Sunday, May 08, 2011


Derby 137 Winner’s Press Conference Transcript


THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us. We have the connections of the Kentucky Derby winner, Team Valor International's Animal Kingdom. We have the winning connections including the chief executive officer of Team Valor International and the founder of that organization, that's Barry Irwin. Just to his right is Graham Motion, now a Kentucky Derby winning trainer, and after a incredible turn of events in the last 24 hours, John Velazquez is a Kentucky Derby winning jockey and our connections are here to celebrate with us.
You truly have an international organization. You came excruciatingly close to winning this race in 1997, and just give us what's running through your mind right now accomplishing this goal.
BARRY IRWIN: First of all, I've only won a couple of really big ones and when it happens, it's just surreal, is all I can tell you. You see it and you know what happened, you're there, but it's just hard to process. So that's my immediate thought.
The other thought is, I like to try to make history if I can, and we made a lot of history today. This is the first horse that came to win this race with only four previous races, since Exterminator in 1918, the first horse to win after a six‑week layoff since Needles in 1956 so that means a lot to me.
The MODERATOR: Your thoughts as you came storming home; were you able to follow him throughout the race and keep up with him all the way around?
BARRY IRWIN: I couldn't see a whole lot from where I was sitting, so I picked him up just before the eighth pole, I saw him storming, and my wife was going crazy, so I knew we were alive.
The MODERATOR: Let's go to your trainer, Graham Motion, he's been here a couple of times and looked like he was going to be here with two horses in the Derby. Now you win this race with Animal Kingdom, congratulations, and your thoughts on this it accomplishment and what this horse has accomplished this afternoon?
H. GRAHAM MOTION: Somebody said, are you surprised to win with a second‑tier horse, and I said, I'm not sure we would categorize him as a second‑tier horse. He's been an extraordinary horse to train in the morning. What Barry said to me, I was running Animal Kingdom with him, I liked Pluck but this one is special. He's done everything. He's just a very special horse and I was so impressed with how he handled everything today.
Johnny said both him and the horse were so relaxed. Johnny said I was relaxed but I think that was more for show. He's just a very special horse.
THE MODERATOR: Johnny, a lot of unusual stories on jockeys getting to the Winner's Circle on Derby day and yours will go right up there with them. It looks like you lost mount on one of the favorites, and now you pick up the mount on Animal Kingdom a few hours later and now you're in the Winner's Circle. Can you describe what this moment is like and over the last 24 hours?
JOHN VELAZQUEZ: Guess it was meant to be. A lot of things happen for a reason. People came to me and said, three years, back to back, and I guess it was meant to be for you no matter what. It had to happen the way it happened today. And you know, it's a little strange because one of our own jockeys got hurt and that's how I picked up the mount, but I definitely have to say thank you to the whole partnership, Barry, Graham, for giving me the opportunity and thinking of me, thinking of me and giving me the opportunity to ride the horse and it worked out really, really well for us.
THE MODERATOR: John, did you have trouble at any point? What were your thoughts during the race and was there any point where there was some suspense?
JOHN VELAZQUEZ: We talked about it before the race and the whole thing we wanted to do, basically get some sort of position and stay out of trouble. That was our thing. Hopefully we get a clean trip without having so much trouble and even we save a little bit of ground but not so much where we get into attack or get into trouble.
He did everything so good and he gave me so much confidence going into that first turn and he was going well the whole way around, you know, it's like you have to have the horse to get out of trouble and to get the spot that you want, and he did that. And when I asked him to run, he was there for me. And it's a feeling that is, you can't describe it, and obviously coming to the Derby and riding this horse like this, and he's doing everything that you are asking for, and it's amazing.
THE MODERATOR: Barry, before we open up for questions, you stopped by my office earlier today to watch a race at Belmont Park that you won, with a horse related to your Derby winner and you walked out of the office you said, "This could be a lucrative day." Talk about that story.
BARRY IRWIN: Earlier today at Belmont, we won a grade‑three bogay (ph) handicap with a mare named Daveron. I bought her as a yearling in Germany, and then later, when the dam of Animal Kingdom came up for sale at auction and I noticed it was the same family as Daveron and I bought her and her first foal was Animal Kingdom.
Let me say one other thing. I think this was a big weekend for the partnerships, Peachtree, Todd (ph) won a race today we won this. I hope these racetracks pay attention to the partnerships and treat us a little better than they have been treating us.

