Eric Wing: Welcome to today’s NTRA National Media Teleconference.
We’re here, of course, to focus in on the 137th Preakness Stakes. Again, the NBC family of networks will have all the TV coverage. On Friday they’ll have the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at 4 pm Eastern on the NBC Sports Network. Then the NBC Sports Network will have Preakness Day Undercard Races from 2:30 to 4:30, and at 4:30 things switch over NBC for the main event, the Preakness Stakes. And of course, the Horse Racing Radio Network will have coverage of all the Friday and Saturday festivities and action from Pimlico.
A little bit later in the call we’re going to talk to the winning Kentucky Derby jockey Mario Gutierrez. We’ll also talk to trainer Graham Motion who will have the fourth place finisher in the Derby, the late rushing Went The Day Well back for another go in the Preakness Stakes. And we’ll also check in with Tom Mullikin who is the General Manager of Sagamore Farm. Sagamore Farm, owned by Kevin Plank, will be sending out Tiger Walk in the Preakness.
First up, though, we have the man of the hour, the winning trainer of Kentucky Derby 138, Doug O’Neill. Doug, it’s Eric Wing in New York, thanks very much for being with us, and how has it been these last few days for you?
Doug O’Neill: It’s been incredible, Eric, thank you so much. Good talking to you.
Eric Wing: Same here, and I guess first and foremost, Doug, tell us how the horse has settled in there in Baltimore, and tell us also why you went a little bit against the grain, at least by recent years’ standards, and decided to ship him to Pimlico so early?
Doug O’Neill: Sure, you have a horse – I’ll Have Another came out of the Derby in fantastic shape, and, you know, my lack of knowledge of the main track at Churchill and Pimlico, I wasn’t – it didn’t really – I couldn’t make a case for why it would be better to stay at Churchill than going to Pimlico, and the thinking was to get him to Baltimore as soon as we can, get him settled in, get him over the track, and you know, have him fit and ready to go for the 19th.
Eric Wing: Doug, I turned on my television set this morning and saw you introducing the top plays on Sports Center with Neil Everett – have you enjoyed all the outside hoopla that kind of goes along with winning the Kentucky Derby?
Doug O’Neill: It’s been awesome. It’s been absolutely awesome and I’ve gotten to meet so many people that you never would have thought loved horse racing. That’s – you know, we met, actually we got (inaudible) and Kobe Bryant from the Lakers, through a charity event – got them, as owners, and (inaudible) comment loved horse racing and – so it’s just very cool to be part of, you know, a good story line that I can sit here with people that are interested in the game, and, you know, expose how great this game is.
Jon White: Congratulations again, Doug.
Doug O’Neill: Thank you, Jon, great to hear from you.
Jon White: What – do you have – do you know yet whether I’ll Have Another will have a workout before the Preakness at Pimlico?
Doug O’Neill: As of right now, Jon, he will gallop – he galloped this morning and I loved the way he went, and he cooled out great, he will have that kind of gallop right up to the race if all goes well. That’s the plan as we speak.
Scott Hazelton: Hey, Doug. Just wanted to ask you about Mario – it seemed like Mario, Derby week just kind of flew in five minutes before the Kentucky Derby, wins the thing and then sweeps out. Are you at all worried about all the attention that he’s going to receive leading up to the second jewel in the Triple Crown?
Doug O’Neill: You know I’m not, really, Scotty, and I don’t know Mario that well, but I’ve gotten to know him better here in the last few weeks, obviously, and he’s just wired – he’s programmed in such a calm, confident way that, you know, I know he’s just kind of soaking it all up, both Mario and I, you know, have talked numerous times about how amazing this run is, and who knows if we’ll ever have a horse like this again, so just want to enjoy every minute of it. Actually, if we could slow down a little bit and it’s all kind of gone so quick, and – from my conversations with Mario, he’s enjoying every bit of it and I’m not concerned at all that overwhelm him or zap his energy or his abilities at all.
Scott Hazelton: You mentioned, too, just kind of just going with the flow and ending up at Pimlico right out of the Kentucky Derby, and it seems to be such a whirlwind, just a 13 day turnaround once you come to the track the next morning after the Kentucky Derby. What has been the biggest challenge or what do you think will be the biggest challenge from the first Saturday in May to two weeks later on Preakness Day?
Doug O’Neill: Well, you know, like every other sport, you just – you’ve just got to stay injury-free and healthy, and so far so good. He’s (audio interference) he hasn’t missed an oat in months. I mean, the horse’s appetite remains strong – knock on wood – he’s sound, he’s doing great, full of energy and – I guess that’s my biggest concern is just not having any hiccups, you just can’t afford to have any hiccups when you’re talking about a two-week turnaround. So, again, so far so good, and he looks great. If you talk to anybody who watched him on the track today, he looked fantastic out here.
Tim Wilkin: So Doug, is there any concern at all with the two-week turnaround? I mean most trainers don’t want to run a horse back that quick.
Doug O’Neill: No – I mean, there is, yes, but again you just can’t – in that short a period of time, you can’t have anything go wrong. So, you know, that’s a concern but we haven’t – knock on wood – we haven’t had any hiccups and you know I think that’s probably why no one’s won the Triple Crown since ’78, because it is so difficult to travel to three different states in that short period of time and not encounter one little cough, or one little hot foot, or one little pimple or something. So you’ve just got to be very lucky and very (audio interference) to get through, you know, each race in good shape, and so far so good here.
Tim Wilkin: And now why isn’t he in the Derby Winner’s stall?
