Eric Wing: Another important weekend coming up as we get closer and closer to the Run for the Roses on Saturday; it’ll be the Grade II $500,000 Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes from Turfway Park in Florence, Kentucky, the Spiral, of course, the race that propelled Animal Kingdom to Derby glory one year ago. Another important race coming up on Sunday, the Grade III $800,000 Sunland Derby from Sunland Park, New Mexico. By virtue, that $800,000 purse this race is also where—or obviously a veritable win and you’re in event for the Kentucky Derby. A little bit later we’ll talk to trainer, Graham Motion, who saddled Animal Kingdom to win the Spiral last year, and he’ll attempt to pick up a second straight Spiral this year. We’ll also check in with an old friend, John Servis, a Derby winner in his own right. He’ll be sending out Ill Conceived in the Spiral.
Then we’re going to shift our sights to the West and talk to one of the very best trainers in all the southwest, Henry Dominguez. He’s got the local favorite, Isn’t He Clever, a son of Smarty Jones, set to go in the Sunland Derby. This is also an important weekend because it marks the first of four consecutive telecasts that are being presented by the Jockey Club in collaboration with the NBC Sports Group, CNBC, and six race tracks. The series will highlight nine live races, including six very important Kentucky Derby stepping stones. Saturday’s show will air on the NBC sports network from 5 to 6: 00 p.m. Eastern and include the live running of the aforementioned Spiral Stakes, plus the Burbonette Oaks for three-year-old fillies on the same Turfway card. Later shows will feature races, including the Florida Derby, the Wood Memorial, the Santa Anita Derby, the Toyota Blue Grass and the Arkansas Derby.
It’s all part of a strategic marketing initiative funded by the Jockey Club and to talk about it right now, with us is the Vice President of Business Development for the Jockey Club, Jason Wilson. Jason, it’s Eric Wing. Thanks for being on the call with us today.
Jason Wilson: Thanks a lot, Eric.
Eric Wing: The Jockey Club is making a rather significant financial commitment to televise these races, Jason. Tell us about the courage of your convictions to put up the money to air these important races.
Jason Wilson: Well, I think the first thing is, you know, looking back over the past year, we hired McKinsey & Company to help us evaluate the state of the industry and kind of where we were heading and also make some recommendations as to what we can do in order to make things better for the future and put us on a growth trajectory. One of the things that they recommended was that we re-engage mainstream media through more television coverage, and as you mentioned, this weekend will be the first of four weekends that we’re going to be televising the Road to the Kentucky Derby coverage on the—through the NBC Sports Group. And I should note that since we had the McKinsey study last August through now, we’ve seen television coverage increase by about 67% over the prior year, so that includes, you know, the Summer at Saratoga series, the series at Keeneland and now this Road to the Kentucky Derby series. So, as far as implementing a recommendation from the McKinsey study, I think we’re doing really well there.
The other aspects of the study was to try to get fans more engaged through games and basically through re-engaging mainstream media outlets, and on both of those points, we’re continuing to make strides. First, we’re—we’ve partnered with NTRA Communications to provide them more resources to get more stories out there, and they’ve had phenomenal success, I think, over the past few months. And then, second, we’re creating two games which should launch in the next couple of months to help out in those efforts. Finally, kind of underpinning all this and supporting it is we’ve launched a new website; it’s called America’s Best Racing. That will officially launch on April 4th, right before the main NBC broadcast on April 7th. In the meantime, you can go visit the website, which is at followhorseracing.com and enter for a chance to win a trip for eight to this year’s Breeder’s Cup in Santa Anita, as well as a $5,000 wagering voucher, so hopefully that is a—that is inducement for our, not only our core fans but our new fans to get involved in the sport.
Marc Doche: Just had a question about the promotional videos for the Other Madness. They kind of feature a traditional content that showcases the sport and also the unique idea with Hoof Locker. Can you talk about the contrast that these two videos offer to help promote the sport across different demographics?
Jason Wilson: Yes, that’s a very good question and I—the Other Madness is a promotion that was conceived by Kip Cornett at Cornett Integrated Marketing, and he actually conceived both of the videos, so it’s funny because some people have commented that they have different creative styles but they came from the same person. The idea behind the two was that rather than kind of just stick to the script of what we’ve been doing – and that is, you know, the great energy and the great shots of horses competing and finishing in tight finishes, which I think is very compelling videos – we wanted to do something that was a little bit offbeat and a little bit funnier and try to catch the attention of some others that are not in the industry and who kind of want to, you know, ride the goofball humor that exists in sports. If you look at, say, the ESPN in spots, if you look at some of the other basketball spots, they all use humor in order to promote their sport, and we thought we would copy that, and at the same time, we would ride the popularity of March Madness this year with our #Other Madness campaign on Twitter, which we all—we encourage everyone to use that to kind of aggregate and get the dialogue going.
