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BELMONT STAKES MEDIA CONFERENCE
June 3, 2010
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for coming. Obviously thank Nick Zito, trainer of the morning line favorite Ice Box and impressive Dwyer winner, Fly Down; Dale Romans, trainer with First Dude, incredible race in the Preakness, 7 and 2 morning line and Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of Uptowncharlybrown. So basically, it's going to be fairly informal.
Q. Nick, being from New York, how important is the Belmont Stakes?
NICK ZITO: I've been asked that question a lot, and for some reason, I keep getting more tense. I guess it's getting, you know, to me a little bit because you're growing up here and you start realizing how much the Belmont Stakes means. It's a Triple Crown race. It's certainly one of the most historic races in the world, mile and a half, and you have to prepare your horse, if he has not won one before. It's a blessing, no question, but it would be great.
Q. Nick, when you've won this race before, you basically came in under the radar, how different of a feel is this? Do you like this feeling, or do you prefer the other?
NICK ZITO: Well, I think for me, you're right if you're a long shot, you just figure, well, let's just hope they run well and get back to the barn; and if you lose, you salute the winner and that's about it.
But when you have two horses that have a chance, you know, it's a little different feeling. But you know, Dale's horse I think is going to get a lot of action. I actually like Kiaran's horse, because I think he's got him now, and also, he was sneaky good earlier in the year, and so these are horses that you have to reckon with.
But they have, you know, favorites, and to put everything in the proper perspective, the "favorite" means you're supposed to do well. But we know in racing, and in sports, that doesn't always work out that way.
So is there pressure? Yeah, but I always go back to real life, you know, when you think about real life, it ain't so bad.
Q. You've always been someone on the lookout for a good omen or a positive dream, have you had anything this week which would indicate, well --
NICK ZITO: Basically, tell the truth, and I've had a couple of weird dreams, if you can say. I don't know what they mean but maybe it will all workout.
I mean, Look, if the Man upstairs -- God controls a lot of stuff, and again, whatever happens, happens. I've had a few nice dreams and a few whatever dreams. I don't know what they mean but we'll see what happens.
I know one thing, I hope it works out okay. Thanks for asking.
Q. For all three of you, and in regards to training over the Belmont track, bringing a three-year-old over here for the mile-and-a-half track surface, how important is it to have that experience over the track heading into Saturday, for all three of you?
KIARAN McLAUGHLIN: Uptowncharlybrown came from Tampa, and I think it's similar and a little bit different track but here at Belmont, it's nice to train on the track you are going to run on and let him get used to it. But we train here every day, Nick and I do, and it's a great place to train, a great facility, and it's nice that they are working over it and getting used to it.
But I don't think it's a race that you have to have works over or a race over. It's a good racetrack, mile and a half, and it's not like a Delaware Park where you don't know if you are going to handle it or not. Usually most horses can handle this track.
DALE ROMANS: I brought my horse in early because Churchill is a little different than this racetrack. It has a little bounce this year. They are keeping it a little firmer and I wanted to make sure we got up here in time to train on the sandier, deeper racetrack and also let him get used to going around that mile-and-a-half oval, they are on their left lead a lot longer than they will be on most other racetracks.
Definitely it's not going to hurt to be here. I know Nick is training in Saratoga, but he's got the luxury of having a trip over the racetrack, and Saratoga is also a deep, heavy racetrack. But I just didn't think training at Churchill would have benefitted as much as getting up here.
NICK ZITO: I feel the same way as these guys. I think the main thing is that you have to have the horses ready to go the mile-and-a-half. I think it will all work out with the best horse; whoever the best horse is on Saturday, that's how it will work out.
Q. Your thoughts on the pace scenario, you figure to be an important part of that, the mile and a half and how do you see that playing out?
DALE ROMANS: All the press keeps telling us we'll be on a solo lead, and I hope you're all right, and with a slow pace. But things never workout really like they should on paper and if somebody else decided to change their game plan and send from the inside, we are in a good spot from the outside to sit right off them and we won't have any problem doing that. But if there isn't enough space, we will be willing to go like we did in the Preakness, and hopefully not as fast, and just see what happens.
