Eric Wing: Welcome to this NTRA Communications National Media teleconference.
A big weekend ahead, and NBC will be there to bring it live to television viewers from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, as part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series. On NBC will be three Grade I races, all live: the $1 million Resorts World Casino New York City Wood Memorial, the Grade I $750,000 Santa Anita Derby, and also from Keeneland, the race for three-year-old fillies, the Grade I $0.5 million Central Bank Ashland Stakes. Radio coverage of both the Wood and the Santa Anita Derby will be presented live from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern on HRRN, the Horse Racing Radio Network.
A little bit later we’ll talk to two of the principal characters in the Wood, jockey Ramon Dominguez, who will return from injury to begin riding again on Friday; come Saturday, he’ll ride Alpha in the Wood Memorial. We’ll also check in with Todd Pletcher, who’ll saddle the undefeated Gemologist in the Wood.
First, though, we’re delighted to welcome in trainer Mike Harrington. He’ll send out the likely favorite in the Santa Anita Derby, Creative Cause. Mike, it’s Eric Wing in New York. Welcome again to the call.
Mike Harrington: Thank you, Eric.
Eric Wing: Mike, Creative Cause had a very impressive victory, obviously, in the San Felipe, and now a lot of pundits have him at the top of their Derby lists. What type of performance are you looking for from him on Saturday? Are you all in for the win, or do you view the race more as a stepping stone to Louisville?
Mike Harrington: Well, I’ve always viewed it as a stepping stone; obviously we’d like to win, it’s a lot of money, but I don’t want to take the race out of the horse, you know, just by trying to win the Santa Anita Derby.
Eric Wing: Mike, I see that your colt worked this morning at Hollywood, 48 and 2. According to Twitter he worked without blinkers. How did the work go, as far as you were concerned today?
Mike Harrington: Good. He’s going to—I’ve had the blinkers last—last three works he’s gone without blinkers, and he’s training nicely without them.
Eric Wing: But he’ll have them back on for the race, I imagine?
Mike Harrington: No, I’m going to run him without blinkers.
Eric Wing: Oh, you are? Okay, so he’ll be—and he’ll be running blinkers off, then, on Saturday, very—any reason for that?
Mike Harrington: Never been real focused down the stretch, I mean not—except for the race—Norfolk, he ran around but there was no horses around him. He ran good in the Norfolk; but the other races, even the Breeders’ Cup, he was kind of wandering around at the end of it, and I don’t know whether that’s going to make a difference but now is the time to find out. I don’t want to wait until the Kentucky Derby and then try it (cross talking) see what happens.
Donna Brothers: Thank you. So I haven’t been out in California yet; I’m going to be out this weekend for the Santa Anita Derby, but—so I was only able to see your horse on TV. And for the first race, for the San Vicente, you weren’t disappointed at all in his performance and I didn’t think you should have been, it looked a good race; I mean, not that my opinion matters, but it did look like he was still carrying a little bit of his baby fat over from his two-year-old year, which I took as a good sign. But again, I just could see on the TV. And then last race, in the San Felipe, in the post parade it looked like he was definitely tucked up more and, you know, ready 100%; ran a huge race. How do you keep him from peaking too soon? I mean, I know that’s the trainer’s job all the time, but it just seems like a tough balance this time of year, especially with young developing horses.
Mike Harrington: Well, I’ve been trying to keep the weight on him, because I agree with you. Going into the San Vicente, he was heavy, but I wanted that because I figured he had a long arduous journey ahead of him and I don’t want to go into it with him underweight. And I think he’s—I look at him every day, of course, you know, so sometimes it’s hard to judge, but I think he’s maintaining his weight well. I would he say he looks just about like he did in the San Felipe, and if I can keep him that way, I’ll be happy.
Donna Brothers: So you just keep him in the feed tubs, that’s how you work it out.
Mike Harrington: Right, but he’s a good eater, and I’m feeding him plenty, and I think he’s doing good.
Debbie Arrington: Hi, Mike. Thanks a lot for coming on the call this morning. Creative Cause was precocious as a two-year-old and now he’s really blossomed as a three-year-old. Have you seen any changes in his—mentally, mentally focused in his mind as he’s grown up here?
Mike Harrington: Well, yes. He’s—and in a good way. He’s not quite as playful as he was; he’s more, a little more serious. Used to be I couldn’t lead him back and forth to the track with my pony without him trying to attack the pony, and he’s kind of—he’s finally gotten over that, so yes. I think he’s grown up mentally quite a bit, and I think also in his races, I mean the only place I can fault him is, like I said earlier, the last race he was wandering around down the lane. But if removing the blinkers helps that, then I think he’ll be mentally fine.
Debbie Arrington: And what kind of personality does he have around the barn? You mentioned that he can be kind of a character.
Mike Harrington: Well, yes, I guess that’s a good way to describe it. I mean, he’s very alert; I mean he likes to stand and look out the window, he likes to know what’s going on around him, and, you know, he likes to—he likes to play with you, but he’s not mean.
Debbie Arrington: Uh-huh. Does he have a nickname?
Mike Harrington: C-C.
