Jim Mulvihill: Thank you to all the members of the media who are joining us on this week’s teleconference. For most of the top horses in the country, this weekend marks the last stop before the November 1st and 2nd Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita. We’ve got 10 Grade 1 races set to be contested between Belmont Park and Santa Anita this Saturday, plus four Grade 2 stakes on the weekend with Breeders’ Cup implications. On top of all that, the defending Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, Fort Larned, runs in the inaugural Homecoming Classic at Churchill Downs.
Twelve stakes this weekend are Breeders’ Cup challenge “Win and You’re In” propositions. The most highly anticipated race of the day on Saturday will be the 95th running of the Jockey Club Gold Cup worth a million dollars this year. The probables include two time defending race winner Flat Out, Kentucky Derby winner Orb, Woodward winner Alpha, and three from the barn of today’s first guest, Todd Pletcher. Those are Cross Traffic, winner of the Whitney last out, Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice, who was a close fourth in the Travers despite a very unfortunate trip, and the Brazilian-bred Vitoria Olimpica, who won the Alydar Stakes at Saratoga in his second U.S. start and first try on dirt.
I’m going to run down some of the other big stars on the slate for this weekend. At Belmont that includes Royal Delta, the two-time Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic heroine, in the Beldame; Princess of Sylmar, the Kentucky Oaks, Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama winner, the near certain three year old filly champion, also in the Beldame; the last two Arlington Million winners, Real Solution and Little Mike, plus Sword Dancer hero Big Blue Kitten and Man o’ War winner Boisterous in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic; Diana and Ballston Spa winner Laughing in the Flower Bowl; and then in the Vosburgh, Vanderbilt winner Justin Phillip and defending race winner The Lumber Guy.
Out at Santa Anita we’ll get to see fan favorites, Paynter and Mucho Macho Man, in the Awesome Again; multiple Grade 1 winner, Marketing Mix, in the Rodeo Drive; and then in the Zenyatta, a very competitive field including last year’s champion two year old filly Beholder, Grade 1 winner Joyful Victory, and the top two from Saratoga’s Shuvee, Authenticity and Flashy American.
Later in this call we’ll be talking to Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who rides Royal Delta and Palace Malice, among several others with big chances, and Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella, who is going to saddle Beholder in the Zenyatta.
But first, we’re going to bring in our first guest, Todd Pletcher. Todd is a five-time Eclipse Award winner as Outstanding Trainer, a Kentucky Derby winner, a two-time Belmont Stakes winner, a seven-time Breeders’ Cup winner, and this weekend his starters include Cross Traffic, Palace Malice, Princess of Sylmar, Authenticity, Graydar, who is coming back off a layoff in the Kelso, Cynical Storm, Sweet Whiskey, Corfu and Sound of Freedom. Todd Pletcher, you’re on with Jim Mulvihill in New York. Thanks for joining us.
Todd Pletcher: Hey, Jim. How are you?
Jim Mulvihill: I’m doing great. Thanks so much. I’m going to start with a few questions about the Jockey Club Gold Cup and then I’ll open it up to everyone else to cover all the other horses you’ve got and some other ground as well, but let’s start with the Gold Cup. Palace Malice is going to face older horses for the first time. How good does a three year old have to be to win a Grade 1 versus older horses, especially in September?
Todd Pletcher: Well, I think you have to be very good to begin with and particularly with this running of the Jockey Club, which looks to be a particularly strong one. But we certainly feel like based on the way that he has been running and his maturity level, his physical development, that he certainly should stack up very well.
Jim Mulvihill: And can you tell us some more about that physical development maybe since the Triple Crown? I mean, we know he’s worked well since the Travers and had a difficult trip in there, but maybe you can describe his progression over the past several months.
Todd Pletcher: Well, to me he’s a remarkable horse that, you know, he began his campaign in January at Gulfstream and he’s raced at Gulfstream, Fair Grounds, Keeneland, Churchill, Belmont, Saratoga, and through all of that and Triple Crown prep series and two of the Triple Crown races and then the Jim Dandy and the Travers he’s physically flourished in that type of—with that type of activity. He’s gotten bigger and stronger and actually to me he looks like he’s put on weight since the Travers. He trains very well and seems to love the action and just get better and better. So, you know, it’s kind of rare that you see a horse with those type of races on his resume just continue to physically flourish. And mentally he’s been terrific; just, you know, takes everything in stride and he’s an easy horse to train. He’ll do whatever you need him or ask him to do in the mornings. He’s just been a real pleasure to have in the barn.
Jim Mulvihill: And what can you tell us about his big effort in the Travers despite stumbling at the start? What a big race that was.