And we also encourage people to create their own videos. You know, we are—we consider ourselves lacking in the creative—in the creativity department. Let’s show the world that our industry can be creative and that we really can kind of drive some more of the viral adoption of some of these videos.
Marc Doche: Cool. And with the telecast moving to NBC, how important was it to have all the coverage beyond one network? And also, so obviously they’re no stranger to covering horse racing but what kind of different things are in store to bring a (inaudible) perspective to the telecast?
Jason Wilson: Yes, that’s another great question, is, you know, first of all, I think it makes it easier to deal with, to just be on one network, especially since we’re still kind of creating a critical mass of television programming. At this point, with I don’t know how many hours of TV we have but it’s about 50 or 55 hours of TV, it makes sense to be on one network because you can sit there and you can drive a little bit of the dialogue a little bit better than you can if you are on a bunch of different networks. And in that, we’ve found NBC to be a great partner. We kind of—we went to them and said, “We want to do something different and innovative, and we want to, you know, introduce some elements from other sports and even other television that we’ve seen into our telecast,” so what you’ll see coming up over the next four weeks we think is a production that is a lot faster pace. It uses a lot more of the technological hooks that we’ve developed over the course of, you know, the last decade; for instance, on at least two of the telecasts, we’re going to have the Trakus System —we’re going to use the Trakus system to kind of handicap a race. So you’ll have one of the analysts from NBC using Trakus to—before the race to kind of demonstrate in a visual way how he thinks the race is going to shape up, so rather than just saying, I think so-and-so’s going to win, it’s going to be, I think so-and-so’s going to win and this is how I visually see the race developing. So, we think those hooks are going to make it—going to make for a more engaging experience and, you know, over time, we’ll attract more people to our telecasts.
Jennie Rees: Yes, Jason, you answered certain—some of my questions but could you comment on how involved the Jockey Club is actually with NBC Sports Group as far as the production of these telecasts?
Jason Wilson: As far as the production? Yes, we have—I know we have a scheduled weekly call, and I know our TV guys are in touch with the production team on a daily basis, discussing different ideas. We went to them in—about six weeks ago and we had a big kind of production meeting to talk about the features and the things that we would like to see presented on television, and they’ve been very accommodating in trying to get that stuff done. In addition, we’ve produced some features, or some content I should say, that is more for our website, and to the extent that there’s overlap, we will have hooks between what you’ll see in the telecast and what will be presented on the website. So, it’s been a very integrated process and, you know, in all this, we found them to be a very good partner.
Jennie Rees: Yes, so social media, having fun and stuff, are you saying this isn’t your father’s Jockey Club?
Jason Wilson: No, I don’t think this is your father’s Jockey Club.
John Pricci: Good afternoon, Jason. In terms of, you know, crossing those demographic barriers, did the Jockey Club have a position both before and after the creation of the HBO series, Luck, and its demise, and does it have—did it have a commitment—I mean, did it make a statement in terms of how he thought—how they think the series reflected on racing as a whole with the general public?
Jason Wilson: Right. I think, generally speaking—and I should say, I started with the Jockey Club after Luck had been green-lighted, so I’m not sure if there was anything kind of mentioned before that. I will say that Luck was created outside of us and whether it’s—whether it was good or bad is up for debate. One thing that we can’t ignore is that it did have a lot of attention and I think our job, or one of our jobs should be, whenever an opportunity like that comes our way, we should figure out ways to leverage that, whether it’s writing the good stuff or addressing the bad stuff. And so one of the things that we created in conjunction with NTRA Communications was Luck Chat and the idea behind Luck Chat was to help educate people as things came up, you know, during the season—during a series, whether they be questions on good things or questions on bad things, to give people more of a balanced approach. I think one of the things that we’re creating is kind of an infrastructure to take advantage of some of those opportunities and make sure that people aren’t necessarily just hearing one side of the story and that we can better shape messaging as these things develop.
John Pricci: So then that—those one or two-minute informative little vignettes after a couple of the episodes was the brainchild of the Jockey Club?
Jason Wilson: Well, that wasn’t Luck Chat. Luck Chat was actually the Twitter—there was a Twitter campaign that went on that got about a million hits a night when it was airing, or when it was going. The vignettes, quite frankly, were the brainchild of HBO, and they wanted to do more to educate people on racing in general.
Liz O’Connell: I’d like to talk about the sponsorship of the programming that’s going to be upcoming. Are you finding—or who’s—who are your sponsors, who’s running commercials, who’s taking the business end of that part of the production?
Jason Wilson: Sure. Both NBC and the Jockey Club are in the market selling sponsorships, so I can’t really speak from the NBC side. On our side, what we’ve done is we have, as part—as sponsors TVG, we have Equibase and we have some of the Stronach Group’s properties as sponsors, but we’ve also retained some of the inventory to kind of tell our story. So, what you’ll see is you’ll see probably a spot from Grayson to get word out about the great things that they’re doing, and then there will probably be one or two spots with respect to some of the other initiatives that we have going on. It’s a combination of both kind of, call them PSAs, public service announcements…
Liz O’Connell: Sure.
