40 and eight and change, a half mile in 45 and change, whatever kind of works for good horses and you try to repeat those patterns if you can. It was time; it’s a million dollars, it’s a Grade one, and while everybody, you know, we’re all talking about the Derby, this is a pretty important race here on Saturday, and you need to come over with a pretty big intention of getting there first, and that’s what we’ve done.
We kind of let him rip the other day. He started off with a workmate that didn’t stay with him too long, and he didn’t look like he was going that fast. Every time he’s worked down here he confuses the clock and still he looks like he’s going seconds slower and he just gobbles up the ground. So it was a great work. He cooled out in about 10 minutes; ate up, we trained him the next day, he was pretty fired up. He kind of knows we’re planning on something. He doesn’t know exactly what day, but he’s ready to roll.
Jim Mulvihill: Very good. Well, Rick, I want to give our assembled media here a chance to ask some questions, so I’m going to turn it back to John and he’ll see what they have for you.
Rick Violette: Great.
Ron Flatter: Rick, my first question goes back to the Fountain of Youth. Do you have any indication from the stewards that they’re going to be any more consistent going into the future? Was there any talk or any even transparency about that?
Rick Violette: No, I have not had any conversations whatsoever with them. They’re just going to do their job and probably the best case scenario for me is to keep my mouth shut.
Ron Flatter: Okay or use mute as the case may be. Including that race, favorites in the preps for the Derby so far are 13 for 26 crossing the line first. Do you have an explanation for that?
Rick Violette: Not a clue at this stage of the game, and I’m not trying to be funny. The best thing I can do is concentrate on my horse, and whether you’re hitting the lines of the odds or defying the odds, as long as my horse is on that, whatever side, you know, that’s the only real importance to me. You know, but favorites on a day in and day out basis win about 30% of the time, so it’s not a real concern.
Ron Flatter: To that extent, I mean does it suggest maybe a thinner three-year-old crop?
Rick Violette: No, I really think it’s a pretty good crop. I mean there are five or six horses I think if we’re not head and shoulders we’re pretty close, so three on the West Coast and Carpe Diem and Upstart I think are pretty much in everybody’s top five or six. They’re really good horses. They’ve shown up time—Dortmund certainly is a good horse; he’s undefeated. You know, Carpe Diem came back real well. Woody Stephens said you’re not supposed to mention any of the other horses’ names, but I think this is a good crop. They were good two-year-olds and they’re showing that they’re (inaudible). There aren’t going to be any layups in the Triple Crown I don’t believe.
Ron Flatter: Thank you, Rick.
Rick Violette: My pleasure.
Operator: Thank you. Your next question will come from Paul Daley with Lowell Sun. Please go ahead.
Paul Daley: Rick, how are you doing?
Rick Violette: Good. How are you, Paul?
Paul Daley: Good. How’s Beatrice? Doing all right?
Rick Violette: She’s doing great, Paul. Thanks for asking.
Paul Daley: A couple of quick questions.
Rick Violette: That’s my mother, for everybody who’s listening.
Paul Daley: Okay. How did Upstart get his name? Do you know that story at all?
Rick Violette: Mr. Evans, they breed horses occasionally; one or two a year, and every year the Jockey Club releases 50,000 names that have been otherwise reserved. There’s a rotation, whether it’s retired horses or names that just, have gone through their 10 or 12 year period of being restricted, but there’s literally 50,000 names that are released every year that can be used again. He goes through that list, and not necessarily all 50,000, but I think he started at the zees this year and got to U and found Upstart and liked the name and got it. So nothing real storytelling other than he pays attention, likes short one word names, and he found one in that released list.
Paul Daley: Okay, thanks. The other question I had, Rick, is that—what does Upstart have to do on Saturday to make you think that you should go on to the Derby in Louisville?
Rick Violette: Come out of the race healthy. I really think he’s done enough to show that, you know, he belongs in that upper tier, I ‘m not expecting that we won’t run well, but things happen; things happen out of the gate, things happen with other horses that you have no control over, so otherwise I expect him to run a really, really good race. He’s run over every racetrack from East Coast to West Coast and handled it, slow or wet, and so I’m expecting that we’re going to be tough to beat. However, if that doesn’t happen and he comes out of it healthy, I would think we would still consider going to Kentucky because of his past record.
Paul Daley: Okay, and my last question, Rick, is, and good luck, is that, you’ve had Read the Footnotes and you’ve Samraat, and now you’ve got Upstart, and, you know, it’s never fair to compare horses, I understand that, but can you talk about the similarities and differences between, for example, Samraat last year and Upstart this year?
Rick Violette: Well, I was always the favorite child of my parents, so—no, I’m just kidding. It is a little bit difficult, but separating the children. They all have their strong points. He’s a little bit maybe more the complete package. Read the Footnotes was brilliant. Samraat had a heart as large as his body. You got every ounce, every fiber of energy and talent out of him every race. He just—when you thought you were finished, he found more. He’s one of the most courageous horses that I’ve been around. Upstart’s just awfully talented. He obviously has a will to win, as he showed in the Fountain of Youth. He doesn’t need his racetrack. He’s pretty adaptable as far as tactics. If there’s no speed Saturday we could be on the lead or we could be 10 lengths back if there’s a ton of speed, and I think he’s effective both ways. He’s maybe a little bit more well rounded, but Samraat and Read the Footnotes were pretty cool, too.