Q. Going mile-and-a-half -- does the jockey have the clock in his head going correctly?
DALE ROMANS: I think he'll know how his horse feels under him, and as long as he's nice and relaxed like he was in the Preakness, that was the key. He was going fast but he was relaxed and comfortable and not fighting him and that's why I think he had some horse to kick home with. And whatever he's doing, if he's on the lead, as long as he's relaxed and comfortable, I'll be happy with it.
Q. General Belmont question and Triple Crown question. First thing about the Belmont, in the last ten years, only three horses have come back to actually win a race after winning the Belmont: Point Given, Birdstone and Summer Bird. Is the race just a too demanding race? Also, the Triple Crown in general, your thoughts on the Triple Crown now, does it need a change, or should it stay the same way to honor the 11 who accomplished it?
DALE ROMANS: Real quick, I'll say the Triple Crown should never change. I mean, that's -- there's too much history behind it. A great horse will come along and win it sooner or later and I don't think they should change one thing about it. I don't know how they feel.
NICK ZITO: I feel the same way but to answer your question about why those horses don't win, I feel the same way Dale does about the Triple Crown, it should be tough.
But I think one of the reasons is if you do that study, see if anybody was leading up to the Triple Crown and see how many horses ran in the first two, because the demands of the Triple Crown now are very, very tough.
I'm sure Kiaran and Dale will tell you, because I know I have plenty, too, horses that we thought were going to make the Derby or going to make the Preakness or going to make the Belmont, never even got close, because the demands of it now are so tough; the preparations are tough. The horses you run against are tough, and I think that's the main reason.
And of course, you know, it's a broken record now, but it looks like you're going to have 20 all the time in the Derby unless, God forbid, something happens the week of the Derby. That's about the only -- and I think that's a tough thing today, you know, they keep saying about changing the Triple Crown, well, why don't you change the number of starters in the Derby, which is not going to happen, and that's what makes it so tough, because you're competing against 20 horses, not seven, not eight, not nine, not ten; 20, and that's very tough on a horse mentally besides physically.
You know, you look at Super Saver, and you heard what Todd said, he said, we don't usually do this, but we won the Derby. You know, you come up short.
So I think that's one of the reasons why they -- and don't forget, it's a mile and a half race.
KIARAN McLAUGHLIN: Two thoughts. I'll be different than them. One is the horses to win after the Belmont, a mile-and-a-half, we didn't have too many mile-and-a-halves to point to Belmont; if you really had a horse that went the mile and a half or a long distance, most had to run a mile and eight and a mile and 16. Now with the marathon and the Breeders' Cup, at least you have a chance to run a mile and a half, you might have a better chance of winning a few races. If you win the Belmont, there will be some better races out there going a mile and a half.
I think Wayne came up with dates, but I will go against them and say I would love to see the first Saturday of May, Memorial Day for the Preakness and July 4 for the Belmont. There's three days, two holidays there with big crowds, anyway, and we would have four weeks in between and then five weeks for the Belmont, and maybe we would have a field size that stayed together and horses competing in all three races.
And I think that they should have the bonus situation again that would give us some incentive to run, like Nick said, when Todd won the Derby, he didn't want to run back in two weeks. We hardly work a horse back in two weeks, but you feel the pressure of doing it for the Triple Crown.
But if you space them out; if the Triple Crown winner today is worth 40 million, is he worth 35 million if you spread him out for four weeks? At least you would have a chance to keep the field together and maybe have some rivalry between some horses but that's just my personal opinion.
Q. Nick, could you tell us what your two horses are showing you, and are you going into this the way you want?
NICK ZITO: Well, they are both showing me that I think after this race, Saturday, they will still be around hopefully by the end of the year, which getting back to Terry's question, I'll glad about that. I feel confident that both horses are getting better, and I think that's important because Saturday, you get some more racing. So I like what they are doing. They are getting better and I'm happy with that.
Q. Do you have to deal with the 59 owners or does Bob handle them for you?
KIARAN McLAUGHLIN: We send one e-mail every day, and he forwards it to 59 people. So it's not been too difficult. I had a little bit of experience with West Point and Team Valor, also, but they are very good, no problem.
Q. Have you made any changes with this horse and was this race kind of the goal as soon as he came to your born?
KIARAN McLAUGHLIN: Yes, it's the goal that Bob had and maybe Alan had for him. He covers a lot of ground. They thought he would get the mile and a half. We don't know that until Saturday afternoon.