Jason Wilson: For the industry, as well as, you know, your traditional industry sponsors.
Eric Wing: Well, Jason, I was going to ask you a follow-up but my questions were already asked. So, with that, I thank you for taking the time out to talk about the series. It goes without saying we all look forward to it, starting this Saturday at 5: 00 p.m. Eastern. Good luck with everything and thanks again for being on the teleconference with us.
Jason Wilson: Thanks. Any time.
Eric Wing: Okay, that’s Jason Wilson. He’s the Vice President of Business Development for the Jockey Club, and again, the four telecast Road to the Kentucky Derby series will kick off this Saturday, 5: 00 p.m. Eastern. The first installment will be on the NBC sports network, as will the second installment on March 31st at 5: 00 p.m. Eastern. That race—that show will have the Florida Derby and the Gulfstream Oaks. Then on Saturday, April 7th, just channel surf over to NBC for the Resorts World Casino New York City Wood Memorial and the Santa Anita Derby and the Ashland Stakes from Keeneland on April 14th at CNBC that will have the Toyota Blue Grass and the Arkansas Derby, so plenty of opportunities for fans to come up with their Derby horse in advance of the Run for the Roses.
Speaking of the Run for the Roses, our next guest has worn a few of them within the last year actually. It’s Graham Motion. This time last year, Graham was preparing Animal Kingdom for the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes. That went pretty well. He won the Spiral easily and came back five weeks later to win the Kentucky Derby. We’re reaching out to Graham right now. We did not make contact with him on our first attempt, so just bear with us momentarily and we will connect you to Graham just as soon as we have him.
Reports had indicated that Graham was going to saddle two horses in the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes, that being State of Play, the runner up—or the winner, rather, of the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes, and also Went the Day Well, a recent maiden breaker at Gulfstream who has shown a lot of promise. We’ll find out from Graham if that is indeed the plan to run both. Graham also will be flying to Dubai in—very shortly after the Spiral, I believe on the next day, Sunday, in order to saddle Lucky Chappy in the UAE Derby, a very rich event. The graded entry—the graded earnings of that race will indeed count toward graded earnings of the Kentucky Derby.
And we understand we are reaching out one more time to Graham, who is soon to pick up. It’ll just be another few seconds so don’t go away. Went the Day Well, interesting, another Team Valor International horse, as is State of Play. Went the Day Well was—is a New York bred who started his career in Europe before breaking his maiden at Gulfstream last time out and, of course, Animal Kingdom also only had a maiden victory to his credit prior to last year’s victory in the Spiral Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes. There will also be a maiden in the field, Coach Royal, who has kept quite good company. You look up and down his pps and you see names like El Padrino and Daddy Nose Best and Golden Ticket, and he’ll be racing for an owner, Jim Covello, who had a big Spiral day last year. He ran fourth in the Burbonette with Lilacs and Lace, but that turned out to be not too bad because she came back to win the Ashland next time out at Keeneland, and Covello also won the Rushaway last year with Swift Warrior, so while he is bringing a maiden to the Spiral Stakes, who’s to say based on last year’s results that good things might not be in store for Jim, owner Jim Covello and trainer, Justin Sallusto this year with Coach Royal.
Also, the Spiral headlines what will be a four stake race card at Turfway. We mentioned the Burbonette Oaks, a Grade III race at a mile. As was the case with Lilacs and Lace, that race often feeds straight into the Central Bank Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, and also a pair of ungraded races for three-year-olds, the Rushaway Stakes for $75,000 going two turns, and the Hansel Stakes, a six-furlong sprint for straight three-year-olds, also part of what’s always a big and rich card at Turfway on Spiral day. First post time will be 1: 10 p.m.
And I understand now we are indeed joined by trainer John Servis, who will be sending out Ill Conceived in this Saturday’s Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes. John, it’s Eric Wing. How are you today?
John Servis: Good, Eric. How are you?
Eric Wing: Just fine, thank you. And I’m all for talking about the Spiral and all that, but I read a very amusing article in Daily Racing Form by Mary Rampellini in which you discussed how Ill Conceived got his name, and I wonder if you’d mind retelling that story for us.
John Servis: Well, I don’t know the whole story but to the best of my knowledge, Mr. Schwartz had three or four mares on a farm in Pennsylvania and the mare was supposed to go to Lion Heart and apparently there were three mares leaving that day and one was going to Spanish Steps and, unfortunately, his mare ended up going to Spanish Steps instead of Lion Heart and they didn’t even know until they went to—you know, the sent the DNA and stuff and found out that she was actually enfoaled to Spanish Steps and not Lion Heart, and that’s how he got his name.
