NTRA Road to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships from Aug. 26
NTRA Road to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships from Aug. 26
Jim Mulvihill: Welcome, everyone, to this week’s Road to the Breeders’ Cup National Media Teleconference. Today’s call is going to focus entirely on the end of the Saratoga meet. From Thursday to Monday the Spa will host nine graded stakes, including four Grade 1s. Those Grade 1s are the Woodward and Forego on Saturday, the Spinaway on Sunday, and the Hopeful on Monday as closing day card. Note that the Forego is a Breeders’ Cup challenge “Win and You’re In” race carrying an automatic berth, paid entry fees and travel for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. That race and the Woodward will be televised nationally on the NBC Sports Network’s “Breeders’ Cup Challenge” series. That’s Saturday from 6 to 7 p.m. Eastern. You can also listen to these races on Satellite Radio Sirius Channel 93 or XM 208. That’s part of a live edition of ‘Down the Stretch” with Dave Johnson and company Saturday from 5 to 7 p.m. Eastern. Note that there are other important stakes to pay attention to this weekend outside of New York. Del Mar has the Grade 1 Debutante on Saturday, the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby on the turf Sunday, and then the Grade 2 Yellow Ribbon for turf females on Monday. Note that the Del Mar meet concludes September 3rd a week from tomorrow with the Del Mar Futurity on closing day.
But, as I said, this call is all about the final few days at Saratoga, and it’s shaping up to be a very memorable weekend. In addition to all these important stakes, Sunday will be the final day in the booth for track announcer, Tom Durkin, retiring after 43 years of race calling. We’re delighted that Tom will join us later in this call, as will Eddie Plesa, trainer of the Woodward hopeful, Itsmyluckyday, and Brian Lynch, who is going to saddle Clearly Now in the Forego as well as Five Iron in the Bernard Baruch.
But first, to kick off this call we’re glad to welcome back one of our most frequent guests over the past few years, and that’s because he’s got a great horse in his barn, and that, of course, is trainer Charlie LoPresti. Now by way of introduction before we bring him on, LoPresti is Brooklyn born, but makes his home on a farm near Lexington. In the last ’70s he answered a “help wanted” ad placed by a Virginia thoroughbred farm and they recommended him for a job at Belmont Park working for trainer Joe Cantey. Later he returned to farm work in Kentucky with Domino Stud and Brookside Farm. He’s been training on his own since ’93, and he’s been prominent in Grade 1 stakes the past few years with the likes of Successful Dan and Turallure, and, of course, Wise Dan. Now, Wise Dan, the two-time defending Horse of the Year, he’s going to return to the races for the first time since Kentucky Derby Day in Saturday’s Bernard Baruch going a mile and a sixteenth on the turf.
Charlie LoPresti, it’s Jim Mulvihill in Lexington. Are you there?
Charlie LoPresti: I am here. All right, thanks for joining us again. I want to go back to this summer. Wise Dan had a bout of colic in May, and that, you know, that can mean so many things for a horse. But for the benefit of the folks that are going to be writing stories, previews of this race, can you explain to us exactly what Dan’s case of colic was and the severity of it?
Charlie LoPresti: Well, what he had was called a nephrosplenic entrapment, and that means where a few small intestines gets lodged behind the spleen. It’s a common colic in race horses. A lot of times they can come out of it on their own, whether they roll or just place it back to where it needs to be. Long story short, with Wise Dan that wasn’t the case. We opted to do surgery because it wasn’t getting any better. Somewhere between when we laid him down on the operating table to prep him to when they actually opened him up, it had slipped back to where it needed to be, so there was no major blood loss to the small intestine. They didn’t have to take any piece of the small intestine out. It basically was, as you will, an exploratory surgery. It was already fixed on its own. So what we were basically dealing with was just healing an incision.
Jim Mulvihill: But when the colic was discovered, can you describe how sick he might’ve been or what his symptoms where?
Charlie LoPresti: Well, he did—he returned from a routine gallop that morning and about an hour later he was uncomfortable in his stall. He was just pawing at the ground and he wasn’t eating. We took him outside to let him pick some grass and he was continuing to do the same thing. So we put him on our trailer and took him in to Rood & Riddle, and they ultrasounded his abdomen and that’s when they found that he had some inflammation in his small intestine and there was some sort of a problem. They gave him a drug to reduce his spleen and they jogged him out behind the barn; sometimes that’ll make it go back to where it needs to be. We thought it was okay and then when we put him back in his stall there at the clinic he started to paw the ground again and get more uncomfortable. So they ultrasounded him a second time and then they could tell that the edema was a lot more; the intestine was more enlarged. So Dr. Hopper, the attending surgeon, said we have no choices but to open him up and try to fix this. Like I said, simply just laying him down and having him upside down on the operating table, when they did open him up it had already went back to where it needed to be. So I think that’s what you’re asking me.
Jim Mulvihill: Yes, yes, and relatively speaking, it could’ve been much worse I assume. So now once you got him back, as we’d expect, you brought him back very slowly and deliberately. Can you just about his recovery and how he’s progressed since you’ve gotten to Saratoga?
