Archive for the ‘The Interviews’ Category

A Visit To Meet Michael Dickinson At Tapeta Farm

Thursday, December 12th, 2019

Fresh warm air breezing in from the Chesapeake Bay. Acres of spacious paddocks with green, green grass to roam in after work is done. Roomy, airy stalls with high cathedral ceilings and open views stretching away over the hills. And a freshwater outdoor swimming pool to take a dip in when it gets warm. (Or any time for that matter!) Happy, happy horses. And a happy trainer, by all accounts.

As I drove in to Tapeta Farm for my 3pm appointment, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Five minutes later, as I shook hands with the international racing legend known as Michael Dickinson, I was immediately set at ease.

The first thing you see in Michael Dickinson is his easygoing, secure, straightforward, kind and genuine demeanor. Yes, I said easygoing. Unlike some like to report, Michael is not crazy. Well at least I didn’t think so. Maybe a tad whacky. But very definitely not crazy. Michael Dickinson actually comes across as one of those accomplished, confident, “comfortable in their own skin” people, that so many are not.

There was quite a lot going on at 3 o’clock in the barn on this hot and humid, Maryland Thursday afternoon. It came across very quickly that Michael is a boss who knows how to talk to his staff, who he makes plans and interacts with in a collaborative and mutually respectful fashion. And they clearly enjoy working for Michael. The manner in which he introduced me to his help individually, when some trainers would not have done so, made it clear to them and myself that he wants them to be aware that they are integral to his success. Any strangers visiting out of the blue are as much their business as his.

It is impossible not to be impressed by Tapeta Farm and its facilities. Three turf tracks, each with a different level of consistency and cushion for different weather situations, (including the “Noah’s Ark” turf track for extremely wet weather), are complemented by a 7.5 furlong Tapeta track and a warm up track. The farm’s 250 acres has a 40 stall barn, 50 acres for moveable grazing, an abundance of immaculately maintained paddocks for daily turnout, a large indoor horse exerciser, a spa, a treadmill and an outdoor swimming pool. No attention to detail is spared. Even the water system for the main training barn is set up to make the horse’s drinking water possess the same qualities, components and ph that they will drink when they arrive at one of the dozen or so racetracks within 60 to 120 minutes drive of the farm.

After saying hello to Pamina, a beautiful looking Street Cry filly who had just won a Grade III Stakes race at Woodbine, I sat down with Michael to talk about his career, how he came to America, and of course, Tapeta racing surfaces.

TBP: Michael how did your career in racing begin?

MWD: “My father Tony, together with my mother Monica, was a very successful trainer of racehorses based in the north of England. He was a top class horseman who started out on the amateur point to point circuit and then became a National Hunt (steeplechase) trainer. My mother was also one of the best horsewomen of her generation, she was selected for the English showjumping team and was then a leading point to point rider. When I was seventeen I went to work for another trainer, Frenchie Nicholson, to get further experience. Frenchie had a deserved reputation as a tough taskmaster and he helped create many great horsemen. I was there with Pat Eddery and Tony Murray, who both became top class jockeys of course.

I started riding as an amateur jockey and then later turned professional and went on to ride 378 winners over jumps. I wasn’t great over hurdles, I was a better jockey over fences, I particularly liked riding novice chasers and had a lot of success with them, but my weight was always a struggle and I was constantly dieting. Then when I was twenty nine I had a bad fall and split my liver. That’s when I took over the training licence from my father Tony.

TBP: When you trained steeplechase and hurdle horses in England you were known for your extremely high strike rate, plus saddling the first five home in the 1983 Cheltenham Gold Cup of course.

MWD: Yes, I also had the first two in the Cheltenham Gold Cup the year before, and we won 12 races in one day at Christmas in 1982. I think in my last season training jumpers in England we had 51 winners from 100 runners. I was Champion Trainer three years out of the four I trained.

TBP: No doubt because of your tremendous success in England at the time, you were approached by the major owner and breeder Robert Sangster, who had owned great horses from the Northern Dancer line such as The Minstrel, Alleged and El Gran Senor, to train for him privately.

MWD: Yes, Robert was rebuilding Manton, which was a large training establishment on the Wiltshire downs in southern England. He was looking for a private trainer and he had actually approached me the year before and I had turned it down. This time I said yes, but it was bad timing and it was over before it really began. The bloodstock market in which Robert was heavily invested in had taken a downturn and there was a lot of financial pressure, so things didn’t work out. While I was there however I met Dr. David Lambert. David was a vet, originally from Ingleby in Yorkshire, England. He had since been in the USA for around ten years himself. He suggested I come to America and said he would find me ten horses to start me off training if I came.

TBP: Was it a culture shock for you?

MWD: No, not really. If it had been California it would have been, but I came to Maryland, Pennsylvania border where so many of the local towns’ names are British – York, Oxford, Lancaster, Reading, Nottingham etc.. The first day I arrived I was invited to a lunch party hosted by the breeder Marshall Jenney who had bred the great racemare Mrs Penny who won the Oaks in England. I met around 20 important people there, had a great time and it went from there.