Todd Pletcher: To be honest with you I was shocked that he got as close as he did once he got off to the start that he did. And unfortunately he was standing pretty well; he looked like he was ready to go and the ground just left him. You know, so, we’ve seen a lot of horses stumble, and unfortunately for him it took him sort of out of his game plan and the sort of stalking position that we were able to get in the Belmont and the Jim Dandy. And then you throw on top of it a 48 and 4 half, and, like I said, I was surprised that he was able to make up as much ground as he did, and had a wide trip on top of it around the second turn. It’s just one of those things. I think Mike had a decision to make when he stumbled at the start whether to try to make that ground up and recover quickly or sit back and wait, and he chose to wait, which I think was the right move. Unfortunately we just didn’t get the pace up in front of us that we needed to catch the frontrunners. But I don’t think he lost anything in defeat. It was a huge effort on his part to only get beat three quarters of a length.
Jim Mulvihill: You’ve also got Cross Traffic in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He’s been working in company with Graydar, two very good horses but seemingly in very different places at this point of the year. So can you tell us what they’re getting out of working together in the mornings?
Todd Pletcher: Well, they’re two horses that are two big, scopey strong sons of Unbridled’s Song that have a lot in common in a lot of ways and yet are coming up to these races sort of, you know, in recent—their recent form is quite different. But Cross Traffic we decided to pass the Woodward, which was sort of a difficult decision because he was training very well. We just felt like we wanted to get to the—hopefully to the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the best possible way we could, and felt like that passing the Woodward and waiting on the Jockey Club would hopefully put us in the best position. So we—because of that we needed some good solid training having not run since August 3rd, and with Graydar coming back from a lengthy layoff it seemed like both horses would benefit from training with each other, and have made very good workmates leading up to this.
Jim Mulvihill: And you also decided yesterday to add Vitoria Olimpica into the mix. He seemed to like the dirt at Saratoga after running on grass previously throughout his career. Is he up to this task on Saturday?
Todd Pletcher: Well, we felt like since he arrived from Brazil that he’s a horse that trains like a very good horse, and actually had a tough decision to make before we ran him the first time here on whether or not to run him on the turf, which is what he had been doing, or run him on the dirt because he trained so well on it. Decided to go ahead and have his first start on the grass because I didn’t want to run him a mile and an eighth on the dirt the first time out, and he’s definitely a horse that wants two turns. So he ran well on the turf in a very tough allowance race; came back and trained even better on the dirt, so we decided to run him in the Alydar Stakes. And he ran very well. He beat some quality horses that day. This was a very big step for any horse really, but in only his third start in the U.S. we’re asking a lot. But speaking to Mr. Torrealba, he said that he would love to take a chance if the horse is doing well. And he is doing well, so we’re going to give him the opportunities.
Jim Mulvihill: All right. And now a question about the Jockey Club Gold Cup in general. These races on Saturday, they’re often described by people as preps for the Breeders’ Cup, but, you know, most of them are Grade 1s and the Jockey Club Gold Cup itself is now a million dollars. Is this race a prep for another goal, or is it an end in itself?
Todd Pletcher: Well, I think it’s both actually. I think it can be both, and I think everybody in here is certainly trying to win and hopefully trying to maintain that form or move forward I think for the Breeders’ Cup. I think one of the great things about it is the five weeks from this race to the Breeders’ Cup. The spacing’s very good and I think it gives everyone an opportunity to go out there and run a big race and hopefully have time to recover and have another big race in the Breeders’ Cup.
Jennie Rees: Yes, Todd, I’m intrigued by these workmates, Cross Traffic and Graydar. Could you elaborate a little more on why they got such relatively late starts in their career, and do they show that there is life after the Triple Crown for these horses, if they do miss it that there’s still a lot of racing?
Todd Pletcher: Well, I think part of it is these are both very big sons of Unbridled’s Song, and I think the one thing that we’ve learned over the years with the Unbridled’s Song’s is that they have tremendous talent, but you also have to be patient with them. And in Graydar’s case, he was a little late getting started, but the one thing that’s very similar about these two horses is how much they were able to accomplish at very early stages of their careers. I mean, it’s very rare that you see horses in their fourth lifetime starts like Graydar winning the Donn, and similar with Cross Traffic to make his first start at four and be able to win the Whitney in August, basically eight months later, is just something you rarely see. But it just speaks volumes about how talented these two horses are.
Jennie Rees: Did you have them in the barn as two year olds?
Todd Pletcher: Did not have Cross Traffic in the barn as a two year old. He came in as a three year old and was getting very close to being ready to run when we had to send him back to GoldMark Farm for a shin issue, and he came back, I guess, about four or five months later and then everything went very smoothly from that point on.
Jennie Rees: You have so many horses right now that if things go well could be in the Classic, could be in the Dirt Mile for the Breeders’ Cup. How do you decide which races, say, like a horse like Graydar, where he might go next, and who goes where?
Todd Pletcher: Well, I think this weekend tells us a lot about where we want to go with some of these horses, particularly Graydar. I think he’s proven that he can be very effective at a mile and he’s also been very good at a mile and an eighth. So what we have to see is how well he runs in the Kelso and how much he gets out of it and how he trains afterwards, and if we feel like that, one start since March is going to be enough to have him ready to go in the Classic or if the Dirt Mile would be a better option.
Jennie Rees: How many horses could you have in each race depending, again, on this—given you have Shanghai Bobby there and you’ve got Verrazano, in your stable.