Charlie LoPresti: Well, I tell you, it didn’t take very much time. He actually—he probably lost three and a half weeks of training time. He was off for three and a half weeks and then we started to tack walk him in four weeks, and then we jogged him for a week, and then we went right back to the track. The surgeon looked at it all the time. We started galloping him and right before we left Keeneland, the first part of July. We had one easy half a mile breeze at Keeneland on the turf course before we came here with the Four Star Dave really in mind. Then when we came up here we had a couple of other breezes. Then I started to look at the timing and everything and where I was with him, and it was almost—the best way I can describe it is trying to put 8 pounds of potatoes in a 10 pound bag. I mean 10 pounds in an 8 pound bag. I was trying to make a race that he won last year, and I realized that, you know, it’s just not going to happen. We’re just a little bit short of where we need to be. And works were slow in the beginning, and I know everybody was concerned, but it was by design. I didn’t want him to come out here and just destroy the racetrack every day. You know, I wanted to bring him along slow. So I did that, and then about a week after the Fourstardave I had a chance to work him in company and really tighten the screws a little bit, and this gave me a little bit more time. I knew I could either run him here or I can run him in the Woodbine Mile, and those are the two races that I was thinking that it would be a little bit—it would make more sense.
Jim Mulvihill: Right, and so is the Woodbine Mile still a possibility? I did hear you say at one point that you would consider wheeling back?
Charlie LoPresti: Well, I’m going to look at this race on Saturday. We’re going to enter. Our plan is to run weather permitting, you know, and we’re going to look at the field and see how it shapes up and we’ll go from there. But if I didn’t enter him in here then I wouldn’t have a chance to run. He’s ready to run, and I don’t want to sit around and take him to—not run him here and then take him back to Kentucky, because we’ll be leaving with all the horses the first of next week and then have to go back to Woodbine. So my goal is to run here unless for one thing—one reason or another I don’t run him, whether it’s bad weather or I don’t think on paper the race sets up for him. This is a handicap, and he is going to have to carry more weight, and that’s one thing that I’m concerned about. I know we did it last year, but this is a little bit different scenario, because I mean he is coming off of—any kind of colic surgery is colic surgery, so you have to be concerned about that. But he is ready to run and he’s very good right now. His last three works have indicated that, so we’re very much leaning towards running him here, and then we would go home and run him in the Shadwell Turf Mile and miss the Woodbine race. But if he has an easy race here, there’s a chance he could come back in two weeks. It’s highly unlikely at this point, but you just don’t ever know until we see the field and the horses and how hard he’s going to have to run. That’s going to really tell a story.
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Art Wilson: I was wondering at the beginning of the year if you guys had any thought, obviously things probably changed, you know, since the call, but at the beginning of the year were you guys in the back of your minds thinking there’s no horse ever since Forego in the ’70s that’s been named Horse of the Year three straight years, and mapping out a schedule where you think you might try to go for that, or was that not in any kind of mind thinking at all?
Charlie LoPresti: Well, you know, I try not to think about that because sometimes you will do things that—you know, maybe try to do the impossible. I will tell you—the only thing I will tell you, we were definitely talking about running him on the dirt. We thought about it after the race Derby Day. We were going to take him to Churchill and train him a little bit over the dirt, and if he did well we were thinking about the Stephen Foster. But that being said, two weeks after the Woodford race he colicked, so it threw everything out the window. So, yes, I was thinking a little bit about that to try to do some things maybe that we didn’t do last year to try to go for another Horse of the Year. But now at this point I’m just glad that he’s alive and we’ve got a chance to run him back, and Horse of the Year really hasn’t—I haven’t even thought about that much at this point.
Art Wilson: Is it pretty much decided that he’ll stay on turf the rest of the year?
Charlie LoPresti: Yes, you know, I think so. One thing that I talked to Mr. Fink about was that let’s stick to the same schedule. It’s going to be altered a little bit now because we have him running in the Fourstardave. We’re probably not going to make the Woodbine Mile if we run here this weekend. But he’ll have less races than he had last year. So if we’re lucky enough to go through to the Breeders’ Cup, I may think about the Clark Handicap at the end of the year on dirt, and you know—in a perfect world, if he stays undefeated and we run him in the Clark Handicap and he wins a Grade 1 on the dirt as well, that may give us a better chance at Horse of the Year. But like I said, right now it’s one race at a time.
Art Wilson: I know there are some people—I’m not among them, but there are some people who think that it’ll be very difficult for him to win a third Horse of the Year if he doesn’t run on dirt. Do you subscribe to that theory or not?
Charlie LoPresti: You know, I don’t because I haven’t seen any real standout horses. I mean I shouldn’t say that, because that’s the wrong thing to say, but all these horses that are going to—you know—that are going to compete with him for Horse of the Year, I think they’re going to have to step up and they’re going to have to—I mean the Derby horse got beat, so he’s going to have to come back and redeem himself. Palace Malice was a big candidate for Horse of the Year until he ran in the Whitney, so it muddied those waters. So I think right now the water is kind of muddy except for the horse now that won the Pacific Classic, and he’s now undefeated. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think he’s the horse that everybody should look at right now.
Art Wilson: Right, right. So you’re ultimate goal right now is the Breeders’ Cup Mile?
Charlie LoPresti: Yes. I mean my ultimate goal is to get through the Bernard Baruch and see how he comes back. Everybody tells me that it shouldn’t affect him what happened to him. I don’t think it’s affected him, but really and truly, you don’t know that until you run. But what worries me about this race that we’re going to run in, we’re spotting a lot of weight and there’s a horse like Five Iron that’s going in that race and he’s a complete go into the lead and try to steal it, and we’re going to be the sacrificial lamb and chase him and give him 9 pounds. So this is not going to be as easy a race and that’s what I need to look at when we enter; see what it looks like on paper and then go from there. But our plan is to run.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, Charlie, that’s a lot of good info. Just one topic I was wondering if we could ask you a little bit more about is the weights. You know, there’s a 13 pound spread in this race on Saturday, and you mentioned you’re a little bit concerned about Five Iron. But I’d just ask you to talk about the impact that weights have in general, and, you know, what you think it means to have a 13 pound spread in this race and be giving I think it would be 7 or 9 that you’re giving to Five Iron? How much impact does that have on a horse like Wise Dan?