Doug O’Neill: You know, I asked Pimlico if I could get – and I don’t know anything about the barns here, but it’s so funny, it’s literally one barn away, it’s really not that much different but I had – the way it had been described to me that it was going to be a huge hoopla of a barn, the stakes barn, but we’re one barn over and it’s very similar, so you know, I guess in hindsight we should have went over there. But I do like having my own quiet, serene spot, and so far so good that way. He’s settled in nice and the rest of the horses I brought are settled in nice. So just – we’re trying to keep a nice quiet environment.
John Grupp: The Triple Crown and the hiccups that can come with it – it’s been three years now since any horse even won two legs of it, and that’s – I think that’s the longest drought since maybe the mid ‘40s. What are the challenges that you see and what gives you confidence that I’ll Have Another can maybe break that string?
Doug O’Neill: Well you know, he’s three for three this year, so he’s just shown an amazing amount of will to win as we stretch him out through turns, and you know he’s just traveled brilliantly from California to Kentucky, and now Kentucky to Maryland, so, you know, I think he’s – I know he’s got stamina, and I know he’s got the heart, but it’s really a matter of having the luck of maintaining what we’ve got right now. So, you know, I think you’ve got a lot of the Derby horses are coming back in the Preakness and that’s always, you know, tough (inaudible) and then you’ve got a few top horses that have bypassed the Derby to come to the Preakness, so you’ve got some horses that are a little more fresh, who are talented as well. But it’s a tough spot, but (audio interference) doing and I think he’s – I don’t see any reason he can’t repeat his current form.
Frank Angst: A couple of the previous calls already touched on a few of my questions, so I’ll go with a different one here. I was curious; do you think the horse’s running style is something in his corner in terms of pace? It seems like his running style, he might be able adjust (audio interference) in that area?
Doug O’Neill: I think so, Frank, and that’s the beauty of I’ll Have Another, he’s got a tremendous first step out of the gate, you know, and he’s got speed after that if you want him to, so looks like there’s going to be speed signed on (ph) but if something happened and there wasn’t, he could be right up on the pace, and you know, if it’s a hot, heavy pace, he can be laying off it like he did in the Kentucky Derby. So I think he’s got a beautiful (audio interference), beautiful style, and he’s got that “it” factor of wanting to be the first one to the wire, and that’s – that you can’t train, they either have it or they don’t, and he’s got it.
Larry Stumes: (Inaudible) types of illnesses before the Derby and all I can remember is two six furlong workouts in Hollywood they were both designated breezes which in California is a very rare thing. Did that really indicate how great that horse was doing in his workouts?
Doug O’Neill: In my mind, it is – it was. And yes, he’s (inaudible) he’s got an amazing stride and he can – he cooks around there in 15-second eighths almost every morning just galloping, with the kid just absolutely sitting still on him, and he just really covers the ground with not a lot of effort. And you know breeze, that’s exactly what he was doing, and I know the clockers have really gotten to know him, and really respect him, and to me it’s almost as a sign of respect, because, you know, you’ll get some other horse sometimes that’ll breeze really nice and they still call it handily. But I think out of respect, they gave him breezy and it was well deserved. He was absolutely breezing in both those works, and it sure set him up good for both Derbies.
Debbie Arrington: Did Lava Man make the trip to Baltimore along with his star people?
Doug O’Neill: Yes, Debbie, he’s here. He was actually probably more so than any of the – anything else was why I wanted to be off the beaten path a little bit. And though we’re not, we’re right next to the stakes barn but – though he’s beginning to enjoy shipping, I think if he had his druthers he’d choose his comfortable stall there at Hollywood Park but he’s here, he looks great, and he accompanied the horses to the track this morning and you know, I’ll Have Another and Lava Man definitely have a real good rapport with each other and, we’re going to keep that going so they both – they’re acting very happy and settled in Baltimore.
Debbie Arrington: Watching Lava Man on TV with I’ll Have Another, it looked like Lava Man thought he was going to the gate too.
Doug O’Neill: I know it – it’s funny, he has a side of him where if he’s accompanying a real green baby he’ll kind of toughen up and be more studious, and if he’s with I’ll Have Another, who’s a pretty classy, calm horse, Lava Man will kind of strut his stuff. So he can turn it on and off, and I know with 155,000 people, I’m sure he thought hey, is this the senior tour here, what are we doing here? But he is, if you got a chance to see him I mean in the flesh, he just looks brilliant and he’s just a happy camper and we’re absolutely blessed to be with him every day and work with him every day, and he’s doing super.
Debbie Arrington: Do you think that I’ll Have Another some day could follow, like Lava Man, and win at all the major handicaps out here, as a four year old, looking ahead?
Doug O’Neill: I think so. I think so. I think with his pedigree and his mind that he should do nothing but get better with age and in racing, so, you know, I know the financial end of this business sometimes –
Debbie Arrington: Yes –
Doug O’Neill: It takes – it stops those opportunities from happening. But Paul Reddam is a successful kind of a blue collar turned into a successful businessman. I know he would much rather watch his horses compete at a high level than see them banned (ph) off to a stallion farm somewhere. So hopefully we’ll have that opportunity and that option.
Debbie Arrington: And one more question – have you got the hot tub yet?
Doug O’Neill: You know, it’s so funny, I had a hot tub dealer call me when I got back to Santa Monica the next day. I thought it was my buddy Mark on a phony phone call because he does that all the time. And so, Hey, this is Jimmy from Southern California Hot Tubs, and I’m like Okay, Mark, what’s going on? And he’s like, no, this is really Jimmy. And he said hey, would you mind if we – we’ll give you a free hot tub as long as you do an ad or – I was like I’m in. So, I told him I had a little something going on in Baltimore for a couple weeks, but looks like I might have an inexpensive hot tub from someone. So, very cool, the kids are all pumped up, and we’re making space as we speak.