Todd Pletcher: Well, Verrazano we plan to go to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. We don’t really have the Classic under consideration at this time. I suppose that if Cross Traffic and Palace Malice and Vitoria Olimpica and Graydar all were to run really well that they would all be candidates for the Classic.
Jennie Rees: But just getting back to the Dirt Mile, you also had maybe Shanghai Bobby in there?
Todd Pletcher: That would be a possibility as well who knows, depending on how Graydar runs or—he could possibly go in the Dirt Mile, but a lot of that will be decided in the weeks leading up to the Breeders’ Cup.
Danny Brewer: You’re an East Coast guy. Does the West Coast swing with the Breeders’ Cup make it tougher for you? I mean, this is going to be the second year and then there’s next year, too, so what’s your thoughts on that?
Todd Pletcher: Well, I’ve always been an advocate of moving the Breeders’ Cup around. I think that that was the spirit in which it was invented, so I’m always in favor of—you know, ideally there’d probably be a rotation of one place every four years. And California is certainly worthy of that, and I think Kentucky is as well, and I think New York is, and then somewhere sort of a wild card place on the fourth year. But Santa Anita is a terrific place to hold it. Generally the weather’s good. Every once in a while it can get pretty hot, but as a rule it’s very nice. They have a dirt course there now, which I’m certainly happy about, and the turf is generally very fair to Americans and Europeans, so I have certainly nothing against Santa Anita hosting it and look forward to it. I would like to see a rotation and certainly look forward to when it does come back to the East Coast and hopefully Belmont and not too terribly far from now. But it’s always, I think, an advantage when you don’t have to ship, so I think the California horses probably have a slight edge that way. But, at the same time there’s been plenty of success from horses coming from the Midwest and the East Coast into California, so it’s—it should be fair to everyone.
Danny Brewer: Princess of Sylmar, she’s been outstanding as a three year old. Is this—she’s going up against a real tough company here in the Beldame. Is that a measuring stick to find out if she really is royalty?
Todd Pletcher: Oh, I don’t think so. I don’t think she has anything to prove at this point. You know, the year that she’s had has been unbelievable, and winning the Alabama and Coaching Club and the Kentucky Oaks, those three races in a row, it’s pretty hard for any three year old filly to do. But we have a lot of respect for Royal Delta and she certainly is going to be the mare or filly to beat in this particular race. But we just felt like it was the best program for our filly that we had the—kind of a decision to make between the Cotillion and this, and felt a little uncomfortable backing up to a mile and a sixteenth and giving the field a lot of weight and running on a surface that can be a little peculiar, so we felt like staying home and trying our luck against some of the best older mares was the right time to try it.
Danny Brewer: Lastly, Mike Smith, your thoughts on him what he’s done on Palace Malice and just him as a jockey in general?
Todd Pletcher: I think Mike’s going to go down as one of the great riders of all time. He’s at a point in his career when he’s kind of looking for the big events, and he’s a good money rider and shows up with his A game when the stakes are the highest. So I’ve known Mike pretty much my entire racing career, and actually he rode horses for my dad when my dad was training so I even knew him when I was in high school. So we’ve got a lot of history together and it’s been great that he’s been able to win some big races for us this year like the Kentucky Oaks and the Belmont.
Art Wilson: Todd, no matter how well Princess of Sylmar runs on Saturday in the Beldame, are the plans still to skip the Breeders’ Cup with her?
Todd Pletcher: I suppose everything is always open to discussion, but the one thing that Ed Stanko and I talked about prior to even the Coaching Club was that she’d probably have a few more starts this year and then we would put her away and give her a little vacation with the idea that she would come back as a four year old. So she continues to do so well and run so well and, knock on wood, physically be in such great shape that there’s always the possibly that everything’s open. But I think we’ll just have to address that after the Beldame.
Art Wilson: Now, if she doesn’t go in the Breeders’ Cup no matter how well she runs in the Beldame, do you think that if she doesn’t go to the Breeders’ Cup, could that hurt her chances for the year-end awards?
Todd Pletcher: I would like to think that her body of work would be looked at as pretty overwhelming what she’s accomplished so far this year, so that’s one of those things that won’t be a consideration into whether or not she runs again.
Art Wilson: Okay. And also you’ve—obviously you’ve trained a lot of great horses and also gone up against a lot of great horses, which will be the case when you go up against Royal Delta on Saturday. What impresses you most about Royal Delta?
Todd Pletcher: She’s a phenomenal mare. She has a tremendously high cruising speed and she’s able to carry that over a distance of ground, so we have a lot of respect for her. We’ve been fortunate to beat her twice last year with Love and Pride and Awesome Maria, and we’ll hope we can—Princess of Sylmar can give her a run for her money. But we have tremendous respect for how good she is.
Jon White: Yes, Todd, I was wondering if you could just kind of discuss the two year olds you have running in the Matron and the Futurity?
