Kentucky Derby and Horse Racing at The Downey Profile®
Thursday Interview with Doug O'Neill, Mario Gutierrez and Dale Romans
Romans terms stakes barn conditions "ridiculous"' O'Neill blames the problem on the messenger; both trainers discuss how it could affect the outcome and talk about race strategy; Gutierrez is tired but having a good time, likes the wide open space of larger race tracks, and has been doing his homework.
THE MODERATOR: You had some richly‑deserved time away up in Canada last week, but now you're in the heart of all the action. How has it been being in New York and being thrust into all of this media attention?
MARIO GUTIERREZ: It's been fine. A little bit tired at the moment. But I'm happy. Trying to enjoy every single minute of it.
THE MODERATOR: Doug, I know you were given a DVD of some of the past Belmont stakes. Have you had a chance to review any of that with Mario yet?
DOUG O'NEILL: Mario had mentioned that he had watched a bunch of Belmont replays back in L.A. before coming here. I think Mario is ready to roll and the horse seems ready to roll. There's probably not a real need for me to watch the replays. I haven't had a chance to, but if I do, I will.
THE MODERATOR: Doug, if you would, tell us how I'll Have Another did this morning and how he seems to be acclimating to his new surroundings in the Belmont Stakes barn.
DOUG O'NEILL: He's settled right in like we thought he would. We had a really good day of training today. I thought he showed good energy and he cooled out really well. So we are very happy with where we are here two days out.
THE MODERATOR: I guess it's your role to be something of a killjoy here, but in the spirit of fair play, and I'm sure Doug and Mario would not want it any other way but how is Dullahan coming into the race? I know your owner, Mr. Crawford, said it was his idea to bypass the Preakness. With the benefit of hindsight, do you think that might actually help your chances here on Saturday?
DALE ROMANS: This does help us. I think we would have been competitive in the Preakness. Yeah, having the extra time, you can do a few more things, try to get your horse ready to go a mile and a half and you can bring a fresh horse in here. It has to be beneficial.
Q. Mario, your plans for the future, are you going back to Canada and making your base going forward after this?
MARIO GUTIERREZ: Since I came to Santa Anita, my goal was break into California circuit racing. So after all of this is done, I'm going to go back and make California my base and see how it is.
THE MODERATOR: And I imagine Doug is just fine with that plan?
DOUG O'NEILL: Awesome.
Q. Just wondering if any time during I'll Have Another's career, especially early on, if you were surprised he was not favored in any of the races?
DOUG O'NEILL: Obviously the Bob Lewis, we were not surprised. And the Santa Anita Derby, that was a pretty deep field and I think a lot of people thought that Bob Lewis was a fluke, so that wasn't really that ‑‑ yet Baffert and a lot of the big name guys with the top horses, that wasn't that big of a shocker.
And then in the Preakness, with Bodemeister shortening up in distance, again with Baffert, it wasn't that big of a shock.
But I will be shocked if we are not favored on Saturday. (Laughter).
Q. Doug and Dale, your thoughts on the security barn; what's it like now that everybody is in there?
DALE ROMANS: The barn is ridiculous. There's too many horses in there doing the same things at the same times. There's too many people in there. There's three or four people for every horse, and then everybody trying to walk in in the afternoons and graze. It's just ridiculous.
They could have found such an easier way to accommodate the horse, and I don't think anybody who set that barn up or made the rules was thinking about the horse. (Applause). Thank you very much.
DOUG O'NEILL: Wow, I love that, that's great. I mimic that. Actually one of these days I wouldn't mind having a few stalls here at Belmont.
DALE ROMANS: I will say that NYRA did the best job they could possibly do to make a bad situation good. They fixed the barn up as nice as it could possibly be. The whole area is as well prepared as it possibly could be ‑‑ well, I know it's not NYRA, it's the racing world. But there's a huge disconnect between the regulators and what's the reality of the back side. Now that's a major problem in horse racing in my opinion.