Danny Brewer: Okay, before the Derby, I’ll Have Another seemed very relaxed. Is that one of the things that you’re trying to do now is keep him relaxed, and is that when he’s at his best?
Doug O’Neill: It is. I think most horses, and most people, are at their best when they’re relaxed. You know, you’ll see the rare horse kind of wash out and get all anxious and still go kick butt, but you know if you can get them to conserve their energy they’re going to show more, usually, in their races. But that’s I think my job as a trainer is to keep them healthy, relaxed, keep the whole crew healthy and relaxed and not – you know, we’re all patting each other on the back but at the same time, you know, Paul Reddam is a big hockey fan – he keeps saying “Hey, we just, we’re ahead one-nothing, but it’s the first period. You know, we have two more period to go and let’s enjoy but let’s not forget we’ve still got – you know we’re not finished.” So, it’s one of those, just trying to keep everyone on the ground, relaxed, and focused, and happy and healthy.
Danny Brewer: You know, you talk about staying focused and everything – you seem to be a fun-loving guy and your whole team seems to like having fun – is that important to make sure that you’re having fun and not get caught up in the pressures of the Triple Crown right now?
Doug O’Neill: Big time. Big time, you know – thanks to the Reddams we had rented a house there in Louisville and the whole staff ate in the house, and you know, barbeques every night and it was just – it was a lot of laughing and conversations about a lot of things, not just the Derby. And it’s the same thing here, we’ve got a townhouse with a view of the water in downtown Baltimore here that’s beautiful, and the whole crew’s going to stay here, and they’ll stay there and just everyone sticking together and, you know it’s a fun way to see new parts of the country, as well, instead of being by yourself, and it’s a great way to kind of keep everyone pumped up. You’ll even see at the barn here, there’s a bunch of media watching him get bathed. I think we have three different people – like a car wash, three different people bathing I’ll Have Another. So just everyone kind of stepping in, helping each other out, and, you know enjoying, but at the same time doing the right thing and keeping the horse happy and sound.
John Pricci: Congratulations, Doug. A few questions from me. First of all you were on the NBC pre-game, and someone had asked you, “Gee, what was that ride in the Santa Anita Derby all about?” You know, it seemed that Mario kind of went out of his way to take him back and keep him wide on the first turn and, you know, you would think it would be a little dangerous to have a horse like Creative Cause get first run on you, and all of that happened, and yet he just allowed his horse to kind of continue to drift at the top of the stretch as if to say, you know, I’ve got you every step of the way, and I just want to be out here in the clear. Did he say any – did you discuss this after the Derby. Did you find out anything more about that situation?
Doug O’Neill: You know, Mario’s a tremendously confident rider, and you know he rode up at Hastings, on a Bull Ring up there in Vancouver. So he’s used to tight riding and he knew where he was, he knew what he wanted to do, I think, have Creative Cause come up on the inside of them as opposed to getting the first jump on the outside of them, and you know once Creative Cause came streaming up on the inside of them and then Mario asked I’ll Have Another – you know, he kind of engaged him with Creative Cause and got into a stretch run. And Mario just said – I have asked him about that – he’s just very confident he was sitting on a lot of horse and it was going to take a monster to beat him, and once Creative Cause got in front of him he engaged with him, he felt that he had him the whole time. I know it was a real heart-attack moment for the rest of us, but I think the way Mario rides horses, it tends to – you tend to see him come out of the races (audio interference) abuse them he doesn’t ride real aggressively he just really takes care of them and he does what he has to do and it’s a little nerve-wracking sometimes to watch, it’s beautiful when he comes out on top.
John Pricci: Number two for me is the shock wave therapy. Now are you using this prophylactically, or are you dealing with a, you know whatever, a back issue, soft tissue, bone issue, or whatever? If you would speak to that, and, will he be having any special treatment between Derby and Preakness?
Doug O’Neill: You know, we’ll use the shock wave therapy as just that – a therapy for sore–spotty soreness, and I worked him on the 19th of April and on the 20th we went over him really well and he just had a little tightness in his lumbar area, right in the area where it’s kind of common for them to get a little tightness right behind where the saddle sits, and talked to the vet, the vet suggested the shock wave therapy. I talked to the Reddams, they said go for it and we did it, and you know in California (audio interference) California it’s highly regulated, you’ve got to go up to the hospital and they check your tattoo and they – you know, it’s kind of a big to-do, but it’s a real useful piece of therapy and it helps create blood flow and helps treat any kind of, you know, healing for any kind of soreness that might be going on.
John Pricci: And the last one for me – do you think that your horse is getting the respect which is normally deserved for a Derby winner? You know, all sorts of talk about Bodey doing all the dirty work and what not. So my question is, I know Frank Carulli the odds-maker at Pimlico says if Bodey starts, he will be the favorite in the race. I was wondering what you thought about that and if Bodey does decide to run, are you looking forward to that, or would you like sort of the easier spot it he doesn’t show up?
Doug O’Neill: I probably sound wimpy to say that but I’d rather the easiest spot possible. But I respect Bodemeister and his connections big time, and you know, what he did in Arkansas was just wowing. And then to come back and do what he did in the Kentucky Derby was incredible. And so, you know, I’d rather he didn’t run, but if he runs, you know, I think we have a colt that’s good enough and versatile enough to, you know, sit closer if we have to, or just kind of play it by ear, and not let Bodemeister have everything his own way. So, as far as not getting the respect, you know, I could see this year, this crop of three-year-olds is so evenly matched, you’ve got so many horses that are so closely – in speed numbers and Rag numbers and Beyer numbers and – actually, Bodey probably has been the most consistent high Beyer horse (audio interference). So it’s a wide open group, but the one my colt has is three for three this year and he just – he’s done nothing but win, so as long as he keeps doing that, I’m okay with a little higher odds.