Charlie LoPresti: Well, I don’t think it bothers me that much. What bothers me is if Five Iron happened to do that. I mean if there’s any chance for a horse to steal a race, that’s the way he can do it; he goes to the lead and he, you know, and we have to chase him. So it concerns me, I’m not going to lie about it. It concerns me, and that’s going to make my ultimate decision to see who all show in the race, how much speed there is, and then we’ll go from there.
Jim Mulvihill: But he’s had no trouble carrying, let’s see, 129 in the past last year at Saratoga. It’s not like it’s something he hasn’t done before.
Charlie LoPresti: No, it’s just that last year he didn’t have the setback that he had in the middle of the year, and he didn’t have a colic surgery. I mean not that he’s 100%, I feel pretty certain about that, but he hasn’t run since May. That’s something that you have to think about.
Jim Mulvihill: Got you. Well, Charlie, we really appreciate your time today, and we’ll wish you luck in the Bernard Baruch and we’ll hope to talk to you again later in the fall.
Charlie LoPresti: Okay. Thank you, sir.
Jim Mulvihill: All right. Thank you, Charlie LoPresti. Wise Dan is going to make his comeback in the Bernard Baruch on Saturday, and Charlie was saying that they’ll likely stick to the turf through the Breeders’ Cup, but might even consider the Clark at the end of the year, which is an interesting prospect.
Jim Mulvihill: Brian Lynch is a native of Australia. He first went out on his own in ’92; worked as an assistant to Bobby Frankel based at Woodbine in 2005 and continued training for Frank Stronach the next year. He had success with Stronach’s Ontario-bred Ginger Brew, the 2008 Woodbine Oaks winner, as well as multiple graded stakes winner, Sugar Swirl. Lynch has won more than 400 races in North America and he notched his first Grade 1 this year on Belmont Stakes Day as Coffee Clique got the bob in a wild finish in the Just A Game. His other stable stars will be out this Saturday. Five Iron is going to take on Wise Dan in the Bernard Baruch, and then Clearly Now goes for a Grade 1 in the Forego.
Jim Mulvihill: We were just talking to Charlie LoPresti about the Baruch, and he actually mentioned your horse specifically as one of the biggest threats to Wise Dan. He’s worried about giving you weight and the chance that Five Iron could just go out winging and carry it all the way. Is Charlie right to be worried about you in this thought?
Brian Lynch: Well, I think it is always dangerous, and if he does get best of line out there and he is a horse that’s, you know, (inaudible) they’re always exciting horses to watch run because they open up on the field, and they’re hard to keep behind them and think they’re going to come back, or they, , they leave them alone and they could be handing them the lead. So it’ll be an interesting race. I think Five Iron goes into the race really good. I think he has his excuses his last couple, and, you know, I think a mile and a sixteenth he could be a very tough horse to catch.
Jim Mulvihill: Yes, and, you know, his style that we’ve seen these past few races is incredibly entertaining. Is it a strategy for him to open up as much as he does, or is that just what happens when he goes running and the rest of the field just wants to gallop?
Brian Lynch: Yes, I think he’s a bit of a free running horse. He’s certainly one you don’t want to try and take on early in the race or you’ve got a fight on your hands if he’s—he’d probably get even stronger. But I think one of his best assets is he sort of—he starts on the early foot and he sort of runs them off their legs early, and, you know, through the middle stages of the race there he seems to be able to take a breather if he started uncontested, and, you know, while the rest of them behind him are thinking, oh boy, we’d better to make—have to make up some ground. So, you know, to me they’ve got to work a little bit then to get to him, and by the time that they’re starting to make ground on him, he’s, you know, takes a little breather and he’s got enough to go again, especially at this distance.
Jim Mulvihill: Right, right. Well, we’ll see if he can take them all the way. But I also want to ask about Clearly Now. He was so awesome at Belmont last time, setting a track record for 7 furlongs. Is that an effort he can match again?
Brian Lynch: Well, you certainly hope he can. You’d love to duplicate that sort of race. There was so much speed in that race in the first part, in the early stages, though I don’t know that there’s going to be that sort of speed in this race the way it’s shaping up. Certainly off an effort like that, to me, I’ve had a bit of luck if I give him a little bit of time between races. We’ve done that and he’s had an uninterrupted work schedule coming into it and seems to be in good form, so, you know, very excited about taking him down. It’s been such a good lead to his—so far down there this summer; you’re hoping that you can just continue for things to go your way.
Jim Mulvihill: Right. Then going into that Belmont Sprint, did you know that you had—or that he had a race like that in him?
Brian Lynch: Well, I felt that this year has been a honey year for him. He’s never really got a chance to run his race. He’s just had an excuse or he’s either got hampered at the start or he’s been hard and wide. When he come out of the Metropolitan, he, you know, he come out of it like a horse that just hadn’t even ran. He trained great all—you know—it was probably one of the quickest turnarounds we gave him as far as running him back, and gave him an easy last mile in between and he was just doing very good at the time. So we thought it was probably the—and I’d love to be judge now, but I thought it was probably the easiest group that he’s faced up against this year, and took the shot that he went sitting on a good run and, you know, he won. It was a great effort, great effort. But he’s still a bugger. He still—you know—he won’t change leads sometimes, but—down the lane, and I think that, you know, once he gets to do that he’s probably going to duplicate these performances all the time. But in the morning you can work him and he’s press button; you know, on cue he’ll change leads with the gallop, and sometimes in races he’ll just get a little flustered and he’ll stay on that one lead, but it certainly didn’t slow him down the other day.