John Pricci: Good afternoon, Mr. Harrington. I was wondering if you had an opportunity to check the Florida Derby, and if you wouldn’t mind commenting on the performances of the major horses who were in there, they being El Padrino, the winner, Take Charge Indy, and of course, your impressions as to the trip or the circumstances revolving around Union Rags, if you would please.
Mike Harrington: Well, I think it was a good race. I guess I’ll start with Union Rags. I don’t think (inaudible) people need to be too concerned about the fact he didn’t win. He didn’t have the greatest of trips, and he—you know, I’m sure that was him; it’s just, it’s like my horse, it’s just a stepping stone, you know; they would have liked to win it but they didn’t have to win it to move forward; the horse obviously had to get a lot out of it. Take Charge Indy probably is a better horse than a lot of people realize, and he got the trip. So, the thing about the Kentucky Derby is, in order to win it, you’ve got to get a trip, and sometimes you can have the best horse and if you don’t get the trip, you don’t win it. And as far as El Padrino, I don’t know if he had any excuses; he just—either he didn’t run or he got outrun, one or the other.
John Pricci: And one more for me, looking at the eastern horses from a distance, do you consider that Union Rags is still the horse to beat out of the eastern-based horses?
Mike Harrington: Well, yes, I think he’ll still go into the race being one of the favorites. You got Hansen; you certainly can’t throw out Hansen. The thing of it is, at this point in time, it’s looking like the Breeders’ Cup was a pretty strong race, so…
Mike Harrington: I think the first three finishers—and I don’t—I don’t even—did Take Charge Indy run in the Breeders’ Cup, do you know?
John Pricci: Yes, he did, and he ran pretty well in there as a matter of fact.
Mike Harrington: Yes. So, you see, it turned out to be a pretty strong race, I think.
Jon White: Yes, Mike, in fact, the horses who ran in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile have won eight graded or group races this year, not only Take Charge Indy winning the Florida Derby but then Daddy Long Legs, who finished behind Creative Cause, won the UAE Derby. So with that in mind, and Creative Cause having finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, I was just wondering if you could go back and kind of give us your thoughts on Creative Cause’s performance in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Mike Harrington: Well, I don’t know. I certainly wasn’t disappointed. He—I mean, everybody talks about the first two and kind of forgot about him, which is fine. But he only got beat a length and I didn’t think he maybe got the best trip, and I don’t know—don’t have any idea what was going on with the race track that day because, obviously, Mike Smith found the golden calf (ph) on the outside, and they said the inside was bad, but Hansen won on the inside so, you know, I don’t know. I think it was a track that some horses like and some horses like better than others, but I’m certainly not making any excuses; I just got outrun by two nice horses that day.
Jon White: And Joel Rosario’s been riding Creative Cause ever since they teamed up to win the Norfolk. What is it about Rosario that you like as a rider?
Mike Harrington: Well, one thing, he’s the leading rider out here right now, he’s got a ton of confidence, you know, the—probably the major difference between the first rider and 10th rider is confidence; if they feel they can get the job done, then most of the time they can get it done. And Joel doesn’t seem to get very excited; he’s pretty level-headed, he—like this horse, he tries—he gets through outside where he’s not going to get stopped, and you know, he just makes all the right decisions at the right time.
Marc Doche: Hi, Mike. This is obviously, safe to say that the most media attention you’ve had in your career. How do you like having all this attention?
Mike Harrington: I’d just as soon fly under the radar. I don’t need all these interviews; I usually say the wrong thing at the wrong time. I’m not a media hound by any means.
Marc Doche: All right, well, it’s nice to see that you’ve tried to at least accommodate the media. How much of an advantage is it for you that you’ve already had that trip under your belt to Churchill for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile?
Mike Harrington: Well, I think it’s going to be very important because, as everybody knows, the Kentucky Derby is a circus, and my horse, although he can get a little bit hot and could be a little bit nervous, he—I was very pleased with the way he handled the Breeders’ Cup. I’ve schooled him several times and he was good in the paddock, he was good in the post parade that day, maybe got a little rattled in the gate. That’s going to be the problem with the Derby, when you got 20 horses getting in the gate, they’re all going to get rattled at some point in time, but I think he’ll handle it as well as any of them.
Eric Wing: Mike, throughout Creative Cause’s career, win or lose, he seems to have fired every single time, no duds on his PPs. What’s been the key to his consistency, in your mind?
Mike Harrington: Well, I guess the fact he’s a good horse. Good horses overcome adversity and he’s had some, like the Del Mar Futurity and—but he, I guess he likes to run, and horses that like to run, they perform every time.
Eric Wing: All right. Well, Mike, a pleasure having you on the call, once again, and we wish you and Joel Rosario and Heinz Steinman the best of luck Saturday in the Santa Anita Derby with Creative Cause.
Mike Harrington: Okay, thank you very much.
Eric Wing: Thank you. That’s trainer Mike Harrington, who will send out the horse who will undoubtedly be the favorite in the Santa Anita Derby, Creative Cause, and we learned earlier in the call he will go blinkers off for the Santa Anita Derby; worked out this morning, a half mile in 48 and two-fifths seconds at Hollywood, without blinkers, and he will race without blinkers on Saturday in the Santa Anita Derby; he had raced with blinkers for all seven of his previous starts leading up to the Santa Anita Derby.
