Jonathan Stettin and Past the Wire with a little Q and A with Brad Cox, Dermot Weld, Aidan O’ Brien, George Leonard, and Doug O’ Neill

October 29, 2021

Jonathan Stettin with Past the Wire talks with Breeders’ Cup trainers Brad Cox, Dermot Weld, Aidan O’ Brien, George Leonard and Doug O’ Neill at the Breeders’ Cup media conference

The following is from the Breeders’ Cup media conference. More can be found on the Breeders’ Cup site.

We’ll pause for just a few moments to allow everyone an opportunity to signal for questions. We’ll take our first question from Jon Stettin, Past the Wire:

Jon Stettin: Hey, Brad. How are you? Congratulations on a phenomenal year and a phenomenal Breeders’ Cup last year as well.

Brad Cox: Thanks, Jon. I’m great. How are you doing?

Jon Stettin: I’m good. Interesting question for me, if Knicks Go were to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic at two turns the year after the Breeders’ Cup Mile at two turns, it would be just an unbelievable resume for a racehorse.

So, my question is kind of twofold. What do you think that would mean historically resume-wise for him, especially as a stallion prospect?And if you had to, without giving away any secrets that you don’t want the competition to know, if you had to put your finger on one thing that maybe helped Knicks Go improve so much, I mean, he was always a really nice horse and always had that potential, but he improved significantly once you took over his training. What would you put your finger on if there was one thing that you did that kind of turned him around or woke him up or turned him into the horse that he is right now?

Brad Cox: Well, I don’t know if there’s anything that we did with him in regards to training. I think he just developed. We got him and he had come off a little bit of a freshening. He’s a happy, sound horse. We had actually – we were able to get – we were able to win the second level allowance and that was our only run with him and then he had a setback, he had an injury. And we talked about retiring him, it was kind of like breeding season had already started. So, obviously, it was not going to be no good retiring him at that point. We brought him back and it was a big if if we would bring him back or if we would start, if he wasn’t doing any good, we would have retired him, but he was training better than ever under our care. And I think the biggest thing is once you said – you already said he has been a good horse from the beginning, I mean, obviously, his great one win (at the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland) was kind of a fluke. He followed it up with a big race in the Breeders’ Cup. I think what he did, he was able to kind of catch his breath, get a breather and develop. Horses are supposed to get faster at four and five and he was a really fast 2-year-old. So, I think he just developed. I don’t know if there was any one thing we did with him. I mean, we do train him. We do let him gallop along. And we do let him breathe, I mean, his breathing, I mean, he has huge gallop-out so we put a lot of air into him. But we just kind of train him. We don’t really train him any different than we do any of our other
horses. He’s able to take more training. He’s able to breathe faster and work faster because he’s a better horse than most all of our other horses or most of our horses, not all of our horses. But he’s a very, very good horse. And we allow him to really stretch his legs and do what he likes
doing. He loves to train. So, I don’t know – I guess that kind of answers your question. But I think the biggest thing is
probably he’s always been a very good horse and he just developed as an older horse with time, lots of time when horse go from two to three or three to four and there’s an improvement, there’s normally a gap. They just don’t all of a sudden get better. There’s a gap of – it allows the horse to mature, recover from the rigors of training and racing, and they come back and their body catches up with them physically and they move forward.

Jon Stettin: As you were saying that maturity was the word that kept popping into my mind, so I think that’s a good argument for sometimes allowing some of these better younger horses to mature and see how good they can get. Just, if you would, just touch on that resume aspect of winning the Mile and then coming back and winning the Classic, that’s just – that’s one for the Breeders’ Cup record books if you can pull that off. So, what are your thoughts on that?

Brad Cox: Well, yes, yes. Yes. And that would be an amazing achievement for him to be able to win the Dirt Mile and run as fast as he did. And, obviously, I think if he wins the Classic, he would obviously be up close or be on the lead and would run some solid fractions the first part and hopefully finish out well. So, we’ll see how it goes. But it would definitely – it would definitely go down as one of the better I’d say span of the Breeders’ Cup in regards to accomplishments over the last – ever since the
inception of the Breeders’ Cup really.

Jon Stettin: Yes. I know. I agree. Thank you. Thank you, Brad. Appreciate the answer.

Brad Cox: Thank you.

We’ll take tour first question from Jon Stettin.

Jon Stettin: Jon Stettin with Past the Wire. How are you this evening, Mr. Weld?

