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Kentucky Derby and Horse Racing at The Downey Profile®

Belmont Stakes Trainers Swap Barbs Following Post Draw

6/5/2018

Here's a transcript of the press conference following today's Belmont Stakes post position draw. Seated on the dais were Bob Baffert, D. Wayne Lukas, Todd Pletcher and Dale Romans. Andy Serling moderated. It didn't take long for Dale to get things in perspective.

ANDY SERLING: We are very, very pleased to have a slew of trainers here who between them have accomplished an awesome amount in their careers in horse racing, and obviously the first person is Bob Baffert, who will be going for his second Triple Crown, his second Triple Crown in four years, his fifth attempt at the Triple Crown. Bob has won the Belmont Stakes twice, American Pharoah and Point Given. He's won 14 Triple Crown races total and he's going for his 15th, so Bob Baffert will be joining us on stage.

He'll also be joined by Wayne Lukas. Wayne has won four Belmont Stakes. 14 Triple Crown races, as well, for Wayne Lukas. He'll, of course, be saddling Bravazo. Bob Baffert will have Justify as well as Restoring Hope in this 150th Belmont Stakes.

Also trainer Todd Pletcher, who's won three Belmont Stakes and five Triple Crown races in total, as well, and Dale Romans, who has won the Preakness but is always there lurking in the weeds with a longshot.

We're very pleased to have all four of these gentlemen here to join us, and they're going to talk a bit about their horses and about their experience in the Triple Crown and racing for a few minutes, so if you gentlemen could join us, that would be great. Bob Baffert, Wayne Lukas, Todd Pletcher, Dale Romans.

DALE ROMANS: Do you remember that kindergarten thing you used to do where they had three fruit and a vegetable, and you had to circle the one that didn't belong? I feel like a carrot.

ANDY SERLING: Better you should say that than me, Dale. I was going to lie and talk about all your Triple Crown successes, but I didn't.

BOB BAFFERT: By the way, Dale and I, we were on the plane coming over here. Dale, tell them what you said before we got on the plane.

DALE ROMANS: I said, the worst thing about flying on a plane with Bob Baffert is he's Richie Valens, I'm the Big Bopper. The headline says, "plane crash, Bob Baffert got killed. Also on the plane was Dale Romans."

D. WAYNE LUKAS: No, they're not going to say that, they're going to say "another trainer."

DALE ROMANS: Hey, you need to quiet down because I did tell him he's lucky that you weren't on the plane. He'd be the Big Bopper.

ANDY SERLING: I told you, Todd, I told you we weren't going to have any chance.

DALE ROMANS: Todd doesn't have anything to say, he's going to raise his hand.

ANDY SERLING: I want to start off by asking the questions, and you gentlemen can go in order. Post position, how do you feel about your post and the draw in general and how are your horses doing heeding up to this Belmont Stakes?

TODD PLETCHER: Well, we didn't feel like it was hugely important where we drew. Both of them run towards the outside, which is fine. I think Noble Indy is going to need to show a little bit of speed and get into the flow of the race, and Vino Rosso, we're expecting him to hopefully find a good rhythm, and he doesn't mind being on the outside, so you don't want to lose too much ground around there, but post position-wise, I think it's fine. I don't know, Bob may be a little nervous about drawing the 1 if he doesn't break great, but so far the horse has been perfect, so it's hard to find any weaknesses.

DALE ROMANS: Bob is never nervous. He better be. He hasn't been very nice to me, and I'm in the two hole.

ANDY SERLING: Free Drop Billy can keep up with Justify do you think.

DALE ROMANS: First jump he might.

ANDY SERLING: Maybe. Bob, since we came to you, how do you feel about drawing the rail?

BOB BAFFERT: Well, I never do like to draw the rail, but my horses seem to live in it. But I just feel that -- I think most importantly is that the horse is doing well, and last year, I mean, the last time I went through this, American Pharoah, he stepped back right when they opened, and he was actually -- didn't leave with them, and I got lucky that he got away from there. You can have a great hole, but if you don't leave there, you're still going to be in trouble. We have it, we can't change it, so we're just -- you just deal with it.

ANDY SERLING: The horse is doing well since the Preakness?

BOB BAFFERT: He's doing well. So I think we just -- once he gets here tomorrow, we won't feel until he gets on that plane and gets here, so we still have a few days to go, but we're -- everything has been really smooth since the Preakness, so we're happy about that.