Our next guest is the reigning two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey, Ramon Dominguez. Ramon has been on the sidelines since suf¬fering a separated collarbone on March 18th, but he’ll return to action on Friday at Aqueduct, and on Saturday, he’ll be in the saddle aboard Alpha in the Resorts World Casino New York City Wood Memorial. Ramon, it’s Eric Wing in New York. Thanks very much for being with us and, most importantly, how are you feeling?
Ramon Dominguez: Hi, Eric. I feel very good, thank you. I really have made a lot of progress over the last week, and I had a doctor’s appointment yesterday and he was very happy with how I look, and he took an x-ray and so he feels pretty good about me coming back on Friday, and the only thing that he made emphasis on is for me to try to minimize how many horses I rode over the last—the first week or so, so that I start gradually getting back in form; he say it hadn’t been but it’s going to be three weeks since the accident so he thinks that I should get stronger as I—the time goes by, but he was very optimistic about me feeling good when it came time to ride.
Eric Wing: Ramon, maybe you won’t be able to answer this question until Friday, but as we sit here on Tuesday, are you confident that you’re healthy enough to ride Alpha to the best of your abilities on Saturday?
Ramon Dominguez: I do, I mean right now, I feel great. I have been exercising, and I’m planning on getting on the Equicizer tomorrow and start getting on the horses Thursday morning. So, I do feel great, and if it wasn’t—if that wasn’t the case, I definitely wouldn’t be riding.
Eric Wing: Earlier in his career, Ramon, Alpha had been a bit of a bad actor at the gate, but he seemed to be much more professional last time out in the Withers. Do you think those gate problems are behind him, or will you be kind of on watch for that, should it pop up again on Saturday?
Ramon Dominguez: I’m not quite sure. As you say, he behaved absolutely great last time. I know they were doing a lot of schooling with him, and I’m really not concerned at all.
Marc Doche: Hey, Ramon. For all the success that you’ve had and the races that you’ve won, it seems that when you don’t win, the fans are quick to heckle you; do you get that impression? Do you hear them, and how does that make you feel?
Ramon Dominguez: It’s funny you say that, because I always—I absolutely feel that way, but always feel like I was probably being paranoid, or I put even more emphasis because it was myself, I didn’t know how the other horses—or the other guys, whether they went through it or not. But, you know, I don’t have a problem with it. For one thing, we’re in New York and the fans are unique, and it doesn’t bother me. I mean, you can win five races and then you get beat in one and they are there to criticize you. But at the same time, I do have a lot of guys rooting for me, so it doesn’t bother me.
Donna Brothers: So, you know, in all the years that I rode myself, I have a broken collarbone but I never dislocated a collarbone. Exactly what happens when you dislocate a collarbone? And I know initially after the accident, you said that it wasn’t painful, but it—was it just unstable and that’s why you weren’t able to ride?
Ramon Dominguez: I don’t really know a whole lot about it, I just go by what the doctor has said. And I guess there are two ways of dislocating or separating your collarbone, and it can happen at either end of the collarbone, and when that happens more often is when it is towards the outside of your shoulder, and that will usually leave, like, the bone sticking out, and you probably have seen quite a few jockeys have had it that way. In my case, it’s where it attaches to the sternum, and I guess the way he described it is like there was a slight separation, so it wasn’t completely like out of a joint or anything like that, so it’s just a matter of giving it a little bit of time for it to heal, because the bottom line even if I went to ride the following day, which was impossible because I was in too much pain when I tried to move it, but even if that was the case, I wasn’t going to do any further damage; it was the way it was. It was just a matter of feeling a little bit stronger where the pain wasn’t going to really be an issue.
Donna Brothers: Did you have to go through physical therapy for it?
Ramon Dominguez: No, not at all, no physical therapy; just (cross talking) whatever I felt like I was up to, and now I do.
Donna Brothers: Last question. Alpha has obviously had a history of problems at the starting gate. So I guess my question is, do you have a comfort level with the starting crew, starting gate crew there in New York because they know him, and how does that translate to—if he happens to run at a different track, is he a horse that will be easily managed with another gate crew?
Ramon Dominguez: Yes, I mean, I really—it’s the last thing that is going through my mind, whether he will misbehave or anything in the gate. I felt like last time he was in there for a while and he had every chance to really act up if he was going to do, and he really behaved great, and prior to the race, they told me that they took him to the gates a few times and schooled him, and both Artie (ph), the assistant trainer, said that to me and the gate crew guys told me that the horse has been schooling well. So I’m really expecting him to behave well, and if that’s not the case, I mean we just deal with it. But I’m not concerned either way.
Danny Brewer: Listen, is familiarity something that’s important for you with Alpha and the Wood Memorial this weekend?
Ramon Dominguez: I’m sorry, what was the question? I…
Danny Brewer: Is familiarity something that’s important for you this weekend when you’re riding Alpha in the Wood; to get on him and to have some familiarity with the horse, is that important for you as you get ready for the Derby?
Ramon Dominguez: Yes, I mean, but I already rode him twice and he’s a pretty easy horse to ride; other than the couple of incidents he had in the gate in the past, I mean he’s pretty straightforward, so I’m not really—he’s not tricky at all, so he’s a pretty easy one to ride.