Dermot Weld: Good. Thanks, Jon. Good to talk with you.

Jon Stettin: No, my pleasure. I thought that you ran the best filly in the Arc. I watched the replay a couple of times and my question is this – pointing for a race the Breeders’ Cup or heading into a race like the Breeders’ Cup, do you think it’s more advantageous to come in off a win in the Arc or the alternative, a troubled trip in the Arc that may make a competitive filly like Tarnawa a little bit more aggressive or a little bit more game and determined?
Is there a preference you would have as to coming in off a win or coming in off that troubled trip that you had. And do you think that the firm ground at Del Mar coming off the obviously different type of ground at Longchamp is going to be a factor that will favor her?

Dermot Weld: Jon, firstly, I always want to win. So, we know the win in the Arc – the win in the Arc would have been special. As I said, Tarnawa is one of those really tough individuals that gives 110percent. So, she fought like a lioness and, unfortunately, we just came up short in ground that was extremely testing.

Yes, the main concern I have will be the ground. I appreciated that she had what we would call a good firm ground in Kentucky and they had rain you must remember earlier that week. I actually thought the turf track was from what I heard and the reports that I got back from – was just really nice ground. Just on the quick side of good, that’s what we would have called it. Whereas I am well aware, what we face is going to be a lot quicker and is a concern.

Jon Stettin: Okay. Thank you.

We’ll take our next question from Jon Stettin.

Jon Stettin: Hello, Aidan, Jon Stettin from Past the Wire. How are you, sir?

Aidan O’Brien: Good, Jon. Thanks very well. How are you?

Jon Stettin: I’m good. I thought that Mother Earth…

Aidan O’Brien: Good.

Jon Stettin: … had a – I would say a horrendous trip at Leopardstown back in September. How is she doing after that race and is it kind of a redemption race for you? I mean, I thought she was the best that day. I don’t know if you agreed but I thought she was probably best that day if not for
the trip. Is it anxious or exciting to run coming off a troubled trip like that and seek redemption? I had asked Mr. Weld about the trip Tarnawa had in the Arc. And, of course, you always want to win. But can it be an advantage coming into a race off a troubled trip to kind of give a horse that extra motivation to kind of redeem themselves or get back on track?

Aidan O’Brien: I suppose like obviously you’d prefer you had a choice you don’t want a troubled trip and usually it’s hard luck story when that happens. And she’s been unlucky probably her last twice, the horses that she ran against in Leopardstown she beat them four or five lengths the next time that she ran against them. And – but listen, it’s business. It’s obviously never an advantage because you lose them and when the Group Ones – when that happens you lose Group Ones and you never like doing that. But listen, she seems well and obviously I would have preferred that she didn’t have. But that’s the way it is. She seems well so far and we’re looking forward to seeing her run really.

Jon Stettin: Thank you.

Aidan O’Brien: A pleasure.

We’ll take our next question from Jon Stettin.

Jon Stettin: Hey, George, Jon Stettin with Past the Wire. How are you, sir?

George Leonard III: Fine, sir.

Jon Stettin: I think you kind of answered my question already but I’ll ask it anyway. Being new to the Breeders’ Cup stage what’s the pressure like being in that situation with a filly like this? And I have a feeling I know the answer, you sound real confident, sir. Right?

George Leonard III: To be honest there’s no pressure. I am just hoping for a little luck and the right scenario to work up. I have the best horse I’ve ever touched. I don’t – there’s no pressure to race. And as for me the pressure is getting everything down pat, having everything taken cared of before getting out to the race and making sure I get everything taken care of. That’s the only pressure from me. But as for the race I’m going to leave that work to itself, I will put it in God’s hands and I think she’ll be just fine. And like you said I have lots of confidence in my horse. I just hope for a safe, good trip.

Jon Stettin: I appreciate that. God Bless and all the best in the Breeders’ Cup.

George Leonard III: Thank you very much. I appreciate it

We’ll take our first question from Jon Stettin.

Jon Stettin: Hey, Doug, how are you? Jon Stettin with Past the Wire.

Doug O’Neill: Great, John, how are you?