Art Wilson: Since the stewards have been more in the forefront ever since the controversial finish with Bayern in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and without getting you in trouble, just interested in your thoughts on there seems to be two schools of thought on the East Coast and the West Coast at how the stewards make their decisions. Do you think that there should be a uniform way of how they look at things?
Rick Violette: You know, it would be nice, there’s no question, but—and as critical as I can be, right now with the NCA Tournament and there have been some of the most bizarre calls that—on the planet, and with pro basketball or football it can change from quarter to quarter how they’re calling games. So, you know, best laid plans. I think years ago when we finally made a change from a foul is a foul to if a foul affects the outcome of the race then it’s a foul, I think that complicated matters. I know the Horseplayers would disagree with me on this because they want the horse that won easily but had a minor incident earlier in the race to stand —but I just think if you hold everybody to the same standard that the foul was early in the race and it might not have affected the outcome, you still fouled and you’re going to get disqualified. If you held riders to that standard you might have a lot straighter cleaner racing, where you’re not putting it on a judgment call in the hands of the stewards. Every time you put judgment calls in anybody—whatever sport it is, it’s a judgment, and there’s going to be disagreement. Right now there were two judgments that they have to make; one, whether there was a foul or not, and two, whether it impacted the order of the finish. I think if you eliminate one about impacting the order of the finish, the jock’s got to stand up and stay straight because they know if they’re going to come down regardless if it was an advantage to them or not. I don’t know that we’re going to go back there, so we’ve just got to live with what happened and move on and try not to lose a whole lot of sleep over it.
Jim Mulvihill: Rick, I’ll ask one follow-up before we let you go. I’d just like you to talk about Mr. Evans a little bit. You mentioned the naming of the horse, but, you know, he’s been with you for more than 20 years, and what can you say about Ralph and being in this position with a longtime client like that?
Rick Violette: Well, it is—it’s very cool. Ralph and his wife are longtime clients, but just the sweetest, nicest people on the planet. Ralph is a retired trader on Wall Street. He was a partner with the Stern Brothers I believe, and they got gobbled up a few years ago and he retired. Salt of the earth almost fatherly figure at times, and been with me through thick and thin, it’s just very gratifying that we can provide so much enjoyment to sometimes an industry that kind of tests your patience. I’m sure I’ve tested their patience over the years and so this is kind of just rewards for them. They certainly deserve it.
Jim Mulvihill: When they get a good young horse like this I’m sure that they got some offers, too, and you were probably contacted as part of those conversations. Can you tell us about, you know, Ralph’s desire to race this horse at this point in his life?
Rick Violette: Yes, fortunately at the stage of the game where just a profit and money isn’t necessarily going to change his life, but this experience could. We’ve had offers for the whole horse, for two thirds of the horse. I think he’d sell a leg if the price was right and the partnership was to his liking, but he’s along for the ride. He knows that tomorrow is promised to no one, and we might never get to this spot again, so he’s enjoying every moment of it and will continue to do so.
Jim Mulvihill: Excellent. Well, Rick, thank you so much for your time today and we wish you luck on Saturday.
Rick Violette: Thanks a lot. I appreciate it. Take care.
Jim Mulvihill: All right. That’s Rick Violette. He’s got Upstart in the Florida Derby on Saturday. We move on now to our next guest, and that is going to be jockey, Joe Talamo. I’ll tell you a little bit about Joe. He’s a native of the New Orleans area, having grown up in the West Bank suburb of Marrero. He’s the son of a longtime Louisiana horseman and started mucking stalls at age seven. He won a Leading Rider title at Fair Grounds and an Eclipse Awards as the nation’s Outstanding Apprentice of 2007 before heading west to the Southern California circuit. At age 25 now he’s got more than 1,500 wins, including 16 Grade 1s. He’s won a Breeders’ Cup and a Santa Anita Derby, and this Saturday he’ll be back at the Fair Grounds to ride not just the Louisiana Derby on War Story, but also several other of the seven stakes on that card.
So, Joe Talamo, are you with us?
Joe Talamo: Yes, sir. How are you?
Jim Mulvihill: I’m doing great. You’re on with Jim Mulvihill in Lexington. We really appreciate you taking a few minutes with us. Maybe we’ll start with you making a trip back to New Orleans this weekend. You know, it’s one of the Louisiana tracks where you first made your name. Can you just tell us a little bit about what it’s like to go ride at the Fair Grounds and what it would mean to win a Louisiana Derby?
Joe Talamo: Oh, absolutely. I mean ever since I can remember my dad has taken me to the Fair Grounds at a young age, and it’s just it’s always been a special place for me. That’s what first brought horse racing into my life; always at Fair Grounds. I can remember ever since I was seven, eight years old watching the Louisiana Derby every year in New Orleans (inaudible), and it just really means a lot to go back there and participate in that.
Jim Mulvihill: Even though you’re so tied to Fair Grounds because of your incredible apprentice season there, your time there was very short. Do you—how many of these Louisiana Derbys have your ridden in?
Joe Talamo: Just one. When I was an apprentice rider I think I just rode in one of them, that’s another thing, it’s pretty special to go back, especially to ride a horse like War Story. I know he’s doing incredibly well and he looks to be real tough in that race.