TBP: How did Tapeta Farm evolve?

MWD: I was training at Fairhill which was a nice place to train with good facilities, but I wanted my own place and we came here, to North East in Maryland, in 1996. There was really nothing here but raw land so we basically built the farm up from scratch. We landscaped, built the barn and paddocks and laid down the gallops. Some friends of mine from Unionville were visiting us back then and they asked can we bring you something, meaning a bottle etc., so I said yes, but please bring me a nice plant or a shrub instead. So they brought me this young tree called a green giant which was two feet tall when we planted it. It grew to seven feet in a couple of years and kept growing – now I have five hundred of them on the farm.

TBP: Two of the most well known horses you have trained here were Tapit, now a champion sire of course, and Da Hoss who won two Breeders Cup Miles when you trained him, the second off one prep race after a year layoff. Tell us a little about training those two great horses.

Tapit: Tapit showed great ability early but we gave him a little time to come around. He broke his maiden by almost eight lengths in a Maiden Allowance at Delaware Park. After he won the Laurel Futurity on his next start we started prepping him for the Florida Derby. We took him to Gulfstream for the race and it turned out he had the beginning of a lung infection, he ran fifth after Edgar Prado wrapped up on him. After the race he got really sick and missed training. When we ran him in the Wood he was still behind in his schedule but he won anyway. He won for two reasons, one, he was bloody good, he was much better than the rest and two, he was very courageous and tried so hard, he was all heart. All he did from the winners circle back to the barn was cough and cough. The effort wiped him out and he was never the same again.

Da Hoss: Da Hoss had great courage, like Tapit. When he was he a foal he lost half his foot, and when he was a two year old he developed bone spurs on both his hocks. They were reasonably manageable when he was three and four, but they became a serious problem by the time he was five and six and caused him to bow a tendon. We had to be careful that he didn’t overload himself in his work, but that was a big problem as Da Hoss just wanted to go out and give them hell, every time he worked, he just wanted to go as fast as he could. But we managed to get him to the races sound and he won two Breeders Cup Miles. He was so popular around here that Cecil County in which Tapeta Farm is located now has a Da Hoss day every December 17th.

TBP: So on to Tapeta.

MWD: We started out creating Tapeta back in 1997 when we installed a track here at Tapeta Farm. My wife Joan Wakefield is an accomplished horsewoman from County Durham in the North of England. She had helped me out a lot with my training and she wanted to take Tapeta to the next level, so I stopped training for eight years to help Joan with Tapeta Footings which we established as a company around 2005. We visited fifteen countries and Tapeta tracks are now in ten of those countries.

TBP: What are the advantages of Tapeta?

MWD: Tapeta is generally very consistent, unlike Turf and Dirt tracks, which change significantly and drastically with weather conditions. It is slightly faster after rain and slightly slower in high heat. But not much slower – the Queen’s Plate at Woodbine in June this year was run over 10 furlongs in 2.02 minutes and change on Tapeta, when it was 95 degrees. The biggest advantage of Tapeta is that it is statistically proven to be far safer for horses than dirt tracks, as it causes far fewer catastrophic injuries, has less kickback, and takes less work to maintain than dirt or turf.

TBP: What is Tapeta made up of?

MWD: Tapeta is made up of a silica sand, a blend of fibers and then coated in hot wax. We are constantly improving it, each year it gets better and better, and now we have Tapeta 10.

TBP: In light of the outcry over the high number of breakdowns at Santa Anita this year, what do you see as the future for Tapeta and synthetic tracks?

MWD: Everyone is disappointed about the breakdowns at Santa Anita and worried about the future of racing. But the reality is this is not the first time this has happened. It’s not unusual on dirt tracks. There is hardly a dirt track in America that at one point or another has not had a rash of catastrophic injuries over time. You actually struggle to name one dirt track that hasn’t had similar problems to those that Santa Anita has experienced. Dirt tracks are like an IED, they blow up in your fence without warning. The track superintendents have tried everything, but they can’t control the weather, and that is when dirt track conditions change hugely. Dirt is 100 years old and it’s past its sell by date, we need something safer.

The revolution started in 2007 when, after a run of catastrophic breakdowns similar to what happened this year, eight synthetic tracks went in – but the early synthetics weren’t good enough. Since then we have spent a lot of time and money on R&R and learnt a lot. We continue to improve. When the politicians come along and ask, “What can you do to make things better for horses?” and the answer is “Synthetic tracks are at least 50% better for horses safety than dirt tracks and here is the data to prove it”, it will be game set and match with no argument.