Jim Mulvihill: We talked extensively to Charlie LoPresti about the weight spread in the Baruch, and I just wanted to get your take on that. You know, you’re getting so much weight from the likely favorite; the two-time Horse of the Year. Tell us what you believe what kind of difference that makes? I mean…
Brian Lynch: Well, I think, you know, I think it’ll make a big difference, especially in a race where, you know, at some stage Wise Dan’s got to kick it into gear and to spot a horse like Five Iron who you’re going to have to, you know, chase to get to, and spot him that sort of weight. The old cliché, weight will stop a train, so it’ll certainly—it’ll make him—he’ll have to work.
David Grening: Brian, with Clearly Now, you know, he’s such a specialist at 7 furlongs. When you look ahead to the fall, I know this is a “Win and You’re In” sprint, which is fixed. Do you have an idea if you would cut back to 6 or go out to the mile, or have you not figured that out yet?
Brian Lynch: No, I mean it’s certainly a question you’re asking yourself all the time; where he’s best suited. I think you just have to wait until you’ve got a bit closer and see how the fields are shaping up. Certainly the way, you know, Doug O’Neill’s horse ran on the weekend out there in Del Mar you’d have to feel like he’s in very good order going into the mile, and if you’ve got the right amount of pace in the sprint, Dan is in—you know—that might be the spot to go. You know, if there’s a lot of early speed in there, you know, and you can adapt that sort of late running sprinter style, that’s where you’d probably—he’d be most effective.
David Grening: You talk about the Met, like he came out of it like he didn’t run. Did he just not get a chance to run at all? Was there traffic? Was there something about the race that he just couldn’t run?
Brian Lynch: Yes, he—I don’t think he broke—he broke a bit hardy (ph) that day and he was sort of caught wide. It was the first time Jose had been on him since the Cigar Mile, and that’s where Jose clipped (ph) heels on him. I think he was just very intent on keeping out of trouble, and I think it was a very, you know, that day was a good group of horses and they got the jump on him. I think Palace Malice was certainly on his game that day, Goldencents was bloody—it was a fantastic race, and he just, to me, he just never got a chance to get on task. I mean he ran his race, but he just come out of it so well; you know, he never missed a note. He had plenty of energy after the race and just trained him so good. You know, normally my routine is not—I’d walk horses three days after racing, but he was back at the track in a couple of days for the fear that he was going to hurt himself in the shedrow. So that month was just a really good month to train with him there. So that’s how we come up with, you know, the feeling that he was sitting on a good run going into the Belmont Sprint.
David Grening: Also, can we get an update on Coffee Clique?
Brian Lynch: Yes, Coffee had an unusual—she’d come out of the Just A Game in very good order, and I’d worked her back on the grass one day, and, she had a walk day after a work and we started her back on the track and she just wouldn’t look comfortable behind. Obviously being as valuable as she is to us, we shed her in and done the due diligence. You know, we gave her a nuclear scan and we x-rayed her from head to toe and we could never really find anything that was very active on her. But evidently she must’ve pulled a muscle or tweaked something behind, and so we just gave her plenty of time to get over that. She seems very happy now; back on track, and she’s not far away from hitting the work schedule and trying to get her ready for Keeneland. The First Lady would be her ultimate target there at Keeneland.
Jim Mulvihill: That was Brian Lynch. He’s going to start Five Iron versus Wise Dan on Saturday, and also Clearly Now, who is going to go for his first Grade 1 win in the Forego.
Jim Mulvihill: Thanks so much for being here. We want to talk about Itsmyluckyday in the Woodward on Saturday, and let’s go back to the Whitney a few weeks ago. You know, he ran a huge race that day, but the horse that beat him, Moreno, is going to be back—is going to be back on Saturday, so how do you and Paco Lopez figure to turn the tables this time?
Eddie Plesa Jr.: Well, we’re just hoping for more of an honest pace. I thought the pace certainly demonstrated Moreno—not to take anything away from him; he did what he needed to do to win the race. I think we were kind of compromised because of it. I’m just hoping for a little bit swifter pace and maybe a little bit more pressure put on whosever on the lead, which I’m sure will be Moreno. You know, what are we going to do special? Nothing. I did change equipment; blinkers on. Not for any reason other than if you looked at his last three races, he kind of looks to the grandstand; maybe might not be concentrating as much as we’d like. You know, since his last race, we’ve been training him with them. He’s worked twice with them. He’s relaxed with the blinkers on, so we’re just doing something a little bit different.
Jim Mulvihill: Moreno is so fast early, I mean would part of the—of having the blinkers on could you possibly engage with Moreno early, or would that—or is that taking it too…?
Eddie Plesa Jr.: You know, it all depends on what happens at the start, not by design. You know, my horse certainly has tactical speed, and I’m not going to give up my best chance of winning the race to chase Moreno, who is a nice horse. I wouldn’t trade my horse for any horse in the race. I’m confident my horse will give a great accounting of himself. He’s doing great, and we just couldn’t be asking for any more.
Jim Mulvihill: Can you tell us about the recent works at Monmouth? I mean you worked with the blinkers, so tell us how those worked for him.
Eddie Plesa Jr.: Well, it usually goes one or two ways. It either goes the way where the horse gets pretty aggressive because he’s not used to the blinkers and he—and you have to kind of fight him a little bit to try to get him to relax—or they relax. And he was the latter. I mean he acted like an old horse who had worn the blinkers before; just handled them great. So I’m just wanting to give him a little bit more focus down the lane as far as using them to put speed into him in the first part of the race. That’s not the reason we’re doing it.
