October 26, 2002
ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, ILLINOIS
ERIC WING: We are now joined at the table by the winning connections of VOLPONI, left to right trainer Phil Johnson, to his immediate left Mr. Baier of Spruce Pond Stable, and then on my right two sisters, Kathy Johnson, Karen Johnson. Karen holds the unique distinction of holding a piece of the winner and selecting the horse in Daily Racing Form. Let's start with Phil. You know, a remarkable -- this horse has had a remarkable career in turf, and Phil incidentally is hoarse with some allergies, but a remarkable career. Turf and dirt has always shown promise of busting out a race like that. You put blinkers on him after the Meadowlands Cup. Explain that.
PHILIP JOHNSON: I wasn't happy in the Meadowlands Cup going into the back stretch. At first I wanted to blame the jockey and then I ran a tape at home a couple times and he was riding and he wasn't getting any response. When he took off at the half-mile pole, Meadowlands is a little hair pin, he had to go six wide and he still only lost by a half a length. Blinkers makes them concentrate a little bit. This is a fairer track. You just have to have the best horse.
ERIC WING: A question for the four of you. Watching the race on TV VOLPONI ran like his odds for 4 to 5 rather than 40:1. Jose looked like he had a lot of horse under him throughout the late stages.
PHILIP JOHNSON: My wife can tell you the answer to that.
MRS. JOHNSON: He told me last week at home when he was at the 3/16 pole I was going to be very proud.
KAREN JOHNSON: But you also said when the horse went off at 50 to 1, the morning line and daddy, said, oh, that's horrible, how could that be, and you said horses don't look at the odds and he doesn't know any difference and he'll run as well as he can.
ERIC WING: The horse is named after --
PHILIP JOHNSON: A newspaper man. I didn't know him. I kept sending in names and we kept getting turned down, and somebody gave me a little sheet of paper, and I had got the VOLPONI Award, and I had no idea what the hell that meant. So I asked somebody, and they said in Italian -- that's sly old fox because you put horses over in this and that. I said that's a good name, and then I met the guy much later.
Q. Phil, your jockey Jose Santos mentioned he could have chosen any number of races for VOLPONI. Why did you go forward with the classic?
PHILIP JOHNSON: Well, he had enough points but I think he's a natural mile and a quarter horse and he runs just as well as in the dirt and he does on the turf, and this is $4 million, the mile was $1. You can do the numbers.
Q. What's it mean as a Chicago native to win this race?
PHILIP JOHNSON: It means a lot. This was born and raised, my wife and I, Kathy was born here and we raced sportsman's, Hawthorne, Arlington, Washington. Nobody remembers Washington here but it was a good racetrack.
Q. When did you leave Chicago?
PHILIP JOHNSON: 1961. The cowboys moved in.
Q. How did you acquire VOLPONI's mare prom night?
PHILIP JOHNSON: I bought her at the Saratoga New York bred sale for $8,000. I really wanted the bloodlines but she acted like she could run and then I did the unpardonable I let her run a little bit one day in a five furlong race at Belmont and she chipped a knee. It would have been a minor operation but I said hell, we bought her for breeding, we turned her out, she had a good filly called FICKLE FRIENDS (PH), which we still have, and then VOLPONI came and then I sold the mare. On the turf he doesn't need it. He's very competitive on the turf. On the dirt that stuff flies back at him. He never liked to be squeezed in but he's getting over that. It was a wakeup call because I thought he was too far back in the Meadowlands Cup which is probably a lucky guess putting him on but it worked out there.
Q. For Karen, do you have to do anything for the form the rest of the day?
KAREN JOHNSON: I hope I get a pass on that. I'll go back to work on Monday, though.
Q. What's the breakdown on the ownership?
PHILIP JOHNSON: We bred the horse, the family bred the horse, and then we leased the horse to Kathy for racing purposes. Then I always have a partner, Mr. Baier. I give him an opportunity to buy half of any yearling we breed. He hesitated a little bit because I put this one up high just because he was a good-looking horse but he bought in.
Q. And he owns half?
PHILIP JOHNSON: He owns half.
Q. What did he pay for it? It's no big mystery. What did you pay for half?
EDWARD BAIER: $75,000.
PHILIP JOHNSON: That's a $150,000 yearling. At -- he would have paid $2,000 or $3,000 but I loved him and it was the right combination of breeding.
Q. The question is asked again at what juncture in the race did you feel that VOLPONI had it won?
PHILIP JOHNSON: Well, he was keeping his position around the turn from the half-mile pole on and if he does that he's got a big kick-in, and they looked like they were getting tired and short and wandering around and he was strong, and maybe we caught a bunch of good horses that were going the other way or something, but he did what he was supposed to do.
Q. You've been training a long time, Phil, not to rub it in, but what's your opinion VOLPONI came into the race off the Meadowlands Cup and a lot of the marquee horses in the race were trained up to the race after multi-month layoffs. What was your overall impression strategy-wise on that?
PHILIP JOHNSON: I thought they would have to get awful lucky to win. Three rode against sharp older horse, been away that long and I don't think they worked more than five eighths or three quarters, and two of them were working out at Hollywood Park or Santa Anita where it's just like another stable, and this is a more trying track, more honest track. I thought maybe we had a chance -- I didn't like the three rules in there at all. I thought EVENING ATTIRE was the horse to beat.