Now the trend more and more is for turf racing, which I love. Last year, Sid Fernando wrote an article in the TDN about the “Turf Revolution”. Sid reported, if memory serves, that in 2001 approximately 5% of races in the USA were run on turf. In 2017 it was up to around 17%, and last year, 2018, filtering out cheap races, at the higher levels, 39% of Graded races were on turf. The issue is that turf is not very resilient and gets beaten up throughout the meet. A Tapeta track would compliment a turf track and allow track superintendents to protect their grass when conditions are not suitable, yet still maintain the field sizes, as trainers would not be as inclined to scratch.

The revolution against dirt has already started, but turf can only stand so much racing. So synthetics will come.”



…… The phone rang, Joan, Michael’s wife, was calling, stranded at Orlando airport due to thunderstorms. We retired to Michael’s house on the farm for a drink and a bite to eat, and reminisced about horses, people and races from many years ago.

It’s a very nice place, Tapeta Farm. With memories in the air. As evening drew in and I drove away from the house in the dusk, down the road alongside “Noah’s Ark” and the pristine and peaceful turf and Tapeta training tracks, I pictured the beautiful gray horse who was to become America’s leading stallion three times – the one and only Tapit – flying up the hill towards me.

And tanking alongside him, pulling his rider’s arms out. Da Hoss. Giving Them Hell…


Copyright ThoroughbredPeople 2019

The Interviews: Top Rider Turned Broadcaster, Richard Migliore

Thursday, January 10th, 2019

Richard_MiglioreRichard Migliore started race riding in 1980 at the age of 16. Richard rode over 30,000 races and 4,450 winners for purse earnings of over $160 Million. Following his enforced retirement in 2010, Richard worked as a racing analyst for HRTV, New York Racing Association and Fox Sports 1. Nicknamed “The Mig” after the jet fighter plane for his tenacious style of riding, Richard now lives with his wife, Carmela and children in Millbrook, New York.

TBP: Where were you born and raised and how did you become interested in horses and racing?

RM: I was born in Brooklyn, New York, near Coney Island. When I was a kid I used to go out to Long Island to ride ponies, and after a while I started riding in pony races. I pretty much decided I wanted to be a jockey one Saturday afternoon after I saw the great gelding Forego catch and beat Honest Pleasure with a furious late rally in the Marlboro Cup at Belmont. That morning I had won a pony race in similar fashion. Marlboro Cup day, 1976 was the day I knew I was going to be a jockey.

TBP: How did you get started out riding?

RM: I got a job at a place called Hunting Hollow farm on Long Island cleaning stalls. I had my choice of either getting paid a dollar a stall or applying that money to riding lessons, so I applied it mostly to lessons. I went on to work at another farm owned by a veterinarian who worked at Belmont and Aqueduct and one day a week I got to go to the racetrack to work with him. I had started galloping thoroughbreds and quarter horses on his farm and when I was 14 I got to gallop my first horse at Belmont Park for a trainer called Roger Laurin. I was too young to work at the track legally so Roger offered me a job galloping at his farm in South Carolina, but I wanted to stay at Belmont, and when I was 15 trainer Steve Di Mauro put me on a horse and ultimately put me under contract.

MiglioreJockTBP: Did you follow or look up to any particular jockeys when you started?

RM: Braulio Baeza was someone I idealized a great deal. He was taller and leaner than most riders, like I was, but he had such a great seat and was so statuesque on a horse, he was the rider I first tried to emulate. I was also very fortunate that I was surrounded by so many amazing riders in New York at the time, I learnt so much from them. I was surrounded by one Hall of Famer after another.

TBP: How did things go for you in your first year of two race riding?

RM: Things went amazingly well. I actually became champion apprentice in my second year riding. I had started riding in September 1980, but my first full year was 1981. I also topped the rider standings in New York that year as an apprentice. I was with all these great riders I had looked up to growing up, it was really quite overwhelming. Fortunately I had good people around me, like my trainer Steve Di Mauro who kept me grounded and also impressed upon me the importance of horsemanship.

TBP: How many riders these days are jockeys more than horsemen?

RM: I’d say these days around 60% of riders are jockeys first and horsemen second. I think we are going in the wrong direction with that.  A lot of riders today don’t have the grounding that riders used to get. They don’t seem to have the same appreciation for the horses, and what the people around them do to get them to the races.

TBP: What differentiates good riders from great riders?

RM: I think to be a great rider you really have to be a chameleon and have the ability to ride any kind of horse or race. You hear a lot about horses suiting the rider’s style. It’s important for great riders for the rider to fit and adapt to the horse’s style. Also all great riders are great horse listeners, they are very good at picking up on what the horse is telling them.


TBP: When you were race riding, which riders did you least like to see coming upsides you in a tight finish?

RM: Definitely Angel Cordero. Also George Velasquez. He always saved horse and had plenty of horse left. A less well known rider who was underrated by many was Ruben Hernandez who won the Belmont Stakes on Coastal. He was so strong and impressive in a finish. If you got by him a neck and didn’t open up, he was going to come back and beat you. He was probably one of the most underrated riders I ever rode with.

TBP: Are riders creatures of habit when it comes race riding?