DOUG O'NEILL: You know, Dale has got a huge point. It's obviously an inconvenience for everybody, and you know, I think we are just ‑‑ the state is trying to show everyone how clean the game is and that it's not polluted with a bunch of crooks and cheaters like some people have written about.
DALE ROMANS: Well, what this situation does is it brings back perception to the game. They could have quietly put guards on every horse and never been talked about in the paper.
I think this causes poor perception and it makes people think even worse of the game; when really, this is a very clean sport. It's run properly. There's enough regular checks and balances put into place to make sure it's an even playing field, and this whole thing isn't really necessary.
DOUG O'NEILL: I'll vote for Dale if he's the national commissioner. Go ahead, run for commissioner. That's what we need, a horse man who has the huevos to say what's right, and you're completely right. But hopefully it's just a clean‑run race and everyone is settled by Saturday.
DALE ROMANS: This is true. The horses seem to be fine. It's not going to affect the outcome of the race, I don't believe. But it just not right to take them out of their environment and move them out somewhere else three days out from the biggest day of their life.
Q. You may have already answered this but could the security barn for the Belmont Stakes get a horse beat?
DOUG O'NEILL: If I get beat, I'm going to blame the security barn.
DALE ROMANS: And that's the problem, the rest of the world will, too, and that's not fair to the horse that wins. But no, I don't think the barn will get the horses beat. These are classy horses. They are strong‑minded horses, or they would not have gotten to this level. I don't think it's going to affect the outcome of the race.
But it may affect public opinion after the race. If Doug's horse were to happen to lose, it will be human nature for people to say, well, they got him in the detention barn. That's not fair. It diminishes his performance in the first two races of the Triple Crown, and it will also diminish the winner's performance in the Belmont.
Q. Mario, could you talk about your experience racing at Hastings Park and how that time helped advance your career?
MARIO GUTIERREZ: I started in Mexico, in Mexico City, the race track, it's huge. It's still a mile race track.
So when I first moved to Vancouver, I was in shock because you know, it's a little tiny race track, tight turns, lots of horses. So you really have to look at like what is the next play, what the guy beside you is doing. Otherwise accidents are going to happen, accidents happen really fast on those kind of race tracks.
It did help me a lot, just to see where I am, like right now, you come after that six years of racing in Vancouver, coming here again to a big race track, you see more spaces and you can see more clear horses. You have a lot of space where you can move. You always have a second choice to make.
Q. Although you have been out on the track with a pony, so far, what are your impressions at just how large Belmont is from the short time you've been here?
MARIO GUTIERREZ: It is pretty big, mile and a half. I gallop a couple horses, I ran one horse today. It is big. I felt really comfortable. I was happy to go out there and just take a look around. But I'm not the only one who is going to be there. My other fellows are going to be there with me and we are all going to run the same distance.
Q. You're confident?
MARIO GUTIERREZ: Well, I believe in my horse, right, but I'm not ‑‑ I respect everybody in the race, too, for a reason. I'm going to be looking over for every single one of them. It's not an easy race, so everybody is going out there to fight for the win and I'm going to do the same.
Q. Everybody is talking about you coming to this gigantic racetrack at Belmont. After you rode at the bull ring in Hastings, did Santa Anita or Hollywood seem gigantic compared to Hastings?
MARIO GUTIERREZ: Mexico City racetrack is huge, too.
Q. Is that a playoff beard and will it come off after a Triple Crown win or the Kings win the Stanley Cup?
DOUG O'NEILL: The fact that I'm follicly challenged on top of my head, I kind of like it. It's a good way to hide a few chins if you're not working out regularly. So that's a good question. We'll have to kind of ‑‑ that would be a good problem to have.
DALE ROMANS: I think if he wins the Triple Crown, he should leave it on forever
Q. Doug, if you could discuss the evolution of Mario as both a jockey and a person?
DOUG O'NEILL: He's a real pain in the ass, and he's very opinionated, and he won't listen to anything we say to him. So other than that ‑‑ no. You know, when Paul and Zillah mentioned using Mario, you could see he won like 27 percent of his races up at Hastings. So we knew he was a winner.