Beth Harris: I was going to address the respect issue, but somebody beat me to it, so, I’ll move on to, you know, obviously, your previous medication violations are getting some attention along the Triple Crown trail, and I’m wondering, are you concerned they might put you or I’ll Have Another in a negative light.
Doug O’Neill: You know, that’s a good question. I haven’t been asked that by (audio interference). You know, I think I just – right know, I owe it to the owners and to the fans, and to the horse to just focus in on I’ll Have Another, and he’s – he went through every medication and every physical exam, and every exam you can think of all three races this year, and he’s – he’s just an amazing athlete and, you know, I think with all that previous stuff, I think I’m going to come out on the good end there and you know, hopefully, we can kick some butt in the Preakness and kick some butt in the Belmont and after that we can sit down and talk about all that. But my main focus is on I’ll Have Another and how great he’s doing, and stay focused on that.
Scott Hazelton: Doug, just jumping back in here, you mentioned your lack of experience there with the track surface at Pimlico, how many horses have you started at Pimlico in the past?
Doug O’Neill: You know, that’s a good question Scott. I’ve I think only started one and I think it was in a turf sprint, if that’s possible. So I haven’t – I have very little experience here but, you know, I know I’ve heard that last year was a little bit more tiring than Churchill Downs, so going off that, I though getting here a little earlier too wouldn’t hurt. As we put everything together, just getting here when we did seemed to make sense.
Scott Hazelton: And also, how did you and Dennis find this horse and get away with getting this horse for only, what, $35,000?
Doug O’Neill: Unbelievable. Yes, Dennis is – he has these really kind of self-taught, but he just has a really good eye for these (inaudible) and training sales and he’s got a lot of confidence in what he sees, you know. And he really liked this colt, ran it by Paul – he runs a lot of horses by Paul Reddam, and Paul pooh-poohs a lot of them, but when Paul sees what Dennis sees and they’re on the same page, we’ve had a lot of success with those kind of horses. And this is one of them.
Liz Clarke: I just wanted to ask a few about you and your background. Did you have a particular mentor or, you know, teacher as you learned to train horses, and could you talk a bit about that person, if he or she existed? And then – well, I’ve got one after that if you can bear it. Thanks.
Doug O’Neill: Yes, of course. You know, my mentor was actually a history professor at Santa Monica Junior College named Dr. Arthur Verge, and he’s still alive today, and just a brilliant man and the closest thing I can ever come to like a John Wooten type of person. Dr. Verge was just one of those that always stressed seeing the good in everything, and you know, I’d rather have a 50% friend than a 100% enemy, and really instilled just respecting people, and respecting animals, respecting everyone.
And as I got involved, right out of high school at age 18, Jude Feld was kind enough to give me my first job without any horseman skills, and so I (inaudible) horses for a few months, and then I worked my way up to groom, I groomed for a couple years, and then I went to work for Hector Palma, and groomed for him for a couple years, and then I worked for like a cup of coffee for Dick Mandella for a short period of time and then worked with Doug Peterson as his assistant for about six months. Doug, you know was the last trainer of the great Seattle Slew. So you know, all those guys were really good horsemen, they all had their own little different ways of doing things. And I think this game – you know, a good horse you can probably do about a thousand different training methods with a good horse. So I think I took a little bit of what I’ve learned from those guys, and then just being so blessed to train in Southern California, and you’ve got the Bafferts and the – back in the day the Whittinghams and the Frankels and just shutting up and keeping your eyes open and your ears open you just really learned a lot just watching the way those guys (a) took care of the horses, and (b) trained the horses. So I have just picked up a little bit from a lot of people and tried to make my own little thing, but I’m still learning every day and trying to get better every day.
Liz Clarke: And it’s wonderful. Thank you. Just as a quick follow up, you have spoken a bit about your desire to have your own little quiet space there at Pimlico for you and your horse, but if I were to ask you, you know, what’s the one thing that’s different about your approach with a quality horse? Is it that, or is it something else? Is there kind of a defining thing that sets you apart from all those good things you took from other people?
Doug O’Neill: One thing that Doug Peterson – one of his things of training that I remember when I first started working for him I thought he was absolutely crazy – and Doug would admit he was a little bit crazy, but he was really adamant with his riders to let the horse put their feet where they wanted to put them. And you’d get some horses that really ripped around there every day, but that was their comfort zone. You’d other horses that went around there kind of nice and easy and that was their comfort zone, so I think I’ve tried to pick that up and it’s a way of maintaining fitness, you know, individually, and I think that’s kind of a unique thing. Most of us trainers will kind of easy gallop or medium gallop and then work once a week, you know, speed workout once a week. I’m guilty of that from time but I try not to do a lot of speed workouts if I don’t have to. I’d rather do comfortable gallops, whatever is the proper speed for that individual. Seems to work.
Liz Clarke: And let the horse kind of dictate that.
Doug O’Neill: Exactly, let him dictate his – you know, when you’re working them in company, when you do that, one of the two horses is not putting their feet where they want to put them, because they’re waiting on the other one, so it’s – I try to, in an ideal world they all – even when we breeze them we try to breeze them by themselves and let them do it at their own comfortable pace, and sometimes you might not put up the black letter works, but you know you have a – in an ideal world you have a happy, sound, fit horse.
Marc Doche: Hey Doug, congratulations. Have you had a chance to have it soak in, what it means to you to have the first horse to win the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby since Sunday Silence did it in 1989?