D. WAYNE LUKAS: You know, at Churchill Downs, they gave us about 15 minutes for the Belmont or Derby horses to train without anybody else being out on the racetrack, so I was thinking the other day, I get on my pony, I go out there every day, and I sit and I watch those others, the competition go by, and I get that knot in my stomach. I thought, why torture myself that way. Why don't I just stay in the tack room, have a cup of coffee and say, hell, they're not that good. But they are. I've been clocking them all out there. They looked really good.

I think -- I just told one of your colleagues out there that I think it would be really, really a big mistake to feel that maybe Justify isn't on his game. I think he's really on his game. My horse is on his game. He's playing well. He's doing well. The 3 horse, not bad. I think he's a good gate horse. We'll be okay. We'll lead you out of it, and Bob and I will go on with it.

ANDY SERLING: Dale, how was it when you got on your pony this morning?

DALE ROMANS: He wanted me to get off real quick. Andy, that's not very nice of you.

ANDY SERLING: You started it.

DALE ROMANS: I hope you need something off a top shelf one day.

Andy, let me tell you, those are the two worst questions in horse racing: What do you think of your post and how is your horse doing? We're four of us shipped up here for a classic race, a million dollars. How do you think our horse is doing first of all? And going a mile and a half, if you're worried about the post, you don't belong.

ANDY SERLING: I'm not worried about any of this stuff.

DALE ROMANS: I told you last year you're better than this; come with better questions.

ANDY SERLING: I got good stuff coming up, don't you worry.

DALE ROMANS: But I do want to point out, my post is fine. The 2 post is a lot better in the Belmont than it is in the Kentucky Derby, and the horse is doing super. But I do want to point out there, Bob Baffert is only 25 percent when going for Triple Crowns.

ANDY SERLING: He should be 50 percent when you consider the ride that one of them got.

Can you gentlemen talk, you have had extensive experience obviously for many, many years in the Triple Crown, whether it's going and getting ready for the Derby, bringing horses to the Derby, but also through to the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Can you share some of your thoughts of what it's like preparing for that and what the whole experience is like for you in general but also in some specifics, as well, this year?

D. WAYNE LUKAS: Well, the first thing, there's -- what, four Hall of Fame trainers, two that will be going in on the first ballot, as soon as they're eligible, so you've got -- maybe three. Well, I knew that was coming. Probably three.

But that in itself makes it dandy so you've got guys that have been there, done that, and the whole experience is such a challenge, but what fuels all of us, I think, is that competitive spirit. I mean, we all get along. We're good friends. Todd is like family. And yet when the gate opens, it's fair game. Everybody is on their own.

BOB BAFFERT: Yeah, I think it's -- going through -- I'm very fortunate, this is my fifth time to go through this, and it never gets old. It's still -- there's always that -- you're having fun, but at the same time you still have to keep focused about your horse. And so it's -- after the Preakness, that's when it sort of sinks in about the Triple Crown. But going through it with American Pharoah, and I think being able to win it really sort of -- every time I walk the horse up there, you thought, man, I wonder if this is going to be the one, and it wouldn't happen, and the disappointment, and they're nice horses, and they're like your kids that just got beat.

So once Pharoah did it, it was sort of a -- it was a sense of relief that it can happen if you have the right horse, right circumstances. Everything has to go well.

And so now we're coming up here with another great horse that has been phenomenal up to date, and he just keeps bringing it, and he looks like -- the races haven't taken its toll on him. He looks strong.

You know, there's excitement in the air coming in here, but we know it's going to be tough. He still has to go around there and everything has to go smooth the next few days. Right now we're just going to enjoy the moment and hope that -- if it's meant to be, it's meant to be.

DALE ROMANS: I'll give you a quick synopsis of the Triple Crown for me anyway. I've only won one race, the Preakness --

ANDY SERLING: But you've participated in Derbies and Triple Crown races.

DALE ROMANS: The Derby is a tremendous amount of pressure, and you're under a microscope every jump. Then we go to the Preakness, and they put us all in the same barn, and the Derby winner is established, and I've never gone with a Derby winner feeling all that pressure, but the pressure is kind of off and it's a lot of fun.

And then you come to the big city for the Belmont, especially when a Triple Crown is on the line, and you know you're playing the game that we all grew up wanting to play at the very highest level, and I get to walk into the paddock with the guys I idolized growing up or the guys that I have the utmost respect for that are the age of me, and I don't care if I'm the ninth man on the field for the Yankees, I feel like a Yankee for a few minutes. And if Bob happens to win the Triple Crown again, there is always the Travers. (Laughter.)

