National Media Teleconference (Baffert, Ruis, McLaughlin, Casse)

April 3, 2018

Road to the Triple Crown

Guests

  • Bob Baffert, trainer, Justify (Santa Anita Derby) and Restoring Hope (Wood Memorial)
  • Mick Ruis, trainer, Bolt d’Oro (Santa Anita Derby)
  • Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer, Enticed (Wood Memorial)
  • Mark Casse, trainer, Flameaway (Blue Grass Stakes) and Determinant (TBD)

Click below to listen to the Teleconference and scroll down to view the transcript.

Operator

Good day, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to the NTRA Road to the Triple Crown 2018 Conference Call.  At this time all participants are in a listen-only mode.  Following the presentation, we will conduct a question and answer session.  At that time, participants are asked to press star one to register for a question.  As a reminder, this conference is being recorded.  It is now my pleasure to introduce your host, Mr. Jim Mulvihill.  Please go ahead. 

Jim Mulvihill    

We’ve got a really jam-packed hour today since we’ve got four guests.  We were lucky to nab Bob Baffert to come on short notice after yesterday’s announcement that Justify is going to race Saturday in the Santa Anita Derby. So without further ado, let’s get right to the good stuff. 

As usual, I will just ask a few of the most obvious questions, and then we’ll open it up to all of you to either follow up or ask about whatever you please. Bob, are you with us? 

Bob Baffert       

Yes, I’m ready. 

Jim Mulvihill   

Alright.  Thanks for being here, as always.  For starters, maybe you can just tell us about the decision to run Justify this week, as opposed to waiting for the Arkansas Derby as had been expected.

Bob Baffert       

Well, I mean, a lot of it, it had to do with the fact that I had McKinzie lined up here. And then after the defection of McKinzie then I thought well, I wanted to keep them separated. And so when it came up, I decided to run him here, if he worked well. I don’t have to ship him now. So basically that was the main part of the thinking that went into that. 

Jim Mulvihill    

Great, and before we get more into the Santa Anita Derby, can you just give us an update on McKinzie and is there any more information on his injury? 

Bob Baffert       

Yeah, actually he is fine. Everything, the x-rays were all clean. He did something in his hock, and the nuke scan had a little… lit up in that area, so I think he jammed it. So we’re going to wait another 10 days and re-scan him. But he was just a little off one morning when he was going to go to the track, and we were hoping it was a foot. But it was nothing – there was no swelling or nothing, so then he was fine the next day, but the nuke scan did show a little something going on in the hock. And so we’re just being very cautious. His Derby chances, every day that he doesn’t go to the track, it’s obviously not in his favor, so we’re not going to…  We’re just going to let him…  Whatever is going on there, just let it heal up on its own, so there is nothing we can do, just wait.

Jim Mulvihill    

Alright.  Well thanks for that update, and I am going to step aside and we’ll let the media ask some questions.  

Danny Brewer   

Bob, how are you? 

Bob Baffert      

I was doing fine.  Everything was fine here until McKinzie had that little setback, but he should be fine in a couple of weeks.

Danny Brewer   

Yeah, does this mean you’re putting Solomini in the Arkansas Derby or is he still got to run somewhere else?

Bob Baffert    

Solomini goes to Arkansas.  We have… 

Jim Mulvihill    

Restoring Hope. 

Bob Baffert       

Justify here, Restoring Hope, he goes to the Wood, yeah. 

Danny Brewer

Right, now, when you think about Justify is still pretty green with only two races. When did you know he was something special, or can you tell that yet?

Bob Baffert       

No, I mean, we knew he was special going into his main race and so… And then his maiden race was pretty impressive. I mean, he went fast early and he finished and ran really fast. And so we knew then and then we were lucky to get a little allowance race, and he ran in the mud and the slop and the track was pretty fast, so I mean he went around there. It was a very workmanlike race. And so, I mean, we know that he is extremely talented, but now, he has to go the mile-and-an-eighth against top competition, a horse like Bolt d’Oro, him and McKinzie were the top three or so.

So now I think it will be a good gauge to see where we’re at with this horse, and going the mile-and-an-eighth, are going further now, and so it’s going to be…  We’ll find out how he stacks up against the top three.

David Grening 

Hey Bob, I just wanted to ask you about Restoring Hope and what made you decide to send him to the Wood.  And why you took the blinkers off for his last race?