Jon Stettin: I’m good, thanks. Bear with me for a second because I think this is interesting. I mean it’s been a super competitive year for the three-year-olds, and Hot Rod Charlie has been right in the mix all year long. And I was contemplating the other day, well, if Medina Spirit wins the Classic, he’s got two wins over Essential Quality, hard pressed for him not to be a three-year-old champion. Essential Quality wins, then obviously he would have the edge. Jackie’s Warrior wins this sprint then comes back in the Malibu, something like that, he would probably put himself in the picture because it’s been so competitive. Yet Hot Rod Charlie is right in there. If you win the Classic with Hot Rod Charlie, do you think that puts him in the picture for the three-year-old championship as well? Do you think he’s been competitive enough to be in that conversation and earn his share of votes?

Doug O’Neill: I do. But unfortunately I don’t get a vote. But, no, there would be nothing better than to win the Classic and be in that conversation, right? And so, you’re right, it’s been such a really amazing year to see these horses that have come out of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year to continue to face each other and evolve and mature together and all of them hold their form and they are all top notch horses, so, yes, just very proud of Hot Rod Charlie and I’m sure everyone who was part of that Juvenile class last year and continue to see the horses run the way they are, are proud as well.

Jon Stettin: Yes, you’ve done a great, great job with him. If he were to win the Classic or run very well in the Classic and you felt that you were in the running for that three-year-old title, is there even a spot or a chance that you could run them again this year or just would there really be no time and no other spot to really, really try and add to that resume to give him that extra boost?

Doug O’Neill: God, it’s so hard to tell. I do, I love when horses are doing well, I love to run them. So you are talking my lingo Jon, and I like to run in my athletes when they are doing well. So, we just have to play it by ear but right now we are just focused on the Classic and just very happy of the way things are going, and hopefully that’s a well-run race and safe for everybody and hopefully we end up on top and we got options. That would be great.

Jon Stettin: I appreciate that, Doug. All the best at the Breeders’ Cup. Thank you.

Doug O’Neill: You too. Thank you.

We’ll take our first question from Jon Stettin.

Jon Stettin: Hello, Fausto, Jon Stettin with Pass the Wire. How are you, sir?

Fausto Gutierrez: Very good, thank you. You?

Jon Stettin: I’m good. Well, I have a question that is, I think it’s interesting because you’ve done such a great job with Letruska and have kept her in top form for so long for so many months against top competition. Is there any concern when that happens that at some point she may regress or the term bounce is sometimes used here in the States for that, but is there any concern that she may regress a little bit or she may have run too many hard races or too many tough race over the year to still remain at that peak level for the Breeders’ Cup. Any concern of that at all?

Fausto Gutierrez: Okay. She’s a horse, a mare right now, normally she’s very sound, unlike, I tell before if sometimes she tells me what (it is) she needs. I just try to, she matches the form. It’s a particular special horse and think too this is one of the points to make her different or with these
results because she recovered very good after the races. And in that form for example, after the run at Belmont, I don’t have plan to run the Fleur de Lis. But when she back to the Keeneland and she is start to train days after, I understand to see in that race. You know, to maybe – it’s more easy to give the chance that she want and embrace her but this is – so I can tell you, she’s a very healthy horse to – in all these months, I hope everything is still like this. She’s out of problems. With the natural cycles to have the horses, for example, I think to now these months for November, December when come the winter, she’s tend to have the hair more long. And I prefer
don’t touch nothing in her. I prefer that she go like this. I will expect all the natural things to happen with the horse, you know.

John Stettin: Yes. You’ve done a fantastic job with her, and I wish you all the best in the Breeders’ Cup. What would it mean to Mexican racing, to win a race like the Breeders’ Cup Distaff with a filly like that?

Fausto Gutierrez: It’s something to we real – we can imagine to happen because the distance between the quality for the races of Mexico right now with the Breeders’ Cup to use the top class for all the world, we are so far. I don’t know. It’s like a child to its play in the school go to the major leagues one day to the other. You know, it’s very, very – the actual Mexican races are with a lot of problems especially for the quality for the horses. I can’t tell you one number. Right now at Mexico, born no more than 150 Mexican breeds. So this can tell you the big gap to exist in the qualities for the horses.

John Stettin: I appreciate that. Again, you’ve done a great job all year with her and all the best in the Breeders’ Cup, Fausto.

Fausto Gutierrez: Thank you.

A lot of interesting insight and a lot of confidence and legit concerns going into what amounts to be a very competitive Breeders’ Cup. At Del Mar particularly the draw will be crucial as will the trips in the mile races on dirt and turf, and also in the sprint and mile and a sixteenth races. The turf should be quite firm and a lot different than what the European invaders are accustomed to. No doubt we are in for some exciting races. “Can’t Wait!”

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