Previewing Belmont Stakes Teleconference from May 30
Previewing Belmont Stakes Teleconference from May 30
Penelope Miller: Hi, everyone, and welcome to the NTRA national media teleconference. Please note that the Belmont Stakes television coverage will begin at 4 p.m. on Friday, June 7th, with Belmont Classics shown on NBC Sports Network from 4 to 5 p.m., and Belmont Stakes Access airing on the same network from 5 to 6 on Saturday, June 8th. The Belmont Stakes pre-race coverage kicks off on NBC Sports Network from 3 to 5 p.m., transferring to NBC from 5 to 7 p.m. for race coverage. The post-race show will air on NBC Sports Network from 7 to 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Today’s guests for the teleconference will be Todd Pletcher, who has a possible five trainees entering the Belmont; Terry Finley, whose West Point Thoroughbreds will start decisive Peter Pan winner, Freedom Child, in the Belmont; and Hall of Fame jockey, Gary Stevens, who piloted Oxbow to a resounding victory in the Preakness Stakes.
Up first we’ll have Todd Pletcher. The horses he has confirmed for the Belmont Stakes are Palace Malice, Overanalyze, and Revolutionary. He has a probable starter in Unlimited Budget and a possible starter in Midnight Taboo. Todd Pletcher has amassed numerous training titles in New York, Kentucky, and Florida, including five consecutive titles at the prestigious Saratoga Race Course summer meet. He has received several Fourstar Dave Awards for Special Achievements at Saratoga, as well as Woody Stephens Awards from the New York Turf Writers Association. Todd also received the Eclipse Award as Outstanding Trainer in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. Todd has started 11 horses in the Belmont Stakes so far, including a landmark victory in 2007 with Rags to Riches, who was the first filly to win the Belmont since Tanya won 102 years prior to that. It is worth noting that Todd’s probable Belmont starter, Unlimited Budget, is also a filly.
Jennie Rees: Todd, could you just go through your probables and your possibles and your maybes, and what characteristics they bring in that you and/or the owners feel that a mile and a half against this field is, you know, attractive? And, yes, I guess if you could just run through them and talk about their characteristics.
Todd Pletcher: Let me start with Palace Malice. I mean, he’s a horse that’s always impressed us a great deal in his training, and he’s shown hints of that in some of his races, although he hasn’t completely followed through and won a big race that we feel like he’s capable of doing; certainly got very close in the Bluegrass. You know, he’s the son of Curlin, who is a horse that obviously stayed the distance and was (inaudible) short head in the Belmont, so we think he’s, pedigree-wise, well meant for this race, being by Curlin out of the Royal Anthem mare, who is—Royal Anthem was a turf specialist going mile and a half-type distances, so certainly pedigree suggests this is within his range.
Revolutionary, I think based on the strength of his races this year and a very good finish in the Kentucky Derby and galloped out in front of the field that day that we feel like, with the five weeks rest, that he’s an improving horse. Certainly strong bottom side suggests he could handle the mile and a half as well.
With Overanalyze, a horse that has two mile and an eighth wins, so winning a mile and an eighth as a two-year-old, coming back to win the Arkansas Derby, we’re hoping that that shows that he can get the trip as well.
The filly, Unlimited Budget, she’s run very well in every start of her career. I’m a little bit concerned about the bottom side of her pedigree. She’s a daughter of Street Sense and that certainly is encouraging, however, the bottom side of her pedigree maybe not as quite as deep in stamina as Rags to Riches was. That’s a concern, so something we’re looking at closely and weighing into the decision-making process of whether or not she will actually start, but we’ll see how the work goes this weekend.
Midnight Taboo, my biggest concern with him is just that he’s lightly raced and inexperienced. But from a pedigree standpoint, stoutly bred being out of a Thunder Gulch mare, and Thunder Gulch, of course, won the Belmont himself. So we’ve got a lot of pedigree on our side in all cases. We’ve got horses that are consistently running well and, you know, bring some very strong credentials. But, you know, like everyone going into the race, you’re always concerned about how they’re going to handle the trip and, obviously, that’s a huge key in who’s going to be successful in this race.
Jennie Rees: When was the last time you had a horse with a work like Palace Malice that, like, wowed you like his work did the other day?
Todd Pletcher: Well, I haven’t had too many horses gallop out the way he did, and I think the track was very lively on that day; we worked quite a few horses, but—and the track was maybe less demanding than it will sometimes be. But even saying that, the five eighths in a minute and change, we see that all the time. What really, really impressed me about it was what he did in the three furlongs after the finish line, in galloping out in 138 and change. We monitor our gallop-outs very closely and feel like they’re a big part of our training. That was about as good a gallop-out as I’ve seen in maybe forever, but certainly in a long time.
Jerry Bossert: You mentioned it briefly there, but could you just expand more on the comparison or the difference between the two fillies unbridled (ph), Budget and Rags to Riches?