Todd Pletcher: Sure. I plan to run Sweet Whiskey in the Matron. And she was very impressive in her debut. Unfortunately, we caught a wet track in her second start in the Spinaway and John Velazquez didn’t feel like that she handled that as well as she did the fast surface when she ran the first time out. She’s come back and trained very well, and we look forward to getting her started again. The forecast looks good and we’re hoping that we get a fast track for that.
And as far as the colts in the Futurity, a little bit of the same story with Corfu. I thought his first two races at Saratoga were very good. I think with the exception of Strong Mandate, I don’t know that anybody really ran their A race in the Hopeful. So same thing, muddy track, kind of a peculiar track on closing weekend; didn’t think he handled it particularly well. We’ll regroup, because he’s trained very well leading up to this, and I think backing up to 6 furlongs should suit him very well.
We’ll also run Sound of Freedom in there. He was a quality second in his first out, came back and was able to win his second out. And also has trained well, so we’re looking forward to stepping him up into stakes company and see how he handles it.
Tim Wilkin: Hey, Todd. What are your thoughts on the three year old picture right now? Is it still really wide open in your mind, or is there someone you think is head and shoulders above the division?
Todd Pletcher: No, I don’t think anyone’s head and shoulders above anyone. I think it’s going to be determined in the next five and a half weeks. We’ll see how the Jockey Club goes and then most importantly the Breeders’ Cup Classic I’m sure is going to carry a ton of weight. So as usual, everyone’s in a rush to crown who the champion is, but usually most of that’s decided in November/December.
Tim Wilkin: Do you think Palace Malice was the best horse in the Travers?
Todd Pletcher: Well, I think you could make a very strong argument that he was, but considering the stumble at the start and the slow fractions on top of that. It—you could certainly argue that he ran the best race in the Travers.
Tim Wilkin: And back to Princess of Sylmar, if she were to win Saturday that gives her four Grade 1s, and if you guys were to think about the Breeders’ Cup that would be five if she would be successful. Could she be a candidate for Horse of the Year?
Todd Pletcher: Well, all of those things need to happen, and again, we’ll see what happens this Saturday. But I think her resume is very, very strong at this point, and if we were fortunate enough to add the Beldame against older mares, I think that would be certainly another feather in her cap. But as usual, we’ll take it one race at a time and see how things develop.
Tim Wilkin: I know that after—at Saratoga Ed Stanko was talking about how he didn’t want to go to the Breeders’ Cup, he wanted, you know, to be one or two more races and that was it. Has the door opened, though, a little bit to change that maybe?
Todd Pletcher: I think it all depends on how things go on Saturday, and most importantly, how she handles the race and how she comes out of it.
Tim Wilkin: But the door might be open?
Todd Pletcher: Oh, I don’t think anything’s ever been shut completely, so yes.
Brad Free: I have a question regarding Authenticity; very good mare who has kind of fallen a little bit below the radar. What are your plans this weekend, the Beldame or the Zenyatta, and what factors led into your decision in which race to run?
Todd Pletcher: She is currently on an airplane to California, so we plan to run in the Zenyatta. Kind of a tough call. There’s quality fillies and mares in both places. Kind of came down to the two turns in California and just felt like, we tried Royal Delta last time and when she shows up on her A game we came up just a little short against her, so we felt like we would try the West Coast and take another shot at a two-turn Grade 1.
Brad Free: And will she stay out in California pending her performance this weekend?
Todd Pletcher: I think if everything goes well and she’s—shows that she likes Santa Anita, and, you know, the Breeders’ Cup Distaff is on the schedule as her next start then she would stay there.
John Pricci: I was wondering, no disrespect to your two colts that are in this weekend, but can you tell us how Havana is doing and what your plans are for him?
Todd Pletcher: Yes, he’s doing extremely well. He breezed 5 furlongs at Belmont yesterday in a minute and change; I think it was the black letter work of the morning on the training track. I think that’s correct. He’s trained very, very well since his maiden race and we’re hoping to make a start in the Champagne on October 5th.
John Pricci: Has he been at Belmont all this time or did he just ship down from Saratoga?
Todd Pletcher: He had his first work at Belmont. Like most of the horses that ran at Saratoga, we left (inaudible) there until a week before last and now they’ve had a couple weeks to get adjusted to Belmont.
Jay Privman: Todd, just a couple more questions on Palace Malice. I was wondering if you have given any thought to the way he’s developed this fall to maybe his pedigree and drawing maybe a line to how Curlin developed as a three year old in the second half of the year?
Todd Pletcher: Well, I think that’s a natural comparison, and with his pedigree, the one thing that we’ve thought was very impressive as a two year old that he showed as much speed as he did and was able to run well early in his career at distances that we would anticipate would be shorter than what his best would be to run – second first-time out in a 5 furlong maiden race running 56 and change, and then break his maiden in his second start going 6.5 and run a 44 and change half mile that day, you know, we felt like we had a potentially really good horse on our hands when he was able to do that considering that his pedigree is to run literally all day, and I think that ultimately showed up in the Belmont.
Jay Privman: And does that give you confidence that maybe he still has even more upside than what we’ve even seen to this point?