Eric Wing: So, the horse couldn’t be more appropriately named then. As far as him on the racetrack, he’s been very consistent, never worse than fourth. Last time in the Battaglia, John, he was engaged in a virtual match race with the eventual winner, State of Play. What did you think of that performance in the Battaglia that day, and do you think your horse will be on the lead again Saturday?
John Servis: Well, it showed me a lot from him. He’s a horse that’s had a couple of setbacks already in his career, you know, minor things, illnesses and stuff like that, and he’s really the big colt and he’s really just kind of starting to put everything together, and the Battaglia was a good race to see where he was at and the way he fought back and as well as he ran, I thought it was a big step upward. And as far as the speed goes, I don’t expect him to be on the lead. He was very sharp going into that race, there was not a lot of speed in there, and subsequently, he found himself on the front end, but I think he’s better running at something.
Danny Brewer: Hey, the Smarty Jones experience that you had in 2004, does that help you any now in 2012?
John Servis: Oh definitely, definitely. I think any time you’ve had an opportunity to get there and to get there with a horse that, you know, that you know solid going in, I think you definitely learn a lot from it.
Danny Brewer: Does the—I know you’re running on synthetic. Does surface concern you any? Is that a benefit, a detraction as far as going from synthetic to dirt, hopefully on the first Saturday in May?
John Servis: I’m kind of—I don’t know. I’m kind of playing it as the turf to dirt angle. A lot of times horses will step off the dirt, onto the dirt track and run a lot better, so I don’t know and I guess it’s a new experience for us but right now, that’s the route we’re taking.
Jennie Rees: Yes, John, what made you think he would like the synthetic? I mean, in your mind, was it a bit of a gamble to go—bring him to the Battaglia?
John Servis: It was. It (cross talking).
Jennie Rees: Because if it didn’t work, you lost the race, yes.
John Servis: Yes, it certainly was. You know, a lot of it was kind of his pedigree. He’s got, I would think, more of a turf pedigree than he does dirt. His mother had a pretty decent horse, ran in Europe and Spanish Steps, you know, has had quite a few decent turf horses, including Big Mike. And, you know, being the Spanish Steps and the Unbridled Song, as well as they’ve done on the synthetic, we just kind of took a shot and hoped he’d like it.
Jennie Rees: And the fact that Animal Kingdom, who nobody had heard of a year ago, successfully used that, does that change your perspective at all, the fact that that race did produce a Derby winner last year?
John Servis: You know, the biggest thing for us really is we were—he’s a big horse and he’s been dying to go two turns, we were just really looking for something to get him around two turns where he could hopefully start to improve and show his stuff and there just weren’t a whole lot of options, so that was one of the reasons why we leaned toward the Battaglia, as a, you know, as a guess really just to see how he would handle the synthetic and how it would go, and he did well so we decided to move on to the Spiral.
Jennie Rees: Would this be his—if he runs big, is this his last race before May 5th, or would you, you know, look at the Blue Grass Stakes?
John Servis: I don’t know. I don’t know if May 5th’s actually in our game plan. I—you know, I’m going to have to see a real big effort from him in the Spiral, and if I do, then maybe we’ll start, you know, we’ll start cooling our jets and maybe sit on him until May 5th; and if we don’t—if we see, you know, if we see a good effort but not an outstanding effort, then we’ll probably just back off a little bit and maybe shoot for the Preakness or something like that.
Jennie Rees: I see. I mean, would you be thinking of something like the Preakness if he went to Coolmore Lexington? Or you think that maybe you just pick your spot?
John Servis: Yes. You know, I—he’s going to have to show me a lot more before I’m starting to get excited about May, and hopefully he’ll show me that on Saturday.
Jennie Rees: Yes. And finally, what about Adirondack King Could you talk about his Rebel and what the (inaudible)?
John Servis: You know, it wasn’t a horrible race. You know, to win from where he was, I really think he would have had to have been a really, really special horse to do that. He got hung out wide in the first turn, midway through the first turn; you know, subsequently, he ended up making two moves in the race, got swung out wide again turning for home and then he just really king of hung the last part of it. He only got beat five in the quarter length but I just—you know, again, I think that for him to win the Kentucky Derby, he’d have to step up in a big way, and I don’t think—you know, I don’t see that off the Rebel. We’re going to look for a better spot, hopefully take him into Keeneland and maybe consider him for the Coolmore or maybe even the Illinois Derby or something like that, see how things shape up.
John Pricci: Good afternoon, John. I was wondering, there were some reports online that Adirondack King had colic after the race. Could you talk about that a little bit and the prognosis coming off that?
John Servis: It wasn’t after the race; it was actually the next morning. We had him out and gave him a bath and walked him and he was fine and he came out of the race great, and then when he went back in his stall, he was starting to act a little uncomfortable, he was starting to break out. I called the vet, had the vet came over and he listened to him and, sure enough, you know, he was—he had a lot of noise going on and had a lot of things happening and he was acting colicky. So we went ahead and treated him and it was—he was a little touch and go there for a while. He had—he broke out real bad and was very uncomfortable and then once the medication kicked in, he started to settle and then after about an hour, he came out of it and we had him out, started eating some grass and then he started acting real bright and thank God he bounced right out of it, so we dodged a bullet there.