Doug O’Neill: That’s pretty cool. It’s pretty cool. Again, we’ve got a great family effort here at the barn, so we’ve been doing a lot of – you know, having an adult beverage from time to time and reliving the first Saturday in May this year. So we’ve – I don’t know if it’s sunk in yet, but we’ve sure talked a lot about it and it sure brings a smile to all of our faces with the journey we’ve been on and what this horse is, you know, the pleasure he has given all of us here and – he’s an amazing horse and I think, you know, it’s not like a flukish thing at all, I think he’s worthy of any praise he receives, because he’s a darn good horse.
Marc Doche: In retrospect, the decision to skip the San Felipe, do you feel that gives you guys an advantage right now in having a fresher horse for these next two races?
Doug O’Neill: I think so. I think so, and you know, his big effort in the Bob Lewis off a five month layoff is what – said hey, you know there’s no need to run in the San Felipe, we can sit tight, let him recover, even though he came out of the Bob Lewis great, you know, we were able to give him nine weeks and really let him absorb that big effort and then kind of get some momentum going for the Santa Anita Derby and then the Kentucky Derby, and hopefully we can carry it through a couple more.
Tom Wolski: Hey, Doug. We’re familiar with Mario up here in Vancouver, but down south at Santa Anita, what was it like to pitch Mario to Paul Reddam? Or have Paul Reddam pitch him to you? He’s an unknown down there, popular up here. Just interesting.
Doug O’Neill: Yes, you know, I generally like the jocks who are under the radar screen, and I love having a jockey who the race means – whatever race it is, whether it’s a claiming race or a stakes race. Everyone in Southern California wants (inaudible) and Rosario, we couldn’t get either one of those two guys, and we’re far enough out that Paul had watched Mario ride, was really impressed by his hands, his finesse, and the way he finished, and so when Paul brought it up it didn’t take but a split second for me to say, I would love it – sounds great to me, Paul. So having his personality match his riding ability was – that was a huge refreshing thing. Because, as good a rider as he is, from what I’ve gotten to know him, he’s just an even better person. He’s such a great kid, and so I – so glad Paul that up because he could have brought up about anyone who was a little bit under the radar screen and I would have jumped all over it, and I don’t think we would have had the success that we’ve had with Mario.
Tom Wolski: Doug, thank you for doing this, I know there’s a lot of people on line so I’ll just limit it to the one question and talk to Mario later. Thanks from Vancouver.
David Grening: I was wondering if, in watching the replay of the Derby, if anybody’s trip, who is expected to run against you in the Preakness, if anybody caught your eye with their trip that they had that you felt okay, I need to worry about that horse coming back?
Doug O’Neill: You know, to be honest with you David, I’ve only watched the replay a couple times, and I continue just selfishly to be focused on I’ll Have Another, but I have read where Went The Day Well had a troubled trip, and obviously Bodemeister didn’t have a troubled trip, but had a taxing trip, so I mean, those two horses would be scary. And – who else am I forgetting? You know, it just seems from focusing on my horse like it was a pretty clean trip by everybody but we all know Union Rags had a rough go at start – he’s not coming back for the Preakness, but – the Graham Motion horse I guess would be the one who with a clear trip he could be more of a factor.
Jay Privman: Hey Doug, I was just wondering what your schedule is like over the next week and a half, if you’re staying in Baltimore or if you’re going to be coming back and forth to Hollywood at all this weekend.
Doug O’Neill: The plan, Jay, is to stay in Baltimore.
Jay Privman: And I was just wondering if you’ve limbered up your arm for Tuesday night.
Doug O’Neill: Yes, you know, I’ve been tossing some bread rolls around the table here with the boys, but yes, I’m self-confident – the people here at Pimlico have just absolutely rolled out the red carpet for all of us here at the barn; they’re talking about maybe taking us down to the Ravens’ summer camp and meeting some of the football players, so it’s just been – you know, they’re treating us like we’re celebrities and until they realize we’re not, we’re going to soak it all in.
Jerry Bossert: Thanks for talking about the medication violations. I just want to know if the California Horse Racing Board set a date yet to you or anything like that?
Doug O’Neill: No, they haven’t. But I know I’ve spent a lot of money in legal fees, you know, to fight it. But honest to God, I know for a fact, not that I know stuff’s been written that – you know, I’m going to get suspended before the end of the Triple Crown, and there’s zero chance of that happening. But I think everything’s going to be fine in the end. And again, my main focus, I just feel like I owe it to the Reddams and to the horse, and this particular horse has been through every possible physical exam, blood exams, urine exams, I mean they’ve done everything but pick him up by the hooves and shake his ears, you know, but he’s a brilliant horse, and I’m just focused on a week from Saturday, and I would love to, you know, sit down when everything calms down and address all the stuff from the past. For right now we’re just pumped and excited about the Preakness.
Ed Zieralski: Good luck with that.
Doug O’Neill: I – you know, I never thought of it that way, but I mean, it was an honor to being named with guys like that, and I know all those guys, the Bafferts and the Zitos, the Lukases, you know, they’ve all battled their negative press days, and I think it just – it comes along with, you know, you win the big one and then people want to kind of go after you and they had – I know they’ve all experienced that negative stuff of being on the national stage, but I think, you know, we’ve assembled an amazing team of hot walkers and grooms and assistants and exercise riders and owners, and I really believe if we get the right horse we can compete with anybody. And so I guess it has validated to our team that, you know, if we get a top two-year-old we can turn him into a Derby winner. And you know you can say that all you want; until you do it, no one believes you. So now we’ve done it, and hopefully it’s the first of a few.