Jim Mulvihill: Got you. Can you talk about his campaign overall this year? He missed the second half of his three-year-old season with that minor injury, but it doesn’t seem to have had any lingering effects. Just talk about 2014 since he’s come back.
Eddie Plesa Jr.: Well, I told my partners going into this year, we’re going to have an exciting second half of the year; as exciting the second half of the year as we did the first half of the year with him as a three-year-old. Everything we’ve done has been by design. Every race that we’ve run in has been by design, with the exception of his first race; we had no other spots to run in and it was the only spot we could run in. He needed to run because he was doing so good. Every race after that, including the race coming up this Saturday, has been by design if he did everything that needed to be done. And he has, so that’s where we’re at.
Jim Mulvihill: Eddie, can you talk about what went through your mind last year when he did pull up in the Pegasus with that—what were you thinking then and what’s it like to have him back now?
Eddie Plesa Jr.: Well, listen, any time a horse pulls up in a race, you know, you’ve got to be extremely concerned. When it’s a big race like that and it’s a horse like him you’re certainly as concerned and maybe more so. When we got him back to the barn and were able to diagnose what we thought the problem was, which we were correct, some kind of fracture probably a crack in his pelvis. I’ve had enough experience in this game and had enough horses with cracked pelvises to know that with the right amount of time they’ll come back 100%. So, you know, it was one of those situations where you just kind of—you sit there; it’s like doing time in jail. You know there’s X amount of time. You know you have to serve the time and there’s nothing you’re going to do to short change the horse, especially a horse of this caliber. It’s been very gratifying to see that he’s everything that we thought he was and is. He’s bigger, stronger and a better horse now than he was in his three-year-old campaign. I’ve always felt that he belonged on the highest tier of handicap horses in the country, and I think his last race kind of proved me out there, and we’re just hoping to keep the ball rolling.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, Eddie, going back to the campaign this year, it was interesting that for the comeback race you chose to face some of the toughest older horses out there, and then after that you go back to minor stakes in Florida and in New Jersey. Did you feel like he needed some confidence builders, or just talk about the choices of those races?
Eddie Plesa Jr.: Well, I’m a believer in getting horses in the easiest races possible, but certainly that didn’t look the way the first time we ran him. It was a race that was extremely tough. You know, you had the top handicap horse in the country, Palace Malice, who won the race. So it was just a timing thing. I had no other choices. Either I went in that race or I train him with the possibility he’s going to get bored, possibly hurt himself getting ready to come up here to New Jersey and Monmouth Park to run in the races we did. So it was a no brainer in the sense that we had no choices, and it was a no brainer that we’d run in the race, but again, it was a race to get him some fitness level. He’s a horse that started off with zero fitness. You know, you take a horse and you give them time, you’re coming back with 60, 70, 80% of fitness when you give them 30 days, 40 days, 60 days, whatever the timeframe is. That wasn’t his case. He started with zero fitness. So we just felt—or I felt it was the right thing to do; get him in that race, and, you know, and get a race into him.
Jon White: Eddie, your father was a very successful jockey and then a very successful trainer. Can you just kind of tell us what kind of influence he’s had on your life as a trainer; you know, perhaps how much you learned from him and that sort of thing?
Eddie Plesa Jr.: Well, listen, I’ve been blessed. I’m second generation in this business. I grew up around race horses. He certainly was a very successful jockey, successful trainer also, so I was able to watch him and see what he did and how he did things. You know, it was—growing up in the business is different than just coming—walking in through the gate of a racetrack and deciding you’re going to be a groom and all these other things; you’ve got so much more to fall back on experience-wise. This game is all experience. It’s whatever you do—you can depend on experience and that certainly was something that I’ve been able to enjoy and he was certainly a big, big part of it.
Eddie Plesa Jr.: He’s doing real good. You know, he lives in Florida and he’s 86 years old. He’ll be 87 in October. He’s got three grandchildren that think the world of him. He stays in touch with me. We talk almost every day and discuss certain things. You know, he keeps up with things as far as what’s happening just through my horses running and things like that.
Jennie Rees: Yes, Eddie, could you just talk about your Breeders’ Cup aspirations for Itsmyluckyday?
Eddie Plesa Jr.: Well, it’s interesting. I’m not sure what we’re going to do. We’re not a Breeders’ Cup nominated horse, so there’s going to have to be some hard decisions. You know, if you go for the Classic I believe the total cost will be $200,000 to run in the Classic. If we run in the Mile race it’s $120,000. He will be retired at the end of this year it leaves for a lot of interesting speculation. I’m not thinking about that right now, though I’m aware of it. I’m waiting to see what happens as far as our next race, and then we’ll go from there and I’ll talk it over with my partners and see what we want to do.
Jennie Rees: If you win a “Win and You’re In” where your entry fees are paid but you have to be nominated, what is it going to cost you to make him eligible to the program at this point?
Eddie Plesa Jr.: I believe it’s $100,000.
Jennie Rees: One hundred thousand, okay.
Eddie Plesa Jr.: Yes.
Jennie Rees: Well, would you think about something like the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs?
Eddie Plesa Jr.: Well, listen, you know better than I do how I think about Churchill Downs, and I’m just going to leave it at that. So we’ll look it over, and we’ll keep our options open, and see what we need to do to maximize everything as far as for him for a stallion, and for us as far as earning capability. I will tell you the bottom line is no if, ands, or buts, the horse is what comes first. There’s no question about that. He comes first and whatever’s best for him. He’s coming into this race on a rating of 1 to 10 and 11. He couldn’t be doing any better. He’s not fatigued. He just couldn’t be doing any better. It’s very gratifying for me to see that everything that we’ve done, it’s been part of a plan. Knock on wood, there’s usually something happens and kind of knocks the plan askew, so to speak. That hasn’t happened with him. So we’re real confident with the way he’s training and what he’s doing and all that other stuff, and we’re just anxious to see what happens in his—certainly this coming Saturday, and then we’ll go from there after that. But we do realize that we only have him until this season’s over and then he’ll be making babies, so hopefully we’ll be enjoying them.