Todd Pletcher: I think the sky’s the limit for him in terms of his capabilities. And his physical development’s been, like I said, very impressive to see him, having eight starts under his belt this year and just continue to physically flourish doing that.
Jay Privman: And do you think that’s unusual for a three year old who has been campaigned as hard as he has and to still be…?
Todd Pletcher: Generally we feel like we’ve seen it as you have some of these that will go through the Triple Crown prep series and sort of bottom out before they—but they’re the ones that make the Derby or the Belmont will kind of need some time to put back on some weight and need a little bit of a break at some point, where with him, he seems like the more activity he has, the more races he has and the stronger his races are the better he gets and the better he comes out of them and the better he trains afterwards. So, yes, I’d say it’s pretty rare.
Bill Finley: Todd, you had mentioned that Cross Traffic by Unbridled’s Song, you mentioned that with the Unbridled’s Songs you have to be patient. It’s—as you also said, it’s very unusual for a horse to be this good when they debut at four. Did he try your patience, and, you know, when you’re not getting them to the races at two and three, did you know in the back of your mind that it’s going to be worth the wait?
Todd Pletcher: Well, we never actually had him in our barn at two, we had him at three, and he was very close to being ready to run at the Saratoga meet. He was training at Belmont just before we went out to Saratoga, and, yes, he trained like a good horse. So it was frustrating that he came up with a shin issue that we had to stop on him, because felt like he was going to make some noise at three if he would’ve started. But he came back towards the end of his three year old year and was training very well, and we weren’t surprised that he won the first time out, and weren’t surprised that he won the second time out. But I think it is a little bit surprising when in your third start you get beat, you know, a head to a horse like Flat Out that has as much experience as he has, and run a mile in 1:32 and 4 and then, you know, I’d say his loss in the Met—in the Metropolitan Mile—was probably as nasty a beat as you’ll ever see a horse take to literally run every step of the way and put away three or four challenges and then get beat a whisker. That was a tough beat for sure, so it was great to see him come back in the Whitney and get that big Grade 1 win. But, yes, to, not only with his fifth start of his career to be able to win a race like the Whitney, it’s—and only eight months or a little less than eight months into his career to be able to do that, like I said, I think it just speaks volumes for his ability.
David Grening: Todd, I just wanted to ask you about Forty Tales and your thoughts on him going three quarters against, you know, Grade 1 company, especially on the track the way it’s been playing most of the meet?
Todd Pletcher: Well, I think any time you step up into older horses for the first time it can be challenging. I think the real key for Forty Tales is what kind of pace scenario he’s going to get to run at. And if they go real fast early then that’ll certainly be in his favor even though the track is playing towards speed. Who knows, it could change by the weekend. But he’s a horse that he put together a nice win streak prior to the King’s Bishop, and I think 6 could be a little short of his best even though he won his first two starts at 6 furlongs. Like I said, I think the real key to success for him in the Vosburgh will be the trip he’s able to negotiate and a really fast pace up in front of him.
David Grening: And who rides him?
Todd Pletcher: Javier.
David Grening: Okay, thank you.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, Todd, I’ll just ask you one more question. I wanted to check in on My Miss Aurelia. She showed up on the work tab yesterday and wanted to get your impressions of her and any thoughts on where she might show up?
Todd Pletcher: It’s a little too early to be pinpointing any races. That was her first 5 furlong breeze. She’s a lovely filly to be around. She’s pure class; very easy to train. She’s been very impressive in the few works that we’ve had with her, and she’s certainly a remarkable talent so we’re probably a month or so from being ready to do something, but we’re quite pleased with what we’ve seen so far.
Jim Mulvihill: Glad to hear it. Well, you’ve been very generous with your time this morning. I want to thank you for joining us, and best of luck this weekend.
Todd Pletcher: Thanks very much.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, Todd Pletcher. He starts a whole slew of horses this weekend, and we’ll hope for him to win one or two races out of those.
Let’s see, now we’ll turn our attention to jockey Mike Smith. He’s our next guest. He’s on Royal Delta in the Beldame, Palace Malice in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Pianist in the Flower Bowl and Little Mike in the Joe Hirsch Classic. Mike Smith is a member of the Racing Hall of Fame. He has more than 5,000 winners, including wins in all three Triple Crown events, and he’s the all-time leading rider in the Breeders’ Cup with 17 winners, including three in the Classic and five in the Distaff or Ladies’ Classic.
Mike, welcome to the call. You’re on with Jim Mulvihill in New York. Mike?
Mike Smith: I’m right here.
Jim Mulvihill: All right. Good to hear from you. Let’s see, we want to start with the big mare, Royal Delta, in the Beldame. Last year she won this race by almost 10 lengths coming off a surprise loss in the Personal Ensign, and then this year she comes into the Beldame off of huge wins in the Personal Ensign as well as the Delaware Handicap. We asked this of Bill Mott a few weeks ago, could she be even better at five than she was at this time last year?
Mike Smith: I certainly believe so. She’s kind of showing that right now, and she is—especially off her last two races anyway.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, and let’s get into her a little more. I mean, what do you like about riding this mare, and how would you describe her personality? What’s it like to ride a mare as good as this one?
