ANDY SERLING: I'd like to officially welcome everybody to the drawing of the 146th Belmont Stakes. We're here on the garden terrace. Before we get things underway I'd like to bring on the president and CEO of the New York Racing Association, Chris Kay.
CHRIS KAY: Thank you, Andy, and thank all of you for coming today and welcome to beautiful Belmont Park. I want to thank all of you that came yesterday to our fantastic press event at Rockefeller Center. In particular I want to thank the owners and the trainers and the jockeys that came. I appreciate your insights, and most of all I appreciated your sense of humor. Clearly this is going to be a great weekend.
In my remarks yesterday I said that we wanted to do three things to convert Belmont Stakes day into a must-see event, and those three things were first, we needed to have a superior level of athletic competition; second, we wanted to have great entertainment; and third, we wanted to offer our guests differentiated guest experiences.
But the first and foremost of those three elements was enhancing and strengthening our athletic competition, and I want to take this opportunity to thank the owners and the trainers that are here as well as the jockeys and the equine athletes they represent because we do have in this room and here this weekend the finest in our industry.
So on behalf of the men and women of the New York Racing Association, I want to say thank you to all you owners, trainers, jockeys and your equine athletes for making this the best Belmont Stakes ever. Good luck, and have a great weekend. Thank you.
ANDY SERLING: Thanks a lot, Chris. We're going to get things underway. I want to mention, of course, Patrice Wolfson is sitting to my right, and she is, of course, the owner of the last winner of the Triple Crown, Affirmed. She's looking at that trophy, and honestly that trophy is on the line. We are going to bring up the stakes coordinator Andrew Byrnes as well as our assistant racing secretary, Chris Camac, and we are going to get this draw underway. The 146th Belmont Stakes, a field of 11, California Chrome, the 3:5 morning line favorite. Gentlemen?
No. 4, Commanding Curve, owned by West Point Thoroughbreds, trained by Dallas Stewart, ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, 15:1 morning line. No. 10, General A Rod, owned by Skychai Racing, Starlight Racing, trained by Michael Maker, ridden by Rosie Napravnik, 20:1 morning line.
Thank you, gentlemen. We're very honored to have the connections of most of these horses here. There are no connections at this point, I think, that are more popular and more generous with their time than the connections of California Chrome. I'd like to bring up Steve Coburn, Art Sherman is here. Is Alan here, too? I'd love to have him here, too. They're of course representing California Chrome. Art and Alan worked together with this horse, and we are very, very happy and honored to have them up on the stage. The first question I would like to ask, anyone can answer, and Victor Espinoza is joining us, as well. The post position, what do you feel about his post?
ALAN SHERMAN: Well, I think going a mile and a half, it's a good post position. We feel safe on the ground leaving there. I think it's going to be a jockey's race anyhow. It gives you a chance to see who's going to have the speed and where you land going into the first turn.
ANDY SERLING: Sounds like you're very happy with the post. How is California Chrome doing this morning?
ART SHERMAN: Great. California Chrome is doing great.
ANDY SERLING: Any thoughts on him at all this morning?
ART SHERMAN: He looked super galloping, so I'm really happy the way he's going right now.
ANDY SERLING: We'll bring Steve in. Talk about being on the precipice of greatness; has this sort of hit you yet, the immortality that this horse is facing?
STEVE COBURN: It's sinking in pretty quick right now. Yeah, it's been a tremendous ride, and it's all because of this horse, and our trainer and his son, assistant trainer and the jockey, and especially the groomer. He takes pretty damned good care of this horse. But yeah, it's all coming to the point. It's all coming to the top of the pyramid right now. They've got three points, Triple Crown pyramid. Just like that trophy right there, it's three points.
ANDY SERLING: This is a horse you've been with since birth basically. It must be incredibly exciting for you.
STEVE COBURN: Yes, it is. To watch this little guy grow up and watch him develop and watch his personality develop and just watch his mind develop, he's an amazing animal. He really, really is. I wish every horse owner out there could have a horse like this because he's like one in a bazillion. This horse could have been born to anybody. He was born to us, and we're very blessed with that. He's America's horse because we've got the entire country, if not the entire world, behind us. We just want to hope and pray that everybody gets a clean break, every horse has a safe trip, and everybody gets to come home clean and let the chips fall where they may. That's all we can say on this deal. We're hoping to see everybody in the winner's circle.