Jim Mulvihill: I understand that you—that part of the reason you were able to secure the mount with War Story is you were willing to give a two race commitment to Tom and the owners. You’ve watched his replays at this point. Can you tell us what it is you like so much about War Story?
Joe Talamo: Oh absolutely. I mean for one thing he’s only run four times, but if you watch all his replays, He improves every single time. He won his first start at Churchill Downs, of all places, going seven eighths; broke slow, came from dead last and won going away which is pretty impressive. If you just watch all his races, every race he gets better and better and he seems a horse that the further he goes he seems to better, and he just—he seems like a real nice Derby horse.
Jim Mulvihill: Now we have Tom coming on after you and we’re going to talk to him a little bit about War Story’s gate problems, but I also want to hear what you’ve seen just watching the replays, and also what you think you can do as a rider when you’re standing the horse and then when the gates open to get him more involved earlier in the race?
Joe Talamo: Some horses are like that; they just tend to break a little slower than others. But what I love about him, he handles the adversity real well. You know, a lot of horses break slow and they can’t really overcome it and they’ll split the field and run fourth or fifth. But even though he breaks a little slow, he makes up for it with that big turn of foot that he has the last part, so. I think the added distance, you know, we’re going from a mile and a sixteenth to a mile and eighth, I definitely think that’s going to suit him a lot better as well.
Jim Mulvihill: Excellent. Well, we’ve got Joe Talamo, and, Joe, I’m going to give it back to the Operator to see what questions the media have for you. We can ask Joe not only about War Story but he’s also going to ride Moreno in the New Orleans Handicap, and Chocolate Ride in the Mervin Muniz Memorial. So let’s swing it back to John and see what the media have.
Art Wilson: Talk to jockeys and even the veterans and, the young jockeys like yourself, they always talk about winning the Derby. Even the veterans say that haven’t been fortunate enough to win one. Talk about the burning desire. Is that something that lives in you also or it something where you kind of take the attitude if it happens it’s going to happen, or is it really something that’s burning inside you?
Joe Talamo: Oh, absolutely. I actually I wake up early and go in to work I guess I want to win a Kentucky Derby. I think I can say the same for any jockey or trainer really. I think basically before you’re a jockey or a trainer I’m sure you’ve watched races, and for some reason when you watch the Kentucky Derby, there’s no other real excitement to it. I’ve been fortunate to ride in one of them, but there’s really no other feeling than participating in it. So I mean to win it would, to me, that would just be as good as it gets as far as a career goes. That’s why I’m just so fortunate when it comes to Derby time just to get an opportunity to participate with a live mount in the Derby preps, because if they run well in those, obviously they have a great shot in the Kentucky Derby, and think that’s why we’re all here.
Art Wilson: Right. In 2009 now it was going to be your first Derby, and some jockeys never get the opportunity ever to ride in the morning-line favorite. You were going to ride the morning-line favorite that year, I Want Revenge, and, of course, he had to be scratched the morning of the race. How big of a disappointment was that for you?
Joe Talamo: Oh, it was tremendous. You know what, actually looking back on it, probably glad I was so young because it never really sunk in because everything happened so fast. One day I was working him at Santa Anita and the next he won the Wood Memorial. Like he was the favorite for the Kentucky Derby, and I know that was a three or four month stand, but it felt like it was about a week and a half. I mean it just goes to show that horse racing, the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, that was, in my whole career, I don’t think I’ve ever had a high and a low as big and low as that. Like I said, fortunately I’m glad it was kind of at an early stage in my career just because it kind of set me up for other highs and other failures as well, and really I knew right then and there I wanted to get back even more just because I knew I had such a great shot that year. Fortunately I was able to go back the next year with Sidney’s Candy. Even though he didn’t perform that well, like I said, just to be in the Derby to be one of the 20 in the starting gates was an incredible feeling.
Art Wilson: What—lastly, what was like that? What was that experience like with Sidney’s Candy the next year 2010? What, in your mind, what sets the Derby apart from, say, any other Grade 1 or Triple Crown races?
Joe Talamo: God, I don’t even know the word for it. I mean when you walk in the paddock there’s thousands and thousands of people circling around. I’ve ridden in many Breeders’ Cups, many Grade 1s, I mean there’s just no other feeling other than just walking out and seeing everyone there, and when you leg up and they start singing My Old Kentucky Home and you walk onto the track, I mean I can’t put into words; it’s just unbelievable. When you walk into the starting gate, you just know that’s the biggest race in the world. Whatever the purse may be or what have you, you know right then and there that’s the race you want to win.
Jeff Duncan: I’m curious, I know Bob Fortus has written about you making the conversion out to California in the past for our paper, but I’m curious to know about what kind of culture shock you encountered if at all when you moved out there at that young age coming from Louisiana and then kind of immersing yourself in the California culture.
Joe Talamo: Well, it took me a long time to find boiled crawfish and crabs, I know that. There was a huge difference, especially you know, I moved out here when I was I think 17 years old. My father came out with me for a bit, obviously I was away from my family and friends and basically came out here on my own, that was a big culture shock. It was different, but I was very fortunate career-wise. I had Bobby Frankel who took me out here and gave me a lot of good opportunities, and that kind of really jumpstarted me from doing well at the Fair Grounds to doing well at a national stage, because he pretty much introduced me to every good trainer and owner out here, and I really think that that pretty much helped escalate me out here.