But as we got to know him, we absolutely fell in love with his personality and just the way he's programmed and he's always giving thanks to the horse, so he's just a breath of fresh air for us.
You know, obviously four for four, and I'll Have Another, those two get along so well. You know, I think Mario has always had a lot of talent, and he was just ‑‑ it took a horse like I'll Have Another to show all of us that it's here.
Q. How do you feel about Saturday? How are your preparations going?
MARIO GUTIERREZ: Yeah, the preparation is the same. I try to do the same routine I did for the Kentucky for the Preakness, you know. All of those races I run like first time for me like this one.
No, I try to do the same, try to relax as much as I can and go out there in the morning, gallop horses and just same stuff.
Q. I think Doug said you were looking at old Belmonts; what, if anything, did you learn from those?
MARIO GUTIERREZ: Yes, I did watch a lot of Belmont when I was in Vancouver, actually. I watched the losers. I watched all the horses that tried and failed. It's still experience. I know there's a lot of things that I have to learn. If I show what I think I saw on the videos, it's just going to open doors to more people saying stuff about me.
So I just prefer to keep it quiet and then no comment on anything. I'm going to take the race as a challenge for me like the other ones. It was first time for me Kentucky Derby and first time Preakness and it's going to be the first time, so just going to do the same thing.
Q. Have you allowed yourself to think about what you're on the verge of should you win?
DOUG O'NEILL: Not really, no. I mean, obviously other than the birth of my two kids, I don't know how it could get much better. And they are a pain in the ass every now and then. But it would be that kind of like 'wowing' moment. Yeah, just kind of have to ‑‑ hopefully it happens and I get a chance to experience that, and it would be awesome.
Q. Who is doing the Tweets for I'll Have Another? And could you explain in México, the scene of the racing that you did in the quarter horse races down there.
MARIO GUTIERREZ: It was part of growing up, part of growing up in the small place where I came from. Somehow in the farm that my dad was working, they got involved in quarter horse racing, so I got involved at an early age. I was six, seven years old at the time.
So I kind of grew up watching my dad racing quarter horses and that's when I wanted to be like him. I wanted to ride horses, too. It was tough at the beginning but I was happy to be on top of the horse.
Q. Who is doing all those Tweets?
DOUG O'NEILL: The horse is. I'll Have Another is. (Laughter). I'll leave it at that. I hate to expose who does his translation. He has a hard time with the hoofs on the keys.
Q. Do you feel that your horse as a Triple Crown candidate coming into the Belmont is getting all the respect that he deserves as befits a horse in that position?
DOUG O'NEILL: I think he is. Obviously being the first go‑around for me, he's had tons of media attention and he's 4-5 on the morning line. So I think he's getting a lot of attention. I just hope he lives up to the expectations.
Q. Can you discuss any friends or family of yours who will be watching on TV at home from México? Can you tell us who might be in that group?
MARIO GUTIERREZ: I think we are going to have a full house in México. My family and friends, I'm not sure, but I'm sure some TV station is going to put like a big TV screen, so they are going to watch it live for the first time. Because they were able to watch it by Internet the two races before, so now they are going to have a real TV so they can watch it and watch it with a lot of my friends, so that will be nice.
Q. Comment if you would on Mario and how you think he's handled all of this Triple Crown attention and his performance on the track in his first go around, and secondly, for Mario, well, you answer that and we'll get to Mario.
DALE ROMANS: I had never really heard of Mario before coming to the Derby. But I was impressed with his ride there, and even more impressed with his ride in the Preakness when it looked like Bodemeister was getting away from everybody, he showed presence of a veteran rider to sit and wait and knew his horse and knew he had enough horse to run him down. And I've been very, very impressed with the way he's handled himself in front of the press and the way he's handled everything in English, and seems like a good, young man.