You know, every trainer does things a little different, so, yes, there's been some changes, but they did a great job with the horse and we just hope that he wants the mile and a half. And we have a different team of people looking after him now, different feed program and different things that we have done, different blacksmiths. Overall, we just hope that he wants the mile and a half. They did a great job with him.
Q. I have a question about jockeys in the race. All three of you have jockeys that are familiar with Belmont Park. We have seen some jockeys come in here not having ridden here, and maybe give questionable trips to the horses. How much of a factor is it that all three of you have jockeys that know the track?
NICK ZITO: I think it's important if you ride here every day, or mostly every day. All three jockeys ride here, so I think it's very, very important, because you know, you're in the groove. You get in a little zone, too, a couple of days before, or the day before or that day, it's always good. It's always good.
I remember that day, only won one Derby, Dale will tell you, Kiaran, I don't know, from Kentucky, but I remember, I couldn't believe how many races he would ride on Derby day. If there was 13 races, he would ride all 13. So you want to be in the group when you're riding.
DALE ROMANS: It's a unique racetrack, a mile and a half and a unique race going into a mile and a half. I think it's an advantage to us to have a rider that's been here and ridden over this racetrack a lot.
KIARAN McLAUGHLIN: Ditto what they are saying. I'm just glad that Bob Hutt was a fishing buddy of a very good rider, because he said he wanted Rajiv because they had gone fishing together in the past. I said, I'm just glad that it's a top rider, so it worked out well. Rajiv is an excellent rider and we are happy to have him.
Q. For all three, could you maybe talk about the different ways that you would train a horse to go longer? Do you gallop them longer or are there certain things you would do versus training a horse to sprint?
NICK ZITO: Well, I think we do it every day. I don't think you could pinpoint one -- this is my opinion. If daily worked his horse a mile, and Kiaran worked this horse three quarters and I worked my horse seven-eighths, if they were prepared correctly that month, I don't really think the workouts mean anything that way. I think it's the every day thing you do.
And Kiaran brought out something interesting, he had just gotten his horse and he said believe it or not, we changed the feeding program; that's a plus, probably. We changed the blacksmith. That's probably a plus.
You do little things every day, and you might say, well, how does that -- what does that got to do with the horse going a mile and a half? It has a lot to do with it because it's your every day performance, and we all train horses, they all go out and train. They backtrack a certain way, they gallop a certain way, but it's the every day thing I think that's more important. I mean, if that's my secret, that's my secret.
DALE ROMANS: I would agree with him and there's not a whole lot that you can do that's different, especially coming off three weeks from the Preakness to the Belmont, just want to keep them happy, nature makes them fast, we just have to make them fit and they look pretty much fit after running the Preakness. Just want to get them going a little further and get them used to the racetrack.
KIARAN McLAUGHLIN: And a lot of it is in their pedigree and type of horse. Nick has been very successful in buying Triple Crown horses as yearlings. He guys them -- I don't personally buy any yearlings, but I feel like he's one of the best at it. And he's always in the Triple Crown races with purchases.
So he buys that type with pedigree and what he's looking for is not the Henny Hughes look that is very fast. And Henny Hughes was a sprinter because the way he's made and he was just fast. We didn't train him that much different than any other horses. We just knew he didn't want a mile and a half.
Q. Nick, given your past history of winning the race, was there any part that was rooting for Super Saver to win the Preakness?
NICK ZITO: Absolutely. Absolutely. I told somebody and he said why, and I said, well, No. 1, Todd is from Dallas and I don't think he knows much about pizza. That's No. 1. But it would have been an unbelievable story because -- just the fact of going -- I knew I was going to have a horse in the race, so it would have been great. I'm sure Dale and Kiaran feel the same way; they would like to be the spoiler.
And let's face it, it's great for racing. I would say all of us in this room are racing fans, first. So you would love to see the Triple Crown. Of course, if we weren't going to win the Preakness, we would have loved to have seen Super Saver win. I'm sure Kiaran and Dale feel the same way. It would be great. But no, it would have been exciting but it didn't happen.
Q. Sorry for the naÃ¯ve outsiders question, but why is this said to be a trainer's race? What makes it a trainer's race?
DALE ROMANS: Well, it's a stamina race because you've got to be able to make the mile and a half. You don't have to get as lucky as you do in the Derby. The best horse is going to win, the horse that's best prepared. It's not that we can make them win it, but we can cost them the race, I believe, you know, overdo or underdo something.