ANDY SERLING: I don't know if I can really ask anybody to add anything to that. Victor, any thoughts on the post or anything about the race? Are you excited?
VICTOR ESPINOZA: Yes, I am. I'm very excited. I like No. 2. I think hopefully it's my lucky number.
ANDY SERLING: We hope it is, as well, and we appreciate all of your generosity, not just today and yesterday but throughout this Triple Crown, and guys, best of luck. If you don't know about the next gentlemen I'm going to bring up, Billy Gowan, then you're really missing out. Billy Gowan is the trainer of Ride On Curlin, and he's done an exceptional job with this race horse and we're thrilled to have Billy, he joined us yesterday, and we are thrilled to have him join us today, if Billy could make his way up here. Ride On Curlin, of course, the No. 5 for the 146th Belmont Stakes. He's so popular people are stopping him on the way to get up here. There's Billy. Billy has got the whole family with him. This is great. I'm going to let Billy introduce his wife and daughter to us.
BILLY GOWAN: This is my wife Tracy and my daughter Alicia.
ANDY SERLING: Thanks for joining us up here. Do you want to have them answer for you? You don't mind talking, do you?
BILLY GOWAN: We'll all talk.
ANDY SERLING: How does everybody feel about the post?
BILLY GOWAN: I feel good about my post.
TRACY GOWAN: I feel confident.
ANDY SERLING: Ride On Curlin, he's one of three horses to be trying all three Triple Crown races. He finished second in the Preakness, he didn't get the best of trips in the Derby. Do you think there's a chance things are going to move forward in the mile-and-a-half and you can upset the favorite?
BILLY GOWAN: Well, I hope so. That's what we're here for. I'm just happy to be here. My horse is doing really well. He's sound, he's happy, he's eating everything, so we're ready to roll.
ANDY SERLING: He looked good this morning?
BILLY GOWAN: I thought he looked excellent.
ANDY SERLING: Do you think the mile-and-a-half perhaps can help make the difference? He's a horse that will stay all day do you think?
BILLY GOWAN: Well, I thought all along this might be his best distance. You know, he's got the pedigree to do it, and he never really quits, so I'm looking forward to running him.
ANDY SERLING: We're looking forward to him doing well. We're also looking forward to all of you coming to Saratoga this summer. Are you going to come to Saratoga after this?
BILLY GOWAN: Yeah, might as well.
ANDY SERLING: We like to have you around. There's nothing better to do than come there, so I look forward to you being there, and obviously we wish you the best of luck on Saturday's Belmont Stakes, and thanks a lot for coming up and joining us.
BILLY GOWAN: Thanks for having us.
ANDY SERLING: Billy Gowan and family. Next I'd like to bring up the trainer of Samraat, No. 7, and this is his trainer Rick Violette. Thanks for coming up here. Why don't you talk about his post while I look at my notes.
RICK VIOLETTE: The post is okay. We would have preferred a little closer to the fence, but I think it's kind of mid-pack and we'll see how the break goes and go from there.
ANDY SERLING: Do you think he's a horse that's built for the mile-and-a-half?
RICK VIOLETTE: I think so. Deceptively felt real good after the pressure was up in the Derby. Pedigree-wise he's actually very suitable, Noble Causeway, Giant's Causeway on the top, and that certainly would give him some ability to get a mile-and-a-half. But I don't think anybody in the race right now or probably after the race is going to say a mile-and-a-half on the dirt is his strong suit.
ANDY SERLING: How has he been training since the Derby?
RICK VIOLETTE: I don't think we would have changed a day or a stride. Everything has been eerily spot on. He was breezing the other day, he doesn't break stop watches, but it was a goosebump breeze as easily as he accelerated and galloped, so I wouldn't change anything.
ANDY SERLING: He's been training over at Aqueduct; is that correct?
RICK VIOLETTE: Correct. He literally just arrived here about five minutes ago at Belmont and will train the last few days here.
ANDY SERLING: You were having breakfast and he was coming to Belmont Park. What about skipping the Preakness? That was by design, or was it just something you felt was the right thing to do after the Derby?