Mike Smith: Well, I’ve been very blessed to have ridden some good mares, and she certainly belongs right up there with the best of them. She’s just got a tremendous stride, you just let her get into her rhythm and it’s just amazing the ground she covers, to be honest with you. She really—I mean she covers, you know, a lot of ground. And then she can be a bit temperamental too at times, though. You know, she’s one that you want to stay real quiet on and try and get along with.
Jim Mulvihill: Well, last month you made the decision to ride Royal Delta at Saratoga the same day that you could’ve ridden Game On Dude at Del Mar. And a lot of people have been trying to read between the lines of that decision. Can you tell us what the stakes were long-term in making a call like that, as well as your thought process coming to that decision?
Mike Smith: Well, I was obligated to Mr. Leon and Royal Delta. That was a deal whenever I picked it up to ride her a year ago; over a year ago, you know, it was a long-term deal that I would ride her until she retires.
Jim Mulvihill: That’s right.
Mike Smith: So I had to keep my word. I mean it was a tough, tough decision, you know, to have to be put under, but it is what it was, you know. And Royal Delta is an amazing mare and he said that he was going to keep her around even another year, so that made the decision, even though not easier, it certainly helped.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, and we also want to touch on Palace Malice, of course. We were just talking to Todd Pletcher and he was saying that you could make the case that he ran the best race in the Travers. What do you think considering the start that he had, did he run the best race in the Travers?
Mike Smith: I bet you he did. I bet you he probably got the highest number I would imagine than the winners did to be honest with you. I mean, I got away dead last. I mean, he absolutely lost his backend leaving the gate. You know, he was trailing the field going into the first turn where I should’ve been laying second, at worst, just cruising on the outside. You know, just really unlucky in that race, but I believe he was the best horse in that race.
Jim Mulvihill: And we were also talking to Todd about the experience of a three year old facing older horses for the first time, especially in a Grade 1 race as deep as this one’s going to be. What are your expectations for a three year old when they do test older horses for the first time at this level, and what sort of extra challenge is that for even a very good three year old?
Mike Smith: Well, I can tell you some of the strengths that we’re going to have anyway—for a three year old, I mean, he’s a big, strong horse. He’s very powerful; certainly wants every bit of the mile and a quarter. He’s already proven that, so that’s something that’s to our advantage. And a lot of the older horses in there they’re not really sure if they want to go a mile and a quarter to be honest with you; some of them in there anyway. So, again, he’s already proven that he—that, he wants every bit of that far of a distance, and see what happens.
Art Wilson: Mike, Royal Delta’s connections have indicated that they’re going to do the same thing they did last year and cross enter Royal Delta in both the Classic and the Distaff. Do you have a preference? Would you like to see her take on the boys in the Classic?
Mike Smith: I’d like to see her back in the Distaff this year to be honest with you. I mean she can always run next year with, she could always try it then if that’s the plan so far. I believe that’s the plan anyways. But, again, they’ll cross enter, but I would like to see her run the Distaff. She’d be (audio interference) win it, I mean she’d be the only filly to have ever done it three times.
Art Wilson: You’ve had the privilege to ride both Royal Delta and Zenyatta. Any similarities between the two other than them both being very fast?
Mike Smith: You know, their stride. They both have tremendous strides. Royal Delta has a higher cruising speed, and, of course, Zenyatta had that amazing powerful closing kick is the difference in the two, but they both have tremendous strides. It would be interesting to see if anybody ever measured the two strides; how big they actually are and how close they are together.
Danny Brewer: Hey, years ago when you first started riding, did you ever envision that you would be the king of the Breeders’ Cup jockeys?
Mike Smith: Well, when I started they didn’t have Breeders’ Cup to be honest because it’s been awhile. I’ve been going at it awhile. But I just feel so blessed. It’s, you know, its one record that Jerry Bailey can’t take from me because he’s not around anymore.
Danny Brewer: You look like you’re loaded up again. You’re a big race—a big money guy. Do you take a lot of pride—how do you keep on keeping on?
Mike Smith: Do you know, I, again, years ago I started really, really working out a lot thinking that if I want to stay in this sport for the long haul that I had to be extremely fit, to stay up there and I’m up in years. I’m already there. And I really believe it’s played a big part of it.
Danny Brewer: Can you elaborate on what happens—when you win a big race you always look to the sky. Can you elaborate on what that process is?
Mike Smith: I’m just very blessed. I mean, the Lord blessed me and I’m just thanking him.
Danny Brewer: Listen, is there anything you can—you’re loaded up at the end with Royal Delta and all these horses, so the win total you’ll look for it to even increase this year at the Cup?
Mike Smith: I certainly hope so. That’s the game plan anyway. Again, we’re going to the Breeders’ Cup, all my mounts are doing extremely well and hopefully they stay that way. They’re all running their last preps coming up. Hopefully we’ll pass through these and get ready for the big day.
Tim Wilkin: When you have a three year old running against older horses for the first time, are there obstacles that the horse has to overcome or do you think it’s overrated when they say three years olds going up against olders?