Danny Brewer: Now, they had considered running him in different spots; they had talked about the Florida Derby, the Louisiana Derby, the Bluegrass, but they’ve settled on the Wood. Do you think that’s a good spot for this horse?
Ramon Dominguez: Okay, I see what you mean. Yes, I mean I’m not sure exactly what’s behind making the decision to run him in the Wood. But I’m sure it cannot hurt, the fact that his last two races have been at Aqueduct, he doesn’t really have to ship too far. I mean I’m not sure; the horse seems like the kindest horse in the world, I mean, in the paddock or in the barn, so—but having said that, I’m sure that having run his last two races at Aqueduct cannot hurt, really, especially since last time he was, I mean, like an angel.
Danny Brewer: But—so he really liked that Aqueduct effect, and obviously, he’s proven that with his victory, you feel like.
Ramon Dominguez: Yes, I mean I feel like he definitely handles the run just fine and it cannot hurt when the horse is coming from two previous races at the same track, so nothing’s going to be new for him.
Debbie Arrington: We’re happy to hear that you’re feeling better. During your time off, have you had a chance to see the other Derby preps coming up, and besides Alpha, who do you see as being some of the top contenders in this Derby class?
Ramon Dominguez: I mean, of course, Hansen (inaudible) did run while I was out, because I rode him last time, but he is certainly another top horse, and Union Rags, I still think that he’s definitely a horse to beat.
Ramon Dominguez: I thought he was pretty impressive considering that he really didn’t have the right setup in the Florida Derby. Really, it was not fair, it was just too much ground to make up turning for home, but still he showed that he’s a tough horse and I don’t—I mean, to me, he still looked as strong as he did the first time I saw him run.
David Grening: I wanted to get your thoughts on what attributes Alpha shows you that more distance is going to be in his favor.
Ramon Dominguez: Yes, I mean, you can only go, as a jockey, by what you feel and what you see, and I mean, I know that they tell me that the breeding is there; I don’t know much about breeding but I say he is definitely bred to go farther. And one thing about—remember when I rode him two races back, in the Withers last time – (I’m sorry, I’m awful with the names) – that day, he was coming off a layup from Breeders’ Cup, and I know that he got a little tired, although, I mean, down the lane, every time I asked him, he was always there for me but I could tell he definitely got a lot out of the race, and as we passed the wire, I always feel like it’s a very good indication or not, I mean he’s very strong galloping now, and it was really a perfect scenario for him to pull off, kind of (inaudible) given the fact that he really ran a hard race and he was obviously tiring, and he just continued galloping on strong. He’s got a strong beautiful stride, and when he settles down, he really feels that he can continue at that pace forever. So, he’s got a very high consistency and I really feel that (inaudible) Alpha will go the distance without a problem.
David Grening: And is there anything that Alpha could do on Saturday that can have you wind up on him four weeks from now, as opposed to Hansen?
Ramon Dominguez: Yes, no, I mean, of course, we have not made any decisions and I’m just very, very grateful and happy to have the chance to ride both horses. And we will see; I mean, we will have to see both of them running. I mean, I’m just thankful that I’m also riding for two outfits, two connections that are very open-minded and understand the game, but I really don’t know at this point what horse will be the best or the fastest, so hopefully we’ll know a little better after two weeks from now.
Eric Wing: Ramon, a couple of more questions from me before we say goodbye. You’ve not only got a big weekend this weekend, but the following weekend, you ride Havre de Grace in the Apple Blossom on Friday the 13th and then Hansen, as we’ve mentioned, in the Bluegrass the next day. I know every jockey has to ride now and then with aches and pains. When you’re riding in these big money races, high profile races, does the pain go away as you get caught up in the excitement of the race, or is the race when you feel the pain the worst?
Ramon Dominguez: You know, I mean I don’t think that the pain will be an issue, at least now. I have in the past, as any jockey probably, ridden with a great amount of pain due to an injury or even if it’s just muscle-related, and it is amazing; once you’re in the starting gate and the gate open the adrenalin especially down the lane riding, when the adrenalin kicks in, I mean, there is very little pain, if any. I mean, it’s the last thing that goes through your mind, and I mean once you pass a wire, you can relax; I mean that pain might intensify but while you’re riding, believe me, there is no pain.
Eric Wing: And I have heard a lot of professional athletes in other sports say the exact same thing. Ramon, this Saturday, Alpha goes a mile and an eighth for the first time. Next Saturday, Hansen will be going a mile and an eighth for the first time. As a rider, do the mile and an eighth races give you a much better idea of who wants to go in a mile—who wants to go a mile and a quarter compared to, say, the mile and a sixteenth races?
Ramon Dominguez: You know, I really cannot, I mean, see a huge difference as a rider. I mean, I know that a lot of people believe that a horse—you know, even a sixteenth of a mile can separate a horse and, you know, a horse might be able to just come out in the sixteenth. A greater indication, in my opinion, is the way they handle themself, whether they’re relaxed or not. I mean, they are all proven to be able to go the two turns. I understand there is definitely a big difference between a mile and sixteenth of a mile; compared to a mile and a quarter, it’s a totally different race. It’s indicative whether they will go the distance or no; to me, not so much that they are handled—they are able to handle an extra sixteenth of a mile as it is the way they really relax, and to me, that’s more important than anything. So, if—let’s say Hansen relaxes the way he did last time, I feel that the horse can run forever. And something is to be said for Alpha. He’s a very (inaudible) horse, and he is in a good spot and settling to a good stride; I feel like he is also a horse that can run forever.