Bob Baffert      

Well, we’ve always been very high on him when he ran a really great second in his debut. Then I ran him back a little bit too soon, and it was sort of a flat race. And so I was trying to get him a couple of starts, getting caught up with everything until he came back, broke his maiden. And then we were supposed to go to Sunland and he was 2,000 short, he didn’t get in. And so it was really disappointing.

So he came back and worked really well yesterday, so I I was looking at the Blue Grass or the Wood, but he doesn’t have enough earnings. He probably wouldn’t have gotten in so I had to be careful, so we thought well we’ll go to the Wood. And so it was either him or Solomini, but I think Solomini, I wanted to give him that extra week and go back to Arkansas.

David Grening 

When you took the blinkers off for the maiden race on the 2nd it looked like he was maybe a little bit eager early, but again then came back and finished well.  Did you think that – what made you take them off and did you think you got the desired result?

Bob Baffert      

He was a little bit too keen, he was too keen, wasn’t relaxing. And so going along, I just feel like he hasn’t been working with blinkers, so he is better without the blinkers. He can relax a little bit. He’s still a fast horse. I mean, he’s got to be up close, but, I mean, going along, I think he’s more manageable that way, and so sometimes he needs blinkers first out or whatever, but he didn’t need them.

David Grening 

Last thing.  Do you think the longer the better, he’s going to get another 16th to the mile here, do you think he’ll handle that?

Bob Baffert      

I think you don’t know it until you do it. So, I mean, I think we’re all in the same boat. I mean, we’re all hoping, but we’re going to find out, we’re going to find out what he’s made of. Now he is ready to take on something like that, so I think he should be very competitive. You’re just hoping they’re going to be competitive and they can go that far. But I mean he is bred to go a mile a quarter so…  And he has speed and he is a beautiful horse, he’s just a beautiful, big strong beautiful horse, so I feel pretty good that he should run well.

Art Wilson    

Yeah, Bob, can you just talk a little bit about the progression and the development of Solomini heading into Arkansas and what kind of a challenge it has been in training him?

Bob Baffert      

He’s always been a challenge because he is a very lazy horse and you have to… He’s sort of a grinder type, but he’s got a huge heart and he shows up. I mean, he is a horse that… The talent is there, but he likes to grind it out, but he is showing up for every race.

Jonathan Lintner         

Hi Bob, thanks for taking the time to do this.  I was just wondering, putting Justify against Bolt d’Oro at this point, maybe how you imagine that playing out, whether – which one of them might want to lead or how you will strategize for that race.

Bob Baffert      

Well I just leave that up to Mike Smith. So he’ll just play the break and get him in… All you want to do is get him – he’s a nice fast horse, but last time he got him, he set off a horse. He’s gone to the lead, set off a horse. So, I mean, we don’t know that much about him and he’s only had those two starts. So he is still – and the horse is still learning, so it’s not… I just leave that up to Mike.  Mike knows the horse pretty well.  He’ll keep him comfortable whatever position. He’s not going to be too far off the lead. He’ll be up close, but I think the break is the key, if he breaks well.

Jonathan Lintner       

There is all the conversation about when he was able to get to the races. I saw that going back to his two-year-old year he was working. Was there something that prevented him from making his debut until he did?

Bob Baffert      

When I got him, I didn’t hear anything. So he came in, and he was pretty far along. Came in from Keeneland and he was in great shape, so he just…  I’ve never had an issue with him. I don’t know why. They never told me why he was late to the races. I am just very fortunate that I have him.

Bryce Miller    

Hi Bob, I was just curious on your thoughts on kind of the non-traditional road that Mick Ruis has taken in the horseracing and then that second level of getting to this point, competing for derbies and those sorts of things. He hasn’t taken what anybody would call a traditional road. What do you think about his path, and what’s he like around the barns?

Bob Baffert      

Traditional, like what do you mean by traditional road? The horse or the trainer?

Bryce Miller     

No, no, I mean, Mick himself. Yeah, Mick, the trainer, just coming out of the business background and relatively new compared to a lot of you guys who’ve been in the business your entire lives and that sort of thing.