Mike Smith: Well, at this time of year they should be a whole lot more even. You know, earlier in the year it’s a story, but this time of the year they should be a whole lot more even. And, again, Palace Malice is a horse that seems to be getting better and better with each and every race. He’s a big, strong horse, carries a lot of flesh, so he’s going into this race doing really well, so I really don’t see much difference right now.
Tim Wilkin: In your mind, if it’s not you, who is the horse to beat?
Mike Smith: It might be Todd’s other horse (Cross Traffic). Yes, it could be Todd’s other horse. Of course, Mott’s going to have—is it Flat Out? I mean, he’s coming off a great race. You’ve got Orb coming out a race that looked like he kind of just stepped forward off of, so it’s going to be a very competitive field.
Tim Wilkin: In the Beldame, how much of a challenge do you think you’ll get from Princess of Sylmar?
Mike Smith: Well, she’s a nice filly and I was blessed again to have ridden her earlier this year, and she’s certainly doing really well coming off two big wins at Saratoga. She’s going to come running, it’s just a matter if she can get to me or not.
Jennie Rees: I guess, Mike, just following up on the earlier question. I understand about you had the commitment to Royal Delta for her career. What is your status for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at this point?
Mike Smith: Well, I’m not sure yet. You know, we’ve got to get through these final preps and see what happens; see where we’re at. Right now, you know, I’m not committed to any horse right now, so we’ll just have to wait and see how this week goes.
Jennie Rees: Could you get back on Game On Dude, or have they said one way or the other, or is that wait to get all these preps done and then let your agent sort it out?
Mike Smith: Yes, get all these preps—yes, exactly, get all these preps done and see. I mean there certainly is a chance. It might be slim, but there is a chance, you know, so you just never know. We just have to wait and see what happens after this weekend.
Jennie Rees: Yes. A Little Mike question. This is the first time you’ve ridden him, right?
Mike Smith: Yes, the first time I’ve ridden Little Mike, yes.
Jennie Rees: What do you—you’ve certainly ridden against him last year. You know, what all is involved when you pick up the mount on a horse that you know has a lot of back class and quality but for whatever reason this year he’s just not been getting it together? What as a jockey can you do to turn things around, if anything?
Mike Smith: Well, you know, all I can do on my part, hopefully, he’s training well. I haven’t been around him as far as training, but just give him the best trip possible. You know, at times he’s been on the lead most of the time, but I’ve seen one of his best races was from off the pace. So it’s just about a matter of getting him into a rhythm that I feel like he’s comfortable with, and I won’t know that until I’m on him where that is, and then just try and go from there, and so hopefully he’ll come back into form. I’m sure they wouldn’t be running him in this race if he wasn’t doing well, but it’s just a matter of him just getting that form back, because I know the ability’s there, we’ve all seen it, so we just have to wait and see what happens. But I’m excited about riding him, because he’s certainly a horse that I have a lot of respect for and always like to have ridden, so I’m getting my chance.
Jon White: Mike, congratulations for your win in the Cotillion on Close Hatches.
Mike Smith: Thank you. I appreciate it.
Jon White: And what—while it looks like she may—might not run in the Breeders’ Cup at this point, just what your thoughts about this filly, and kind of tell us about her performance in that race?
Mike Smith: Well, I think she got sick just before Saratoga and certainly missed a lot of time, so that performance—I mean that race that she ran in the Cotillion was probably even better than what people were thinking. I mean she’d only had like I think four or five breezes before that race and that was in three months, so it was an impressive race for her to win and to beat a nice filly like Mr. Hollendorfer’s filly that was unbeaten at the time anyway.
Jon White: It looked like she galloped out pretty well after the race. Is that right?
Mike Smith: Yes, she did. You know, she’s a mare that I think next year you’ll even see a better mare.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, Mike, I just wanted to ask you about how you’re doing in general these days. You’re far more selective with your mounts understandably, but how would you assess your success this year, and how are you feeling in general?
Mike Smith: I’ve probably had one of the best years I’ve had; a sneaky good year if you look at the number of mounts that I’ve ridden and kind of races that we’ve been blessed enough to have won this year so far. Really, really great year, and with a big chance on finishing really, really strong. So I’m really excited about this year that we had. Hopefully I can continue this way another four or five years and I’ll stay around.
Jim Mulvihill: Well, we hope so too. I really appreciate your time today. Thanks for joining us.
Mike Smith: Thank you, guys. Bye-bye.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, our thanks to Mike Smith. Now we are going to move on to our final guest of this call today; that is trainer Richard Mandella. He’s got Beholder in the Zenyatta this weekend at Santa Anita. A member of the Hall of Fame, Richard Mandella has more than 1,900 career wins. Seven of those came in the Breeders’ Cup, including, of course, the 2003 edition when he had one of the great days ever by a trainer with winners in four of what was then an eight-race event. Another of those Breeders’ Cup wins came in last year’s Juvenile Fillies with Beholder, the eventual champion two year old filly. And again, he’ll saddle Beholder Saturday in a very deep renewal of the Zenyatta Stakes.