RM: Yes, and if you study and pay attention you get to know which riders have which tendencies. For example you learn which riders if they are in front are going to go to meet the challenge if someone moves up to them. If someone goes up outside them they are habitually going to go to the outside and will consequently open up the rail. Likewise you get to know which riders are really going to guard the rail if they are on it, which are going to be difficult if you try to get up inside them, things like that. Knowing horses and riders and what their tendencies and habits are is all part of the puzzle and fun of race riding.

TBP: Tell us about some of your personal favorite horses over the years.

RM: The first horse I would like to mention was a horse called Creme De La Fete. He was just a claimer but he showed up and ran his race every single time. I won fifteen races as a kid on him. I rode him for four or five years, from 1981 to 1985, from when I was an apprentice to when I was a full jockey. He was a remarkably honest  and hard trying horse. I believe he won 40 races in all. (*Creme De La Fete ran 151 times from age 2 to 9 and won 40 races for earnings of $460,350 – Ed.)

MiglioreHiddenLakeAnother favorite was a mare called Hidden Lake. She was very high class and was Champion older mare in 1997. She was a jockey’s dream to ride and was very tactical and versatile, you never had to worry about having a bad trip with her. If they went slow she could make the pace, if they went fast she could come from dead last. If there was a little hole on the rail she was brave, she would go right through it. If she was caught wide she would go round the outside. A lot of even the good horses need a particular kind of trip, she didn’t. Nothing bothered her and you could put her anywhere in a race.

I rode the last Grade 1 winner of my career on a mare called Flashing owned by Godolphin. She had been very difficult in the mornings and she had actually run off and bolted with Javier Castellano in a race. She was a bit of a project. They asked me to get on her in the mornings and I got along with her really well, so then I got on her in the afternoon. The development and management of her, culminating in those two Grade 1 stakes wins, The Test, and The Gazelle at Belmont over 9 furlongs, was very satisfying.

TBP: Tell us about Artie Schiller.

RM: Ah I loved Artie Schiller… I first started getting on him as a two year old forJimmy Jerkens. We knew he was special early on. First time out we ran him over 6 furlongs which we thought would be too short, but he got up and won with me that day from a very bad position. That confirmed he was a runner as he really had no right to win from where he had been in the race. We went on to win four or five stakes with him as a three year old.

Then, for me on a personal level, the heartbreak period with him began. I got injured in New York the day before the Breeder’s Cup was to be run in Texas. Artie Schiller was running in the Breeders Cup Mile and I decided that I was okay to ride him. It was pretty much the biggest professional mistake of my life. My desire got the better of my common sense.  I was hurt worse than I thought, or at least admitted to myself. I wasn’t at my best and I shouldn’t have ridden him. Consequently I lost the ride to Edgar Prado.

MiglioreHollywoodParkThe trick with Artie was that he had one really explosive run, but it was quite a short one. If you rode him conservatively and kept him to the outside in the clear, his run would come to an end and he would hang a little. After I lost the ride this happened with other riders on him a couple of times. Very fortunately they gave me the ride back and I won the Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga on him.

I worked him a few days before the Breeders Cup Mile and he was absolutely phenomenal. I was confident that it was going to be full redemption for me. I remember telling my wife that morning we were going to get our first Breeders Cup win. Then I rode that afternoon and broke my leg in a fall, and had to miss the ride on Artie.

Artie won the race and got a great ride from Garrett Gomez. I was sad for myself but I was happy for Jimmy Jerkens, as it really put Jimmy on the map and showed people what a great horseman he is.

TBP: How about the prolific sprinter Affirmed Success?

RM: I got on Affirmed Success later in his career. He was an eight year old when I won the Grade 1 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct over 7 furlongs on him in 1:21 and change. He was as tough and hickory as a horse could be. He would run on dirt or turf and could win on the lead or from off the pace. He got a little lazy when he got older and you had to push and get after him throughout a race, but he would keep running and coming if you kept asking him. I don’t think he liked me very much when he was in training, as he would pin his ears and try and bite me when I saw him in the barn, but then I saw him in his retirement at Old Friends in Kentucky and he was very nice and laid back and kind to me.


TBP: Then there was Richter Scale.

RM: Richter Scale was pretty much a one dimensional speedball, a really fast horse, probably the most natural sprinter I ever rode. He would just break from the gate and you just had to sit as quiet as could be. If you moved a finger you would set him off and you’d be flat out. You could get him to relax for a furlong or so, so long as you didn’t move. He was coming out of two seven furlong races when he ran in the Laurel Dash. That day was the only time I let him run straight from the gate and I believe he ran six furlongs in 1.07 and ⅘ that day. He was extremely talented but he just wanted to be in front all the time.

Another I will always remember would be a filly called Tactile. She was a sweetheart. Richard Small trained her. She won the Gazelle at Belmont by a nose and then stepped up against older horses in the Beldame to win by a neck. She was very game and genuine.