Jeff Duncan: Do you consider yourself a Californian now? I know you’ve really embraced it out there.
Joe Talamo: No, I’m from Marrero, Louisiana. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that. But pretty much home is out here in California. Besides coming to the Fair Grounds whenever I get a chance, I do fly back probably two or three times a year mostly in September; we have a little down time for about a week or two, and I usually fly back then. But I really wish I could come back more often, but obviously there’s year round racing out here where I usually stay.
Jeff Duncan: I assume by now you’ve found crawfish and crabs out there?
Joe Talamo: Actually, I have had a crawfish boil the other day. I had about 20, 30 people over. Fortunately, half of them didn’t know how to eat it, so I got to eat most of it. That worked out pretty well.
Jeff Duncan: Hey, last thing, when you come back and you race at the Fair Grounds, who all comes out? I mean do you have family and friends that come out and watch you?
Joe Talamo: Oh, yes. So many—I’m sure all my family, a lot of high school friends would be there. It’s so great to come back, and really even for Tom Amoss, I mean I’ve been knowing him since I was seven, eight years old running around the Fair Grounds backstretch, you know, so just to come back and ride for guys like that and see guys like that to ride in big races, I mean that means even more than anything.
Ron Flatter: Joe, is the start really the only concern for War Story, and if not, what else do you look for to try to get out of him that you have to really concentrate on?
Joe Talamo: I’m pretty confident in the way he is. I know he breaks a little bit slow, but I’ve gone back and watched all four of his replays. Regardless if he breaks slow he has such a tremendous late run, and like I was saying earlier, I think that really helps him. When some horses break slow, usually it’s hard to finally get that going. He gets right into stride, and like I said, he’s got a real nice quarter mile late run. So if he breaks a little slow, I don’t think it’s going to be a big detriment to him because, like I said, I think the added distance of a mile and an eighth and that late turn of foot I think is really going to help him.
Ron Flatter: He’s gone wide three of the four races. I don’t know about the one where you rode right after Christmas the first time at the Fair Grounds. Does having to go inside, would that be something new for him, or what have you seen from the video that would suggest to you that he could go, you know, be closer to the rail?
Joe Talamo: Yes, that’s the thing, International Star, if you watch the last two races, he was fortunate enough to get through on the rail, and War Story had to go, three, four wide, a lot of times that’s just the way the race sets up. The other horse was in front of him and, like I said, he was able to get through, and a lot of times to get his momentum going you might have to go a little wider than expected, but really it’s just going to depend on how the race sets up on Saturday. I think the past performances are going to come out sometime tomorrow, so we’ll kind of figure out speed-wise what kind of speed horse there’ll be in there, and really it’s just going to depend when the gates open and how the race sets up. If he breaks a little slower or further back we’ll have to go from there, but if he breaks well and he’s up a little bit closer then we’ll just have to work out a good trip for him.
Ron Flatter: I know it’s your first ride on him, but would you consider for War Story that International Star is just his nemesis?
Joe Talamo: They’re two real good horses. I mean you can’t take anything away from International Star. He’s won the last two preps down there. It looks like a real nice horse. But I’m just very confident in War Story watching the last few races, even though he breaks a little slow, he really makes it up that last quarter mile, and like I said, I really think the added distance is going to help him out. Even going a mile and a quarter, he seems like a horse galloping out after his races he just gets stronger and stronger, and I’m really looking forward to it.
Brian Zipse: I like your horse a lot in the Louisiana Derby, but I’d like to know what you think of some of the West Coast horses, specifically Dortmund, American Pharoah and Firing Line, and if there’s one of those three maybe that you think is currently the horse to beat in your eyes for the Kentucky Derby?
Joe Talamo: I’m going to tell you what—I’ve been fortunate enough to watch all three of them train in the morning, and I know before the races they were working really incredible, and all three you could tell by their last three races they had just run out the TV screen. But like I said, I’m just real confident in my horse that I’m riding, those three horses, they ran real good, but they seem to be up close to the pace, and in the Derby there doesn’t seem to be an easy lead to come to anyone. I definitely think we have the right style to run in that kind of race. I’ve watched all three of their last races and I have to take my hat off to all three of them; they’ve run unbelievable prep races. But like I said, in the Derby anything goes and on any given day any horse could get beat.
Jim Mulvihill: I’ll follow-up with you on another one of your horses on Saturday. You’ve been on Moreno before in the distant past riding him in the Breeders’ Cup two years ago, but I’m sure you’ve seen quite a bit of him out in California. Can you just give us your impressions of Moreno in the New Orleans Handicap?
Joe Talamo: Yes, actually I worked him out the other morning at Los Al. I think he went a minute in two fifths, and he’s all race horse. If you look at his races, the few bad races he’s run, it’s the two times in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Other than that, if he doesn’t win, he’s right there. He runs hard every time. He’s run against Shared Belief, one of the best older horses in the country just ran second to him in the Santa Anita Handicap, and he tries hard every time. Me and Eric talked about the race a little bit. He said he’s a horse you kind of have to ride the whole way to kind of get him in a good rhythm. He’s not one you want to sit back and make him run; you’ve got to get him in the race early. He said you kind of have to keep after him the whole way, but if you do that, he said, he’ll just keep running for you.
Jim Mulvihill: Interesting. You know, with him being a frontrunner like he is, any thoughts on that long Fair Grounds stretch and how this race suits his style?
