Breeders’ Cup Classic
Saturday, November 2, 2019
- Todd A. Pletcher
- Vinnie Viola
- Mike Repole
- Irad Ortiz, Jr.
THE MODERATOR: Todd, I would like to start with you and just get your initial impressions of the race.
TODD PLETCHER: It was one of those times where pretty much the race unfolded exactly like we had all discussed beforehand. We were able to get the trip we had talked about trying to get. Irad was very confident coming in the paddock. We had a game plan in place. He’s — Mike asked him, Is there one particular horse you’re afraid of? And he said, No, I’m just going to let my horse run his race. Which he did a great job.
I can’t remember the last time coming into a race of this magnitude with a horse that we felt like was doing so well and just training unbelievably. He put in some perfect work at Belmont, shipped in great, was galloping over the track like he loved it.
We were kind of group texting with these guys for the last five weeks, and it’s just like we’re on pins and needles because he was just doing so, so wonderfully. We couldn’t wait for the moment to get here, and so happy to see him deliver the type of performance we thought he had in him, and so happy for these guys and their families and our whole organization, the whole barn, the whole team. It’s a huge win for us.
RELATED: Pletcher gains first Breeders’ Cup Classic win with Vino Rosso
THE MODERATOR: And this would be an ecstatic moment under any circumstances, but if you could also talk about the emotions after the disqualifications in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and then the redemption here today.
TODD PLETCHER: Is that for me? I mean, I publicly said that I didn’t agree with the disqualifications. That’s pretty much the end of the story. I think he redeemed himself today and left no doubt. There was no controversy involved today. He won authoritatively, and to me that was the strongest performance I’ve seen by any horse this year.
THE MODERATOR: And now we have got winning jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. We would love to hear your description of the race, if you would.
IRAD ORTIZ, JR.: Well, we were planning to stay three or four — fourth or fifth, I’m sorry, in the clear, don’t want to be up inside the whole, I thought the best race for him was to be in the clear, so everything worked out perfect.
THE MODERATOR: Irad, you had a heck of a day today. Just give us your emotions after a three-win day and winning the two biggest races of the year.
IRAD ORTIZ, JR.: I’m blessed. Thank God for everything, keeping me in one piece, keeping me healthy. I really work to do what I love do, is riding horses. And thanks to my agent, Steve Rushing, for doing a great job finding me those kind of horses to ride.
THE MODERATOR: Mike, what are you feeling right now?
MIKE REPOLE: Listen, it’s — I feel blessed right now. Like I had so much anxiety coming into this race, and having Vinnie as a partner and Teresa is so much fun. It’s a great partnership.
But I’ve been friends with Todd for 11 years now, and obviously even with Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty and Stopchargingmaria, this might be the most confident I’ve ever seen him with a horse.
So I wind up getting more nervous when he’s like that because I know it’s going to be something special. And then when you ask Irad, you hear the same thing; and you ask Martin, the groom, and Isabelle and Fernando, the exercise rider, and then you come out here on a Wednesday morning and you have 500 people tell you how great your horse is doing, like it was — it’s been a tough two days, to be honest with you.
But you know what, it ran exactly the way Todd and Irad had told Vinnie and I, and, I mean — you know, what a move. Vinnie and I talked a bunch about this horse, and Irad and Todd, I mean, to bring this horse out here five and a half months ago — Vinnie and I don’t ship a lot of horses to California. It was a reason, it was a purpose: Grade I, mile and a quarter, on this track, so we can do what we just did today. Pretty exciting.
THE MODERATOR: Todd, could you elaborate on that decision to come out here and get him out over the track.
TODD PLETCHER: Well, I think as much as getting out over the track, it gave us confidence that the horse handled the track. We knew he would love a mile and a quarter.
But also, for me, you know, you’re always trying to figure out, like, when’s the best time to ship: Do we want to ship five days out? Do we want to work over the track?
But we had a blueprint in place that worked. So we tried to follow that pattern exactly, and we did. And like I said, I mean, the horse, he was just — he was crawling out of his skin, literally, and the way he was breezing, coming into it, like Mike said, it — you’re just so anxious for moment to get here.
THE MODERATOR: Vinnie, how does Todd’s confidence manifest itself? What were you hearing from him, what did you see?