TBP: How about the Kentucky Derby contender you won a Wood Memorial on, Eternal Prince.

RM: Eternal Prince was a really talented three year old. He ran in the Bayshore at Aqueduct where I tried to rate him, but he didn’t respond well and stopped. Then I rode him in the Gotham and let him roll and he went wire to wire. I think we ran the half mile in 44 and change.

MiglioreGothamWinPicAfter that we went for the Wood Memorial at a mile and a furlong. When he made the lead he rated himself nicely and we went wire to wire again, beating a horse called Proud Truth who went on to win the Breeders Cup Classic. It was quite an emotional win for me because I was still only 21. As I stood in the winner’s circle I remembered when I was a kid looking at the display of pictures of all the Wood Memorial winners, with all those legendary horses and jockeys on the wall there at Aqueduct.

Then we went to Churchill for the Derby. I worked him the Monday before the race. He was usually a horse that you had to talk out of doing too much, but that day he worked horribly. I think he had had a lot of racing already in the previous few months, and it caught up with him. In the Derby he didn’t break well. Spend a Buck went wire to wire to win.

I took a lot of unwarranted criticism with people saying that I had got left on him at the start, but the fact of the matter was that he was never going to win that day and was already a spent horse. It’s true that you often get too much of the credit when you win. You also often get too much of the blame when you lose.

TBP: You did ride a Kentucky Derby winner, but not until after he had won it. Like you he was a New Yorker, his name was Funny Cide. What was he like?

MigliorefunnycideRM: Funny Cide was a difficult character, a very tough horse. He was very strong, with a hard mouth. When horses got next to him he would get mad. The day he won the Dominion Stakes with me at Woodbine he actually threw me over the rail in the paddock into the crowd before the race. But he obviously had so much talent. In the Dominion we went wire to wire and I couldn’t pull him up. Even when the outrider caught us it took another five furlongs to stop him!

TBP: It’s always a subjective and tricky question, but who do you think might have been the best horse you ever rode?

RM: That’s a good question. The answer is probably a horse that most people have never heard of. When I was an apprentice I got to ride a horse who Mack Miller trained for Rokeby Stable, called Highjinks. He was by Tom Rolfe, and he just might have been the most talented horse I ever sat on.

Mack Miller didn’t usually use jockeys to work his horses in the mornings, but at the time he had a very talented horse in his barn called Winter’s Tale who won multiple graded stakes and three or four Grade 1s. Winter’s Tale needed a work mate, so Mack asked me to breeze Highjinks with him. The plan was for me to jump off in front and then, in theory, Winter’s Tale would join and go by us at the eighth pole. When Winter’s Tale got to us Highjinks just picked up and ran away from him, so we knew he was special.

Unfortunately Highjinks only ever had one start before he got injured. I rode him at Belmont that day when he broke his maiden and beat a future Grade 1 winner called Akeroid.  We won by open lengths. Highjinks just laughed at Akeroid that day, but he never ran again.  After he got hurt I believe he wound up going back to Rokeby farm to become Mr Mellon’s riding horse.

MiglioreRetirementTBP: Unfortunately you experienced a forced retirement following a fall in a race in January 2010. Can you tell us what happened?

RM: I remember everything very clearly. I made a move turning for home on a horse called Honest Wildcat at Aqueduct in a claiming race. He unfortunately broke down and we both hit the ground head first and were knocked out. When I came to I couldn’t see. Everything was black. Then when I tried to get up I couldn’t because my legs wouldn’t work.

They took me to the hospital and I eventually got my mobility back. They said I had been badly concussed, but they couldn’t find any fractures in my neck or back. So I took a few weeks off and then started riding again.

The pain in my neck and back wasn’t going away.  I rode for about a month and the last day I rode, I won four races from five rides. When I got out of the shower after racing the pain was so bad that when I sat down on the bench I couldn’t get back up. My eldest son picked me up and drove me home, and the next day we made an appointment to go into Manhattan to see a spine specialist. He took x-rays and said “Well I see what’s wrong with you – you have six broken vertebrae.” I was stunned. He said the previous doctors  had missed it because I had had neck surgery previously and I already had fused bones in my neck, so the previous x-rays had been misread.

I had to have more surgery and they ended up putting two plates and eight screws in my neck and did extensive bone grafting. The specialist laid it out to me that if I carried on riding and took a hit I would be a quadroplegic, so I knew at that point that I had to turn the page.

MigliorewifeAfter the surgery was done and I started to recover, it was a very difficult time for me. I had been riding professionally since I was 15 years old and had never known anything else, I’d always known who I was in that sense, and now I felt like I’d almost lost my identity.

TBP: Did you ever consider becoming a trainer?

RM: I think I might train one day, but just after I gave up riding wasn’t the right time to start. Training is a very consuming job and I had already missed too many weekend and sporting events for my kids because of my commitments as a rider. I wanted to spend more time with my kids and family on my farm in upstate New York.