ANDY SERLING: I knew that was coming. He's on his game tonight. He really is. He really stepped it up for you guys. Todd?

TODD PLETCHER: No, I agree. I mean, I think the great thing about the Belmont when there's a Triple Crown at stake is I think it brings our sport to the very highest level and becomes the most exciting sports event arguably that there is. It puts us right on par with the Super Bowl and the World Series. I mean, the Belmont on its own is a tremendous event and a tremendous race, but when there's a Triple Crown at stake, to me there's nothing like it.

ANDY SERLING: Todd, you can start because you've had incredible success, and everybody here has, but you've had great success in the Belmont Stakes in particular, not just in winning three of them, beating

Curlin with a filly, but also finishing second and third with longshots. What does winning the Belmont mean to you?


TODD PLETCHER: Well, New York is our home base. It's where my kids go to school, and we're raising a family, and you can tell like the excitement in the community. Everyone is following it. That part of it makes it a lot of fun when I go to my kids' soccer games the days after, everybody wants to know how the races went and that sort of thing. It's a big part of the community as well as the biggest race when there's a Triple Crown at stake that there is. To me it's the most exciting of the Triple Crown races.

ANDY SERLING: Wayne, you've won four Belmont Stakes. What does the Belmont mean to you?

D. WAYNE LUKAS: Well, I'm trying to get caught up with Woody. Every time I saw Woody Stevens, he said, Lukas will never win five. So if I can just last a couple more years, I know I can get it done.

BOB BAFFERT: Not this year.

D. WAYNE LUKAS: No, I don't feel real comfortable this year. But it's a special race because I think it brings out not only getting your horse to do something that has never -- that he's never experienced before. Never in his life has he been involved in a mile and a half race, and so it's uncharted waters. So when you're training, even now, as he gets older, you don't run him a mile and a half. Maybe there's one or two races that are a mile and a half in the country, so that is a training feat in itself. So when you get it done, you can look over and say, damn, I've got one just like Woody did or I've got one just like Baffert did and so forth.

And so you feel like you maybe have joined a fraternity of guys that have really got it done and been able to train a horse to go a mile and a half. I think it makes you step up just one more step.

ANDY SERLING: It's unusual for me, Bob, in that you won with Point Given, who wasn't going for the Triple Crown because he didn't win the Derby, he won the Preakness, but all of your other horses have been going for the Triple Crown. What is that like for you?

BOB BAFFERT: You know, Point Given was probably one of the biggest disappointments because we really thought that was the horse. I'll never forget after the Kentucky Derby when he had Congaree, ran a great race, he just ran third, and I was leaving there and we were walking back to the barn dejected. I was in shock that he didn't run well.

And so I remember my wife Jill, she said, oh, don't worry, honey, you'll be back with another horse, and I said, you know what, I might be back, but I'll never lead one out this good. And I'll never forget that, and Jimmy was walking with me. I said, is that right, Jimmy? That's right. We'll never -- so you never know what's in store, and here I came with these really good horses.

But I'll never forget the Belmont with American Pharoah, the crowd, the noise. I mean, to me, I was like speechless. I mean, I didn't even -- I was in shock watching that horse, knowing that I was going to do it.

And so just -- I think any time you have a horse going for the Triple Crown, it's going to be exciting. There's going to be a lot of electricity in the air. People are -- I can tell people on board, the ones that missed Pharoah, they're going to be tuning in.

I just see it in the airports when I'm going through the airport, people like wishing me luck that -- I don't know, they're just strangers. I think it's going to be exciting, and it should turn out to be a great day.

ANDY SERLING: Dale, obviously you haven't won a Belmont Stakes, but you're there; you're fighting it out in Belmont. Why is it that you always feel that you need to participate in a lot of big races but the Belmont especially?

DALE ROMANS: Well, NYRA drives the industry, first of all. We can all talk about every other venue, and I'm a Kentuckian through and through, but NYRA drives this industry. They have 20 percent of the nation's gaming, everybody watches New York, and as Wayne talked about, I did get to spend a little time working for Woody Stevens, and to hear him talk about the importance of the Belmont -- I think when I was 18 years old at Hialeah rubbing horses that it was drilled into my head about what the Belmont is, and it's the classic distance.

I was saying the other day in an interview that there aren't that many people that know how to train a mile and a half horse, and probably the only two up here -- well, three of them are sitting right here because we only do it on the dirt once a year. So it's trial and error most of the time.