Todd Pletcher: Well, both have accomplished a lot, with Unlimited Budget being undefeated coming into the Kentucky Oaks, difference being Rags to Riches was able to win the Kentucky Oaks. And like I said, the biggest thing about Rags to Riches and the reason why we decided to run her in the Belmont is her pedigree was just so stoutly—she’s so stoutly bred for the Belmont. Being a half-sister to a Belmont winner and being by a Belmont winner, we always just felt very, very confident that the distance would suit her well. Like I said, they’re both big, strong fillies, which I think is important. When you look at running against colts, you want to make sure that physically, you know, you’re going to stack up; and in Unlimited Budget’s case, she’s a very strong filly, she carries a lot of condition, she’s not going to stand out in the paddock as being, you know, the smaller filly of the group. She’ll fit right in from a physical standpoint, and I think that’s always important.
Jerry Bossert: And also with the—do you have jockey assignments for any of these horses yet?
Todd Pletcher: Well, we know that Javier Castellano is going to ride Revolutionary, and we know that Mike Smith is going to ride Palace Malice. We have some pretty good ideas of how the other ones are going to shape up, but we haven’t finalized them yet.
Jerry Bossert: Yes, I know I heard Rosie was going to ride the filly. I was just curious if you could comment on that or not?
Todd Pletcher: That’s very, very likely.
Jim Chairusmi: Hi, Todd. More about the filly. Explain, like, what are the effects of a filly running against a colt, and what’s the decision-making process in terms of this filly can take on the boys, and et cetera, like that—handle that?
Todd Pletcher: Well, first of all, you have to have enough talent to do it; it’s the most important factor, and when you look at Unlimited Budget’s races and her speed figures, her prior races, I think they match up very competitively against the colts. And then, you know, in the Belmont, the key factor is getting the distance in the mile and a half. She’s been successful at a mile and a sixteenth this year twice, and she was successful as a two-year-old going a mile and an eighth, so that’s encouraging. But, you know, it takes a very talented filly to compete with the boys, and I think, based on a couple of her wins, it certainly suggests that she could do that.
Jim Chairusmi: And do you think that running Rags to Riches in that Belmont in ’07 took a lot out of her in retrospect, because she only ran, what, one more time?
Todd Pletcher: I think probably what compromised her more than anything was the stumble at the start. You know, she took a pretty nasty fall down to her nose at the beginning of that race. If there was any negative effects, I think it came from that; it wasn’t the mile and a half distance.
Jerry Izenberg: Yes, thanks. Todd, a quick question about Revolutionary. What we have seen of this horse so far, what are the qualities that could make him a threat in this race from—off of what we’ve seen?
Todd Pletcher: Well, you know, I think if you see the—I thought he finished very well in the Kentucky Derby. Like I said, he had his legs underneath him pretty well at the end of the mile and a quarter and galloped out past the wire in front of the field. That suggests to me that the added distance is going to help. We like the fact that, coming back out of the Derby, he’s had five weeks rest. That seems to have worked well for him in the past. I think based on the strength of his Withers win and his Louisiana Derby win that he’s certainly shown that he’s one of the leading three-year-olds of this crop. If we can improve a little bit off the Derby, we think, you know, he’s arguably as good as anyone in this generation. So excited about the way he’s doing, the way he’s training, and we’re hoping we just have a little move forward this time.
Jerry Izenberg: One other question a little bit off the beaten path, but were you and Dallas Stewart—were you both working for Wayne at the same time?
Todd Pletcher: Yes, we were.
Jerry Izenberg: And what is it like now the three of you are in this race? Do you have any thoughts about that?
Todd Pletcher: Oh, yes, Dallas is a very good friend of mine and, you know, we’d worked for Wayne for quite awhile together, and yes, I think there’s a certain camaraderie between the group of us that worked for Wayne. Dallas, me, Randy Bradshaw, Kiaran McLaughlin, Mark Hennig, I think, you know, we became lifelong friends because of that experience with Wayne.
Danny Brewer: Let’s talk about Revolutionary for just a second. The way he closes through the lane with—he seemed to have an extra burst of acceleration. Is that one thing that makes the Belmont attractive for him?
Todd Pletcher: Well, I think, you know, the one thing that’s always tricky about the Belmont is the deep closers are generally reliant on a solid pace up front, and sometimes if the Belmont unfolds a certain way and you don’t get much pace, I think that can compromise the deep closers. The thing with him is I is think in a race where there’s not a lot of pace, and if this race unfolds that way so that they go a half in 49 and 50—or 50, I think he’ll find himself a little closer. So he’s not a horse that has to drop way back; I just think when the pace is strong, he can do that, but I think he’s adaptable enough to adjust to a slower pace. So where he’s laying in the early part of the race will be dependent on what kind of fractions laid (ph) down, but I think he’s versatile enough to handle either situation.
Danny Brewer: The rider change, going from—taking Calvin off him, was there anything in that decision-making process, or just you liked the other rider better?
Todd Pletcher: Well, it was a tough decision because I thought Calvin gave him a beautiful ride in the Kentucky Derby. And the one, you know, the biggest reason that we went with Calvin in the Kentucky Derby was Churchill was Calvin’s home track. That’s his home base and he rides Churchill extremely well. He rides all tracks well, but that being his home base and the fact that he’d won the 2010 Derby for us on Super Saver, it seemed like a logical move. But coming back to Belmont, Javier has had success on the colt in the past. He won the Withers and the Louisiana Derby, so we felt like, back at Belmont on Javier’s home track, that we would try that.