Jennie Rees: Well, in that regard, can you talk about how big this race could be to knock out that Grade 1?
Eddie Plesa Jr.: Well, listen, my expertise isn’t in the breeding industry though I’m very aware of it. A Grade 1 means a significant thing for a stallion, so I mean it’s certainly very important.
Jim Mulvihill: Eddie, you mentioned your partners. Can you talk about Trilogy Stable? You’ve trained for them for many years and your wife Laurie is part of that partnership. Talk about them and the success of that partnership over the years.
Eddie Plesa Jr.: Well, Trilogy Stable is made up of David Melin and Marion Montanari, and that is Trilogy Stable. At one time there was a third partner and thus came the name Trilogy. That person is no longer involved, but they kept the name, and I’ve trained for them for about 24 years. We’ve had some stake horses in the past and nice horses, and they’re just the kind of people that are the backbone of this industry. I mean they breed some horses. They go to the sale and buy horses. They understand the game. Their whole idea is to go to the sale and buy a good two-year-old and see if we can have some fun. Knock on wood we’ve been lucky, and they’re one of the few people that I would go partners with as a trainer. That doesn’t always work out and causes problems later on down the road, but when you have a comfort level like I do with these people, it was an easy decision. You know, they leave everything in my hands as far as the decision-making and what to do with the horse, so they just couldn’t be any better.
Jim Mulvihill: Excellent. Well, Eddie, thank you for the information. I understand you’re on the golf course today, so we won’t keep you. I’ll wish you a great round. I wish you a great round this afternoon as well as luck in the Woodward on Saturday.
Eddie Plesa Jr.: All right. Listen, thanks a lot. I appreciate talking to everybody and keep coming to the races.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, thank you, Eddie Plesa. He’ll have Itsmyluckyday in the Woodward on Saturday.
Now we’re going to go on to our final guest on today’s call and that is NYRA track announcer, Tom Durkin. Durkin was born in Chicago. He studied theater in St. Norbert College. He first called races at county fairs in Wisconsin in 1971 and then bounced around small tracks before landing at Hialeah in 1981. Three years later he became the first voice of the Breeders’ Cup; a job he held until 2005. In 1990 he joined NYRA as their lead track announcer, and in 2001 he began a run of 10 years calling for the Triple Crown races for network television. This Sunday, of course, at Saratoga he’ll call his final race capping a 43 year career, and on his final dark day today he’s here with us.
Tom Durkin, it’s Jim Mulvihill in Lexington. Thanks for joining us.
Tom Durkin: Yes, Jim. Thank you very much. I’m happy to be here.
Jim Mulvihill: Well, we really appreciate you taking the time. Well, let’s see, you’re used to describing races and describing what’s happening, but not so much being the center of attention. So I wanted to start by just asking you what this month has been like as you’ve become a national story yourself with your retirement coming up?
Tom Durkin: Well, in one word: busy. Really busy. But I have to tell you, this last month has been the most gratifying time in my life. I mean I’ve just been completely overwhelmed by the sentiment of people, the depth of their sentiment, and the breadth of the number of people that have wished me well. It’s just been—it kind of makes you feel like you did okay with your life, and that’s a good feeling.
Jim Mulvihill: In the course of that have you heard from people that you haven’t heard from in a long time? Anything that’s been surprising about this month as you build up to the end?
Tom Durkin: I’m pretty good about keeping in contact with folks, so I wouldn’t say that so much but the numbers of people is just—it’s crazy.
Jim Mulvihill: Got you. So with a week to go, does retirement still feel like the right thing to do and it sounds like this is the right time to do it?
Tom Durkin: Baby, bring it on (cross talking) retire. I’ve got to tell you, this retirement thing is a very lucrative deal. I mean you wouldn’t have thought that (inaudible). It’s terrific. So maybe, you know, maybe I’ll come back for a couple weeks and then retire again, because I could live off the stuff that I’m getting for being retired.
Jim Mulvihill: Fantastic. Well, Tom, if we could go down memory lane a little bit, I want to ask you to take us back to your first time calling in Wisconsin. How—not only the actual act of calling a race, but how did you get that opportunity, and then what did it feel like when you finally got to do it?
Tom Durkin: Well, I got the opportunity, and my—I’ll explain, but my entire career was based on a huge lie. I always imitated Phil Georgeff when I was a kid, and I knew I’d love to be a track announcer. So I’d use my friends and they’d be the horses and I’d call them in my best Phil Georgeff-esque way. In college, you know, it became came an act. You know, I’d get up on top of the bar and my friends are running around the bar and I’d call this horse race.
So a friend of mine—back in those days people actually hitchhiked to get around, and a friend of mine, Jim Ford, was hitchhiking and he got picked up by a guy named Marty Helmbrecht and it turns out that Marty was running these little fair races in Wisconsin. They got to talking and Ford told him that he had a friend named Tom Durkin who was the assistant track announcer at Arlington Park, and he wanted to break out on his own. Jim didn’t tell me that, so I got hooked up with the job and then on May 21st, 1971 at County Fair, Marty gets up there and introduces me as the assistant track announcer at Arlington Park. Well a) there was no assistant track announcer at Arlington Park, and b) it certainly wasn’t me. So that’s how I got started. It’s all based on a big lie. I’m probably not the first person that had a career based on a big lie, so.