Bob Baffert      

Mick, he has a strong passion. He has always been around horses and he loves it. Apparently he was in a position in life where he was able to get into this business, and he just loves it. I mean, he works hard at it. He’s out here early. Anybody that puts their money up, you have to give him credit, and he surrounds himself with good people. I mean, he is really enjoying it, and so he has got a really good horse, and he’s excited. And I don’t blame him because he is a big beautiful horse who can really run and so he’s had a lot of success in a short period of time. So I always feel anybody who puts their money up, I just wish him the best.

Bryce Miller   

One quick follow-up if I can. He mentioned in a couple of different stories. One, he said when he first started, he was learning so much and asking, in his words, dumb questions of people like you. And then saying later that he wanted to get to that level and compete and beat Bob Baffert and beat those guys. What do you think about that learning curve he explained and he kind of dropped your name along the timeline when he explains how he has rushed to learn and get to this level and beat you.

Bob Baffert      

Well, when I came in I wanted to be like Wayne Lukas and Charlie Winningham. So I was talking to him every day, and he is very smart. He’s a good student of the game. He picks up, he knows what’s going on. So he is pretty sharp. I mean, so, it’s like any… all trainers. When we’re coming up, we watch – I watched all the great trainers. When I first got into business I watched Ron McAnally, Charlie, Wayne, everybody, and so you learn by asking questions. I still learn…  I’m a better trainer than I was a year ago.  We’re just students of the game. We’re constantly learning. He is not afraid to ask a question, and you need to be that way. He is very curious and if you’re going to succeed in this, you have to be curious in life.

Jason Frakes   

Hey Bob, thanks for taking the time.  I was wondering with McKinzie, if things worked out with him, and he came back healthy in two or three weeks, would you have a problem entering… running him in the Derby without another prep race if he were completely healthy?

Bob Baffert      

No because every day that we miss going to track, the Derby is a very brutal race, and right now, I just… I can’t see him making it because I’m going to have to back off on him. And even though he looks fine, but I don’t want to do anything that jeopardizes his health. We’ll know more in probably a couple weeks.  But I just can’t see him – the Preakness would be a long shot, but the Derby, I just can’t see it happening.

Mike Kane

Hi Bob, when did Justify come into your barn?

Bob Baffert      

I just can’t remember offhand. It was after Del Mar he came in… He came into Santa Anita like in January.

Van Cushny    

Hi Bob, I just wanted to get your thoughts on Mendelssohn. Do you think he’s for real or do you think he just took advantage of a track bias? And then also your thoughts on West Coast and Mubtaahij. Were you surprised at how well Mubtaahij ran, and where will those two horses run back next?

Bob Baffert      

Mendelssohn was very impressive, but he is a very impressive looking horse. I remember him as a yearling, but he is strong, he is really stout, really carries a lot of flesh. And he is the real deal and he is fast. He has a lot of speed, and I think he has a very huge chance at the Kentucky Derby. He’s speedy. I mean, I thought he was very impressive when he won at Del Mar that day, but he’ll definitely be on the front end. I mean, he’s that kind of horse that just will keep on going and carry that speed, but lot of quality there. And Mubtaahij, West Coast, they showed up that night. Mubtaahij, I knew he was really doing well. I really thought he was going to run a big race, and he runs well there, and so I was proud of both of them. We would like to have definitely won it, but it’s tough, it’s a challenge to go all the way over there and hoping that you run well. But the winner was just… He just freaked. He has a lot of quality himself, and he likes that he’s been running there, but we were just second and third best that night.

Lenny Shulman           

Hey Bob, realistically you have to run one to with Justify to go to the Derby. Do you take any solace in the fact that Bolt d’Oro had to run a real gut-wrencher last time? Does that enter into your thinking as far as placing them and do you think that may improves his chances to actually win the race?

Bob Baffert      

No, the reason he is running here because McKinzie had that slot, and I was going to take him to the other… That was the plan when I broke his maiden. And so when McKinzie wasn’t able to make this race, I thought, well, I know we hate to run against Bolt d’Oro because we know it’s going to be a tough race, but it is tough when you do the ship all the way to Arkansas. If he doesn’t run first or second, I mean it’s – we don’t want to go to the Kentucky Derby unless we have a really legitimate chance with him, so because we know he is so talented, he’s a gifted animal. And so I think here at least we’ll know… He runs against a horse like Bolt, we’ll know where we stand.