Danny Brewer: Lastly from me, Rags to Riches, does that play any factor in Unlimited Budget, whether she runs or doesn’t run, or is she totally on her own on that?
Todd Pletcher: No, I mean she’s on her own, but it certainly gives you added confidence knowing that it’s been done with a filly, you know, in the—somewhat recently. And, you know, I think the success that other fillies have had kind of following Rags to Riches, when you look at Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta and some of these other fillies, they’ve certainly shown that the best fillies of their generation can sometimes compete with the best colts.
John Pricci: I was wondering if you could maybe amplify on the pace a little bit that you anticipate. I mean, in a perfect world, would you like to see something like a half in 48? Would that be reasonable enough for you? And another one from me would be I know you’re a great observer of the races and, you know, you probably had a pretty good view of the Preakness. I’d like to get your read on how you thought the—everybody knows the pace was slow and all, but how did you read the track that day? Did you think the inside was as negative as everyone seems to think? And also, in terms of Orb, was that him or was he a victim of circumstances? Was he more of a case of a horse that might have reacted to the Derby coming back in two weeks, or was it strictly a slower pace and perhaps the worst part of the track?
Todd Pletcher: Well, I think, as far as the first part of the question, it’s going to kind of depend on where my horses are positioned. If (inaudible) have one loose on the lead, that’d be great if they were going along at a comfortable pace and, you know, if a horse like Revolutionary is to fall way back, then he’d obviously benefit from a faster pace. So I think really, with more than one starter, hopefully, we’ve got those bases covered and can adapt to a couple different pace scenarios.
I think what we saw in the Preakness was sometimes how the luck of the draw or luck of the conditions can affect your outcome in these big races. And, you know, sometimes it rains and your horse loves the slop, and sometimes it rains and your horse doesn’t like the slop, so those things can greatly impact the results. And I think post position can certainly impact the results as we kind of felt last weekend, or on Monday, we took the worst of it in a couple of post positions with Crossed Traffic and Kauai Katie and I think those things can certainly affect your chances of winning these big races. And I think, in light of the way that the track appeared to be playing at Pimlico, the inside part of the track wasn’t where you wanted to be, and certainly everyone knew that by the time they ran the Preakness on Saturday and stayed well off the rail and kind of put Orb in a difficult position, being stuck down on the rail the whole way.
Marcus Hersh: If I can be so bold as to completely change the subject, you have a couple of really nice horses in the 10 mile on Saturday, if I could briefly ask you about them? Regarding (cross talking).
Todd Pletcher: Absolutely. I said, absolutely, Marcus. I’d expect you to be bold.
Marcus Hersh: Jack Milton had strike me as an unusually talented grass horse. I mean, his final times and figures aren’t off the charts, but what I’ve noticed is all of his finishes seem to be really fast, and he strikes me as a horse who might have some upside. I wonder what you’re seeing from a, you know, like on a daily basis, and just the way this horse is coming along?
Todd Pletcher: He’s really impressed us since the very beginning. He’s not a real big horse; typical of a lot of the (inaudible) fronts, but he’s very well made, very well balanced. He trained very well for us prior to his first start, and I thought he delivered a very professional debut. In his second start, we were a little bit disappointed that he didn’t win, but got a little bit of rain right before the race and it was a turf course that seemed to just have a little bit of cut to the top of it, and I don’t think he handled it nearly as a well as he did in his first start. But we were still confident enough in his training and his ability to go ahead and try a stake in his third start, and he came through with a big performance.
And so we had a minor setback. While we were at Churchill, he had a slight muscle pull that cost us a few days of training, but since then has responded very well. Training great and we’ve kind of been focused on the Pim Mile since, you know, over the last month when we realized we weren’t going to make the American Turf at Churchill.
Marcus Hersh: Did he make a lead a little early at Keeneland? I mean, it seemed like he might’ve idled slightly after he got to the front in the middle of the stretch?
Todd Pletcher: That’s kind of what John Velazquez felt like, that he kind of made the lead and then felt like that was the end of the game, so something that John’ll keep in the back of his mind. And, of course, against a field like this, we’d be lucky to make the lead at any point but certainly try to time it right, and if he does make the lead, he’s the kind of horse that you need to keep his attention.
Marcus Hersh: Yes, and Charming Kitten, I mean he’s obviously run some really big races too. I mean, would you—is it fair to say he may be a little more exposed than Jack Milton at this point?
Todd Pletcher: Well, he was certainly more precocious. He came out and won in the summer at Saratoga and ran in some big races as a two-year-old, has run competitively basically in every start of his career. He’s—you know, that unfortunate trip in the Breeders’ Futurity was kind of one of the only few times that he’s really not shown up and hit the board, with the exception of the Derby, but I actually thought his Derby run was quite respectable. He—first time on the dirt and on a sloppy track to boot, he continued on and stayed on pretty well and kept fighting to the end, and I think that’s kind of his style. He’s a consistent sort that shows up every time and gives you what he has.