TBP: How did you become involved in broadcasting and presenting?

RM: I was leaving the track the day I announced my retirement, completely emotionally drained. Charlie Hayward, who was president of NYRA at the time, grabbed me and said if I was interested in going to work for NYRA to give him a call. Then when I got home and a couple of hours later Amy Zimmerman from HRTV called me and said she thought I could be good on television and offered me an opportunity to work with them. So in the September I started working for HRTV, and then I started combining it with work for NYRA too.

I also do a lot of spokesperson work for Saratoga, and I am heavily involved with the apprentice jockey program which gives me a lot of personal satisfaction. I was very fortunate that the people at HRTV really helped me get comfortable and teach me a lot. I have had great mentors and they couldn’t have helped me more.


TBP: Tell us about your farm in upstate New York, is it a working farm?

RM: We live on a farm in Millbrook in Duchess County. It’s not a working farm but we have animals and an indoor arena. We have one off track thoroughbred who was called Skeptical when he ran. He raced in Europe, Southern California and Finger Lakes before we got him. He’s well bred, by Kris S. out of a Fappiano mare. He didn’t do much as a racehorse but he’s a real pleasure to be around, a real character and a gentleman. My daughter has a pony hunter called Rosie and we have a bunch of chickens and dogs.

TBP: How can we attract more people to become racing fans?

RM: Horse racing is such a hybrid. I think we fail to present it correctly to the public and miss out on a lot of opportunities. I understand that gambling fuels the engine. But thoroughbred horse racing is not just gambling, it’s not just sport, it’s not just entertainment. It’s all of those things.

I think new fans need help when they come to the track too. I think back to when I was a kid. There was just win, place and show betting, the daily double, and the ninth race triple. There were no exotics. Nowadays we have trifectas, superfectas, quinellas, exactas and I think it’s quite overwhelming for new people. We need a better experience for beginners. We need rookie rooms at the tracks.

This is a customer driven experience and we need to look after our customers much better, industry wide. We have to make them welcome and give them a good experience. We have people available. People like some of the exercise riders who work on the backstretch in the mornings who are knowledgeable, and would love to pick up some part time work helping out rookie racegoers in the afternoons.

TBP: What can we do to make things better for retired racehorses? Who should be responsible for this and how should a national retirement fund for horses be funded?

RM: This is something that is very important to me. I am on the board of the TRF (Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation). It is incumbent upon the entire racing industry and anyone who derives a living from it to ensure that these horses are taken care of when their racing days are over. This should be non-negotiable.

That said, I believe that it all starts with the breeder, because that’s where the responsibility begins. There should be an amount, for the example let’s say it’s $500, that should be paid by breeders to go with the registration fee of every horse. That $500 should immediately go into an endowment policy for that horse or/and other horses.

After that, the responsibility falls on the other people in the industry to contribute. Anyone who benefits from racing should contribute, everyone from racetrack employees when they get licensed for instance to the vendors who sell beer at the track.

In a foal crop of 20,000, $10 million would be raised from the breeders fee alone. Things like this would show the world that collectively as an industry we have a plan to show that we are taking care of our equine athletes. Not only would it be great for the horses, it would also be a huge boost for the game from a PR standpoint.

Then we need to go to a place where land is inexpensive, where several thousand acres could be bought and a permanent thoroughbred retirement home could be established. The current smaller places that do such a great job could still do great work and become satellites.

Then we have the grooms who are close to retirement who just can’t do 4am, 7 day weeks anymore. Now they have a place to go. We build housing for them and they help with the operation of the facility.

Mig-WallkillThen we send kids out there who want to get into the industry, to train to become grooms and exercise riders. The farm would be training horses to be ready for a second career and at the same time a steady supply of  help would be being trained and prepared for the industry – qualified exercise riders, qualified grooms and apprentice riders, qualified horse shoers etc..

I’m not suggesting this would be simple and straightforward, but I see this as being feasible. Implementing a $500 breeding fee to go to racehorse retirement initiatives would be great for the horses and would hopefully cut down on some irresponsible breeding.

TBP: Did you ride on synthetic tracks in your career and what is your opinion of the current synthetic track situation?

RM: I liked riding on synthetic tracks. I think there was an opportunity there, but there were some problems, I think we were a little quick to put them in and that it wasn’t thought through enough. I also think we were too quick to take them out. I do think there is a place for them, and I know that a lot of horses are very comfortable on them. I hope that it is not a dead issue.

TBP: Do you think things might have been different if synthetic tracks had been presented and offered as an addition to dirt tracks, rather than as a replacement?

RM: Yes, with regard to the trainers initial resistance to the synthetic tracks replacing dirt, it’s like anything else. When you’ve done something one way your whole life and it’s then forced on you to change, you’re going to be resistant. But if it’s offered as an additional option and something to try, then it’s a whole different mindset for folks. A lot of people and horsemen would probably have been curious and interested rather than resistant.