Jim Mulvihill: No, hardly so. Everybody needs a few breaks like that. Do you feel like this was the profession you were made for? I mean it’s—when you talk to you and also hearing you call races, it just seems like this was what you were meant to do.
Tom Durkin: A lot of things came into play there. I mean a lot of stuff. First of all, I’m Irish; I love telling stories, I love words, I love language. Secondly, I was born in the Midwest. I don’t have a southern accent, and I don’t talk like I’m from Brooklyn neither, you know, so that helped a lot. I was the youngest in the family and I was—I guess I was always in class clown looking for attention, and that made me comfortable being in front of people and performing, if you will. So a lot of that stuff was in play. I had a wonderful education. My parents—we didn’t have a lot of money but they sacrificed to send me, and sent me to very, very good schools, and that’s got everything to do with it.
Jon White: Well, first of all, Tom, just thank you for doing so many years and so many great calls. You know, for many of us, we really appreciate it.
Tom Durkin: Well, it’s, you know, it’s been my pleasure, I’ve got to tell you.
Jon White: At times, you know, I know since you’ve announced your retirement you must’ve been asked many times what’s your favorite call of yours. I was wondering maybe what call of someone else, like say Chic Anderson’s Belmont Stakes, the Secretariat or maybe something else; a particular call that is a favorite or one that really you thought was an outstanding call by one of your colleagues?
Tom Durkin: I’m going to back off on that a little bit because I don’t want to offend any of my colleagues, but I’ll go back to a point where none of them were calling, and any race that Phil Georgeff did in Chicago. I mean I was—he’s the reason I’m a race track announcer. He was just exciting, and he was unique, and he was fun, and more than anything, just completely unique. Chic Anderson, of course, you know, moving like a machine, you know, is ingrained in everybody’s psyche. And Dave Johnson, too. I learned a lot working with Dave. I was his assistant announcer for the thoroughbred meetings at the Meadowlands for seven years, and he really taught me a lot I guess about race calling and how to be a professional, and I learned a lot of stuff from Dave, too.
Jon White: What was it that you enjoyed the absolute most about being a track announcer?
Tom Durkin: Just being able to describe the competitions. I guess some people are managers, and some people are builders, some people are protectors; everybody’s got a certain thing that they are qualified to do, and have a—even a genetic tendency to do and a natural tendency to do. I think I’m a natural storyteller. It comes easy to me. I enjoy reading stories and studying stories, and I certainly enjoy language and telling stories. So I think I really enjoyed doing that. It was, to me, very satisfying.
Jon White: Well, thanks again, Tom, and all the best in your retirement.
Tom Durkin: Thank you, Jon. You do good work. Keep it up.
Jon White: Thanks a lot.
Art Wilson: I know this is probably a difficult question, but of all the races you’ve called, all the great horses you’ve seen, are there any say three horses that you’ve called or have seen in your lifetime that you think are the three best or three most memorable you’ve ever seen?
Tom Durkin: Yes, it’s a tough question, because I’ve called so many, many great horses; dozens upon dozens. But I’ll try, and if I leave anybody out, you know, put them on the list: Cigar, Personal Ensign, Rachel Alexandra. I mean that’s just three of a list of many, many.
Art Wilson: Right, right. Okay, is—and of all the, you know, obviously great—countless number of great calls, but as you kind of wind down your career, any faux pas that stands out; something where you did walk away and say, boy, I wish that never happened?
Tom Durkin: Well, I mean Mine That Bird’s Derby, I mean that’s obvious. You know, I just didn’t see him. I was looking in other places at the wrong time. There happened to be five horses in that race that had the same silk, so Win Star silks and Donnie Richardson at Churchill Downs wouldn’t put different caps on them. So I’ve listened back to that once or twice and I just—right from the beginning I knew I was going to screw it up. I was just very tentative, and I wish I could have that one back. But, you know what, it’s easy to make a mistake, and everybody makes a mistake. I make mistakes, you know, every day in one way or another, but you don’t like to have those mistakes done with 20 million people watching.
Art Wilson: Right. My last question, you mentioned some great race callers, of course, the great Phil Georgeff, Chic Anderson, Dave Johnson. I was curious when you were growing up if you ever have much of a chance to hear Harry Henson, and what you thought of Harry?
Tom Durkin: Not really, because, you know, I mean I had heard him a few times, but you have to realize that back in those days there was no—there basically wasn’t any television with him, and there just wasn’t the Internet where you could click on it and see that, so I’ve never really heard him very much. And I never heard Fred Capossela very much. Just, you know, back in those days you—once in a while you’d hear one on a TV clip or something like that, but I’m, yes, I just never really heard Harry that much.
Art Wilson: Right, okay. Echoing everyone else, thanks for all the great memories you’ve left us all with.
Tom Durkin: Appreciate that. Thank you very much.
Operator: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, if there are any additional questions, please press star, one at this time.
Our next question comes from Liz O’Connell of Freelance. Please go ahead.
Liz O’Connell: Good afternoon, and thank you for all the thrills you’ve given us in racing. But looking forward, what are your plans? Are you retiring to the golf course, or are you retiring to new ventures, or how is that going—or are going to unretire and, you know, do your bit with retiring again? What’s your forward-looking plan?
Tom Durkin: I’m trying not to look too forward. I’m open to anything. I’d like to keep my hand in the horse racing to some degree, but the only thing I’ve really laid out for myself was I need to do something that’s meaningful and relevant. That’s my mantra right now. I’m not going to worry about that quite yet. I’ve tried to stay as focused as I can on my responsibilities at Saratoga this year without getting too distracted with sentimentalizing about the past or worrying about the future. So I don’t know, Liz. I, like I said, I’ll probably do a little something involving horse racing. I’m sure I’ll be doing some charitable work. I think that’s very important for me to do. I’ll read, play a little golf, drink a little wine. So it’s—I’m looking forward to it.