Marcus Hersh: And when he ran against Rydilluc, it didn’t seem like a very fair fight given the pace in that race.
Todd Pletcher: Well, any time a horse of Rydilluc’s quality can get loose on the lead, they’re always dangerous, and we’re hoping in this particular race that, you know, there’s someone to entertain him up front, and that would certainly help Charming Kitten’s chances.
Marcus Hersh: You don’t have anything in Epsom Derby, do you?
Todd Pletcher: No, not this year.
Penelope Miller: Up next, we have Terry Finley of West Point Thoroughbreds. Terry is the Founder and President of West Point, which was begun in 1991 by Finley and was named as a tribute to his alma mater. Finley earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from West Point in 1986, as well as a Master of Science in Business Analytics from Boston University in 1990. He served as an artillery officer in the army for eight years and left the army in 1994 with the rank of Captain. West Point Thoroughbreds has had two Belmont Stakes starters in the past; the first being High Finance in 2006, who finished tenth, and the other being Macho Again in 2008 who finished fifth. West Point Thoroughbreds’ Freedom Child recently romped in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park, besting the rest of the field by a whopping 13 and a quarter lengths and hopes to make his next start in the Belmont Stakes.
Terry, thank you so much for joining us. Can you tell me how it felt to have a horse named Freedom Child win the Peter Pan Stakes? Was there a lost boys joke in there somewhere?
Terry Finley: No, hi. Really great to be on with you, but no, there wasn’t. We—I did have some people comment on that, but it was a very, very good day and, you know, this colt, he, you know, he had a very good day on the right day on the day of the Peter Pan, so we were very happy with that. And right after the race, we turned our attention to the Belmont Stakes, so so far everything’s worked out well and we’re very excited as a partnership group for next Saturday.
Penelope Miller: Excellent. And can you tell me a little bit about how Freedom Child is doing at the moment?
Terry Finley: Yes. Actually, you know, one thing I wanted to say is when you own horses, whether you’re in partnerships or you’re doing it yourself and you have a chance to run in a big race like this, it’s really humbling and really super cool. You know, it’s—these are the opportunities that really get us all out of bed in the morning. So as it relates to this colt, you know, he’s really given us a good vibe overall. You know, he’s a May 18th foal, and he’s gotten really better and better in each start, aside from the Wood Memorial that I think we’ll talk about on this call. But, you know, you look at his figures and they’ve improved, and all-in-all, you know, with a guy like Tom Albertrani, he’s not a guy to really tout his barn, but I know Tom is very optimistic and his confidence level is very high, and as a result, all the partners, their confidence levels are very high as well, so I think we’re in good shape.
Jennie Rees: Hi, Terry. Let’s talk about the Wood Memorial and what—could you kind of give us a blow by blow of what is going through your mind and what is going through your stomach when you’re watching that race?
Terry Finley: Well before or after the start, Jennie?
Jennie Rees: Both. Both, and after you see the replay, perhaps.
Terry Finley: You know, we looked at the odds board, and you know, in our minds, we didn’t think we should’ve been—I think we were 45 to 1, so we thought that we were going in with a loaded gun and, you know, it’s just a bad luck incident. You know, I really—I felt bad for the starter, or the assistant starter, I really did, because I know he took some heat, and I know he felt, you know, just as bad over the situation as we did. And, you know, we really tried to put it out of our mind as quickly as possible. I mean, stuff happens in the world and in life and especially in this—in the business that we’re in every day. So, you know, right afterwards, we knew that he pulled out fine, and the next day, I remember talking to Tom Albertrani and we just—we vowed to really put it out of our minds, and we put a circle around the Peter Pan and it—obviously, it worked out really well.
So, you know, those kinds of things you just kind of shake your head, you know, and it just was a bang-bang issue. In the starter, he pressed the button just as the horse on the inside of us, you know, broke through the gate, and as a result, our starter reached down and really kind of tightened up on our strap and, as a result, when we broke, you know, he was holding on for two or three strides. So not the best thing to have happen at the start of a million dollar race but, you know, so be it. And we really thought that there was a reason why we didn’t go to the Kentucky Derby, right? And, you know, we’re hoping that we run well in the Belmont and we have a really good second half of the year and everything will be made right.
Jennie Rees: Yes, well speaking of the Derby, I was wondering, because in these partnerships, so much—I’m told by people it’s the number one goal; this is what they want to see, and to really not even get the chance at—I mean, that race just meant so much at the Derby.
Terry Finley: Yes. Yes, I would say, Jennie, we—I know some partnerships do, they focus—and, look, if you’re in the business and, you know, you dream about having starters in the Kentucky Derby. We don’t really focus on the Derby as much as some others. Just our cup of tea, and I think it works for us, because I think sometimes you—you know, we’ve all seen people—we got that Derby fever when we ran a horse in the Kentucky Derby in 2006 and it’s very easy to catch, and I think sometimes, you know, we make bad decisions and we put horses into the Derby when they might not quite be ready, and it causes them—it impacts them going forward.