Joe Talamo: Yes, absolutely. The Fair Grounds stretch is one of the longest in the country, and that plays pretty well to closers. You’re going to get some real nice horses around the whole country, too, and he seems to be willing to take the track with him. He’s run well at Santa Anita, Saratoga, Belmont. He runs well pretty much everywhere, which goes to show what kind of horse he is. So really I’m just hoping for a good trip with him. Hopefully we draw well, and we’ll just kind of take it from there.
Jim Mulvihill: Very good. Well, Joe, we really appreciate your time today, and we wish you luck not only at Fair Grounds on Saturday but every day. Thank you so much for being here.
Joe Talamo: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you, guys, for having me.
Jim Mulvihill: All right. Thank you. That’s Joe Talamo, and he’s going to ride at the Fair Grounds on Saturday for their big Louisiana Derby Day card, which has seven stakes, including four that are Grade 2 events.
That brings us now to our last guest in this NTRA national media teleconference. That’s going to be Tom Amoss. While we try to connect with Tom Amoss, let me just make one correction from earlier in the call. I’m afraid that I had some bad information, so I just want to make sure everybody knows that this Saturday, the Florida Derby and the Louisiana Derby will not be on the NBC Sports Network. The first Road to the Derby broadcast on the NBC Sports Network will not be until Blue Grass Day on April 4th. So I apologize for that; just got some bad information there.
Now, that brings us to our final guest of the call, and that is Tom Amoss. I’ll tell you a little bit about Tom. He’s a native of New Orleans. Started attending the races as a teenager and in high school got a job hot walking for Jack Van Berg. While he was at LSU he worked for Frank Brothers, and after graduation went on to work for Larry Robideaux and then John Parisella. Since going out on his own in 1987, Tom has more than 3,100 wins; good for twenty fifth all-time. He has 43 graded stakes victories, including a pair of Grade 1s with Heritage of Gold in 2000. He’s had three Kentucky Derby starters, including fifth place finisher, Mylute, in 2013. He’s won 10 Leading Trainer titles at Fair Grounds, and also has multiple training titles at Churchill, Indiana and Hoosier. More than 1,000 of his career wins have come at his hometown track of Fair Grounds, where his win total is second only to that of his first boss, Van Berg. Saturday he’ll saddle Lecomte and Risen Star runner-up, War Story, in the track’s signature race, the Louisiana Derby.
Tom Amoss, you’re on with Jim Mulvihill in Lexington. Thanks for joining us.
Tom Amoss: Jim, it’s a pleasure. How are you?
Jim Mulvihill: I’m doing great. It’s always good to talk to you. Now, before we get specifically to War Story, I’d like for you to help us set the stage a little bit if you would. You heard me listing your achievements at Fair Grounds over the years. Just tell us a little bit about what a Louisiana Derby win would mean to you.
Tom Amoss: Well, I think it should mean lots to anyone in that I’ve never won a Louisiana Derby. I’ve been favored in it. I’ve earned second in it with Mylute a couple years back, but never won the race. War Story, who has prepped in the last two before this race, both the Lecomte and the Risen Star, comes in as what I believe is my best chance going into the race. That’s exciting for someone that grew up in New Orleans, attended this race since the time he was 10 or 11 years old to now, and I think it’s safe to say while other kids dreamt about throwing the winning touchdown pass in the Super Bowl, I dreamt about winning the Louisiana Derby. I always wanted to be a trainer, and, you know, here it is. So the stage is set and we’ll see what happens.
Jim Mulvihill: While there’s obviously larger goals down the road in terms of the Triple Crown, it’s—like you say, it shouldn’t be lost on people that this would be quite a milestone for you as well. Can you tell us what the earliest Louisiana Derby you remember watching is?
Tom Amoss: Oh, probably Master Derby would be a guess. I don’t recall if he won it. He might’ve been second that year, but, of course, he went on to do well in the Triple Crown races. But that’s one I remember going back in time. That’s probably the earliest one I remember.
Jim Mulvihill: Very good, very good. All right, well now let’s get to War Story. He had a bullet work on Thursday, and, you know, after this we’ll get on to his issues out of the gate, but first I want to talk about his upside. So just tell us about his talent and his fitness level coming into the Louisiana Derby.
Tom Amoss: Sure. So his last race was eventful both in the actual race itself as well as the preparations. War Story was going to go and run in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park and he shipped all the way up to Oaklawn. He was going to skip the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds. He actually breezed over the Oaklawn racetrack about seven or eight days before the race. Over that weekend we drew the race, it was a Monday race; it was run on President’s Day, and we drew the race on Friday, and he drew an extreme outside post position which is statistically death at Oaklawn going through turns, and on top of that, there was a forecast for some really nasty weather coming in. So we aborted that plan and we put him on a van Saturday morning a week before the Risen Star and brought him back to the Fair Grounds. With that trip up and back a couple of things took place. We missed a work leading into the Risen Star, and he actually, coming back to New Orleans from Oaklawn, took a couple of days to get back into his feed tub and to be the horse personality-wise that I know. So there were certainly some concerns going into the Risen Star. I thought the race itself—turning to the race itself, it was just one of those races. He had a tough trip. He went around everybody. The winner, International Star, got through on the rail the whole way, and he was a length better than us. But I think for trip handicappers, a strong case to be made that War Story ran the best race that day.