Jim Mulvihill   

Alright, well, you just heard Bob and Lenny talking about Bolt d’Oro.  And our next guest is that colt’s trainer, Mick Ruis, who got put up in the San Felipe. And he is the current top-ranked three-year-old on the NTRA top three-year-old poll. Mick Ruis, thanks for joining us.

Mick Ruis        

Thanks guys.

Jim Mulvihill   

Well, we appreciate you coming on and holding on for a little bit there while we got the information from Bob. But now we want to hear about the latest from Bolt d’Oro, so just tell us a little bit about how he came out of the San Felipe. You might have heard there during that conversation people are going to be concerned about the possibility of that race may be taking something out of him. What you think will be his reaction to that race?

Mick Ruis        

He came out of the San Felipe incredible. They can fool you, they can come back and you think that while it didn’t do much to him. But to be honest with you, when we got put up through the disqualification I almost thought I was going to have to carry him there to the winner circle, because he was dead tired. I mean, he gave it his all. But to our surprise, his dinner, he cleaned up all his dinner, and hasn’t missed a meal since and he’s training incredible.

I was going to jog him two days. It’s his first day back from his work today, we jogged, and we were going to have to gallop him tomorrow. He was just too ready to go right now, so we’ll take him out for a little gallop tomorrow. But we could not have him coming back out of that race any better. I think he has never trained better than he has since we got him from the farm.

Jim Mulvihill   

That is great to hear. And in terms of what you’ve asked him to do the last few weeks, do you back off at all knowing that you’ve already got a spot in the Kentucky Derby, and that that’s the ultimate goal? Or with a million-dollar race and a Grade 1 on Saturday, do you just take it race by race and do what you would normally do?

Mick Ruis       

The million-dollar race is nice and winning a Grade 1 would be incredible. I can always go to work and make money.

I think I made a mistake going into the Breeders’ Cup, where I backed off because we got into it like wow, look what we did in the Frontrunner with… Look what Bolt did. The guy is incredible. The original Beyer was 113 but they took it down to 100.

After the Breeders’ Cup, when he had that wide trip and he still had bigger speed figures on the other charts, they moved it back up to 103. So I just think we went in a little too cautious going into the Breeders’ Cup, and he trains better when I push a little more on him. And I’m trying to figure out the best way to train Bolt. I watch Bob every morning because wouldn’t you want to watch the guy who has the most success? And then I’ll watch Mr. McAnally’s horses. I’ll watch Mr. Drysdale’s horses and Mr. Mandella’s horses, kind of see how they prepare their horses. I think we take the edge off him. Don’t want to go really, really hard either, but I think where we got going right now is just what he needs as an individual.

Jim Mulvihill   

Interesting, and you say you watch Bob’s horses train, and I know you were just talking about in general, learning how they like to train their horses. But have you watched Justify train and do you have any impressions of that horse coming into this race, probably your chief rival on paper?

Mick Ruis        

I look at that horse train and look at that horse work and it’s like, wow. I remember back when American Pharoah won before he was going to the Derby. And I told my son, who was once a jockey, I said, “You know I’ve never seen a horse move more fluidly than America Pharoah.”  And sure enough he went on to win the Triple Crown, and you look at Justify, boy, he is about as smooth as you want in a horse. And he hasn’t done anything wrong, and I’m actually going into this like we’re the underdog here again. So hopefully we can compete against Bob’s horse. We know Bob is going to have him good, so we just hope the best for his horse and our horse, and they both come out of the race safe.

Danny Brewer  

You’ve probably spent more time with Bolt over the last year and a half than anybody.  Are you all friends?  Is he like your best friend right now?

Mick Ruis     

Oh man, he is too much. It’s like having your only child and you want to make sure nothing happens to him. So you worry about him all the time, but you’ve got to let him go out and skin his knees, tell him go out and play. He has got to play in the dirt so he can be immune to some viruses, but, yes, we know him really good. It’s just exciting to have a horse like him. I mean, he stands out in our barn and we’ve got some real nice horses. But when he walks down the shed row, the horses that are in the front with the webbings, they take a stance back and say, “Hey Bolt’s coming through”. It’s pretty amazing to watch, his presence.