I really feel great that we’re in a position where we got a shot at the Belmont, and then, you know, at the Travers and going forward. So we’re happy with the spot that we’re in, and you know, the Derby, it comes and goes and you just got to kind of roll with the punches as you’re owning horses like this.
Danny Brewer: The Peter Pan, you know, Freedom Child, he just like kicked some booty in the stretch. Talk about the stretch run and your thoughts, and how nuts you guys had to be going at that time.
Terry Finley: Yes, we thought that he’d run well, and obviously, we didn’t know that he’d really take to the slop that day but, you know, in every race that he’s run well—and he’s pretty much run well every time except the Wood and his first start. We actually took a testicle—one of his testicles out after his first start, so I think that’s really been a big help to him in his career. But we thought he’d run well in the Peter Pan, and he took—and he’s got such a cool middle move. He kind of runs horses off their feet. He did it when he broke his maiden at Gulfstream. And so, you know, going into the far turn when he kind of opened up, you know, he was three in front and then, in a blink of an eye, he was five in front, and you could see, you know, them starting to scrub behind him; we thought that we were in pretty good shape and he turned for home and he just kind of widened. So all in all, that was a darn good day as a horse owner and as an owner of Freedom Child.
Danny Brewer: Is his style made-to-order for the Belmont Stakes, do you think?
Terry Finley: You’d like to think so. You know, they talk about horses; you’ve got to be fairly close to the pace, if not on it. It’s not a race where real deep closers have done well, so in that respect, yes, we’d like to feel that we’re in pretty good shape. But, you know, you just never know, you know, who is going to—what’s going to be thrown at you the first part of it, and I think that’s going to be the key, right? We don’t know which one of these horses want to go a mile and a half, so that’s all. And two, you really—you have to have a good first, like three eighths of a mile, especially with a horse like us. We’ve got to get into a good rhythm, we’ve got to get our air, we’ve got to get framed up, and we can’t be running off going into the first turn or down the backside, and we’re hoping that he’s able to really relax as quickly as possible and kind of throttle down. And if that happens and we can get the distance, I think we’ll be a pretty, you know, strong foe at the top of the stretch; at least we hope so.
John Pricci: I was wondering if you could expand a little bit on the anticipated pace scenario as far as your horse is concerned. It looks like he’s got quite a bit of gas if you want to use it. Is he amenable to rating? And also, you know, he broke his maiden at Gulfstream Park by over five lengths, very impressive that day, and when you went to the Wood Memorial, for the first time in five races you added Lasix to the equipment. And I was just wondering, was that in relation to leveling the playing field with the other players, or did you feel that it would help him in that spot? So if you wouldn’t mind, a two-parter from me.
Terry Finley: I wouldn’t think that he absolutely needs to lead. You know, the day he broke his maiden at Gulfstream, he sat second going into the far turn and then just kind of moved to the front, and again, as I spoke of before, just kind of widened very quickly on the field. So you’d like to think that he’d be first, second, or third when they turn down the backside. You know, he’s got to break—he broke his step slow in the Peter Pan, so—and then he had obviously the trouble in the Wood Memorial so, you know, I think he’s got to break well and he’s got to really put himself into the race.
But in response to, does he need the lead? No. Would we be uncomfortable if he got—if he was on the lead and he got comfortable very quickly, I think we’d be smiling going down the backside if that happened.
As it relates to the Lasix, you know, Tom Albertrani, if you look at his PPs, a lot of his two-year-olds, they don’t run on Lasix, and it’s not really for any other reason because he thinks it’s a good thing for young horses to stay off of it. And I know that’s a whole other discussion, but we’ve had pretty good luck waiting until the right time to administer Lasix before they run. And we all know that, you know, if you look at the data, it usually improves a horse, you know, three or four lengths; it’s a performance enhancer. So that’s—that was really behind us—or behind the thinking of putting him on Lasix for the Wood Memorial. So it’s worked out really well, and he’s a big, strong horse and he, you know, he feels good about himself and I think he likes what he does for a living, so all-in-all, we’re in good shape.
David Grening: Could you just enlighten me on the ownership situation here? There’s two other partners listed, St. Elias Stable and Spendthrift Farm, which also bred the horse. Did you sell part of it back, or did you go partners with these from the outset, or…?
Terry Finley: Yes. So interestingly enough, Wayne Hughes, who runs—or who bred this horse, right, Spendthrift Farm, we’ve been friends for about 15 years. And every year, we’d go to the yearling sales and he would—he and I would both say, if we—either one of us came upon a really top colt, we would go partners, you know, because he is looking for stallions, or stallion prospects, and we’re looking for really good colts and fillies, right? We don’t really care. So two years ago at Saratoga, I ran across this colt. I really loved him. He knocked our socks off of us at the yearling sale at Fasig-Tipton, and I noticed that Wayne had bred this horse, and that night, I ran across him at the cocktail party and we just started talking about this colt. And he loved him, but, you know, he’s in a position where he’s got to sell across the board; you know, he can’t just sell the bad ones and, you know, he loved this colt. So what happened after our conversation at the cocktail party, you know, caused us to put a partnership together, and Wayne said he’d keep a part of this horse. So that’s one partner.