Q. After you got this mount, did you talk to Rob at all?
JOHN VELAZQUEZ: When he came today, I talked to him and just asked how he felt. I didn't think he was coming to ride today. The only thing he said to me, "You're riding a good horse."

Q. When we talked two weeks ago, you said you'd have to be an idiot not to be concerned that the horse had not run on dirt and I said, I know you're not an idiot. When did you realize that the horse could, in fact, handle this today over the last couple of weeks?
BARRY IRWIN: We only had one chance, and that was that one Saturday when he worked. He had a very strange preparation for this. He had one work in Keeneland where he probably worked a mile in 1:37 when he was supposed to go three quarters and then the next work, we worked ‑‑ the next workout was one of our horses that he could go on the dirt, but he just couldn't go on the poly, and then our horse went too slow. And then he came here and his dirt work was a real eye‑opener and that's what gave us the confidence to go ahead.
If he had not done that, we would have skipped the Derby. We would not have run in the Derby just for the sake of being here, believe me.

Q. You said that you hoped that the racetracks would start treating partnerships better; can you elaborate?
BARRY IRWIN: I don't think I need to. I think the people that hear that, they will know exactly what I mean. It does not require elaboration.

Q. Were you going to make a change no matter what, or did you make the change because Johnny became available?
BARRY IRWIN: Were we going to make the change no matter what?

Q. Were you going to change riders anyway?
BARRY IRWIN: Well, what happened was, Graham and I talked about it, and our decision the night before, the night before Friday, was that if Robby rode on Friday that we were going to go with him. But if he didn't, we would consider that to be a telltale sign. We thought that was just a risk that we were not prepared to take, and you know, when Johnny came open, we decided to go with him. We just didn't dump Rob just to get Johnny. I wouldn't do anything like that.
I like Robby. He's won a lot of good races for us. He's a hell of a pro, and this thing just came up bad, and believe me, we will find a way to make this up to Robby.

Q. The way this game is, maybe it's happened to you before, too, but do you feel badly for Robby Albarado, you won the Derby and he was originally on the horse?
JOHN VELAZQUEZ: Well, you definitely feel bad. In this business, it's a roller coaster, basically, and I've been on the other end as well, that I've been hurt, and I've seen the horses I've been riding and winning. So I've seen it a lot.
But I told Robby, don't worry, if we win this race, I'm going to take care of you.

Q. Graham, talk about the emotions of losing Toby's Corner and then to win with this horse. Take me through your roller coaster week.
H. GRAHAM MOTION: Yeah, it really has been an extraordinary week. I felt really good about running both these horses. I remember talking to David Grening on Sunday after I worked at Toby's Corner and that was the last of the three horses that I was running this weekend and I felt probably about as good as I've felt for a long time about anything.
Walking in the barn on Monday morning, and I had even had a good night's sleep that night I think finally and I walked in Monday morning and David took me aside and he said, this horse, he's not right. I about fell over. That's about as tough a blow as you can get the week of the Derby.
So, I mean, it was an odd conversation for me to get on the plane on Tuesday, to come here with what I felt was a very light horse in the Derby but still to have a sense of disappointment.

Q. Johnny, would you say what you think is the best attribute of this horse now that you've gotten a chance to really get a feel for him?
JOHN VELAZQUEZ: Well, he does everything great. No bad habits. He handled everything very good today. He was very professional today, definitely.

Q. Could you take us through the progression of getting to know this horse this winter, when he came to you, and starting him on the grass; was that an opportunity that came up?
H. GRAHAM MOTION: Barry and I always talk about what we are going to do with the horses. Barry has been in the game a long time. He's probably more knowledgeable than I am about it. So it was something we discussed. We felt a conservative way to come back was to get him in a grass race.
You know, it's been well publicized that our original idea was to run the Rushway (ph) because we really felt that if we were going to run him in the Derby, he ought to have two preps, the Rushway and the Blue Grass.
Once he won the Spiral, Barry and I talked about it and I just said, if we are going to go to the Derby with what I felt was a very light horse, I just couldn't see putting him through another race. We knew he was a very good horse. And we took the conservative route and that's how it worked out and I'm glad we did it and hopefully that will help us two weeks from now.