Danny Brewer  

Wow, I mean, I know you’ve been around the game off and on for a long time.  Sometimes do you pinch yourself to say, “Hey is this really on?  Is this really happening?”

Mick Ruis        

It’s weird because I’ve had so many people say we might not ever get here again. But when I went and purchased him this is what I was expecting believe it or not. But then when you get to this point, you’re going, how lucky are you, how lucky are you to be in this point with a sound horse, the ability that he possesses. So I am just going to have to enjoy it, but anything I do in life, my businesses and my kids and sports, we strive to be the best and we’re just fortunate that we have such a wonderful horse.

Art Wilson       

Yeah Mick before the San Felipe you said that you had Bolt only about 80% cranked. Is he going to be 100% cranked on Saturday or are you waiting for Kentucky for that?

Mick Ruis        

I think we’ll have a little bit left for Kentucky if God willing, if we make it there, but I’d say he is about 90% to 95% now. He came back great from the San Felipe, the third race back got to be his best. We’re just… don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. We hope he runs a nice race on Saturday. A lot of people are saying, are we going to squeeze a lemon dry? I don’t think so. I think he can still run a real hard race, and we’re going to be good, as long as he comes back sound for Kentucky Derby day.

Louisa Barton 

Yes, hi Mick. Thanks for joining us today. You mentioned watching Bob and being newer in this game.  And what do you think some of the things that you’ve learnt from Bob Baffert just from being around him and watching him train?

Mick Ruis 

One thing I keep saying the most impressed I am with Bob is, besides me walking by his barn every morning and seeing every accomplishment that anyone would ever want in horseracing, is how he cares so much about his horses and how he stresses every morning.

I am with my wife and we’re there, we train together. I mean, he’s on the phone, and you can tell when he’s had a good day. You can tell when a horse has had a good work. And to be able to watch how he must be able to handle this pressure is the most amazing thing I see about Bob because all we have to do is let down ourselves if we’re in the big race, but he has got owners, other family of the owners that are all disappointed if the horse don’t run good. And for him to be able to handle that pressure, we all know he can train a horse; that ain’t the hard part I don’t think Bob does every day. I think it’s just being able to handle all the pressure of all the owners. And look, when you get all the horses that he does, there is a lot of pressure on him. And that is what I respect about Bob the most.

Jim Mulvihill   

Alright Mick, thanks for all this great info.  Good luck on Saturday, and we’ll look forward to seeing you in Louisville in a few weeks.

Mick Ruis        

Thank you.

Jim Mulvihill   

Well, in addition to the Santa Anita Derby on Saturday, we’ve also got the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and your likely favorite in there is the Gotham winner, Enticed. You look at his pedigree and his race record and this horse is all class. Let’s check in now with his trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin. Kiaran, thanks for joining us.

Kiaran McLaughlin      

Thanks for having me.

Jim Mulvihill   

Yeah, I appreciate you holding on. As I just said, this horse is all class. On paper he’s got everything you would want from a three-year-old this time of year. Just tell us how excited you are about him both for Saturday and beyond.

Kiaran McLaughlin      

Yeah, he is a real classy horse because we trained his mother, It’s Tricky. And she was an outstanding mare, one of the best fillies we ever trained. And he’s a homebred for Sheikh Mohammed. It’s exciting and he is very talented, does everything right, and we’re all set for Saturday.

Jim Mulvihill

And can you tell us a little bit more about that pedigree and also just comparing with It’s Tricky, and there is a lot of speed on that side. But It’s Tricky won around two turns, and just tell us about how it all comes together for Enticed.

Kiaran McLaughlin    

Yeah, Enticed has done everything right since he walked in the barn. And he is real classy and real athletic, great bone structure, he is very athletic. And he is fun to train, he’s easy to train, he does everything right. So, in the race down here again in Holy Bull we felt like he didn’t like the one hole that much that day. So the race looks better now than it did then, but he came back and won the Gotham from the nine hole, had a clean face, and we don’t think he has to have a clean face, but it worked out that way in the Gotham. And we hope he draws in the middle of the pack Saturday.

Jim Mulvihill   

And Kiaran, this is a pretty deep field of horses that we have coming together for the Kentucky Derby looking ahead. And can you just give me some thoughts on where you think Enticed fits in? He is not getting the same amount of hype as some of the horses say on the West Coast, despite having not really done much wrong. He is going in the right direction, he won his last race, won his last race clear of the rest of the field. Where does he fit in with everybody right now in the division?