Jim Mulvihill: Interesting. Well, and now let’s talk more about the issues out of the gate. He’s just been a step slow in both of the Fair Grounds races—or the last two Fair Grounds races I should say.
Tom Amoss: Right.
Jim Mulvihill: But you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this and addressing this, and at this point when a horse has its habits, what can you do from here on out?
Tom Amoss: That’s a very good question. So this is a problem we inherited. War Story made his first start at Churchill Downs going seven eighths of a mile which is an unusual starting distance, but the reason for that was because they were having issues with him and how quickly he was leaving the gate, and they did not think he could get up at the traditional six furlong type of race so they wanted a little extra distance for him. He has not really broken well on any of his starts. So a great misnomer is if a horse isn’t breaking well from the gate you should be practicing a lot with him leaving the gate. That is a recipe for injury and disaster because that is the hardest type of exercise for a horse to go from a standing start, and so you’ve got to be careful with how often you do that. So you look to avoid doing that but at the same time try to find ways that can make him leave the gate in a better fashion.
Going into the Risen Star, we used a technique where you tail the horse, which all you’re doing is —somebody that’s on the gate crew is standing behind the gate and holding onto the horse’s tail and releasing the pressure off that tail when the gate opens. Horses tend to want to get away from that. It didn’t work. So when we come into the Louisiana Derby this weekend, we’re going to do something a little different. We’re going to put pads in the gate, which all that does is you stick these inside the gate and it confines the space in the gate. It makes the space smaller in the gate. So War Story is a horse that tends to rock a little bit back and forth in the gate. This won’t allow him to do that. He’ll have to be more stationary in the gate without being able to move around that much, and we’re hoping that that makes him lead better from the gate. We practiced with it this past weekend. He left the gate well in the morning, but it’s certainly safe to say that horses know the difference between practice and the real thing, so sometimes when you get something right in practice it doesn’t always carry over to the race. But that’s the technique we’re going to use, and we’re hopeful because when we talk about War Story’s last race, the Risen Star, and what got him beat, it’s the start. I mean if you don’t break well, you know, the die is cast. There’s only so many options you have in the race. Whereas if you break with speed or tactical speed, you have options. We didn’t have options and we ended up having to go around everybody, and it was the difference between winning and losing.
Jim Mulvihill: So this is very interesting about the pads in the gate. Is this—can you tell us how common is this? Is it something you’ve had success before, and is it something you have to get permission from the stewards on or just work with the starter?
Tom Amoss: Right, so, another good question. So it’s a common technique, all trainers at the racetrack are constantly working with the gate crew to get the best start they can with their horse. The gate crew is, you know, that’s their job to try to make it as even a race as possible from the starting gate. So they’re very, very cooperative in trying to do different things to help your horse, whether it’s mine or anyone else’s, leave the gate in an orderly fashion. So, again, this is a common technique. We practiced with it. You discuss it with the starter who heads the gate crew, and if you think that’s a plus and he’s in agreement with you he’ll offer you that option. He certainly felt that way, Glen felt that way, and so that’s the way we’re going to go.
Jim Mulvihill: Very good. How does having a new rider play into this, and what are you going to tell Joe specifically about the start?
Tom Amoss: Well, it’s a great dynamic. Joe Talamo is from New Orleans. I got to catch the tail end of his last question, and certainly there’s a familiarity with somebody that’s got that New Orleans accent when I’m sitting on the phone getting ready to speak next. So it would make for a wonderful story. You know, two New Orleans guys, grew up with the races getting together and winning a big race like this. But I’ve got all the confidence in the world in Joe as far as that goes, so there won’t be a lot of conversation about what to do or what not to do with War Story. He does his homework, Joe does. He’s a consummate pro, so I know when we come in the paddock he’s going to have studied not only the race, but he’s going to have studied War Story’s races by watching some videos on him from the past. Actually, I know he’s already done that. War Story is a horse that demands to be ridden, and by that I mean you have to exert energy on top of him to get his best. You know, you have to be constantly moving your hands, you’ve got to be willing to reach back and hit him and do all the things that make a lazy horse run his best race. So with a young guy like Joe, I look forward to him, you know, getting on top of the horse and getting the most out of our horse.
Ron Flatter: Tom, what’s the reason that has gone into why you’ve had four jockeys in five races for War Story?
Tom Amoss: Well, Ron, that’s a good question. A lot of it is the dynamics of when the races are. So going back a little bit in time, Graham rode this horse in the Lecomte, and we were going to Oaklawn for our next start, so Graham took a mount in the Risen Star. When we changed plans to come back, he was no longer available, so that’s when we went to Kent Desormeaux. Kent rode him in the Risen Star and the owners wanted a commitment—if he ran well in the Louisiana Derby they wanted a commitment to the Kentucky Derby. Kent is a very popular rider and he was unable to give us a two race commitment, so the owners decided to go with Joe Talamo, who has given a two race commitment on War Story.
Ron Flatter: I take it that was before Texas Red was scratched out, right?
Tom Amoss: Well, you know, that’s a tough question, Ron, because there’s a lot of speculation that maybe that horse was scratched out a lot earlier than anybody knows. The horse in question that Kent was committing to over us was actually the horse that ran second for him out in California; (inaudible) I believe is the trainer. I can’t recall his name, but he was second to Baffert’s horse in the most recent Derby prep out there.