MigliorewithFansTBP: What are your thoughts on the Lasix situation?

RM: If Lasix stays I think the protocols of a horse being allowed lasix have to be changed. For example, we could say that if a horse genuinely needs lasix then they are not going to be forbidden to have it, but they have to demonstrate that they need it before they can go on it.

Then they will be monitored every time they race on it. If they bleed again while they are on lasix, then they are banned from racing for a certain period of time. If they bleed on lasix again after that, then the ban is for a longer period of time, and if it continues then they will be disallowed from racing.

Under those circumstances I think most trainers would think twice about putting a horse on lasix unless they felt it to be really necessary. They would not want to put their horse under that kind of scrutiny unless the horse genuinely needed the medication.

TBP: How do you feel about the current state of the breeding industry?

RM: The economic ideas of breeding and the culture have changed. I think there has been a lot of irresponsible breeding and a lot of horses are bred that should not be bred at all. Many horses, that years ago would just have been gelded and carried on racing because they weren’t considered good enough to breed, now have a stallion career somewhere.

And look at the two year old in training sales. Two year olds are being asked to do something they’ll rarely be asked to do again in their life. They will never be asked to go an eighth of a mile in ten seconds again, as they just wouldn’t get home if they did that in a race. The consigner and seller don’t worry about it when it’s done, they’ve cashed in, their part is over.

I think these two year old sales may be running their course, I applaud people like Seth Hancock who refuse to have their babies asked to run that hard that early and who just have their horses gallop.

Good trainers don’t need to drill a horse to see it has ability. I admire trainers like Bill Mott, he never breezes horses fast. He doesn’t need to see it, he can tell how a horse is doing and what that horse is capable of. He can breeze a horse a half mile in 50 sec, and then he can say “yes I know he breezed in 50, but I know he’s a runner.” That’s why he’s a Hall of Fame trainer.

MiglioreInterviewsChadBrownTBP: What are your thoughts on how racing is marketed and the casino/slots relationships that many tracks have?

RM: When our sport is marketed by people who focus on it being only a gambling medium, we are really missing the boat. Racing is a multi-faceted hybrid, it’s not just about gambling, it gives people the chance to come along to the track, have a great time, witness something great and maybe even go home with more money than they came with. To focus on the gambling aspect like it’s a slot machine itself, to market it just on “you can make a big score” or “you could hit a pick 6” is just so short sighted. It is completely missing out on the opportunity to mark to the public just how wonderful and beautiful horse racing is. We are not even coming close to showing what we have to sell.

We need to market the horses and get people close to horses. Some tracks do stuff like “family fun days” with stuff like face painting and magic shows. That stuff just doesn’t correlate with what we have as our product, it has nothing to do with horses and racing. Why don’t we have pony rides with numbered saddle cloths and use the old silks that are no longer used from the weighing room and let the kids wear them? Then we’re doing something that is connecting the kids to the game and they can in a small way begin to relate to racing.

We do a good job of keeping people in the dark about our industry and keeping them on the outside, when we should be bringing them in and educating and involving them. I do a lot of commentary on the post parades for NYRA and try to give people entertaining information and education on things they might find interesting that they were unaware of before.

richard-migliore-nyraTBP: So should racing make it more about the horses themselves and push that side of it?

RM: Yes, I think we need to get people closer to the horses. I run a luncheon for prospective new owners for the New York Racing Association and it’s interesting, because often the husbands want to be a part of it and own a horse but their wives are sometimes skeptical. Then when we take them back to the barn area and let them get with the horses, after they get up close and personal with these amazing animals, suddenly the skepticism is gone and the wives are as into it as their husbands.

Six For Fun

TBP: What would say was your most satisfying day at the races?

RM: When my home was in New York but I was riding in California, it was a very difficult time. My family had stayed in New York and I was flying back and forth every weekend on the redeye. Then one weekend they all came out to Del Mar. I won the Pacific Classic on Student Council with my family there after all the sacrifices we had made. That was probably my most satisfying day at the races.

TBP: What do you get up to when you are not broadcasting or racing?

RM: I love to go hiking. There are so many things I am not supposed to do too much with my back and my neck condition, but I love to hike up here in Duchess County, the scenery is really spectacular.

TBP: Favourite type of music?

RM: I like singer songwriters like James Taylor and Jackson Browne. I’m showing my age there!

TBP: Favorite food or restaurants?

RM: As far as restaurants go, my wife is such a great cook – if I come home to her Chicken Cacciatore I’m a very happy guy! I’m probably around 146 pounds now. When I was riding I could ride at 115, but at 146 right now I am not overweight. 

TBP: Favorite vacation destination?

RM: This past summer we rented a house down on the Jersey Shore at a place called Sea Isle. I think it was the most relaxed I’ve ever been in my life.

TBP: Who would be your chosen guests at a dinner party?