Eric Wing: All right. Well, Ramon, we’re glad you’re going to be back with us and back in the saddle. We wish you a very healthy and successful weekend coming up Friday and Saturday at the Big A, and we thank you very much for being on the phone with us.
Ramon Dominguez: My pleasure. Thank you guys for having me.
Eric Wing: Thank you. That’s two-time Eclipse Award-winning rider, Ramon Dominguez. He’ll be aboard Hansen next Saturday, but this Saturday, he’ll be aboard Alpha in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct; again, that race, along with the Santa Anita Derby and the Central Bank Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, on live on NBC from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time, again on NBC Sports. Also the race, the Santa Anita Derby and the Wood, will have radio coverage on the Horse Racing Radio Network, and also on Sirius 93 and XM 209; they’ll be on the air from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern and they’ll have the Wood, the Carter, the Comely and the Bay Shore, the four big stakes on the Aqueduct card; so lots of coverage on TV and on radio.
Our next guest will indeed have a very busy Saturday, both at Aqueduct and elsewhere. Trainer Todd Pletcher has How Do I Win set for the Bay Shore, Broadway’s Alibi in the Comely, Calibrachoa for the Grade I Carter; he’s got Our Entourage, I believe, set to go in the Illinois Derby, and Gemologist, the undefeated one, in the Wood Memorial. And we’re reaching out for Todd Pletcher, and we hope to have him in just a moment. He was just finishing up another commitment, and just please stand by with us for a moment and we expect to be joined by Todd Pletcher in the very near feature. Gemologist, of course, four for four, has made one start at three thus far, an impressive wire-to-wire seven-length victory in a Gulfstream Park allowance race on March 16th over last year’s hopeful winner, Currency Swap. I believe Currency Swap is one of the horses currently targeting the Illinois Derby, which has a, seemingly a bulky field set to go there at Hawthorne.
And we understand we’re joined now by Todd Pletcher. Todd, it’s Eric Wing. Thanks very much for being with us, and we were talking about Gemologist earlier; he made pretty short work of a nice horse in Currency Swap in that Gulfstream allowance. Has the early part of 2012 gone according to your plan for him so far?
Todd Pletcher: It really has. Elliott Walden and I spoke after the stake win at Churchill in the fall, and we decided to plan on a similar program to what we did with Super Saver, which was two prep races prior to the, hopefully the Kentucky Derby, and our original plan was to go in either the Tampa Derby or the Rebel, and we kind of ran out of time on the Tampa Derby. We were zeroed in on the Rebel when the allowance race became an option at Gulfstream and decided to go that way as opposed to kind of going through a somewhat difficult travel arrangements; to get to Oaklawn was going to entail vanning to Ocala and then catching a (inaudible) flight from there to Oaklawn, which was doable, but our biggest concern was there really wasn’t a way back except for vanning, which would have made it a pretty long and complicated trip; and when the allowance race became available, we felt like that was the better plan. Hopefully, we get enough greater earnings in the Wood to make it right, but it was a risk that we decided was worth taking.
Eric Wing: You mentioned the graded earnings concern, you also mentioned the two preps for Gemologist. As I know you know, the last four Derby winners have had just two preps at three, including your Super Saver in 2010. Do you feel that that two-prep plan has been established today as the best way for a horse to go into the Derby?
Todd Pletcher: Well, I think it’s, I think it’s all dependent on each particular year and each particular horse. If you have a horse like Gemologist, that has the experience to do in his case, had two two-turn races at Churchill, then you’re in a very different scenario than a lot of other horses. So I think we’ll see winners—we’ll continue to see winners of the Kentucky Derby come from all different angles with various prep programs and it’s all about everything going just right on that particular day and liking the surface on however it’s playing that day, and there’s so many variables that I don’t think there’s an exact science to it that you have to have two preps, or that it has to be four weeks out of your final prep or five weeks out or three weeks out. I mean, we’ve seen all those things change, and a lot of the so-called rules of having to win the Kentucky Derby a certain way have sort of all been shattered in the last 10 years or so.
Danny Brewer: How hard is it managing your Kentucky Derby fever when you’ve got more than one horse that’s pointing toward the race? Because that’s something that you’ve had to deal with for several years now, so does that make it a lot more difficult for you, or is it any different at all?
Todd Pletcher: Well, I don’t think it’s any different for each particular horse. I think a lot of times it’s about managing expectations of the owners and everyone sort of has a different path that they would like to take or sees a path that they feel like might be best for their horse. So a lot of that stuff we’ll talk through about—you know, they’ll ask me to compare horses within the barn, which I don’t do publicly but I will share with them sometimes and say, this particular horse is pointing for this race so maybe it’d be a good idea to go to this other race with your horse, things like that. But, this time of year everyone’s excited about the Derby trail, they’re excited about the prospect of having a horse in the Derby and within reason I think most of my clients would love to show up and have them participate in the Kentucky Derby.