Kiaran McLaughlin      

Well we’ll know a lot more Saturday, and see how it goes. We feel like he fits in very well. We are hoping for a big race Saturday because the Wood Memorial is a very important race for a three-year-old, and it’s only a grade 2. Hopefully it gets its grade 1 status back, but we’ll worry about the 4th of May after this Saturday. But hopefully if we win Saturday, we’re thought of again highly. He won at Churchill. He beat a lot of nice horses and came back to win a stakes race this year.

Tom Pedulla   

Yeah, Kiaran, could I just ask you how much the Kentucky Derby drives the entire Thoroughbred industry? What does it mean to trainers, owners, jockeys to try to win the Derby?

Kiaran McLaughlin     

Well I think it’s everyone’s dream, by the time you get into business, whether you’re a hotwalker, exercise rider, trainer or owner. Sheikh Mohammed has always wanted to win the Kentucky Derby, and I feel like no one deserves it more to win it. He’s done an awful lot for our industry in so many ways. I grew up 70 miles from Churchill Down in Lexington, Kentucky. And it has been my dream since I was old enough to know about horse racing so it means a lot to everybody and it’s the Super Bowl of our industry.

Bob Ehalt        

Hi Kiaran. How do you feel that turn back to the flat mile is going to help set him up for the two turns here in the Wood, and then down the road for the Kentucky Derby?

Kiaran McLaughlin      

Yeah, we feel like he’s always wanted a mile-and-an-eighth or a mile and a quarter. He’s just a large colt with a big stride and very well bred and we turned back in the Gotham. We weren’t sure that was the right move at the time, but it worked out to be the right move. And he likes the cooler weather, he likes that track, and we feel like it would be perfect and no negatives. It’s all positive and we feel hopefully we draw well and not 10 of 10 or 11 of 11, going wide into the first turn. So in the middle of the pack would be great to draw and hopefully all goes well going forward.

David Grening 

Yeah Kiaran it looks like there could be a good amount of speed in the race. Is that something you would be happy to see and how would you describe his finishes, either strong kick or do you think he’s a grinder type?

Kiaran McLaughlin      

If there is plenty of pace to entertain each other, then we can sit off of it and lay third, fourth, fifth. Junior knows him well. He takes a little while to get going, but once he gets going, he has got a strong finishing kick, so that should set up well for us. We won’t be that far back regardless of how much pace is in there just because that’s him.

Jim Mulvihill   

Alright, and finally today, we get to talk about the Blue Grass Stakes on opening weekend of the Keeneland Spring Meet, just a really fun race coming together here. You’ve got last year’s juvenile champion in Good Magic; a Keeneland Stakes winner in Free Drop Billy; the Tampa Bay Derby winner in Quip; the Jeff Ruby winner Blended Citizen; plus horses from Lukas, Pletcher, Asmussen, Maker. They just had the draw a little while ago, and our next guest, Mark Casse, entered two for the race. The Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Flameaway drew post 12, and is the 6-1 co-third choice; and Determinant, who broke his maiden on the turf a few weeks ago, is on the also-eligible list, but would be the first one to draw in if there are any scratches. Mark Casse, thanks for joining us

Mark Casse     

Thanks for having me.

Jim Mulvihill   

I would like to get a quick reaction to the draw, first of all, since it just happened. Probably not what you wanted, but what do you think of post 12 in a field of 14?

Mark Casse  

Like you said it’s not perfect. Could have been worse, could have been better, so we’re just going to have to handle it from there.

Jim Mulvihill   

Alright and Flameaway has had a pretty interesting career. Just wonder if you can tell us about his career overall and trying to find out where he belongs. I mean, he’s won on all three surfaces. He likes when a race comes off the turf, and, you know, he can do it all. So tell me about trying to find what is his game.

Mark Casse    

Well so far pretty well everything has been his game; winning, that’s been his game. He is an extremely versatile horse like you said. I mean, we’ve thrown synthetic at him. I think we threw turf, we’ve thrown slop, we’ve thrown dirt, kind of a little bit of everything. And he usually answers it with a very good effort and more times than not he wins.

Danny Brewer  

When you think about Flameaway, is versatility one word that comes to mind with him?