Jon White: John, what can you tell us about Ill Conceived’s workout at Parx last Friday?
John Servis: Well, that—I was actually tickled to death with his workout. The big thing for me there is Stewart working and I told Stewart, I said, just sit on him; you know, I don’t want him doing anything special. I just really want to see where he’s at and I want him to tell me, you know, are we going to the Spiral or are we not going to the Spiral. I said, if he goes in 50, I’m fine with that; I just want to know where we’re at. And Stu was ecstatic about the way he worked. He said, John, (inaudible) you the whole way, he went 48 long (ph), was very anxious, so I’m really happy with that.
Donna Brothers: Well, we talked the other day when you were there for the John Battaglia Memorial and Ill Conceived’s last couple of races, if he was a really lightly raced horse, he’s not had eight starts, I would think that he just runs really greenly still, but he’s getting to the point where he kind of seems like he runs a little bit quirky. Two starts back he had a little bit of trouble where he was forwardly placed, dropped back and then came with a run, and then in the John Battaglia, you were there, getting out in the second turn and then when the horses ran up inside of him, he got more focused and ran forward. So, what’s your assessment? Do you feel like he’s quirky at this point, or is he still very immature?
John Servis: No, I think he’s immature.
Donna Brothers: Okay.
John Servis: You know, I’ve had a couple of good riders on him, with (inaudible) and Stu both, and every time they’ve ridden him, they’ve gotten off of him and said, believe me, he still hasn’t figured it out yet. It’s a good thing because he’s gutsy and he’s learning from every race.
Donna Brothers: Yes, it’s good that he—I mean, immature, at least he moves forward. He is a big, good-looking horse. Do you feel like he has a brighter future ahead of him once he starts putting it all together?
John Servis: Certainly. And I—and, you know, Donna, he acts like they can’t go far enough, you know, for him, so I think the more distance he gets, the better he’s going to be, and hopefully we’ll see that this weekend.
Eric Wing: John, you’ve made it pretty clear, on this call anyway, that you’re not going to take a horse to Louisville for the Derby unless you feel really, really good about him. Whether it’s this year or some future year, how sweet would it be for you personally to get back to the Derby after all the great memories you must still have from 2004?
John Servis: Like Hershey’s chocolate, I would love that. I mean, believe me, one of the most exciting things that’s ever happened in my life, but again, I don’t want to go just to be going to say I was there. I’d like to go with a little powder in the gun.
Eric Wing: Well, John, here’s hoping that some powder materializes for you at Turfway this Saturday with Ill Conceived in the Spiral. Wish you the best and safe travels for you and your horse.
John Servis: Thank you, Eric. Appreciate it. Thanks, everybody.
Eric Wing: That’s John Servis, a man who is the face of horseracing for several weeks, really months in 2004 with Smarty Jones and he and his favorite rider, Stewart Elliott, will be in action at Turfway on Saturday, with Ill Conceived in the Grade II $500,000 Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes, which will be televised live on NBC Sports network. And it’s perhaps a little bit ironic that one of our later guests in the call, Henry Dominguez, will be saddling a son of Smarty Jones, Isn’t He Clever, in the Sunland Derby.
But before we get to Henry Dominguez, we’re going to reach out one more time to Graham Motion and Graham will be coming into the Spiral as the defending champion among trainers. Last year, of course, he won with Animal Kingdom, and this year, he’s got one or two ready to go as well and we’re joined now by Graham. Thanks very much for being with us, Graham, and there have been reports that you are pointing both the Battaglia winner, State of Play and Went the Day Well to the Spiral. Is that indeed the plan?
Graham Motion: Yes, the most likely scenario is that we’ll run State of Play at Keeneland in the Transylvania. We’ve always kept the option open for him to run in this race because of the uncertainty of Went the Day Well getting in, which is a similar situation we had last year. So, you know, because he won the Battaglia there, obviously he handled the track very well. My gut feeling is that three weeks is a little quick and the Transylvania would be a possible race for him.
Eric Wing: Okay, so it looks like Went the Day Well then for—as far as Saturday is concerned. And speaking of Went the Day Well, he’s a Team Valor New York bred who started his career in Europe, broke his maiden last time out at Gulfstream. Is this a horse you and Barry Irwin and the whole Team Valor International team have been thinking Derby with all along?
Graham Motion: This is a very attractive horse who’s obviously very talented that Barry found in England. We had—Barry had bought him, purchased him with the idea of getting him over here to run him on the dirt. Certainly because of his pedigree, it sure seemed that that was something he would handle. As it was, he got held up in quarantine when he arrived in Miami so we really had, got a little setback with the timing for him, which is why it’s took him—you know, he ended up getting to the races so late at Gulfstream, which has kind of put us on catch-up ever since. Obviously, off his last race, I thought both his dirt races were impressive, especially, you know, the first time in this country, first time on dirt. He put it together last time and I think, you know, we felt like we need to give him a chance. He looks like a horse that wants to go the distance.