Eric Wing: Doug, I just wanted to clarify one thing quickly. You referred to Dr. Verge as one of your mentors earlier in your life. Is that Mark Verge’s father?
Doug O’Neill: It is. It is his father, and he truly if you ever get a chance – if anyone’s swinging through Santa Monica, California, you want to stop and see this guy. You can think you’re having the worst day in the world, you leave there like, wow, how blessed we are. He’s just an amazing – he’s not a super religious guy, it’s not a religious thing or anything but he’s just – he has an amazing way about him, and he’s made a huge impact on my life and it’s helped me a ton through tough times, I can say that.
Eric Wing: Well, it’s always wonderful to have somebody like that in one’s life, whoever it is. Doug, can’t thank you enough for taking all the time today. Best of luck throwing out that first pitch. Whatever you do, don’t bounce it. And more importantly, best of luck a week from Saturday to you and I’ll Have Another in the Preakness.
Doug O’Neill: Eric, thanks a lot.
Eric Wing: Thank you. That’s trainer Doug O’Neill, who had the day of his life this past Saturday, and hopes to reprise it in the 137th Preakness Stakes a week from Saturday at Pimlico.
One gentleman who hopes that Doug has no such celebrations on tap for that Saturday is trainer Graham Motion, a man who knows a thing or two about Triple Crown races. Graham will send out Went The Day Well in the Preakness and he joins us now.
Graham, thanks so much for being on with us, and – you don’t typically run horses back in two weeks. Unlike Animal Kingdom, Went The Day Well does not have a chance for the Triple Crown, so what’s made you comfortable wheeling Went The Day Well back for the Preakness?
Graham Motion: I mean I guess I’m presently – to be honest I always – I consider the Derby to be an extremely grueling race, and I was amazed how Animal Kingdom came out of it and handled the two week turnover getting back to the Preakness, he handled it so well, and I’m really surprised at how well this fellow’s handled it. I mean he’s bounced out of the Derby in great shape. I gave him a little gallop here at Fair Hill this morning and I couldn’t be happier with him, so I guess we underestimate the hardiness of these horses.
Eric Wing: Graham, everyone on your team, at least you and Barry Irwin seem to be in agreement that Went The Day Well was still a little green in the Spiral. How much of his unfortunate Derby trip can be chalked up to greenness as opposed to just plan bad luck, in your opinion.
Graham Motion: I don’t think any of it was really greenness. I think it all stems from just getting off a step slow. You know Johnny said he was eight or ten lengths further back than he wanted to be going into the first turn. He really wanted to get an inner position, and he just didn’t break sharp, and that cost him. So I think it was more about that than greenness, to be honest.
Eric Wing: All right. Well Graham, plenty of folks online with us, so we’ll turn it back over to Michelle and see what questions the media have for you.
Danny Brewer: They say the Kentucky Derby is run to simply see who is good enough to run in the Preakness Stakes. Obviously you think Went The Day Well is one of those horses?
Graham Motion: Oh definitely. I think, you know, another jump in the Derby and he could have finished second, so I think he belongs in the Preakness.
Danny Brewer: Do you think that he gained some maturity in the Derby that maybe or maybe not was much needed?
Graham Motion: I don’t know if necessarily because of the Derby, I just think for him it’s been a maturing process. I mean, every time I’ve run this horse, to me he’s improved. Whereas some of the horses going into the Derby perhaps had already been exposed, I think my horse was kind of an up-and-comer and I just hope that he continues to go that way and obviously I hope he continues to go that way in the Preakness.
Tim Wilkin: Now it looks like there’s going to be a full field for the Preakness so obviously no one’s really scared of the Derby winner. What are your – what’s your take on I’ll Have Another?
Graham Motion: Oh, I think he’s very good. You know, I mean – look, he hasn’t done anything wrong this year. Obviously he had a great trip in the Derby, but he was also the best horse on the day. And he was – you know, he did it the right way and he hasn’t – you know, he’s an impressive horse. You know I think in this day and age, people aren’t going to be put off from taking a shot at the Preakness. Some of us come with excuses, some of them are fresh horses. It’s going to take a lot to intimidate people not to come back in the Preakness, I think.
Debbie Arrington: Hi Graham, thank you very much for coming on. You experienced what it was like last year going from the Derby to the Preakness and now you’re going again with a horse that tried to knock off the winner. There’s been no Triple Crown winners even since ’78. Do you think that it’s time to make some changes in the format of this three-race series? Perhaps put some more time between the Derby and the Preakness?
Graham Motion: I really don’t, Debbie. I mean I feel very strongly that the reason there hasn’t been a Triple Crown winner is because of the field size. You know, having it experienced it now myself first hand – I mean Animal Kingdom, he came through all three races last year really well. I was – I never imagined having a horse for those races and having come up for them in such great shape. So I don’t think it was, you know, about the grueling – the fact that it’s such a grueling challenge. To me it’s about the field size. I think in days gone by we didn’t have a full field come back in the Preakness and the Belmont. And now it’s – there’s so much luck that goes into it, you know, when you run in the Derby there’s always going to be 20 horses in there, so to me that’s what changed the complexion of the Triple Crown. And I don’t think it needs to be changed. Look, it’s going to happen one day, and I don’t think – it’s a remarkable thing to accomplish, and I don’t think we need to make it any easier, you know? That’s my own feeling, anyway.
John Pricci: Good afternoon, Graham. Blinkers – I guess he’s wearing (inaudible) – but blinkers in any event have certainly made a new horse out of Went The Day Well. Now, I realize making comparisons with Animal Kingdom may be fruitless in that one won the Derby and the other one didn’t, but just ability-wise, do you think this horse perhaps has – well potentially anyway – more talent than Animal Kingdom?