RICK VIOLETTE: Well, it was by design to have it at this time because there's no press left to be bothering him over at the barn, so the timing was perfect. But yeah, I would like us to look at a couple days here, and I think for him it works being here for the last couple days.
ANDY SERLING: We look forward to seeing him here. Rick, thanks a lot for coming and best of luck in the Belmont Stakes. Rick Violette, trainer of Samraat. Wicked Strong is owned by Centennial Farm, who won the Belmont Stakes in 1993. Julie Krone rode him to victory. They are back with Wicked Strong and his trainer. Jimmy Jerkens is nice enough to spend a few minutes with us and answer questions. Jimmy? First of all, I have to ask, any thoughts on your post?
JIMMY JERKENS: I would have liked him to be maybe a little bit -- a couple of spots inside. But it's better than being way on the outside. At least he's got two horses shielding him from the crowd. Maybe that'll help a little bit.
ANDY SERLING: We know that your father is probably happy that you're back in New York with the horse, and are you happy to be back home in New York with this horse?
JIMMY JERKENS: Yeah, Florida certainly didn't work out too well. But I was confident once we got him back because he was training really well towards the end at Palm Meadows. I was pretty definite we were going to try the Wood as opposed to an allowance race, that's how good I felt he was doing.
ANDY SERLING: As far as doing well, his last work received raves from many people. Do you feel good about the work?
JIMMY JERKENS: Yeah, he was well off the fence and looked like he was just galloping. He broke off nice and easy, and Palace Malice was working ahead of him, and when he went into that turn he looked like he saw him and he took off, and I was watching that and I was positioned at the 3/16 pole and put my hand up because most of the time you like them to run horses down, but I think that might have been a little too much, trying to catch Palace Malice. By the time he got to the wire it would have been at 57 flat or something. I didn't really think he needed that. But then he kept going as a surprise. The final time was fast and he galloped out nice. He wanted to keep galloping out. I told him to gallop out about an eighth of a mile further and ease him back, and he did it perfect.
ANDY SERLING: Where do you see him in the race, around mid-pack or so?
JIMMY JERKENS: Yeah, I think so, but like any other race, it all depends on what the pace is. I'd like to see him sitting there and rating kindly and just getting into a nice rhythm and pounce when the right time comes.
ANDY SERLING: Thanks a lot for coming up here and best of luck in the 146th Belmont Stakes. Tonalist drew the outside post, the far outside. He'll be shielding Wicked Strong from the crowd. Tonalist owner Robert Evans was kind enough to come and join us for a couple of seconds. Robert, thanks a lot. It's definitely not easy getting here. We appreciate you coming up here. What are your thoughts on your outside post?
ROBERT EVANS: I think we're fine with it. If we're going a mile-and-a-half, there are 11 horses, we'll be all right.
ANDY SERLING: Your father was the owner of Pleasant Colony, and Pleasant Colony missed the Triple Crown in 1981 when he lost a close photo in the Belmont Stakes. Do you feel Tonalist has a chance to sort of close that for your family?
ROBERT EVANS: Well, his mother is by Pleasant Colony, so there is a close connection. I would be thrilled with that, but we're just hoping to get part of it.
ANDY SERLING: Now, he's the fresh horse coming into this race. He hasn't competed in any of the Triple Crown races. Do you and Christophe, his trainer, feel being a fresh horse gives you somewhat of an advantage over the ones that have been on the Triple Crown trail?
ROBERT EVANS: Well, he's doing well. He's coming into the race well. I wouldn't mind if he had a few more than four races. We don't really know how good he is. It's a little hard to tell off that. He ran really well last time and he seems to like the track, and he's doing well, so we're hopeful.
ANDY SERLING: We hope things work out for you and appreciate you coming up here. Robert Evans, the owner of Tonalist. Commanding Curve was the second horse in a row for trainer Dallas Stewart to finish second in the Kentucky Derby having done it last year with Golden Soul. Commanding Curve is owned by West Point Stable. Commanding Curve's trainer Dallas Stewart is trying to make his way through the crowd and come and spend a couple of minutes with us up here. Any thoughts on your post?
DALLAS STEWART: I think it's good, kind of right in the middle of racetrack, so should be fine.