Q. Was he injured in the Cigar Mile or was there a gap in his schedule?
PHILIP JOHNSON: No, we wintered him in barn 63 at Belmont. Where he was injured was this year on the dirt. He was at 2 to 5 or some ridiculous price and he stumbled out of the gate and ripped his quarter off. There was blood all over his hind bandage. That's how much it was flowing. The next morning that's when I made up my mind we're going to go to the turf because he always broke better on the turf because it was solid. It took about three weeks to heal that up and he's been fine, but he's never -- you get lucky with a horse. They don't buck their shins, they don't pop a splint, they don't get sick and you've got to be lucky to have that happen.
Q. You just won a $4 million race. What's been your earnings for your barn? Are they usually surpassing $4 million in earnings?
PHILIP JOHNSON: Not close. I'd have to -- my wife will tell you I pay no attention to money at all. I mean, I want to make it, but I have no interest in the standings, the earnings. You get the horse to see do the best they can. If you can't make it you get rid of them. I think we gave two horses away this year, just take them.
Q. How many horses do you have in training?
PHILIP JOHNSON: 38 right now, and we stay in New York all winter. I keep the turf horses with me. We have a huge shed row. We cut the sand deep and we jog them all winter long, and when we go out in March they're ready to go a half a mile and then it goes on and on and on.
Q. The only time you ran the Breeders' Cup was at Belmont Park. Do you think VOLPONI enjoyed shipping away from Belmont Park and running out of town?
PHILIP JOHNSON: I think he's a horse that's handy and you can do what you want with him. He just isn't a problem horse. I called the starter this morning, and I said you're not going to have any trouble loading him, but whoever closes the doors step aside because he kicks them and he means it, so he thanked me, and that was all.
Q. Anybody sitting up there bet on the horse?
PHILIP JOHNSON: My son-in-law probably won't admit it. The girls probably bet on him.
KAREN JOHNSON: I don't know if I want to cash the ticket but I think I have to.
PHILIP JOHNSON: I'm not bragging, but I told my wife all week long, every time she hollered at me, I said don't holler, at the 3/16 pole on Saturday you're going to be proud of me.
MRS. JOHNSON: What did I say?
PHILIP JOHNSON: You're always proud. 57 years tomorrow. There's the one that should get the trophy.
Q. You're pretty calm through all this, Phil. Are you feeling any emotion?
PHILIP JOHNSON: Just happy for everybody. We win a lot of big races. You can say -- this sounds silly, but the Alabama, came back out here and won the American Derby, they were $150,000, $200,000 races and it's so different. $4 million is just more money but you've still got to go around the racetrack. I'm calm. I was looking forward to coming, and when that guy made him 50 to 1 we watched the draw at home, and they weren't running up pinning the tail on the donkey like they do at Churchill Downs. I said this is a pretty good draw. Then he came in and he started pricing, and I said 50 to 1, no way. Maybe he's smarter than me but it turned out all right.
Q. You won the Alabama with MAPLEJINSKY who was the dam of SKY BEAUTY. Who did you win the Derby with?
PHILIP JOHNSON: NASTY AND BOLD. We chase the those guys, in the Belmont we were third, so I didn't go to Florida for the Derby because if either one of them made the Derby you're going to get killed, then all summer long I eased away from them, and then NASTY AND BOLD won the Brooklyn, beat older horses and equalled the fastest time it was ever run in. I said now we'll go to Saratoga and beat those guys. We didn't beat them, we were third again.
Q. What are your thoughts about his future?
PHILIP JOHNSON: This is his last race and we'll jog him and gallop him for a couple weeks and then walk him until the first of the year and start the process all over again. I mean, trot, trot, trot, that's a long morning, and then I'd hope with all good luck to run the end of April, 1st of May, and if he doesn't grab his quarter or do anything dumb on the dirt we'll keep him on the dirt.
Q. Karen, you're known as a savvy handicapper but you picked this horse in the form. Did the fact that it was your horse come into play at all or what was your thought process? What was your strategic thinking in why VOLPONI would win?
KAREN JOHNSON: I think it was a little bit of both. I thought the horse could win, I believed that could happen. I had to pick the horse on top. Now, if I really thought that he wasn't going to win and he was awful I wouldn't, but I don't think we would have been here if that was the case. My dad had a lot of faith in the horse and I had a lot of faith in my dad's judgment, and yeah, I thought about it and I figured I was going to get a lot of ribbing, and in fact, one of my coworkers actually said something very nice to me, Jay Privman (PHONETIC), he said of course you had to pick him on top. There was no question about that, and that kind of made me feel good when Jay said that to me about an hour and a half ago.
Q. Mr. Baier, you're a certified public accountant; is that correct?
EDWARD BAIER: That's correct.
Q. How long have you been in the ownership of horses?
EDWARD BAIER: About ten years.
Q. Phil, with age comes perspective. Is today's victory made any sweeter for you by the fact that it came late in life?
PHILIP JOHNSON: I could have taken $4 million a lot of years ago, but it's nice. It's hometown, it's a good race and he ran a good race.
ERIC WING: Congratulations on a wonderful surprise.
End of FastScripts...