Danny Brewer: Did winning the Kentucky Derby last year change anything in how you train horses now?
Graham Motion: I don’t think so. I mean, certainly it gives you more confidence because once you’ve won the Kentucky Derby, people feel perhaps you’re a more capable trainer. Has it changed my outlook? No, I don’t think so. Has it—I don’t think it’s actually given me any more feel, any more desire to get back. I still feel like I have the same principles that I want to be taken back, and perhaps it’s even a little easier now that I’ve accomplished what I did with Animal Kingdom, not to feel the pressure of having to get back there. Does that make sense?
Danny Brewer: Absolutely, you know, because I didn’t know if maybe a light bulb came on and you said, doggone it, I’m doing something right here because I’ve won the most coveted prize in three-year-old horseracing.
Graham Motion: I don’t think so. I mean, look, I think the biggest thing as trainers is that we try not to be influenced by our results and, you know, it would be very easy if you were on a real, a bad luck streak and you’re not winning races, just to change everything you do, and I feel very strongly that it’s important not to do that. I kind of stick with my principles. Certainly you learn as you go along, certainly it’s given me confidence, you know, to find out what it takes to win a race like the Kentucky Derby, but I don’t think it’s changed my—the way I go about training on a daily basis.
Danny Brewer: You know, you’re no longer under the radar now that, I mean, you’re fresh in everyone’s mind as the Kentucky Derby winning trainer. Does that play anything—or make anything play out differently for you and in your horses and where you enter them or any of that kind of stuff because, like the—everybody knows Graham Motion now?
Graham Motion: Yes, I mean, I think it’s interesting. Certainly there’s a little bit more pressure on you, that you’re a little bit more in the spotlight perhaps, and certainly people want to talk to me more about the Triple Crown than they had done after my previous experiences. So, that’s kind of amusing to me a little bit, but I certainly understand why. I mean, look, this is the race that people talk about and I understand the attraction and the desire to talk about the horse that won it last year. My only wish is that he was able to finish out the year and be running in Dubai next week, but hopefully we’ll get him back.
Donna Brothers: was just curious about how Went the Day Well got his name.
Graham Motion: You know, I believe it is a (inaudible) like a World War I—a movie based on World War I or something. Now, I don’t know if that’s actually how he was named, but I do believe it’s a movie and it’s a war movie.
Donna Brothers: Great. I don’t know war movies. Thank you. Good luck.
Graham Motion: Now, I just have—I just happened to hear that, so I thought it was interesting.
Donna Brothers: Are you going to be in town on Saturday at Turfway?
Graham Motion: I think it’s unlikely because I fly to Dubai the next day and it’s very hard to get out of Turfway on Saturday night, so—and I just can’t afford to miss my flight.
Jay Privman: I had a couple of questions for you, just sort of a variation on what Danny Brewer was asking. I was just wondering, just from a personal standpoint how the Derby changed your life, either among your friends or now out in the public among strangers?
Graham Motion: Yes, I mean I’ve certainly had some experiences where people have recognized me because of the Derby, and I’m aware of the fact that a certain amount of attention comes with it. I don’t think it’s changed things hugely. I think I’ve become more recognized within the sport, certainly.
Jay Privman: But you’re not getting, like, stopped at airports by strangers?
Graham Motion: Not regularly, no.
Jay Privman: Okay. And then just onto Went the Day Well, I mean you were talking about the sort of setback you had with the quarantine and whatnot. I was just wondering if you could maybe quantify where he is in terms of his development coming into the Spiral compared to where you were a year ago with Animal Kingdom?
Graham Motion: Yes, I would say very comparable actually. You know, this is a horse that’s benefited from his races in this country, without a doubt. I’ve seen an improvement in him from before we ran him the first time at Gulfstream. I saw a significant improvement in him after he ran when he was fourth in the maiden, and I think I’ve seen him progress since then, so—and I think we were in somewhat of a similar situation last year with Animal Kingdom. You know, Animal Kingdom was a very, sort of green, very laid back horse this time last year who I would never have imagined, to be honest, he would have been my first Kentucky Derby winner, had you asked me this time last year. So, I think developmentally they’re probably in very similar stages, perhaps even Went the Day Well is a little further ahead even.
Eric Wing: Graham, before we say good-bye, I believe you’ve got Table Three Ten slated for action in the Burbonette Oaks and Gold Megillah for West Point thoroughbreds going in the Rushaway. Do I have that right, and if so, could you comment on those two?