Graham Motion: I think it would be unfair to compare the two. I mean I – it’s extraordinary to me to think that with a cleaner trip we could have come very close to winning the Derby two years in a row. But for me to compare these horses – I think like I said earlier, Went The Day Well is a horse that still hasn’t been completely exposed. He just seems to improve every time I run him. So could he reach the potential of Animal Kingdom? Yes, I think he could. Animal Kingdom is a brilliant horse, and he was a brilliant horse in the morning. This horse has never been a real flashy horse in the morning. But I’m so impressed with how he handled everything on Derby Day, from the crowds and the way he ran, to the way he came out of the race. So, you know, who’s not to say he couldn’t get there, for sure.
Scott Hazelton: Hey, Graham. Just wanted to ask you, what was the first thing that crossed your mind when you woke up the day after the Kentucky Derby?
Graham Motion: Probably how different a feeling it was from the year before, you know. I mean I must say to add on to that question, it’s been somewhat of a pleasure not feeling that you’re being kind of watched as to what you do with this horse, Went The Day Well, for these two weeks, as closely as I was sort of watched with Animal Kingdom. It certainly takes some of the pressure off how you go about his training, I think.
Scott Hazelton: And lastly, have you decided on what you’re going to do with your Twitter picture? Are you going to keep the Derby trophy picture up from last year?
Graham Motion: Well, as you know, I put out the question, and I was somewhat surprised at the mixed answers that I received about it. But I think I’ve decided to just let it ride through the Triple Crown and then I think I have to do something one way or another.
Eric Wing: Graham, as you did with Animal Kingdom last year, if Went The Day Well puts in a good showing in Baltimore, do you have every intention of having Went The Day Well complete the Triple Crown series?
Graham Motion: I don’t know, Eric. I hate to get too far ahead of myself, to be honest. I think it’s got to be a race by race decision now. Because you know it’s such a different position from the position we were in last year. You know, right now I feel very strongly that this horse should run in the Preakness. You know, it’s a classic race. And I think he showed in the Derby that on his day he could be good enough to win it, or be very competitive. So, you know, I feel very good about running him in the Preakness right now but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, to be honest.
Eric Wing: Well Graham, within the space of a year’s time I think you’ve gone from taking people a little bit by surprise with Animal Kingdom to now having people very respectful if not fearful of whenever you send a horse out into a Triple Crown race. We thank you for your time today and wish you the best of luck a week from Saturday with Went The Day Well.
Graham Motion: Okay, Eric, thanks for having me.
Eric Wing: Thank you. That’s trainer Graham Motion, no longer the reigning Kentucky Derby winning trainer as of, I guess, three or four days ago but still a top trainer and he’ll have a top horse in Went The Day Well ready a week from Saturday to challenge the Derby winner I’ll Have Another.
Speaking of I’ll Have Another, we’re very excited and pleased to have his jockey on with us now, Mario Gutierrez. Mario, it’s Eric Wing with you from New York. How are you today?
Mario Gutierrez: Good. Thank you for having me here right now.
Eric Wing: It’s our pleasure, and Mario, I saw photos of you throwing out the first pitch at the Dodgers game, hanging out with Fernando Valenzuela, how are you holding up with all these media requests, is it fun being a celebrity?
Mario Gutierrez: It’s a little bit tiring too. I’m just – I try not to say no to anyone and I try to please as many people as I can, but it’s just been an unbelievable – it’s been a great experience like an amazing experience so far and I’m just trying to enjoy it right now while I can and then focus for the next race. We still have a big race coming up in less than 13 days, so we would choose to come down to reality and focus for the big race on the Preakness.
Eric Wing: Well if I may say you’re doing a tremendous job with all of these interviews, Mario, well done. Doug O’Neill mentioned earlier that, you know, you’ve ridden at Santa Anita. You’ve also ridden at Hastings on the Bull Ring. You’ve never ridden at Pimlico, and as you get ready for the Preakness is that any concern whatsoever?
Mario Gutierrez: Hopefully I’ll try to go there a little bit earlier next week and I’ll gallop a few horses but you know what, all the tracks are the same, they have dirt on it and they’re a circle, and then you just have to saddle up a few horses there so I can get a feel of the track and I think I have to build myself in Pimlico the same way that I did at Kentucky Derby and hopefully everything goes right.
Tom Wolski: Mario, you have two countries rooting for you, Mexico and Canada, and up here we’re going crazy for you, hoping you all success. However you stay grounded, it’s hard to realize you’re 25 years old, where you came from, and how you still stay in touch with your fans. How do you manage it?
Mario Gutierrez: Oh, well, first of all I will never forget where I came from. I will never forget that small place from I came from, Mexico City, and I will never forget all the opportunity that Vancouver has done for me. Vancouver Racetrack has (inaudible) me since I arrived there in 2006, and everyone being so supportive. Thanks to Hastings I had the opportunity to bring my family a better life. So I will stay with all my fans and the people who are rooting for me for the rest of my life I won’t ever forget them.
Tom Wolski: One last thing Mario, will you be visiting Vancouver shortly?
Mario Gutierrez: Maybe, yes.
Tom Wolski: Okay. We’re all looking forward to seeing you, Mario.
Mario Gutierrez: Thank you guys, I’m looking forward to seeing you guys, too.
Jon White: Mario, congratulations, and I’m really pleased to get this opportunity to ask you, because I’ve heard your last name said so many different ways, please say your last name three times, so we know how to say your last name.
Mario Gutierrez: Gutierrez, Gutierrez, Gutierrez.