And then St. Elias, Vinnie and Teresa Viola, who are new owners in the game, you know, at that time, I think this was their second horse that they had bought; they bought a third of him. Now they have about 35 in the racing stable, so they’ve really kind of jumped in with both feet. But they’ve been great partners, and they’re from Brooklyn, and they used to come to the Belmont Stakes as kids, so everything—you know, there’s good karma around here. And, you know, our partnership, we have a third, and there are several really good partners. I have a young Wall Streeter, Rod Massiello (ph) and his wife, Skye. They’ve been long-time partners of ours. And the Moelises, right, Herb and Ellen, they’re from Delaware, and they’ve really, really done great things for the industry. They started the Thoroughbred Charities of America, and they ran the organization for about 20 years, and that organization has given well over a million dollars back to a number of different charities. So it’s really a good partnership. You know, we all get along and we own a really nice colt; and, you know, that’s the power of the partnership, so we’re in good shape.
David Grening: Do you—does—you know, have you changed at all—philosophy changed over the years as far as, you know, whether to take on other partners that aren’t necessarily signed on with West Point?
Terry Finley: Well, yes, David, and we’re doing it more and more, and it makes good sense. You know, this is I believe the first time we’ve ever done a partnership with a breeder, you know, for him to stay in. And so, yes, I mean we’re doing it more and more. We do it some in California. But, you know, it really helps. It gives—really gives people a chance that have their own racing stables to enhance their purchasing power and to increase the number of the horses they have in their stable, and of course, it’s good for us. It gives us the ability to get our hands on better stock. So it’s a win-win.
But the key is you’ve got to be compatible as partners, so we take that very seriously, because there’s nothing like a partnership where partners don’t get along. We’ve all seen that in the racing world, and in the real world outside, so that’s something we pay attention to. But, you know, I’d like to think we’re pretty good partners, and we pay our bills, and we really care about the horses and about the industry as a whole. So, you know, I’d like to think we’re good corporate citizens.
David Grening: One last thing. When Orb got beat in the Preakness, how much do you think that opened things up for this particular race, or did you have any preconceived notion that maybe Orb was, you know, a superstar in the making?
Terry Finley: I really did, David, and I think the vast majority of people that were down at Pimlico saw him and, of course, you know, we all—in our heads, we’re all thinking about, there’s the Derby winner, so it’s—you know, we’ve got that in it, but he just did so well that week before and he just turned in a flat performance. But, you know, both of these colts are by Orb, and I know one thing, it’s a lot easier—with the number of people we have coming and the number of partners that we have that are bringing guests, it’s a lot easier for our team to get them seats now than it would’ve been if Orb, another son of Malibu Moon, would’ve been trying for the Triple Crown. So, in that respect, it’s really helpful but, you know, obviously it would’ve been nice for the business overall. But I got to tell you, I think it’s a very intriguing race overall, and I think it’ll be well received by racing fans and also people that watch on NBC next Saturday.
Jennie Rees: Terry, I wanted to ask you about the source of the name, if there’s a story behind it, but also I want to ask you, you know, sort of following up on the Malibu Moon connection, have you had a lot of Malibu Moons? And when you said this horse knocked your socks off at the sale, could you sort of elaborate what it was about him?
Terry Finley: Sure, sure. Well, he did. He’s a big, stout colt. He’s a bright red chestnut. He’s got a lot of chrome on his face. He’s got a big white blaze and he’s got three white socks, so he’s the kind of horse that usually does very well at the yearling sales, because you can project him as a three-year-old. And, look, they don’t always turn out as good as he is, but you can project in your mind when you’re walking up to the ring and you’re going to pay a decent amount of money for a horse like we did with him. So, you know, that was kind (ph)—and he checked out. You know, obviously everybody that is serious about buying yearlings, he vetted really well.
And we did his heart not too long ago, which—we use heart analysis, and he’s got a really huge heart. So that’s kind of in the back of our mind, you know, going back to if he—if we think he’s got a shot to get a mile and a half. We know he’s got the capacity to do that from a heart standpoint. Now, whether he has the, you know, what’s inside and the heart to do that, we’ll find out at the quarter pull. You know, just like all these horses, we’ll find out. But, you know, that’s how he kind of knocked our socks off.
Freedom Child, it’s a name derived from the record label. We have two partners, they’re a pair—it’s a couple from out in the Midwest, from Cleveland, and she’s a rock star. She’s a rock singer, and the gentlemen is in the media business. He’s a media mogul. His name is Tom Wilson, and the singer’s name is Misty Gonzales, and their record label, or their entertainment company is called Freedom Child. So two years ago, they wanted to come to a sale, and they ended up at Saratoga for the weekend, and they—this was the first sale that they ever came to, and we bought this colt. He was the first tip in the ring on day two of the Fasig-Tipton sale in 2011, and they had just, you know, had dinner and they were having just a wonderful time, and we bought this colt, and they were actually the first ones to invest and to buy an interest in this colt. So right there we decided, you know, that this colt’s name was going to be Freedom Child. So we think it worked out very well, and I really like the name. I really do.