But like Wayne just said, I was thinking, I'd like to say I've done what Wayne Lukas has done, what Bob Baffert has done, and what Todd Pletcher has done and what Woody Stevens has done, which was truly my hero growing up. I watched every move he made, everything he did. I went to Hialeah just to work for him for a little bit of time.

And the fraternity that Wayne is talking about -- I haven't told many people ever this story, but after winning the Preakness, the next morning the phone rings, and I don't know the phone number. I figure it's a reporter, and I answer the phone, and it was the late great Jack Van Berg, and he said, boy, welcome to the fraternity. So I got into the fraternity of the Preakness. There's a couple more races I'd like to be in that fraternity of.

ANDY SERLING: And for those unfamiliar, the great Woody Stevens won five straight Belmonts from 1982 to 1986.

D. WAYNE LUKAS: You know, I was just sitting here thinking, I've won the Triple Crown twice but it took five horses. (Laughter.)

ANDY SERLING: I'll leave you with one more question before letting you gentlemen go and thank you for joining us and making this draw special. I think there's a lot of people, the general populus maybe, looks at the Triple Crown as sort of that's all there is in horse racing, but obviously for you guys there's so much more. It's Sunday, June 10th. What do you do on Sunday, June 10th and for the rest of the year?

DALE ROMANS: Let me start with one story. It is a Wednesday afternoon at Churchill Downs, drizzling outside, November. There aren't 15 people there, and I had the honor to be eating lunch with Wayne Lukas. We go down the escalator together and I look up at the tote board, and I said, Wayne, I'm 25-1; I think I can win this race. He looks up and he says, you're 25-1 but you can't win; I'll win the race. He was 25-1.

So we each got on a separate corner and marked the horses that we knew couldn't win looking at them. We put our money together, I won, he got up for fourth by that much, and we cashed for $18,000 apiece, and I see a guy that's won four Kentucky Derbies, when I'm in the winner's circle, on the fourth floor jumping up and down there waving a ticket at me like we had just won the fifth Kentucky Derby. That's because we all love horses and all love horse racing, and Wednesdays, they're not as important as a Triple Crown, but every race is important.

TODD PLETCHER: You're talking about Sunday morning? So I'd say Wayne will get up about 3:30 and go to the barn. I'll get up about 4:30 and go to the barn. Bob will get up about 7:30 and Dale about 11:30.

DALE ROMANS: 1:30 if I win.

D. WAYNE LUKAS: I'll tell you what I'll do, I'll get up at 3:30, we'll load the horse at 4:30, I'll get in the truck and we'll drive back to Louisville, 15 hours. That's exactly what we'll do.

ANDY SERLING: But you'll be coming to Saratoga in just a few weeks, and obviously all of you have a lot of two-year-olds that you're getting ready. Does it not sort of start with your two-year-olds that you're already getting ready for the Triple Crown chase the day after the Belmont?

D. WAYNE LUKAS: Well, I think if it's one of us four, we're already thinking next year's Derby. That's one thing that you do. When those two-year-olds go around the shed row and you're looking them over, it's almost impossible not to dream a little bit and think, maybe that's the one, maybe this is the one, unless you're Bob Baffert and you just wake up in March and say, hell, this is the one.

BOB BAFFERT: That's good. You know what, I left Louisville today, and I'm walking by, they have the Kentucky Derby Churchill Downs store, and Longines has a clock going already timing 330 days -- did you see that? I saw that, and I go -- and I took a picture of it, and I sent it to my wife. She goes, oh, here we go. Like we're always looking forward.

But there's nothing like the classics. I mean, the classics is why we sacrifice. We're trainers; you have to work seven days a week to stay at this level. But the classics is what really -- so exciting for all of us. It's stressful. I might look like I'm having fun, but it's very stressful. Believe me, it's going to be -- but at the same time, we're so fortunate to be here, and it's a privilege to be able to train these horses, and I'm just glad Elliott sent me this horse. Thank you, Elliott, again.

DALE ROMANS: You know, the Derby for next year started for everybody up here probably at the July sale last year at Fasig-Tipton, and we all bought Derby winners, and they're Derby winners until they aren't, and they'll all one at a time maybe fall off to the wayside. But when you start buying the yearlings like we all buy, every one of them is a Derby horse until they aren't.

D. WAYNE LUKAS: One of the quotes that's coming out in my new book is we're going to treat them all like champions and let them disappoint us.

ANDY SERLING: Well, gentlemen, I can't thank you enough, and I think we all can't thank you enough for taking the time to spend some time with us and share your thoughts, and we wish every single one of you the best of luck in the 150th Belmont Stakes this Saturday. Thanks so much for joining us.

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