Graham Motion: Yes, that’s correct. Gold Megillah’s been a really hard knocking horse down at Gulfstream. I think he’s been a little unlucky not to win either one of his last starts. He ran (inaudible) on the grass at Gulfstream so this seemed like a good spot. I really think he’ll handle the synthetic well. He’s a tough little horse. And Table Three Ten is coming off a disappointing race in Fairgrounds. She seemed to struggle a little bit that day and, quite frankly, she has somewhat of a turf pedigree. I did work her on the grass over the weekend, and I thought she went well on it, so I’m—you know, we’re inclined to think that she’s going to handle the synthetics and possibly have a future on the grass.
Eric Wing: Okay. Well, Graham, we thank you for taking time out of your Tuesday, and we wish you good luck with all three of your horses and especially Went the Day Well in the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes, and since we probably won’t talk to you before then, best of luck with Lucky Chappy in Dubai.
Graham Motion: Okay, thanks, Eric.
Eric Wing: That’s Graham Motion, defending champion trainer of the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes and the Kentucky Derby, for that matter, with Animal Kingdom, and he’ll be going for a second straight Spiral Saturday with Went the Day Well. And again, that race will be on NBC Sports Group, 5: 00 p.m. Eastern.
Our third and final guest on today’s schedule is a man who’s registered 1,130 training victories in his career. He’s won at a 21% rate throughout his career, and he also won the 2007 Sunland Derby back when it was known as the WinStar Derby, that with a horse named Song of Navarone. He’ll be back looking for another Sunland Derby with the son of Smarty Jones, Isn’t He Clever, and I’m talking about Henry Dominguez.
Henry, it’s Eric Wing in New York. Thanks for joining us on the teleconference today.
Henry Dominguez: It’s my pleasure to join you guys. Thank you.
Eric Wing: Henry, Isn’t He Clever reverted to stalking tactics last time in the Borderland Derby after trying to wire the field in the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita. Were those stalking tactics a key in his improved performance back at Sunland?
Henry Dominguez: I think it is. You know, it’s hard to win on the lead all the time and he’s such a versatile horse that you could just about do anything with him, and I think that’s probably better for him, you know, his racing tactics are.
Eric Wing: Now, I notice, Henry, that Isn’t He Clever isn’t yet Triple Crown nominated. Is that something you will be changing if he earns enough money on Sunday?
Henry Dominguez: I’m sure (inaudible) is on the agenda. Yes, they do want to—I don’t know how we’ve missed that, but I think it would be if he wins on Sunday.
Eric Wing: And last question before I throw it over the media, Henry, I know you worked for quite a while for D. Wayne Lukas. What did that time with Wayne teach you, not just about horses in general but particularly with talented young three-year-olds?
Henry Dominguez: Well, you know, when we worked with Wayne Lukas, I was just a kid at the time and Wayne, I think, hadn’t really been with the thoroughbreds yet. But we learned, you know, a lot about horsemanship and how to take care of a horse and generally horses, you know, as long as you—thoroughbreds, you know, as long as you—they’re made to go long so that’s how you have to really train them into just like an athlete, you know, make sure they get plenty of air and (inaudible).
Jon White: Henry, after Isn’t He Clever ran at Santa Anita, did you make any changes in terms of his equipment for the race, the Borderland Derby?
Henry Dominguez: Yes, we did. You know, we cut back his blinker a little bit. The night he—you know, when he first started, he wasn’t very aggressive at all, so we had to put blinkers on him to put—you know, focus him on, more on what was going on. But as he’s getting, you know, more experienced, you know, we can cut back on that blinker now so that he can see more that’s going on around him.
Jon White: And how have his workouts been since the Borderland Derby?
Henry Dominguez: His workouts have been great. You know, you come back and he worked really well. After the Borderland Derby, we are real pleased with his work. He’s just—I think he’s just maturing. This horse is just maturing as time goes on.
Jennie Rees: Yes, Henry, how big was that for the Sunland horseman’s community when Chip Woolley and Mine That Bird came out of, you know, losing the Borderland Derby and the Sunland Park Derby and won the Kentucky Derby? I mean, did it show that all things are possible?
Henry Dominguez: Yes, it does. You know, as long as you’re in racing, anything is possible. You know, just—you want to make sure that you’ve got a sound horse and, you know, that’s a major thing and that, you know, here at Sunland Park, it’s dirt, everybody has grinded their teeth in order to get to a (inaudible) and whatnot. You know, Bob Baffert is a good example of that and so is Wayne Lukas. You know, we’ve all learned a lot down here. But, you know, that is a good springboard now to get to the Kentucky Derby, and I think that it’s starting to show that.
Jennie Rees: And, of course, when Mine That Bird ran in the Sunland Park Derby, it wasn’t graded. I mean, how big is that that it is graded? It’s $800,000 of graded money that counts towards Derby priority.
Henry Dominguez: Right. No, that’s a big stepping stone for it. You know, I think it should have been graded a long time ago, but you know, those things don’t happen all the time but I’m glad that it finally did get graded because a lot of good horses come out of there and if they would grade the horsemanship coming out of Sunland Park, they’d have Bob Baffert, D. Wayne Lukas and (inaudible) dad. You know, they’ve all been here so always been backing the horses.