VINNIE VIOLA: Todd is a very efficient communicator; so you have to pick up on his signals. So when you get texts that are un-Todd-like, I turned to Teresa and said, I think this horse is really going to run a special race.
And I do want to make — I do want to thank Todd and Mike. There’s no harder horse — harder working horse owner than Mike Repole. I want to thank Jimmy Crupi because he gave us the gift of this game, my wife Teresa and I. He selected this horse. He broke this horse. He told us that this horse would be a better four-year-old than three-year-old when the horse is just leaving the farm.
So getting back to Todd, I think that was about the most excited I’ve ever texted with you. So, you know, you may want to comment about how excited you were coming into the race.
TODD PLETCHER: No, like I said, I think Dave and people that were at Belmont watching him train, it was just — everything was going textbook. And so we were confident, knowing we were coming into a very tough scenario, but we were confident that our horse was on top of his game.
THE MODERATOR: Open it up for questions.
Q. (Question about Irad and Vino Rosso.)
TODD PLETCHER: Well, John Velazquez had ridden the horse every start of his career, and we had a tough decision to make. We made a decision not to go in the Woodward, which we felt like certainly was a huge reason for our success today.
But so Johnny had a commitment to Code of Honor, and it was a tough choice, I’m sure. Maybe part of it is Code of Honor being a three-year-old and coming back next year, those kind of things could have played a role in it.
But got a lot of confidence in Irad. We felt like Irad’s style — “we” being the team owners — felt like Irad’s style would suit the horse very well. And we sensed right away that once Irad got to working a few times, there was some chemistry there. And the horse seemed to respond really well to Irad, and the horse seemed to run for him.
And so he was — he worked him each time, last couple times before the Jockey Club, each time in between races here, and just like every breeze was executed perfectly, and you could tell, like, the horse was just loving it, just happy, and training sensationally.
So I think there’s just some riders have a good rapport with certain horses, and Irad and Vino Rosso really gelled. You could see there was great chemistry there from the first time he got on him.
Q. Mike, this horse obviously had some nice runs at three, but did you feel — were you really excited about coming into this year, some unfinished business, maybe?
MIKE REPOLE: Yeah, totally unfinished business. Not just because of the Jockey Club to here, Vinnie is a lot more patient than me. I don’t know if you guys have picked that up. But obviously I wanted to probably sue NYRA, sue Kentucky, sue global racing over the mishap. And Vinnie kept me calm. And Todd does that always too.
But I think there’s unfinished business with this horse since he was a two-year-old. He was a two-year-old. He was 2-2. Vinnie and I were smarter to take it easy with us. He kind of disappointed a little bit in Tampa. Then he won the Wood Memorial, and we said, oh, my God, we got the Derby winner.
Then he had the Derby, and the Belmont didn’t work out the way we thought it was. We were disappointed when he — he doesn’t like Saratoga. He’s 0-3. We put him away. Vinnie and I’s easiest decision to be made. Went to Jim Crupi’s.
I think as a four-year-old he’s had a great campaign. You know, the Carter, with a little bit of a faster pace, I actually think he wins that race, the Stymie, the Jockey Gold Club, did cross the line first, so I’m counting it as a win. I gave the purse back, but that’s another story. And then now this performance in the Classic is — you know, this is — you know, to my, love for Vinnie and Teresa to win this race, my friends and family back here. But Irad, who has won everything.
But, you know, this one is really for Todd and the horse. Todd has done an amazing job with this horse.
And you know what? He doesn’t win — he hasn’t won like 50 Grade I’s every single year, maybe the last 18 months, and maybe some people have forgot a little bit, but Vinnie and I have been here every step of the way, he’s here at the Classic, trainer, so there’s a reason why he’s standing here.
Q. Todd and Mike, not to put a dour note on your accomplishment, but what’s your reaction to the news that Mongolian Groom broke down? It appeared that Santa Anita did everything this week to have the safety protocols in place to prevent something like that from happening, and it didn’t happen until the last race of the weekend here.
MIKE REPOLE: I don’t know if we have enough news to comment on it. I don’t know exactly what happened. I mean — I mean, it does happen. It’s the worst part of this game. It’s unfortunate.
I don’t know exactly what happened with the horse. For us, horse safety is very, very important, so if you lose a horse, so — you know, prayers for the horse and prayers for the connections to the horse. That’s got to be really, really tough and really sad.