Ron Flatter: Now also, sorry, so if it’s just scheduling or commitments or what have you, I know that the Loooch Stable has had a history of making switches. We saw that with Ria Antonia last year. Do you feel under any…?
Tom Amoss: Correct.
Ron Flatter: Kind of pressure, or is there any dynamic there that suggests to you that there could always be changes with this ownership?
Tom Amoss: I think with any ownership there’s always a possibility of changes, so—and I’m not trying to avoid your question when I say that, I’m just telling you that from experience of training for other people. As far as what goes into making a rider change, particularly with this group, and I can answer that based on Ria Antonia, again, a lot of what went on with that particular filly was based on conflicts with riders and last minute decisions to run here or there. So I think we might be reading a little bit too much into it. It’s not to say that changes aren’t made based on disappointing efforts in a race, or, well, you know, the idea that the guy didn’t ride the horse well, but in this case I really think it’s more that than anything else.
Ron Flatter: Finally, favorites have crossed the line first in half the preps so far. Now I realize that with this horse that’s the exception, but does that suggest we have a thin three-year-old crop or is that just an anomaly?
Tom Amoss: You know, I’m going to put my TVG hat on for a second and tell you that’s something that we discuss a lot on the air through the years, and it never fails to amaze me that really it’s six to eight months after the Derby has run that you can actually reflect on a crop and say, hey, it was a good one or it wasn’t a good one. A case in point, I’m not so sure that when California Chrome won the Kentucky Derby last year people were very high on that group per se, but now when you reflect on it, not only California Chrome but certainly the Jerry Hollendorfer horse as well, Shared Belief, you have to say that was a pretty outstanding couple of three year olds.
Ron Flatter: Thank you.
Art Wilson: Can you tell us what went through your decision to choose Joe to ride your horse? Did his agent reach out to you, did you reach out to him, or how did it go?
Tom Amoss: So I’m going to give you this information third hand, but I’m pretty sure that I know the answer to that. So the first that occurred was that Kent was unable to give a commitment to both the Louisiana Derby and the Kentucky Derby, and I want to say that’s prefaced on a good performance in the Louisiana Derby. That’s what was asked for by the owners, and he was unable to do that. So at that point the search began for someone new to ride the horse. What makes Joe—what qualifies him as the top candidate, and I was asked my opinion on this, was, number one, his professionalism, number two, his youth and strength on a horse, and then finally, his ties to New Orleans. We were looking forward to having Joe come back here to New Orleans in a race I know he’s dying to win.
Art Wilson: Okay. My second question, watching the races, the other preps around the country, any two or three horses that you can tell us that have stood out and that have really impressed you on the Triple Crown trail so far?
Tom Amoss: I happened to watch the Rebel with my wife at the Fair Grounds on TV, and I pointed out to her at the end of the race, I said whenever you can actually see a horse noticeably quicken with your naked eye by just watching a race, that’s a special performance. So I’d have to say American Pharoah ran a very, very special race that day, and that’s the kind of race that if you can carry it over to the first Saturday in May, I don’t see anybody beating him. But, you know, that was then and this is going to be later, so we’ll see if he can continue that way, but just a star performance. I’m fully aware he controlled everything on the front end, but you just don’t see horses noticeably quicken like you saw him quicken. The last one I can remember like that was Wise Dan.
Jeff Duncan: I heard you go back with Joe Talamo quite a ways. Can you tell me your early memories of when you all first started becoming acquainted at the Fair Grounds?
Tom Amoss: Yes. I remember Joe was in the paddock to ride one of my horses, and it was his birthday, and I think it was his sixteenth birthday. But to give you an idea of the Joe Talamo back then and the Joe Talamo now, I remember before he got on the horse wishing him a Happy Birthday and asking what he was going to do that night. He said he was going out for ice cream with his mom and dad. So it’s fair to say I knew him way, way back.
Jeff Duncan: But, Tom, did you sense the promise in him as a rider?
Tom Amoss: Oh yes. I knew Joe was special. Everybody knew it. You know, even at that age, he was so fluent in studying the form and so good at picking up on horses’ behavior. He had that special talent of just being able to communicate to the horse that, you know, you do it through your hands; you do it through your actions on top of them. You know, it’s just a rare, rare thing. I think Rosie Napravnik has it. Before her, Pat Day has it. That’s the kind of elite group of riders I’d put him with.
Jeff Duncan: Just finally, you mentioned briefly what—I guess his background going into part of the reasoning to put him on the mount on War Story. What does it mean, you know, for you and him together to have this opportunity; I mean both you guys being New Orleanians?
Tom Amoss: Well, you know, Jeff, you’re from New Orleans and we know each other obviously, but you’ve been out to the racetrack on Derby Day, and it is a community affair. The city loves the races and they understand good racing, and when good racing comes to town, everybody shows up. So naturally, being in front of a hometown crowd and possibly being the one that can take down the top prize and doing it with another New Orleanian, I think that would make for a wonderful headline come Sunday morning.
Katherine Terrell: Can you give us a little bit more insight on War Story and his personality? What’s he like to train in the morning?