NICK ZITO: That's probably as good as you can say it. Just a very demanding race, mile and a half, period, you break them in front of the stands and they have to go around. It's a very long race.
DALE ROMANS: You look at the history of this race, it's been great trainers that won it.
Q. The case could be made that Ice Box, if things had broken differently, could have won the Derby; do you subscribe to that and do you feel like the Derby got away?
NICK ZITO: You know, I always hate making excuses, but you know, if he would have got a break, and Jose saw all of those horses outside of him, maybe if he went around, you know, we could have seen all it a little different because he was really rolling and would have been okay.
But I think you learn. I'm a little older than these gentlemen, and I think you learn how to be content. And I would have loved to have won the third Derby and I would have loved Ice Box to be a Derby winner, but it didn't happen. It was Super Saver's day, and you know, you just have to learn how to be content. You know, hopefully you get the third leg of the Triple Crown and that would be good enough.
It's not going to be easy, I know, it's a mile and a of had a race and never easy but he really was ripe for the Kentucky Derby and he could have easily been the Derby winner and didn't happen and that's the way it goes.
Q. When you talk about how unique it is to have a mile and a half race and thinking about how the industry has involved where the types of horses, you say if a horse can get a mile and a half, they are kind of a throwback-type of horse; does that reflect negatively on the industry that we don't have these types of horses? Or do you guys think there should be more marathon types of runners?
NICK ZITO: I would like to answer that question for one reason. You know, Kiaran brought out a good point. I don't want the Triple Crown to change. I'm almost like 50/50 because I see what he brought out. He wants the game to survive. However, think about this. The Derby is run in Louisville, Kentucky, mile and a quarter. Then you go two weeks, okay, you go to Baltimore and that's a mile and three-16ths. It's shorter. Now you come to Belmont Park, which is called what the test of champions, a mile and a half, and you get to break in front of the stands where there will be, I promise you somebody in the apron, maybe not today but there will be Saturday, there will be a lot of people rooting when they leave the gate.
Maybe today they won't, but there will be a lot of people there Saturday, and that's a great experience, horses breaking in front of a crowd, going around a whole track, a mile and a half, and it's called the test of champions.
They have been breeding horses for a couple hundred years in America, and that was the idea; to try to get them to go that far, try to get them to go that way. It's a beautiful thing, the Triple Crown, there's nothing like it. I mean, it may put more gray hairs your head, but it's the best thing in sports I think. It's just as good as anything we have got in sports.
DALE ROMANS: You know, it would be great to have more marathon races. There's nothing better than a good marathon race in America.
This crop may be one of that's starting to trend back the other direction, if you look at the crop: 44 starters in Triple Crown races in three races, that's pretty phenomenal, 35 horses the week before the Derby were still wanting to get into the Derby. We had 12 come back in the Preakness and 12 come back in the Belmont, and even on the filly set, 14 starts in the Oaks and 13 going into Acorn on Saturday.
This is a hearty group of horses and even with the changes, no horse running in all three of them, we had big full fields, the two-year-old champions ran a lot last year and comes back and wins the Preakness this year which is unusual. This is a good group of three-year-olds, fillies and colts, and hopefully we have a lot to look forward to out of them and maybe we are turning the tables a little bit back the other direction.
KIARAN McLAUGHLIN: That's a good point. It's an interesting point, and I like that. The problem with American racing over the last few years is two-year-olds in training, a $16 million horse is selling. People have commercialized it so much, people want the fast ones like the Henny Hughes, the fast ones, that can sell commercially.
But like I said before, Nick's been buying the yearlings that can go a mile and a quarter for a long time very successfully. So it's two different types of horses and people. But commercially people want speed and maybe some of the homebred. I know the Maktoum family would love to have the mile and a halfers because the Darley is a mile and a half, and Sheikh Hamdam said to me more than once: Wow, I wish you had more of an endurance-type stallion that we could breed to America and we can't really find many. Dynaformer was one that he liked, but there wasn't that many that he really liked at once that could go the mile and a quarter, mile and a half.
THE MODERATOR: I'd like to thank these three gentlemen, three of the best trainers racing. Really appreciate their time.
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