Jennie Rees: And could—what did you do for Wayne? You said you were kids when you were working for him. What did you do for him?
Henry Dominguez: We worked hard and did the general things, you know, cleaned stalls and we do everything that, you know, is required (inaudible) in order to get where you’re at today. We learned from the ground up.
Jennie Rees: So do you use the white bridles and do you have the training charts, like he did the training charts, or did you kind of go your own way?
Henry Dominguez: You know, Wayne always did everything first class since he ever started and I think we all picked up on that as we went on.
Danny Brewer: Henry, what do you like most about Isn’t He Clever?
Henry Dominguez: You know, what I like about Isn’t He Clever is he doesn’t get excited about anything. You know, he’s real good about anything that you want him to do and (inaudible) human, you know, that would listen to what you told him, he’d be a good student. He’s not unruly and he just behaves and he does everything you want him to do.
Danny Brewer: Does he have to win on Sunday to go to Kentucky, or if he just runs well and finishes in the money, is that going to be good enough?
Henry Dominguez: I don’t think that he’s had enough graded money to get in it if he doesn’t win. You know, he could run second or third and come out of it well and maybe give us another option, and go the Arkansas Derby or one of those races where he could acquire enough graded money to get in. But hopefully we can get the job done here on Sunday and not have to do that and just wait for Saturday (inaudible).
Danny Brewer: But if he wins, he’s going to Louisville?
Henry Dominguez: If he wins, more than likely I think we’d be glad to be pulling him to Louisville, yes.
Eric Wing: Okay. Henry, a couple more from me before we finish up. First of all, is Alejandro Medellin going to have the riding assignment again on Sunday?
Henry Dominguez: No, he doesn’t. You know, we have—we’re going to have Luis Contreras ride him on Sunday. Luis is going to be here on Sunday and he rode for us before and was real successful here a few years back, and we’re trying to minimize, you know, our chances of—or I should say maximize our chances of getting this, so we’re going to use Luis this time.
Eric Wing: And he—I know he rode quite a bit at Sunland, like you said, a few years ago, but he’s been, I guess, in Toronto and elsewhere riding for Steve Asmussen. Has he been back to New Mexico these last couple of years?
Henry Dominguez: No, he hasn’t, not since (inaudible) he hasn’t been back. You know, I spoke with him the other day and it was earlier on in the year and, you know, he told us if we had anything for the Sunland Derby that he’d been glad to come to ride, and this gave us a great opportunity to give him that chance.
Eric Wing: Terrific. And lastly, Henry, I mean anybody who follows New Mexico racing kind of thinks of you as the man there, so perhaps you’re more qualified than anybody to tell us how important is experience over the Sunland Park surface? It seems like the majority of horses in Sunday’s race are going to be shipping in.
Henry Dominguez: I think you’re right about that. The horses haven’t arrived. I think they start arriving tomorrow here. But, yes, it does take somebody that knows this track. You know, he was real—Luis was real successful on this track. He rode a lot for us. We’ve done well. I don’t know about being the man here or not, but we have had quite a bit of success, and you know, the good horses that we’ve got have gotten us to where we’re at and using a little bit of judgment I think has helped us considerably.
Eric Wing: And how about Isn’t He Clever’s success over the track himself, is that a plus for you going in?
Henry Dominguez: I’d have to say it is a great plus. You know, this is his home, this is where he started. He doesn’t have to go anywhere this time to, you know, to perform. He’s going to be coming out of his stall, and I think that that’s a great benefit for us.
Eric Wing: All right. Well, Henry, really appreciate you being with us today and we wish you the very best of luck with Isn’t He Clever in the $800,000 Sunland Derby.
Henry Dominguez: Thank you very much and the pleasure’s been mine. Thank you.
Eric Wing: Thanks, Henry. That’s Henry Dominguez, veteran trainer and he’s certainly knows his way to the winner’s circle at any track in which he races, and he hopes to make a very lucrative visit to the winner’s circle Sunday when he saddles Isn’t He Clever in the Grade III $800,000 Sunland Derby there at Sunland Park.
Okay, well that’ll bring an end to today’s call. I’d like to thank all four of our guests, Jason Wilson, Graham Motion, John Servis and Henry Dominguez. Also want to thank our announcer, Michelle, and our producer here in New York, Joan Lawrence. Don’t forget about the telecast, 5 to 6: 00 p.m. on NBC Sports network, the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes and the Burbonette Oaks. And we’ll be with you again a week from today as, again, Tuesday, 1: 00 p.m. Eastern, and then we’ll be taking a look at races including the Florida Derby and the Louisiana Derby.
So glad you could be with us today and hope you can do so again next Tuesday. Thank you.
Henry Dominguez: Thank you.