Tom Amoss: That’s a good question. So remember, War Story came to my barn after his first race. So he broke his maiden at Churchill Downs, and then I took him over after that. You know, part of the process, or excuse me, part of the art of training is getting to know your horse; getting to know his personality. I remember the first day we took him to the track; he was so lethargic in the way he went. He really didn’t even pick up his feet well that I called the owner that afternoon. I did not have anything to do with the purchase. I just ended up with the horse. I called the owner later that afternoon and I think I said something along the lines of, you know, he goes like an ordinary horse, which, you know, in trainer speak means I’m a little nervous about the way this horse goes on the racetrack. Nothing unsound about him, just a very ordinary way of going. War Story knows the difference between practice and the real thing. I got to run him in a prep race before the Lecomte, and he was very, very impressive. So War Story is really the Allen Iverson of horse racing. He knows that practice is just practice, and when it’s time to do the real thing he turns it on.
Katherine Terrell: Is it maybe easier to train horses like that because you know they’ll conserve their energy and maybe not put it all out there in the mornings instead of on race day?
Tom Amoss: I think the hardest part of training a horse like that or training a horse like War Story is being able to trust your instincts and your knowledge of training. In other words, watching him get ready for a race and not saying to yourself shouldn’t he be sharper than this, shouldn’t he be working faster than this, shouldn’t he be showing more extension of stride in the morning? You know, you have to trust your experience and your knowledge of that horse to know that what you’re seeing is what he gives you to show that he’s ready, which is different than probably 90% of the horses I train.
Katherine Terrell: With all that being said, what do you take from his last work, since obviously by time alone it’s very impressive, and just how do you know at this point he’s matured since you’ve gotten him?
Tom Amoss: Okay, so that work was a little bit different work than some of the others we’ve done. We wanted to give him something with another horse to kind of keep him company out there. In the other works he’d been on his own. In doing so, we asked for a little bit more from him. So the question might also be, well, why did you do that when, you know, you hadn’t been doing that in the past? The answer to that is because we were spacing out works differently than we have been in the past. When we ran to the Risen Star, our last work was probably 10 days before the Risen Star, and, of course, that was for reasons that we couldn’t control. We had to ship back and forth, he wasn’t eating well, and we had to gallop into the race off of 10 days, and he performed very well that day. So we decided that the best method for him would be to work him further out, and if you’re going to work him further out you want to make sure, like his work at Oaklawn, which was the one before the Risen Star, that he got enough out of it. We’re very satisfied with how he worked.
Jim Mulvihill: Just for the record so the media knows, the horse that Tom mentioned earlier that Kent Desormeaux might potentially ride back that was second in the San Felipe, that was Prospect Park. Now, Tom, one more question for you as long as we have you here. I’m just wondering if you would give us a quick rundown of some of your other stakes horses either in the races at Fair Grounds on Saturday or that we might see at Keeneland down the rode. I know Delauney is firing bullets again, so would you mind just a quick update?
Tom Amoss: Sure, not at all. So let’s talk about Saturday first of all. Saturday’s a big stakes day at the Fair Grounds, and one of the more interesting long shots that I’m going to run Saturday is a horse that’s going to run in the New Orleans Handicap named Indycott. Indycott is interesting for the following reasons. He was a horse that was running in the claiming ranks and was claimed for $17,500 by Joe Sharp. I was informed that I didn’t get him. Joe, in racing terminology, he outshoot me for the horse. Joe ran him back for $20,000 and I claimed him from Joe that day. And the day that Joe ran him, Indycott ran a race different than he’s run in his career. He’s got a very good pedigree by the way. I believe he’s an A.P. Indy. So when I ran him back for the first time off of the claim from Joe, again, he ran a very, very good race. These two races were different than anything in his form, and he has a style where he comes from behind. The New Orleans Handicap this weekend is going to have plenty of speed in it. Moreno is in it; Albano is in it. There’s plenty of speed to set up for my horse’s late run at a mile and an eighth, and you know what, that’s exciting to take a horse and try to make him better than what he has been in the past, so we’re looking forward to that.
It’s also a day where we’re going to run some Louisiana Bred Stakes, and although this horse is not just a Louisiana-bred, as you’ll know when I say his name, Heitai will be running Saturday in the Louisiana Bred Stake. He’s a very good horse on a national level. We have a three-year-old filly named Sibling War, a Louisiana bred that’ll run that day as well. So quite a bit going on for us on Saturday for sure.
You mentioned Delauney. Delauney’s at Keeneland right now. Something that wasn’t known to a lot of people is when Delauney ran his last race, which he was second, he got sick on us a couple of days before the race. It came very quick and it left very quick, but it made us nervous, and I don’t think he ran his race that day. So looking forward to getting Delauney back on the track. You’ll see him either at Keeneland or at Churchill. No decisions have been made on that, but he is training well and he’s ready to go.
Jim Mulvihill: Outstanding. Well, Tom, we really appreciate all the information today. Great conversation and we wish you luck on Saturday with War Story and all your other stakes runners as well.
Tom Amoss: Thank you, Jim. Keep up the good work. We miss you down here.
Jim Mulvihill: I miss being there. I wish I could be there on Saturday. Tom Amoss, everybody. Got a big shot in the Louisiana Derby with War Story, the Lecomte and Risen Star runner-up, and there’s just an outstanding day of racing there overall. It’s going to be a great card.
So that wraps up today’s NTRA teleconference. I want to thank not only Tom but also Rick Violette and Joe Talamo.