Penelope Miller: Up next, we have Hall of Fame jockey, Gary Stevens, who comes into the Belmont off of a victory in the Preakness Stakes aboard his Belmont mount, Oxbow. That was the first Classic win for Gary since his return to riding after a seven-year hiatus in January of 2013. Gary has ridden in nine Belmont Stakes, with five in-the-money finishes, and three victories; one in 1995 with Thunder Gulch, one in 1998 with Victory Gallop, and in 2001 with Point Given. Gary was inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame in 1997 and won the Eclipse Award as the nation’s outstanding jockey in 1998.
Gary, thank you so much for joining us this afternoon. How has life gotten a little different for you since the Preakness victory?
Gary Stevens: Well, I don’t know how different it’s got, but it’s sure been a thrill, Penelope. It’s just been an outstanding couple of weeks since the Preakness and definitely my most emotional win of my career.
Penelope Miller: Well, I know you’re back in California right now. How has that been going for you?
Gary Stevens: Things are good. I came right back on Saturday and won the Gamely Stakes, a Grade 1 on Marketing Mix for Tom Proctor and Glen Hill Farm, huge supporters throughout my career since I was an apprentice, so it’s been a tremendous couple of weeks.
Penelope Miller: And you’re going to obviously be making your way back to the East Coast shortly for Oxbow’s start in the Belmont. When are you arriving?
Gary Stevens: I will be there Monday afternoon. And I spoke with Wayne this morning. Oxbow, I’m sure everybody’s aware, had a nice workout this morning. All systems are go, and he’ll be traveling on Monday as well. So we’re really looking forward to getting back to New York.
Penelope Miller: Well, we’re looking forward to having you here in the Big Apple, and I will open the floor up to the media for questions starting now.
Danny Brewer: This horse seems to have a real hunger to run. When you turned for home in the Preakness, was it just let the big dog eat?
Gary Stevens: Yes, pretty much. That’s a good way to say it. And you’re exactly right, I don’t think that I’ve ever ridden a horse in my career that is as focused on what his job is going through the starting gate. It’s almost like a running back that’s—he’s looking at the hole that he’s got to go for, and he’s just a very focused individual, and his recovery rate is unbelievable as well.
Danny Brewer: Do you think he’s got the appetite for that Belmont distance, the mile and a half? Can he get it?
Gary Stevens: Well, I told Wayne after the Kentucky Derby, I said, you know, boss, we didn’t come home the last eighth of a mile as fast as I would’ve liked to, but his gallop out after the race was every bit as strong as his final eighth of a mile. I almost ran over the top of Orb as he was being pulled up. And the same thing in the Preakness; he pulled up full of energy and recovered back to his normal breathing rate before I ever got back to the winner’s circle, which was a first for me in the eight previous Classic wins that I’d had. So with his pedigree being by Tiznow, or out of Tiznow’s full sister and Awesome Again, I have no doubts that the mile and a half will be right up his alley.
Danny Brewer: Being a part of LuKas Calumet Farms, Stevens-team is that special (inaudible) because that’s pretty historical?
Gary Stevens: I mean, you know, I’d say Wayne put me on the map for the big races in 1988 with Winning Colors, and he did it again in 2013 by putting my on Oxbow. And to ride for Mr. Kelly and Calumet Farm, the resurrection of Calumet Farm, it couldn’t be sweeter. I mean, it’s just—it’s storybook.
Jennie Rees: Gary, now that we have some perspective of time and stuff, talk about the fractions in the, you know, in the Preakness. And I know if you were on (inaudible), say, and it was more like 111, I mean—and then there’s the Beyer Column saying, if anything, the speed number was—he was low rather than high. Just put it into context for those of us that don’t ride horses and weren’t on him and on the track that day.
Gary Stevens: Well, the track was extremely deep for Baltimore. I mean, I’ve ridden there for years and stuff, but it was Oxbow’s kind of track. I mean, I think that the track was playing two and a half to three seconds slow. I talked with my work partner, Jeff Siegel (ph), who’s pretty sharp with times as well, and we discussed it and I said, two seconds, and he said, I had it closer to three seconds. But to put it in perspective of the way this colt was handling that deep track is I felt like I was going, 113 for the three quarters. He felt like what the board said when I came back. And one thing I noticed that a lot of those long striding horses were struggling with the track, both on Friday and on Saturday throughout the day and especially in the Preakness, and that’s one big asset that we have with Oxbow, is he’s very, very athletic and he relishes that type of track. I mean he’s run well on a fast racetrack, he ran well in the Kentucky Derby on a sloppy racetrack, and then we caught a track that was playing on the slow side and deep on Preakness day. So I think that that’s his biggest weapon is his speed and his athleticism.
Jennie Rees: And how does this translate to the Belmont where you’ve had a lot of success? I mean, it can get real cuppy, and is it a deep track or is it just kind of a cuppy track, or should it soothe him, or…?