Richard, welcome to our call. You’re on with Jim Mulvihill in New York.
Richard Mandella: It’s good to be here. How are you?
Jim Mulvihill: Doing great. So, you know, Beholder comes into this race on Saturday, the defending Juvenile
Richard Mandella: Doing very well. She had a very good comeback race at Del Mar, won very easily and gave us a lot of optimism that there’s more to come.
Danny Brewer: Beholder, she seems to flat-out fly when she runs. Your thoughts on her?
Richard Mandella: She’s just a very gifted filly, and a good looking filly and very healthy, and you couldn’t ask for much more.
Danny Brewer: What are you looking for here in the Zenyatta? Does she need to win or does she just need to keep looking good and keep moving forward?
Richard Mandella: Yes, I hate to ever say one has to win. The important thing is to run good. There’s always room for excuses and things happen in racing, that’s why we actually do it, so the important thing is just to run a very good race.
Danny Brewer: What do you think is on the horizon for her?
Richard Mandella: Well, we’ll run her on Saturday and then point to the Breeders’ Cup; more likely to the Distaff, unless we see something this weekend that makes us think we ought to go shorter into the seven-eighths race.
Danny Brewer: And then beyond Breeders’ Cup, do you think we’ll see her back on the track in 2014?
Richard Mandella: I surely hope so, but, you know, she—she’s already so valuable that they may want to breed her. We haven’t discussed it at all yet. I would sure hope to get to keep her and try again next year.
Art Wilson: Richard, you gave Beholder kind of a four month break there before the Torrey Pines. Was that by design to get her freshened for the fall campaign?
Richard Mandella: Yes. I’ve had my best luck in the Breeders’ Cup doing that. Going back to Kotashaan, I ran him hard at Santa Anita in the wintertime and gave him the Hollywood Park summer meet off, and then prepped him with a race at Del Mar and the old Oak Tree meeting, and it worked out well. And I believe if you’ve got something as big as the Breeders’ Cup to point at, you’d better take that into consideration that you can’t keep them at the top of the game all year long. So that’s the reason.
Art Wilson: Right. Like 10 years ago you had Halfbridled on your big day there at the Breeders’ Cup in Santa Anita. Any similarities between Beholder and Halfbridled?
Richard Mandella: Just that they can really run.
Art Wilson: If all goes well for both horses on Saturday you could be looking at a match against Royal Delta in the Distaff with Beholder. Just curious if you—and the Royal Delta connections have indicated that they may cross enter again for the—for both the Classic and the Distaff. I’m just curious, have you—have you talked to Bill Mott and tried to give him any advice to maybe kind of steer him toward the Classic?
Richard Mandella: I don’t think Billy’s looking for my advice. But him training Royal Delta just gives me that much more respect for the whole situation. He is one of the greatest of all time, like you say, and the mare surely is also. So I obviously think a lot of my mare or I wouldn’t consider it.
Art Wilson: Right. What is it that impresses you the most about Royal Delta?
Richard Mandella: She likes to win races.
Jon White: I just wanted to see if you could give us an update on Indy Point?
Richard Mandella: I don’t know what’s up. He got banged up in the Arlington Million, tried to grab both of his quarters on both feet being in traffic in the race, and, you know, gave us a pretty good scare for a day. But with poulticing and working on him the pain went away, and he’s back in good shape. He’s had a work here the other day, and we’ll give it a try here Sunday and see what happens.
Jon White: And what can you tell us about that workout?
Richard Mandella: Workout, very nice; a mile in 39 and change around the dogs on the grass, and he worked very well.
Jon White: And how do you feel about him in terms of just his ability?
Richard Mandella: I think he’s a very good horse. I think he showed it in the Wicker Stakes there at Del Mar. And I went to Arlington, probably my first instincts were it was too quick to jump up and travel into a race like that with just the one race, but he impressed me so much I overcame my thoughts. And it didn’t turn out right anyway, but—for other reasons, but anyway, I do think he’s a good horse and I hope we can prove it this weekend.
Jim Mulvihill: I wanted to ask you about the way this race will unfold, the Zenyatta Stakes, and specifically about the speed early in the race. You know, there’s going to be other very fast horses in there, including Joyful Victory. Do you think Beholder has the ability to relax off of a fast pace if there is one, or would you like to just see her go out there and run her race?
Richard Mandella: She’s always trained from off the pace in the morning just because I’ve known she’s always had the natural speed that we didn’t have to teach her that. And when we ran in the Kentucky Oaks we set off with the leader and she ran very well. I think she’s very competitive. It takes a pretty fast horse to set a pace for her, but if that happened, I have never seen any reason that she wouldn’t sit off of one or a couple and still give it her best shot.
Jim Mulvihill: Excellent. All right, well, happy to hear it. It looks like she’s got a big shot on Saturday, and we appreciate your time this morning.
Richard Mandella: Well, thank you.
Jim Mulvihill: That’ll close out today’s NTRA teleconference. We appreciate everybody for joining us.