Q. Could you talk about the run on the turn, it looked like you could have gone inside and you stayed outside; can you just talk about that move.
JOHN VELAZQUEZ: Like I said before, I talked to Graham and the whole thing was try to get to a clean race as we possibly can.
H. GRAHAM MOTION: We just felt the most important thing about this race was having a clean trip. When he drew the 16‑hole, we talked last night and we talked in the paddock, I just felt that having a clean trip was the main objective and that was how it worked out.

Q. Can you talk about the hours when you picked this horse up, what was going through your mind, and what did you do to get prepared for this horse?
JOHN VELAZQUEZ: Like I said before, I loved the horse going to the Derby and I handle it just the same way. It was not meant to be, and I was ‑‑ I didn't want to hang myself. And that was it. And I talked to the owners. I can't believe what happened again this year, but I prepare myself for the race anyway. I started race and I know the horses going into the race. The only thing I needed to do was pull back and watch this horse race and see a little bit about him.
I read the form. I know where I like to be. After talking to Graham, I felt we were very comfortable. He really gave me a lot of confidence off the horse and that's the main point of that. Once we talked in the paddock again that, we like to have a clean trip and we would like to take some ground, but the objective of the race was try to give him a good ride and a clean trip.

Q. You've been over here in the States for a long time but every time I read about you, it says "English‑born trainer." Can you give us an account of when you came over and do you still consider yourself an Englishman or do you have an American passport now?
H. GRAHAM MOTION: You'd better believe it, but it's still the Derby.

Q. Barry, you mentioned partnerships before. What is the State of partnerships in this economy and in a horse like this, is it difficult to sell it out or is it pretty ‑‑
BARRY IRWIN: Well, I've been through economic downturns before, so I know what needs to be done. And we took some steps in the last year and the last six months, I would say, without wanting to sound too crazy, that I know we have made more money than any other partnership. But we might have made more money than most American stables in the horse business by selling horses around the world.
I sold a horse named Gitano Hernando to the president of Chechnya. I sold part of a filly for a record price to one of the richest families in South Africa. We sold part of Pluck to a syndicate in Australia.
So our company is thriving. We don't have any trouble selling our horses out. But I know that other people are struggling, because the economy just sucks, you know, and until it comes back, it's going to be tough for everybody.

Q. Barry, I believe you made the decision earlier in the year to transfer all your horses to Graham. Can you talk about that decision and specifically about Graham and your confidence in him and what makes him such a talented trainer?
BARRY IRWIN: Well, it's a combination of things. This is my 25th year racing horses for a syndicate. I started in 1987. And I've done this a long time. I'm 68 years old. I've reached the point where I still want to work hard, so then I don't want to have 18 trainers. I don't want to hear stories from 17 trainers every day.
Unless you're there and you have one guy on your team that's on your side, you're not going to get the truth. And I reached the point where I was fed up with it. I also wanted to have my horses trained off‑site from the racetrack, because racetrack life for a horse isn't any good. And we found Fair Hill, which is, I wouldn't say it's a paradise for horses, but it's the closest thing to a European training center that we have in America.
We have had horses with Graham for the last three years. I asked him early last year if he would train horses for us on a private basis. He didn't want to do it. So we waited about six, seven months, after he had a little more chance to work with me, and I asked him again, and he decided to do it, and then we decided to go that way.
It's hard to find one guy that can train every kind of horse, but I think Graham comes pretty darned close. We gave him a young two‑year‑old by the same sire as Animal Kingdom and he ran second is first time out of Keeneland, four and a half furloughs. Any guy that can win a Derby and run a horse four and a half furloughs is my kind of guy.
H. GRAHAM MOTION: Seems like it was a pretty good decision on my part. (Laughter).

Q. Graham, when you go home, when does the horse go home and will you be at the barn tomorrow morning and what time?
H. GRAHAM MOTION: Will I be on the ground? I had not really thought about that.
Right now the plan is for the horse to leave Tuesday morning. That was always my plan, so I think I'll stick with it.

Q. And you don't know when you're going to go home yet?
H. GRAHAM MOTION: I'm on a flight at eleven o'clock tomorrow morning, so I guess that's what I'm doing. Better ask my wife.