Danny Brewer: Well because you’ve been down this road a few times before, does it make it any easier for you in managing those folks’ expectations, or is there any more pressure on you, you feel like, because you have more than one horse in the race, or is it just—you just deal with it because that’s what you do?
Todd Pletcher: Well, I think it’s just something you deal with because that’s what you do and something you’ve done, you know, a number of times in the past, and, you know, in a lot of ways, it’s kind of doing the same thing you did last year or the year before with different players; and I suppose it’s a little bit like the basketball tournament, you know, you go—sometimes you show up and you know what the goal is and you know what you need to do to get there, but you might have different players on the roster that you’re trying to accomplish those goals with.
Danny Brewer: As far as this horse, Gemologist, do you feel like he’s where you want him to be right now, heading into the Wood, as far as peaking and continuing to improve and all that stuff?
Todd Pletcher: I feel like he’s had an outstanding winter and spring. Knock on wood, everything has really gone according to plan. The horse physically has blossomed and he’s just been a pleasure to train all spring. You know, he’s willing in his works, he’s not overzealous and he’s got a great temperament, and you know, we’ve just been really fortunate that everything’s gone according to plan to this point. And like I talked about earlier, the one situation or position that we’re in is there’s not a lot of margin for error for his Wood Memorial performance; you know, he could really finish third and, you know, that’s going to put him on the bubble of graded earnings. It’s important for him to run, you know, first or second and give us a good effort we feel like if he makes that next step then we’ve really—we’ve gotten to this point exactly the way we wanted to.
Marcus Hersh: Wanted to talk about the big race this weekend, the Illinois Derby. You’re running Our Entourage?
Todd Pletcher: That’s correct.
Marcus Hersh: Okay. Tell me what you gives you hope that this horse can act on dirt. I mean, his two wins have been on turf, and he ran all right in his two dirt races. Do you still feel like he deserves a chance to show that he’s as good on dirt as he has been on turf?
Todd Pletcher: Well, it’s something that he has to prove to us, and we’ve had many conversations with Mike Repole about it. He’s a talented turf horse. He’s also a horse that has run a decent race in the Breeders’ Futurity on the poly track. He ran a decent race in the Remsen on the dirt. And he’s a horse that has trained very well on the dirt throughout his life, really, since we’ve had him we’ve had the opportunity to work him with a lot of our best three-year-old dirt horses, and he’s always competed very well against them, so we don’t feel like we’re giving up a major grass opportunity (inaudible) at the moment and decided that this was a logical place to try it. And Mike and I have talked about it and we’re not necessarily positive that even if he were to win the Illinois Derby that he would necessarily go on to the Kentucky Derby, but, we also felt like this would be the best spot to try it; and he’s a late May foal that kind of is getting better and better, he’s got a stout pedigree, a stamina pedigree that sug¬gests the further he goes, the better he’s going to get, so I’m really, really pleased with the way he ran in his first race back as a three-year-old and very pleased with the way he’s trained since then, so we’re optimistic that he’s coming into this in a position to show his very best on the dirt, and we’ll have to see what that is.
Marcus Hersh: I had another question, kind of out of left field, but did you ever do any riding?
Todd Pletcher: Did I ever do any riding?
Marcus Hersh: Yes.
Todd Pletcher: I rode a lot as a kid and, outside of that, galloped some horses for my dad but didn’t do a lot of extensive riding, no. After that, you know, pony in the mornings, that sort of thing.
Marcus Hersh: Yes. So you galloped horses for your dad at the farm?
Todd Pletcher: At the farm, at the racetrack a little bit, yes.
Marcus Hersh: Can you imagine being a trainer who was getting on the horses every set? I mean, I don’t really understand how people do that and still manage a decent-sized operation.
Todd Pletcher: Yes, I think that’s something that would be up to the individual. I could see, I could see pros and cons to it. For me, training a large stable and, you know, and sometimes at Palm Meadows, we’ll have anywhere from 12 to 14 horses in a set. I feel like my best way to monitor all that is from a viewing stand where I can see all of the horses, but that’s just my particular way; it’s not necessarily better than someone else’s.
Debbie Arrington: The Derby trail can be a lot like the Final Four’s and March Madness. Who would you put as the top seeds (ph) right now in the final four?
Todd Pletcher: I would say that Union Rags would be a one seed, Gemologist would be a one seed, Hansen would be a one seed, and Creative Cause would be a one seed.
Debbie Arrington: And you don’t like comparing horses that are in your barn right now, but how does Gemologist compare to, like, Super Saver at this time in their three-year-old careers?
Todd Pletcher: Well, they have a lot of similarities, aside from the ownership, which is obvious, but both having won, you know, the major two-year-old stake at Churchill in the fall is one significant, you know, comparison and the fact that Gemologist is two for two at Churchill, I think, is a huge asset. But they’re both on a very similar program, both coming up to the Derby with two preps. In some ways, Gemologist is a bigger and stouter, heavier horse than Super Saver, but at the same time, Super Saver was, you know, very athletic and very smooth moving, efficient moving kind of horse. They’re not necessarily comparable in their own physique but their racing backgrounds and the preparation is almost identical in a lot of ways.
Debbie Arrington: And what sort of personality does Gemologist have around the barn?