Jon White: So Gutierrez?
Mario Gutierrez: Yes, you got it right!
Jon White: Very good. Thank you, Mario, and good luck in the Preakness.
Mario Gutierrez: Okay. Thank you.
Debbie Arrington: You talked a little bit about meeting with the Dodgers and throwing out the first ball and everything – how has the Derby changed your life? Are you still going to the track every day and exercising horses? But has it really changed your life yet?
Mario Gutierrez: Oh, well, yes, I got the opportunity to be at the track yesterday and today for the first time, but it absolutely has changed my life. Right now I’m talking to you and all doing all these press conferences. It has changed little bit but hopefully this ends soon because I hope everybody’s understanding that racing is my career and I need to go back to what I do I just – I just want to be focused for the next big race coming up. This is not over yet and we’re taking one race at a time, so I have to prepare myself for the next one. I don’t want anything to bother me and so I can perform well in the Preakness.
Debbie Arrington: And you’ve gotten to know I’ll Have Another really well. How have you seen the horse change this spring?
Mario Gutierrez: You know, he’s an unbelievable horse. He’s awesome, he’s an amazing horse, and he let me do pretty much everything I want on him. He’s that kind of classy and then I have no doubt that he’s going to do good in the next race.
Eric Wing: Mario, getting back to the Preakness, if Bodemeister does run in the race, and we understand that if he runs then Trinniberg won’t run – if Bodemeister is in and Trinniberg is not, do you feel you’ll need to stay closer to Bodemeister just so he doesn’t get too loose?
Mario Gutierrez: Like I said, it all depends upon what draw position we draw, and then I have no doubt Bodemeister is a nice horse too, and their rider is awesome and I know it’s a great race and tough competition, but I do believe in my horse 100%, I have no doubt about I’ll Have Another. He got there because he earned it. I’ll have to talk to O’Neill and Mr. Reddam about the plan and then we’ll see.
Eric Wing: Well Mario, one of the real pleasures for those of us in the media about the Triple Crown is finding out who is going to win the Derby, and then seeing the stories that rise up as a result. And in your case it’s truly been delightful. Congratulations on what you’ve already accomplished and best of luck as you look to accomplish even more. We thank you very much for taking the time with us today.
Mario Gutierrez: Oh, no, my pleasure, it’s my pleasure.
Eric Wing: Okay, thanks Mario. That’s jockey Mario Gutierrez. I think I said that right though I can’t roll my r’s as well as Mario. But Mario will be in the saddle again a week from Saturday at Pimlico aboard I’ll Have Another in the 137th Preakness Stakes.
And that will take us to our fourth and final guest today. He is a part of the team that has helped restore historic Sagamore Farm in Maryland, and Sagamore will be represented by Tiger Walk in the Preakness. We welcome in now the General Manager of Sagamore Farm, Tom Mullikin. Tom, it’s Eric Wing in New York. Thanks for being on with us today.
Tom Mullikin: Well thanks for having me, Eric.
Eric Wing: Now Tom, as we look at Tiger Walk, I guess a lot of horses in the Preakness will actually be turning back a half a furlong, which may help some, may not help others as much. When you look at Tiger Walk’s races, if ever there was a horse that you’d think would improve the longer the races get, it’s Tiger Walk. Is that part of your optimism looking ahead to the Preakness?
Tom Mullikin: Yes. We feel as if, you know, he’ll relish the longer distances. You know up there at – we took him up to Aqueduct, and you know he’s kind of a hard luck horse with his post positions and kind of his – you know, he always seems to be wide. And I don’t know that he’s the best cornering horse, you know, certainly ask Ignacio – if we could find a mile and a half race on the straight we might be in good shape. But you know, in the Wood, he’s a grinder, he was making up a little ground there at the end, and we know that where, you know, we’re swinging for the fences but he’s doing well. Pimlico’s obviously in our back yard, it’s a big weekend for Kevin Plank and Under Armour and the City of Baltimore, so hopefully we make the field and we can represent our team and our city well.
Eric Wing: And I understand, Tom, you’re an old friend of Kevin’s and that you played high school football together. Now us laymen might assume that somebody who’s sharp enough and determined enough to start a company like Under Armour might be a hard guy to work for. What is it like, not just being friend with but working with a guy like Kevin Plank?
Tom Mullikin: You know Kevin’s a – he’s a wonderful friend and boss. He’s very demanding, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. So obviously we set ourselves some lofty goals and you know we’re going to work hard, and we’re going to have fun doing it, but Kevin’s a great guy, he’s very passionate, and I think if you were to spend some time with him, you could – you’d feed off his energy and, you know, a lot of the things that he does at Under Armour we’re trying to implement here at the Farm, and that’s getting good people and forming a team and always believing in the program over any one individual. So Kevin’s a great guy, and, you know, I owe him a lot, with the opportunity that’s provided me and my family.
Jay Privman: Hi Tom. I was just wondering if you guys have settled on a rider yet for Tiger Walk.
Tom Mullikin: No actually, with John Velazquez, obviously he’s going to stay on Went The Day Well, we’re still kind of waiting for, you know, other connections to commit, and see who’s out there. But it’s definitely on our minds, and hopefully within the next 24 or 48 hours we’ll have that – you know, we’ll have that decision nailed down.
Jennie Rees: Could you just elaborate on how big it is for Sagamore, I mean, this traditional Maryland farm, all the great history, to have a runner in the Preakness Stakes, the key race of Maryland?
Tom Mullikin: Obviously it’s very important. You know, we’re relatively new, we’ve been on the Farm for five years, and you know the goals are to bring back some of that luster, and kind