Gary Stevens: Well, I would just say that what I felt in Baltimore was very similar to what you feel on certain afternoons at the Big Sandy at Belmont Park. And I don’t really care how it comes up, because I know he handles the mud, and I know he’ll handle a laboring racetrack, as it can be at Belmont Park, so I’m not really worried about the condition of the racetrack. He does not have to take his track with him, and I think he’s proven that with his performances at Fairgrounds and at Louisiana—or at Oaklawn Park, he is better than what his ) performance was in the Kentucky Derby and now the Preakness, he does not need to take the track with him. He reminds me a lot of Thunder Gulch in that way that, who had a phenomenal three-year-old year also.
Rachel Blunt: Your brother, Scott, who rode for several years here up in Minnesota at Canterbury Park, and I’m just wondering, how did he influence you and what advice did he have for you, both when you were a young rider, and then several months ago when you started thinking about making a comeback?
Gary Stevens: Rachel, I apologize, I assume you’re asking me about Scott. I didn’t hear the first part of your question, but I think I know where you’re going with it, and…
Rachel Blunt: Yes.
Gary Stevens: He has been my main influence throughout my career. Everybody has a hero, and Scott has been my hero. I always wanted to emulate whatever he did, whether it was wrestling or riding horses, and when he became a jockey, that’s what I wanted to do. And I spoke to a lot of people before I made this comeback, but the guy that pushed me over the edge was big brother, Scott. He said, you know, if you’re feeling it, if you want to do this, don’t take it away from yourself. He goes, every day somebody asks me when I’m going to retire – and Scott’s 52 years old right now – and he said, I am retired; I just choose to go horseback riding four or five times a week rather than play golf or go fishing. And to me, that just let me up, and I thought, you know what, you’re 100% right. If you enjoy it and you can do it pain free, then do it.
And I think that’s the big thing with me, is I am pain free right now, and Scott’s had a huge impact on this comeback and my career. Everybody needs a coach, and when you’re at the top of your game, you’re not getting a lot of coaching or a lot of advice from people. And Scott never was shy about giving me a phone call and saying, hey, you need to get back to the basics of riding here, you’re overriding, or just always had real powerful advice for me and positive advice for me throughout my career.
Rachel Blunt: And he’s had a very long career himself despite having some pretty serious injuries in the last few years. Did his longevity help give you some confidence that you could come back at age 50?
Gary Stevens: Yes, I mean, I don’t know how he does it. The spill that he had at Canterbury a few years back, where he broke both his shoulders and his sternum collapsed, both collapsed lungs, we feared for his life. And for him to come back, if—I think if you looked up the word ‘tough’ in the dictionary, it would have a picture of my brother.
David Grening: I was just wondering if you were planning—you said you’re coming in Monday afternoon, if you were planning to ride some at Belmont during the course of the week just to sort of get reacquainted with this monstrous oval here?
Gary Stevens: Oh absolutely, David. Matter of fact, I talked with Michael McCarthy, Todd’s assistance back there, just a few hours ago and asked them if they may have some horses for me to work starting on Wednesday back there. Tuesday’s going to be a busy day for me, but—and also my agent, Craig O’Bryan, has been in touch with my long-time agent, Ron Anderson, and agent for Joel Rosario, and I said, man, if you can get me on something starting on Wednesday. I don’t know what will be available, but it’s a big ocean there, and I just want to reacquaint myself that—it’s been seven years, and Belmont, it may look simple, but it’s not simple. It’s my favorite racetrack to ride in the world, and I think that the best horse normally wins there, other than jockey error, with the wide sweeping turns and everything about it.
So I’m looking forward to getting back there, and I’ve run races over and over in my head in the last couple of weeks and just reminding myself to really take into consideration that long run down the back side and the turns and the fractions. I have to add—or, excuse me, take off two seconds to what I think I’m going. If I feel like I’m going 24 and change, I’m probably going 22 and change. So I’m trying to refresh myself the best I can, but I’ll definitely—if there’s any mounts out there that I can get leading up to Saturday, and I’m going to have some mounts earlier in the day on Belmont Day, but I am looking to ride some other horses, Dave.
David Grening: Have you—you know, you’ve been in an analyst position over these years; you know, have you seen some Belmonts get lost because of rider error because of this track, in your opinion?
Gary Stevens: Well, I was involved—and no knock to anybody, but I was involved in one that may have been a little bit of not respecting Belmont Park. And when I say ‘respecting Belmont Park’, it’s like the ocean; you can have a lot of fun in it, but it can hurt you if you don’t respect it. And I won’t say a year or anything, but there’s—yes, not as an analyst, I mean, we can look back at Smarty Jones. That was no one’s fault other than Smarty Jones being attacked from all sides. And a lot of people knocked Stewart Elliott’s ride, and I thought it was a great ride; it was just circumstances that day. But it’s a tricky place and you’ve got to respect Belmont Park.
Penelope Miller: Okay. Well, Gary, thank you so much for joining us this afternoon, and we’re really looking forward to having you back here in New York.
Gary Stevens: I can’t wait, Penelope. Looking forward to it. Thank you.
Penelope Miller: Awesome. Thank you very much and have a safe trip here.