Todd Pletcher: He’s actually, he’s a very laid-back colt to be around. He’s very quiet in his stall. He’s got a terrific personality and disposition. He’s really very straightforward with everything he does. There’s no, there’s been no tricks to him. He doesn’t need any real special care in any ways. He’s really the kind of horse you love to train. You kind of mark your schedule and he cooperates with everything you want to do, to this point. So, yes, he’s very straightforward.
Alicia Hughes: I actually wanted to also ask you about another race, and that’s the Ashland at Keeneland this weekend. Were you still looking at putting Sweet Cat there?
Todd Pletcher: No, we’re not. She just won an allowance race, going five furlongs in the turf on the 30th at Gulfstream, so that’s going to come back a little quick for her. We haven’t ruled out the possibility of running her in the Belmont on the 15th at Keeneland, but we’re just going to kind of see how quickly she bounces out of this last race. Being a Kitten’s Joy and all the success that (inaudible) problems they’ve had on the synthetics, we’re certainly thinking about a synthetic race for her at some point but we’re not sure that the timing’s going to work out for this particular Keeneland meet.
Alicia Hughes: Okay. And just looking back at the Florida Derby this weekend, when you look at El Padrino, have you come up with any real obvious reason for why he ran the way he did?
Todd Pletcher: Well, we didn’t think he ran horribly. He was only beaten two and three-quarter lengths, and according to the Trakus, he traveled 63 feet further than Take Charge Indy, which is about 20 yards, maybe it’s actually 68 feet so about 23 yards, which is a long way to travel and especially the way the track was playing, kind of towards inside speed, I think. Javier rode a smart race against Union Rags and had him in a difficult position and wasn’t willing to let him out, which probably compromised us moving forward a little bit on the back side. So, all in all, we thought it was a credible effort, one that we would need to improve on a bit but, I think his overall body work suggests that he still fits very well with the best three-year-olds in his crop.
Alicia Hughes: Okay, so the plan is to move forward with him for the Derby?
Todd Pletcher: That’s our plan at the moment. I’m going to have a discussion with the Let’s Go Stable guys tomorrow, and we’re going to come up with a game plan, but right now the Kentucky Derby is at the top of the list.
Dick Downey: Todd, I wanted to ask you a question about Stat. He ran a time virtually identical to that of Gemologist, going the same distance at Gulfstream, and I’ve read that you may send him to the Arkansas Derby. How does he compare to Gemologist in the state of development he’s in right now?
Todd Pletcher: Well, we felt like his last race was a huge step forward and sort of the breakthrough performance we’ve been hoping for from him. It was his first opportunity to run a mile, and even though it was one turn, he certainly finished very well. As you pointed out, his time was almost identical to Gemologist; it came back a strong figure on all the Rags and Beyer figures. So it was a race that we felt like put him in a position to try one of the Derby preps and,like the Arkansas Derby, the one that fits his schedule the best. So yes, he had a good breeze on Sunday at Palm Meadows; if he follows up with another good one this Sunday, then that’s the plan, is to go to the Arkansas Derby.
Dick Downey: I noticed he’s also a pretty expensive horse, like Gemologist. Is he a little behind, about the same, or a little ahead of Gemologist in terms of his development at age three?
Todd Pletcher: I would say he’s a little bit behind where Gemologist is and having no two-turn experience, this is going to be a big step for him and a critical step for him to prove to us that he can get the mile and the eighth in the two turns. So, in a perfect world, he’d have maybe had another start at two and a little more experience, but he made up a lot of ground in his last start, and if he can continue to come forward, then he’d certainly put himself in the mix.
Marc Doche: Hi, Todd. Just curious to know how in tune you are with social media, and more specifically with Twitter.
Todd Pletcher: I am familiar with it, but I don’t personally Tweet.
Marc Doche: Okay. I’m not sure if you’re aware or not, but there is a witty character on Twitter who calls himself @NotTheToddster who tries to kind of emulate what you might say on a daily basis; and just kind of your reaction, is that something that’s flattering toward you, or are you aware of that, or what are your thoughts about that?
Todd Pletcher: I am aware of it, and I don’t think he says a lot of the things that I would say, but I do find some of his comments—I don’t see all of them but people forward me some of them, and he’s pretty comical, actually.
Marc Doche: All right (inaudible). All right, cool, thanks a lot.
Jon White: Hi, Todd. A three-year-old that was so impressive last year as a two-year-old, I see, is back on the work tab. What can you tell us in an update for Overdriven?
Todd Pletcher: Overdriven got a vacation about midway through Saratoga, and he has come back in to us on February 29th and has been training very well; he’s had a couple of half-mile breezes and we’re starting to pick things up. A primary goal for us for the summer with Overdriven is the King’s Bishop, and if everything really goes smoothly, hopefully we’d find an allowance race and maybe even the Amsterdam prior to that; but so far, we’re very pleased and he showed a lot of talent at two, we’re happy to have him back and looking forward to get him started again.
Jon White: And how about an update on Stopshoppingmaria?