Q. How important is your mount on Boxer Des Rues in the Brooklyn on Friday, mile and a half on the dirt, 24 hours ahead of time, how important is that as part of your preparations for Saturday?
MARIO GUTIERREZ: Well, it's very important, very important. Any help I can get before the race, like racing that long, it's going to be really good for me. I can go and see how it feels like to be on this kind of track and long distance race, so it's going to help a lot.
Q. Talk about the perhaps unique strategy that comes into play in a mile‑and‑a‑half dirt race given the fact that that distance is so seldom run?
DALE ROMANS: It's such an odd race and such an odd distance in American racing that I don't think anybody, any of us, have a really good handle on it.
Talking to my jockey, I said, I don't want you to be quite as concerned with how fast you're going as you are with how much horse you have under you. Don't worry about if you're five lengths off or ten lengths off. Just try to be in tune with the horse, how much horse you think you have, and just realize that you have a long ways to go, even when you start into the final turn.
But that's ‑‑ we have got a good riders here; good, experienced jockey and hopefully he'll be able to handle it.
DOUG O'NEILL: Yeah, I agree with Dale. I think it's one of those where you know, to add to that, you just have to have a horse who can go a mile and a half, which like Dale said, we don't get a lot of opportunities to look for races like that. But I don't think you can talk a horse that can't get a mile and a half and do anything special training‑wise to get a mile and a half.
So I think Dale and I both think our horses can get the distance, and it's just a matter of how they are feeling that day.
Q. Doug, I was watching a preview of the show that's going to be on NBC Sports Network tonight at 7:30, the all‑access behind the scenes and it showed you and Mario in the infield at Pimlico before the Preakness and your brother commented after the fact that if you watch the video, Mario looks calm as can be, and you looked nervous as could be. Do you expect that that could be the same deal again on Saturday?
DOUG O'NEILL: This is before the race?
DOUG O'NEILL: Oh, I'm sure. I'll be pumped up and fired up. I'm sure I'll have an adult beverage or two in me before. Too bad you can't do that. That's what it's all about.
This is the big stage and the whole enchilada, if you will. So this is what we are all dreaming about and not to add any pressure, it's not that big of a race really. It's just another race. As long as I'll Have Another continues to do as well as he is, I think we've got a big, big chance.
Q. With all of the attention and off the track hoopla like Empire State Building and throwing out first pitches, how have you managed to keep your focus for the races themselves?
DOUG O'NEILL: Tequila. (Laughter). No, I think for Mario and I, I don't want to speak for Mario, it's our first go‑around.
So maybe if this was like our third or fourth go‑around, it might be a little bit draining. But I think both of us have taken a lot of pictures along the way and just, you know, we are living it like we'll never be back here again and we're enjoying every aspect of it. So I think that's ‑‑ it's been more energizing than it has been draining.
MARIO GUTIERREZ: Same. (Laughing).
Q. Can you comment on your assistant, Jack Sisterson?
DOUG O'NEILL: Yeah, Jack has been with us for a couple years now, and he's a real bright kid. He just absolutely loves the game. He grew up around horses in England. He's worked for Todd Pletcher and Eddie Kenneally while he was going to the University of Louisville. He actually went to University of Louisville on a soccer scholarship and blew out his knee.
But he always has dreamt of doing something in the racing world to pay his rent, and I love having him around the barn. He's a great asset. He's very organized. He's very professional. He's very responsible and he's been a huge addition to our team.
Q. What's the status of the first pitch at the Yankee game Friday night?
DOUG O'NEILL: Yeah, the race is supposed to go off at 5:40 and they want us there at 6:15. So they were kind enough to offer a helicopter, but I think at the end of the day, it's not going to work.
It would be an unbelievable experience, but I think more importantly having Boxer in the Brooklyn and having him run good and giving Mario experience is the most important thing.
THE MODERATOR: I want to thank Dale Romans, Mario Gutierrez and Doug O'Neill for your time today, and best of luck to all three of you on Saturday.
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