Liz O’Connell: How about any voiceover work or, you know, actual—or a commercial for (cross talking)?
Tom Durkin: Yes. Oh, absolutely.
Liz O’Connell: Yes?
Tom Durkin: Yes, I’m very open to that. I really do think I’d be a good books on tape person because it combines two things; reading and the other thing I like to do is to speak. So that’s all out there. But these are just different balls I’m juggling in my mind, but I’m not trying to really worry about that quite yet. It’ll come to me. But I, like I said, I hope it’s meaningful and relevant.
Liz O’Connell: Do you have an agent that will help you, or how would you work with that?
Tom Durkin: Sort of a little bit. Kelly Wietsma does some work for me. We haven’t really talked a lot about this. But, you know, like I said, it’s out there but there’s certainly nothing specific.
Liz O’Connell: Well, excellent. Something to look forward to. Well, thank you very much.
Tom Durkin: Yes, I’m looking forward to retirement. I mean the reason I’m retiring is because I want to retire.
Liz O’Connell: Yes, I hear you. Okay. All right, well thank you so much and all the best.
Tom Durkin: Thank you.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, Tom, I’ve got a few more for you. With all these journalists on the line, I need you to settle something for us. As people have been writing about your retirement, everybody refers to the Cigars’ Breeders’ Cup Classic. I’ve seen some people refer to the first word as unconquerable—or not the first word, but the first word that everyone always quotes—unconquerable, as in like can’t be conquered, and then some people write incomparable, as in without equal. So…?
Tom Durkin: Yes, the word is unconquerable.
Jim Mulvihill: Can’t be conquered.
Tom Durkin: Cannot be conquered, yes that’s it.
Jim Mulvihill: Terrific. Well, thank you for that.
Tom Durkin: It actually came—I didn’t want to use the word unbeaten or undefeated, because it had—at the time he would’ve had a year of being undefeated; I think he was 11 for 11 that year. So I put down on my dossier, you know, the bottom different words for unbeaten or undefeated and unconquerable. Then somebody told me—when I was growing up in Chicago we used to have—I think it was a national brand; it was called White Owl Cigars. They must have been floating back in my subconscious growing up as a kid and just stayed there, but their advertising slogan was “The Invincible Cigar”.
Jim Mulvihill: Unbelievable.
Tom Durkin: Yes, I didn’t really realize that, and, you know, be surprised what floats around in your subconscious. One guy, there was some horse, I think his name was The Undertaker or some such thing, and the guy picks me up the next day and says that was pretty clever what you said with The Undertaker yesterday. I didn’t think I said anything particularly clever about him. I go what do you mean? And he says, “The Undertaker leaves them in his wake”. At the time I never, you know, I never thought of it, but you’d be surprised how many times these situations come up. There’s a lot of stuff floating around in those deep dark recesses of my very troubled mind.
Jim Mulvihill: Oh my. Well, I want to ask you about storytelling as a big part of your race call versus just delivering the facts. It seems like with older race callers of previous eras there wasn’t as much of the editorializing. So when you were starting out with your particular style, did you ever get any resistance to your colorful style?
Tom Durkin: Yes, I got a lot of pushback particularly from jockey agents. They would be ticked off if I said this jockey had the check, or this jockey was three wide or whatever, and I got a lot of pushback from them. But then, you know, you switch and it works out fine. You know, it was—I think I was fortunate. I mean if I had been calling races the way I do, or the way most people do right now for that matter, back in the ’40s or ’50s, I’d have been sent out of town on a railroad car. You know, it just was not acceptable, because race tracks were gambling places and they wanted to present a picture of probity; yes, or above the gambling, and you don’t much say anything about a favorite or a long shot or being last or being too far back or being too fast or whatever. You just did the narrative. You didn’t introduce the plot at all. So, but now if you just did narrative and you didn’t do the plot, well, you wouldn’t probably have a real good job.
Jim Mulvihill: Right. Well, I’d say it’s a credit to you that today’s announcers mostly aspire to your style. I’ll just ask you one more question, because you’ve been very kind with your time on a busy week. We’ve talked about your favorite calls and your favorite horses, but one thing I’ve not seen asked of you is your favorite riders. I mean you’ve had the best view of the best riders in racing for decades. Who are your favorites to watch?
Tom Durkin: I think my favorites were Julie Krone and Angel Cordero. They were just fun to watch, and taking—I’m not rating them as the two best jockeys I’ve ever seen, although I am just not going to go there, but they were fun. They were fun and they were very creative. And the two of them with their styles, Cordero was extremely physical, and Krone was the opposite. You know, she worked more on the horse’s mind than the horse’s body, you know. Again, they were both very creative and great fun to watch, and great people both of them.
Jim Mulvihill: Very cool. Well, you’ve been great fun to listen to and you’re a great person yourself. We really appreciate your time today. It’s been a real pleasure talking to you. We’ll let you go rest your voice and we wish you the best of luck—best of luck this week and obviously beyond that as well.
Tom Durkin: Thanks, Jim, I appreciate it. It’s been a lot of fun.
Jim Mulvihill: All right. Thanks, Tom. That was Tom Durkin, the NYRA track announcer. He’s going to retire on Sunday after 43 years in the booth. I’d like to thank once again all of our guests today, not just Tom, but also Charlie LoPresti, Eddie Plesa, and Brian Lynch. I also want to thank Joan Lawrence for lining up this great, great list of guests today.