Mark Casse     

Well, it’s definitely one of them, and gameness. He is just a pleasure really, he always shows up, doesn’t matter what you throw at him. And every time you throw something at him, he handles it and asks for more.

Rob Longley

Hey Mark, just wondering, since this guy is Canadian bred, how you sort of manage his schedule so that you keep the opening jewel of both Triple Crowns in play, if that’s sort of part of your strategy.

Mark Casse     

Hey Rob, long time, haven’t heard from you. I don’t know. Right now obviously we’re concentrating on the Kentucky Derby. The good news is as the races lie, we are able to do both. So right now, we’re just going to concentrate on the Blue Grass and then hopefully the Kentucky Derby. Then there will be some decisions to be made, but we can do both.

David Grening

Mark, I just wanted to ask you about the Determinant (a) would you look at the Wood at all or are you set on staying at Keeneland? And second, if you do draw in to Blue Grass, because I think Marconi is going to come to the Wood, would you run from post 14 or would you just run Friday in the turf?

Mark Casse     

That’s a great question. Now that’s one I’m going to have to discuss with Mr. Oxley. We don’t know what to think of this horse. I thought his last win was brilliant. Of course it was on the turf, but he is bred for the dirt. If you really look at his last race how he won, I just don’t know. I think he ran an average of something like 65 feet harder than the rest of the field did. He kind of clipped heels early on. He just ran an amazing race. There is definitely a little bit of Derby fever there. I also nominated him to the Lexington.

I don’t see us coming to the Wood, but you never know. To answer your question, very unlikely we’ll run from the 14 hole. It’s such a disadvantage in the Blue Grass, and he’s already got so many things against him, so, but it’s something that I’m going to discuss with Mr. Oxley. The Transylvania, I mean, it came up extremely tough as well, so there are no easy spots.

Dan Ralph       

Thank you, and I’m glad to hear that Rob Longley is all good and well. Mark, I’m wondering, the Derby has always been on your radar, but to do it with a Canadian-bred horse, given your ties to Canada, what would that mean to you?

Mark Casse     

I mean, it would be everything, right? It would be my career all tied up in one. I mean I owe so much of our success to Toronto, to Woodbine, to Canada, to kind of be able to do it and do it with Canadian bred would be the ultimate satisfaction I guess. Don’t sell him short.  He’s a pretty good horse, and I’ve seen him grow so much from two to three. He’s matured. He’s got a great attitude, and just hopefully all that I ask is that we have a clean trip and then we’ll see what happens. You just would hate to get this close and have something happen. Similar to what happened to Classic Empire in the Kentucky Derby. As a horse trainer, you only ask to get there happy and healthy and just let the best horse win. And so that’s my hope for Saturday.

Tom Pedulla   

I wanted to ask you, how much does the Derby and the other Triple Crown races drive your industry?

Mark Casse     

Well, I mean, I think the Kentucky Derby drives everything. I know it’s driven me for 49 years, or 48 years.  It’s always been a driving force. The Breeders’ Cup has taken maybe a little bit of that away because it used to be – I think everybody wanted to win the Kentucky Derby. If you were in Canada they wanted to win the Queen’s Plate. The Breeders’ Cup now is also a big deal, but there is still only one Kentucky Derby. And you only need to go and be around for Derby week and have a contender and understand what the Kentucky Derby means not just to horse trainers, but to the world. And you talk to somebody that’s never – hardly heard anything about racing, I can promise you one thing, they will have heard of the Kentucky Derby.

Rob Longley   

It just seems like every week now we’re seeing one or two really serious horses emerge on the trail for this year’s Derby. What’s your impressions of the way the field is shaping up overall and is it as impressive as it might look?

Mark Casse     

I agree, Rob. As of a few weeks ago, I didn’t know that there were any true standouts. I know there has been so much talk about California, those horses. And they are good, take nothing away from them, but they’re running in five and six horse fields. When you run in the Kentucky Derby, it’s a different deal.

I was very impressed with Magnum Moon. And then, of course, the horse that won the Florida Derby this weekend, Audible, was impressive simply because early on he wasn’t running. Johnny was asking him to run and he kind of fell back and if you know Johnny, you know Johnny is going to put him in the race. And I thought coming out of the first turn, I said he’ll get nothing. And Johnny put him in a drive from the five-eighths pole to get the lead. And so right now, I mean, I think Todd’s holding a pretty strong hand. I think the Blue Grass, there are some horses there that are okay, but somebody needs to step up. They’re going to have to step up their game if we’re going to play with those boys the first Saturday in May.