TODD PLETCHER: Yeah, totally agree with what Mike said. Like to learn more information. I’m hopeful that it’s something that he can have a surgery for and have a recovery. It’s something that I think we were all very concerned about coming in. We were anxious for, not only running in huge races like these, but also hoping that everything would go smoothly and safely and I think everyone took every precautionary measure they possibly could and, like I said, I just, I hope that it’s something that he can have a successful surgery for.
Q. Any of the team, coming into this thing everything was going so great and even the trip was just fantastic. Did you ever like pinch yourself and wonder, hey am I dreaming? Always Dreaming? You know what I’m talking about, Vinnie? Am I dreaming here, can it be this good? What about it, guys?
VINNIE VIOLA: I was thinking that the horse was running exactly the way Todd, sort of exactly the way Todd felt about him. And when Irad got into him around the 3/16ths pole I thought it could be a special race.
MIKE REPOLE: For guys like me and Vinnie and Teresa and Maria, you know, our lives have been dreams. We named the horse Always Dreaming. I always say, think big, dream bigger. So this is — I got 45 friends and family members here. We’re going to have a great party tonight. Some Vino Rosso will be drank. So, with my friends and family back here, if we would have came in last, these guys still would have drank the same amount, to be honest with you. So like they were partying no matter what. No, I would have drank more, they would have drank the same amount. So we just, we’re living the dream, man.
VINNIE VIOLA: I want to say one more thing. When he was coming up to the top of the stretch I was, I planned a mission of sending Todd and Mike to Mr. Hughes’s house, Mr. Hughes’s house in Kentucky, because I think we got to get a letter-writing campaign, because this horse might do some stuff really, really special in the future. But, no, he’s Mr. Hughes’s horse now, so we’re very lucky that he agreed to stand him and he had confidence in this horse as a stallion and we’re very blessed to be partners with him on it.
THE MODERATOR: Speaking of breeding, we’d like to acknowledge the winning breeders, the Gunther’s. They have been on fire the last few years.
Would anybody like to just comment on this horse before you bought him?
MIKE REPOLE: Well, John and Tanya Gunther, obviously, are great breeders. I don’t know if you guys know this but Stay Thirsty was bred by the Gunthers and so I’ve had some — I was going to say I’ve had some success for them, but I think they owe me some money, they have done well when these horses run in my silks. But they have been great breeders. And just think, Justify and Vino Rosso, in the same crop, in the same pen, it’s pretty special, a Triple Crown winner and a Classic winner, side by side for the first couple years of their life. It’s pretty special.
Q. Obviously you know you’re in wonderful hands with Todd Pletcher, but we lost Jimmy Crupi from his New Castle Farm in Ocala, which was very sad. And I saw him a couple days before in Maryland and he gave me a bottle of wine and he was a great guy. How important do you think the starting trainer is that gets these horses going, first of all?
MIKE REPOLE: For me I want to acknowledge — I have Jim Martin my racing manager and Ed Rosen and Vinnie has Rory, who does an amazing job. Those guys have it a lot tougher than me and Vinnie, to be honest with you, especially Ed and Jim, but that’s another story. But Jimmy Crupi, you know, he got us, he got me into this game, he got me horses at the highest level. When he met Vinnie and Teresa, the first introduction I made to them was to Jimmy Crupi. And I loved Jimmy Crupi and his wife Edie and I just missed a call by Edie Crupi and which is amazing, I’ll call her tonight, which is really special. And I know Vinnie and Teresa are still very close with Edie and Jim Martin and Joe are very close with Edie. And Jimmy was one-of-a-kind and for him, this to be the last horse that he picked out for me and Vinnie and almost the week he passed away was when he won his first Grade 1 in California and now the Classic. So many good times in that New Castle Farm and staying at the house and dinner at Mark’s and early mornings, six, seven o’clock, watching the horses work there, that was a part of the game that doesn’t feel the same. I don’t know how Vinnie and Teresa feel, but.
VINNIE VIOLA: It will never be the same for Teresa and I. And I think Todd and Mike will would agree the person who oversees the breaking and initial training of a horse is probably as critical as any part of the team. And, Jimmy, wherever you are, I know you’re in heaven, we love you very much and this one really, really was because of and for you.