Q. Do you think you'll be at the barn tomorrow morning?
H. GRAHAM MOTION: I'll be at the barn.

Q. What time?
H. GRAHAM MOTION: Probably very early.

Q. Barry, you've sought out international breed lines in your racing operation a lot. Is there any reason you've done that, and do you think anything from South America or Germany has contributed to Animal Kingdom?
BARRY IRWIN: Well, I've always liked international racing, even when I was a turf rider. It's more interesting. I'm the kind of guy that gets bored very easily. I need a lot of different things to do.
Following international racing is a lot of fun. I also think that we have not done enough importing of horses and blood lines from other places where horses don't run on drugs and horses legs are not manipulated and horses, basically, are bigger and tougher, stronger and sounder.
And we have won a couple of big races now in the last six months, we won the Breeders' Cup with a horse that was out of a mare that I brought from South Africa, and this is a horse that I bought in Germany.
In Germany, you are not allowed to breed a mare that has ever raced on drugs, Lasix, Bute, nothing. So when you buy some stock from there, you know you're getting something good. So that's where I'm coming from. On this one, I actually brokered the deal to buy the stallion, Bobby Frankel was training him. I bought the mare. We bred him from one partnership and then we sold him at Keeneland. I bought him for another partnership. So we have had a hand in the whole thing.

Q. I know you are not going to like this question, but if Uncle Mo were to run in the Preakness, do you have to think about what you're going to do? Would your inclination be to stick with this horse? I know that would be a tough decision.
JOHN VELAZQUEZ: I think I'm going to cross that bridge when we get there.
No, seriously, I think this horse, the way it runs today, it would be a very hard decision from me to get off this horse to go to another one. That's just the way it is.

Q. You've won big races and you've been a part of this race and all of the big races, but now that you've won it, what does this race mean to you and what do you think it will mean to you having won it?
JOHN VELAZQUEZ: Honestly, this is the race that we all want. Anywhere in the world you go, they are asking you, have you been in the Derby and the second question after that, is have you won it.
It's a dream come true for all of us, obviously the jockey and the trainer and the owner. It's definitely one of those things that you have; now I can say I have a check mark on that one. I have that one.
THE MODERATOR: You came so close in 1997 with Captain Bodgit and now you've won the Derby in front of the biggest crowd in the history of the race. It has to be a lovely marketing opportunity for your partnership and all partnerships. Do you think as the years went on that you were going to get to this opportunity, and now that you've got it, what can it do for you?
BARRY IRWIN: Well, in 1997 when we ran Captain Bodgit, he was favored. I had utter confidence in the horse. I really did not think he would lose. I knew how good Silver Charm was and I knew that when you came to him, he just didn't quit. He had an extra little punch.
And it was a tough race for me, because I like Alex Solis, he rode our horse, but Gary Stevens out‑rode him that day. He just took our horse's path on Silver Charm. Our horse had to just momentarily move out a little bit and it was enough to cost us the race. The combination of that, and Silver Charm being a tough horse, and it was very hard to get over it. But I was hoping I would be back again and be able to win it, and it happened.
THE MODERATOR: How about the next two, you're the only one that can do it now and you've won it impressively. The Preakness and Belmont, what are the possibilities for this horse?
BARRY IRWIN: We'll talk about the Preakness. We'll talk about the Preakness, just put it that way. We'll see what we come up with.

Q. Traditionally, horses coming off synthetic surfaces have not done well in this race. Do you think this changes anything? You mentioned the dirt work but was there anything to make you think that the course could do well in this race?
H. GRAHAM MOTION: I think it takes a certain kind of horse to do that, and I just felt confident that this horse could be a very, very special horse.
I think when you have a horse of that calibre, they can handle the switchover.
BARRY IRWIN: You know, here is one of my pet peeves on turf riders. I can say this, because I used to be a turf rider.
If a turf rider paid attention to a horse like this and just looked at the horse as an individual, and what he has done, I think they would have figured out why he was a buyable force, okay. This getting hung up on no turf horses have ever done this, no synthetic horses have ever done this, that kind of stuff; and getting bogged down in the statistics of the post position, no horse has ever won from the 19; maybe there's never a good horse in the 19, you know.
So all that stuff to me is nonsense. The only thing that counts is what has this horse done and how is he trained and what do the connections think of him.
With this horse, this is nothing but positives.
THE MODERATOR: We'll let you go to the party. Ladies and gentlemen, congratulations.
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