Dan Ralph       

Mark, your thoughts about Good Magic going into this weekend?

Mark Casse     

I don’t know what to think of Good Magic. I think he ran a great race in the Breeders’ Cup and he’s definitely a good horse, but things change from two to three. He still has to prove to, I think not just me but to everyone, that he belongs. And I mean, it wouldn’t surprise me if he does, and he comes out running a good race. Obviously Chad does a great job and I’m sure he’ll have him as ready as he can be, and that’s all we can ask for. That’s all any of us as trainers to do is try to have them on top of their game, be the best they can be and then we’ll see how everything works out. But his first race back this year was lackluster, but if you remember last year for Classic Empire it was the same way. And then he came and redeemed himself. I don’t know what to think. I think if our horse runs his race we can beat him, so…  At least I’m hoping so.

Louisa Barton 

He’s had a few different jockeys. If he makes it to the Kentucky Derby and he runs who would be your pick for jockey for him? Who would be best suited?

Mark Casse     

Oh that’s a good question.Jose has rode him well and knows him. There will be no change win, lose or draw come Saturday. All we want to do is have a good solid race. I think we’re going to need a few points to make the derby and I just want him, like you said, to have a good, fair shot. After the race, if we get beaten and he doesn’t run well then so be it. We’ll go to plan B. I just would not like to have things go wrong and him never get a shot. And I have great confidence in Jose and we’ve done extremely well together so that won’t change.

David Grening

Mark I just wanted to ask what you would do with Mississippi coming off the Florida Derby?

Mark Casse     

I was very happy with Mississippi. I think we were a little close to the pace there as we saw the pace just collapsed. My plan right now is to just send him to the Pat Day Mile. He’s already won at Churchill Downs so he’s going to show up the first Saturday in May, it just won’t be in the Kentucky Derby.

Jim Mulvihill   

Mark, before we let you go, you’ve always been so candid about your horses and giving some impressions, so it’s a big stakes day on Saturday at Keeneland beyond the Blue Grass. Could I just run down for some quick comments on some of these other stakes entrants?

Mark Casse     

Oh absolutely.

Jim Mulvihill   

Alright.  Well we got… in the Commonwealth, First Premio?

Mark Casse     

He’s a horse that’s really come along. He’s a nice horse. We’re still kind of searching for his niche. I’m not sure we’re going to bring him back in sprinting a little bit. He ran along last time, he’s run on the synthetic.  He’s a horse though I think if we can find his niche will be a really nice horse. I think he’s a nice horse.

Jim Mulvihill

In the Shakertown, Flashaway and Commute?

Mark Casse   

Yes, Flashaway is a horse that was injured. I thought that when he got injured that he could be one of the better turf sprinters around. It’s been a long road back, but little by little he seems to be getting better and I expect him to run really well. And then I have Commute in there. He’s a solid horse. Gave him a break and he’s coming back and training well.

Jim Mulvihill   

And then on Sunday, Heavenly Love in the Appalachian?

Mark Casse     

She’s the biggest head scratcher of all. We can’t figure her out. She trains extremely well and then she hasn’t run very well so we’re going back to the turf. She broke her maiden on the turf and we’re just searching for answers there.

Jim Mulvihill   

Alright.  Well, Mark, thanks for all of this info today, I appreciate you coming on as always and best of luck this weekend at Keeneland.

Mark Casse     

I appreciate it.  You guys have a good day.  Thank you.

Jim Mulvihill   

Alright, thanks so much, Mark Casse.  My thanks once again to all of today’s guests: Bob Baffert, Mick Ruis, Kiaran McLaughlin and Mark.

Before we go I also want to say a big thank you and best wishes to Joan Lawrence, who organized these calls for so many years. Most of you know by now she’s officially moved on to retirement, or semi-retirement, more likely. She always loved dealing with all of you guys in the media and the horsemen as well. I know a lot of you adored Joan. So if you want to reach out and send her congratulations and need her contact info, just let me know and I’m happy to send that your way.

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