Todd Pletcher: She actually came in the exact same day as Overdriven, as did Stay Thirsty, so all three of them are virtually on identical training programs. They’ve all had kind of their second half-mile breeze back and all seem to be coming back well. She’s one that Mike Repole and I are going to be interested to see what she actually ends up specializing in. Her six-furlong maiden win on the dirt at Saratoga was very impressive and probably one of the fastest two-year-old races of the year last year. And she didn’t fire quite as much as we thought she would in the Frizette. We worked her on the turf prior to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, and she handled that extremely well and was just second best in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. So I think we’ve got a lot of options with her, and it’ll just be a matter of kind of seeing how she trains and what we think, you know, she’s going to be best at this year.
Jon White: What were your thoughts on Awesome Maria’s victory over the weekend?
Todd Pletcher: Well, any time you run a one-to-nine favorite that everyone anticipates is going to win, you’re always I think just somewhat relieved to have her actually go out there and win. I thought it was another very strong performance from her, I think she kind of idled a little bit and waited on her competition a little bit when she made the lead, but I think her Beyer figure was 100, which is identical to the Sabine, just another really good performance by her, and it’s been great to have her back and it’s really hard to win one race in a row much less six in a row, so she’s proven her quality over and over again.
Jon White: What are the plan—what’s the plan for her next?
Todd Pletcher: The plan right now is to go next in the Ogden Phipps, which is May 28th at Belmont.
David Grening: Just wanted to find out from you, going further, a mile and an eighth and out, how confident are you that that’s going to be in Gemologist’s wheelhouse (ph)?
Todd Pletcher: You know, having won twice at a mile and a sixteenth at Churchill as a two-year-old, I think, gives you real comfort that a mile and an eighth as a three-year-old is going to be well within his scope. He finished the mile race very well and galloped out strongly and I think being a son of Tiznow, he’s got all the tools to suggest that any of the races, even up to the Belmont at a mile and a half, should be within his range if he continues to do well.
David Grening: And then what’s behind the bigger Beyer figures and other Rag figures that you see in his three-year-old debut that, you know, he’s taken this step forward, he’s made the maturation from two to three?
Todd Pletcher: Well, even though it’s a small field and the early fractions were pretty comfortable, Currency Swap is a proven horse, impressive maiden winner at Saratoga and a Hopeful winner, so any time that you have a horse like that kind of stalking you on the outside and you’re able to put them away and pull away I think is a pretty strong indication that you’ve come back and improved from your two-year-old form, not only that, but just the way the horse has physically developed and trained gives us confidence that he’s made that progression from two to three that you like to see.
David Grening: And shipping arrangements for both the horse and yourself, the flight for the horse is tomorrow?
Todd Pletcher: Well, I flew into New York last night, and he will be leaving, he’ll be leaving West Palm at 10 o’clock tomorrow morning, should be hopefully at Belmont two or so in the afternoon.
Pia Catton: What is the central thing that Gemologist needs to do this weekend to win the Wood? I mean is there anything specific that you’re really looking for from him?
Todd Pletcher: Well, I think, most importantly, we’re hoping for just a smooth trip and he’s a horse that has good tactical speed, and we don’t feel like he has to be on the lead. We just want to get in a good position early on and have things go smoothly and finish up. I mean the most important thing for him, moving forward, is to accomplish enough graded earnings that we’re able to get in the Kentucky Derby field, so that sort of suggests, looking at the table right now, that first or second would take care of that and third would put him on the bubble. So we’re hoping for a strong performance and it goes without saying we’d love to win.
Melissa Bauer-Herzog: If Gemologist doesn’t get the earnings to get into the Derby, will he go straight to the Preakness or aim for another race?
Todd Pletcher: I think it’s too early to say, but one of the things that Elliott Walden and I talked about when we decided to run in the allowance race at Gulfstream instead of the Rebel at Oaklawn was if he didn’t run—if he didn’t get enough earnings in his final prep to go on to the Kentucky Derby, that we were willing to live with that and the Preakness would be a next goal, so I doubt that we would try to cram another race in just to make the Derby, but I guess until we see what happens on Saturday, we won’t know for sure.
Eric Wing: Todd, very good of you to stay with us and answer so many questions. Wish you the best of luck Saturday with all your horses and especially Gemologist in the Wood.
Todd Pletcher: Thank you very much.
Eric Wing: That’s Todd Pletcher. He’s got, as we mentioned, Gemologist in the Wood Memorial, Our Entourage in the Illinois Derby. He’ll also be saddling plenty of horses on the undercard at Aqueduct, including Broadway’s Alibi in the Comely, Calibrachoa in the Grade I Carter, and How Do I Win in the Bay Shore Stakes, so busy day for Todd but one he’s very accustomed to over the years. And again, the Wood Memorial, along with the Santa Anita Derby, will be televised live, as will the Central Bank Ashland Stakes from Keene¬land, that telecast starting at 4:30 p.m. Eastern, 90-minute show on NBC Sports.
Well, like to thank all three of our guests, Mike Harrington, Ramon Dominguez and Todd Pletcher. Also like to thank our announcer, Michelle, and Shelley-Anne (ph) alongside her. We’ll be with you again a week from today, next Tuesday, April the 10th, the same time, 1:00 p.m. Eastern, and on that conference call, we’ll be taking a look at races including the Toyota Bluegrass Stakes and the Arkansas Derby. So, glad you could be with us today and please do join us again next Tuesday. Thank you.