ANDY SERLING: You've brought Commanding Curve along slowly, skipping even a prep down in Fair Grounds. Do you think that was something that's helping him sort of peak at this time?
DALLAS STEWART: Well, we hope so. He broke his maiden at Churchill and he had a couple of route races previous to that. Once he did that, we were just like, hey, maybe we've got a shot to have a Derby horse or a horse that can compete in the Triple Crown races. We just hope that the point will just be patient with him. He's a big horse, started developing during the winter and we stuck with the plan, and so far it's worked.
ANDY SERLING: How has he been doing since the Kentucky Derby?
DALLAS STEWART: He's done well. Like last year with Golden Soul, I could really only work him one time. His weight had dropped off after the Derby, so I just had to be a little careful. This horse came out of this great, he never seems to get tired, so he's had three works since the Derby. They've all been very good works. He's doing great. He's eating well. He's a very sound horse, and we're very happy and proud to be here.
ANDY SERLING: We're very happy and proud that you're here. Your thoughts on the mile-and-a-half distance for him. He's a bit of a deep closer, but the mile-and-a-half do you think he could be a little closer?
DALLAS STEWART: You want to think so, but you've got to be careful about changing their style. We've got a great rider, Shaun Bridgmohan, I'm sure he'll stay in touch with the race, and he's got a lot of confidence in the horse, so I'm going to put it in his hands and we're going to see, but it's going to be a great race. The Triple Crown on the line, a lot of excitement, so I hope we get a big crowd.
ANDY SERLING: Thanks for coming up here, and as always we wish you the best of luck. Todd Pletcher is here, and we're going to bring Todd Pletcher up. Todd has a couple horses in here. He's also got a couple other horses running on the card, and maybe we can get Todd to talk a little bit about Palace Malice the favorite for the Met as well as Princess of Sylmar, who is the second choice against Beholder in the odds in Phipps. Here comes Todd. You've got two horses to comment on. Do you want to talk about them separately?
TODD PLETCHER: Whatever you want to do. I think the two horses in the Belmont, we're in the Belmont because we feel like they're horses that want to stay the distance. They both need to improve. They both need to run their best races to be a part of it, but Commissioner being a son of A.P. Indy out of a Touch Gold mare, two winners of the Belmont, I think he was always a horse we felt would improve with a little time and improve with a little distance, and we felt the same way with Matterhorn, that both of them are coming out of the Peter Pan, I think both of them ran respectable races on a sloppy track that maybe they weren't their best on, and the Peter Pan has been a good prep for the Belmont over the years.
ANDY SERLING: You're running more high profile horses earlier in the card, which we'll talk about in a second, and now you've got some more low profile horses. Is it sometimes easier going into this race with no real major expectations?
TODD PLETCHER: Yeah, sometimes it's fun to come into a big race, but I'm excited about the race whether I was in it or not. We feel like both of our horses are doing well and have a chance to make a little bit of an impact, and we're excited about that. It's also kind of fun to not have a lot of pressure on it.
ANDY SERLING: There will be a little pressure earlier in the day as there frequently is for you. Princess of Sylmar, she's squaring off against Beholder. How excited are you to have a chance to have this kind of match-up, especially this early in the season?
TODD PLETCHER: Well, it's arguably one of the most exciting races on the card, and a rematch of last year's Breeders' Cup, which was at Santa Anita, so we're happy this race is at Belmont. It's not only Beholder, but Close Hatches I think has proven that she's certainly one of the top mares in training. It's an exciting race, and we're looking forward to it.
ANDY SERLING: This is a post question. Palace Malice drew the rail in the Met. Are you concerned about that?
TODD PLETCHER: Very. Yeah, it would have been my 13th choice in terms of post positions, but we're also conceding weight to everyone, but he's in phenomenal form right now, he's doing great, and hopefully he's good enough to overcome it.
ANDY SERLING: Thanks so much for taking time out of your schedule. That's going to wrap thing up for the draw on the 146th Belmont Stakes connections of all these horses that both came and took out time to spend a few minutes with us. I know the connections of California Chrome will also be spending some time here, but we are done with the draw for the 146th Belmont Stakes. Thanks a lot.