RM: There is a chef I enjoy watching on TV, Jacques Papin, who I find very interesting. I think he’d be good company. If I was going to have him over I’d like to also invite Robert Mondavi the pioneering visionary winemaker. I’d also invite Colonel Matt Wynn who created the Kentucky Derby because I’d love to hear his views on racing today and how to market our sport.

JackieRobinsonEddie Arcaro would be on my list. I did meet him once when I was young, but I’d like to meet him again now I am older. Sunny Fitzsimmons and Allen Jerkens, both legendary trainers, would round out the list. I knew Allen quite well. For me he was one of the best horsemen that ever lived, and he told me some great stories about Sunny Fitzsimmons. To have them both at the table together would be quite something. Lastly I would like to invite a boyhood hero of mine, Jackie Robinson. He created such change in our culture and it would be great to have him at the table.


Richard Migliore, 42, atop winner Kip Deville in December, remembers what it was like to be an apprentice in 1981, when he was the leading apprentice jockey in the country.

Richard Migliore on Kip Deville

The Interviews: Legendary Jockey’s Agent Ron Anderson

Thursday, July 12th, 2018

After starting out as a jockey’s agent in 1973, Ron Anderson soon became one of the industry’s most successful and respected agents. World class riders including Gary Stevens, Jerry Bailey, Garrett Gomez and Joel Rosario have all utilized and benefited from Ron’s services. Ron talked to Thoroughbred People about his career.

TBP: How did you get interested in racing and how did you become a jockey’s agent?

RA: I was born and a raised a few miles from Santa Anita, my parents were weekend horseplayers when I was growing up, so as a kid I became a fan through going to the track with them. When I was really young there was no Sunday racing, they only ran on Saturdays. Sunday racing came in a little later. When I left high school I was thinking about going to UCLA law school, but I didn’t feel quite ready for that. It was 1973 and I had a couple of friends who were jockey’s agents, Scotty McCullen and Craig O’Brien, so I thought I would try my hand at being an agent myself.

FernandoToroTBP: How did you learn the ropes?

RA: There is no manual on what we do, you learn as you go along. One of the main things is that you have to learn how to get along with a lot of different kinds of people. You can say one thing to one guy and he will laugh along with you and be fine, then you can say the same thing to another and he will be irate. You need to learn the different personalities and when and how to approach people. Trainers have so much going on in their training business, as well as their personal lives. It’s a soft sell with most people, they don’t want to be hard sold. Fortunately I’ve had good riders who were in demand which makes life a lot easier.

TBP: When did your career as an agent take off?

My big break was when I got Fernando Toro on my book. Chick McCullen had been his agent for years, and when he retired I was lucky enough to get Fernando. I don’t think I would have had the success I have had if it wasn’t for Fernando. He was an older, very experienced rider. He took me under his wing and taught me a heck of a lot, especially about horses. I wasn’t a horseman myself, so that was a really big help to me. If I am ever considered good at what I do, which I hope I am, I put a lot of it down to what I learned as an agent for Fernando Toro. I worked with him for ten years, from 1980 through 1990. We won a lot of good races including a Breeders Cup and an Arlington Million.

GaryStevensTBP: Which riders have you represented since Fernando? 

RA: I was agent for Gary Stevens. I had a ten year run with Gary, through to 2000. We had a great time and a lot of success. Even to this day at the age of 51 or 52 the guy is still an absolute phenomenon. His comeback after seven years away was just incredible. I think a lot of people don’t understand or appreciate how big a feat that was.

ChrisAntleyI worked with Chris Antley, then I had Jerry Bailey from 2000 to 2006. After that I took Garrett Gomez’s book for five years. He led the country in earnings for four of those years, and was second in the fifth.

Currently I have Joel Rosario. Joel is an amazing rider and a very gifted athlete. He can win on the third best horse and regularly does. He could have excelled at many sports.  I usually work with just one rider but I have at times had two or more. I had Kent Desormeaux with Gary Stevens, Richard Migliore with Garrett Gomez and David Flores.


TBP: Tell us a little about the characteristics of some of your past riders.

RA: Fernando Toro was a family person, very straight laced and a great guy all round.  He used to be called “Toro on the Turf”. He was excellent on the dirt too, but he was spectacular on the turf and his reputation was that of a turf rider. He saved ground, he was patient, he knew exactly what to do and when to do it, when to move and when not to.

Chris Antley was a freak of a rider. He was also very classy, considerate and kind to everybody. On the other hand he had a dark side. I don’t think he had the greatest of upbringings and I don’t think he liked himself too much, which is why he got into trouble with drugs, but he was an amazing rider. Chris stayed with me at my home for a while after he came out of rehab.

GarretGomezGarret Gomez was also a great rider and he was very good to me. He had some problems too, but when he was with me I didn’t once think he was using drugs, or in trouble. He never gave me an ounce of grief about anything. He was a very talented rider on any day of the week, but when the big money was involved, he went to a whole different level.

Jerry Bailey, in the first five years I had him, led the nation in earnings. Then he broke his wrist and finished down the table, but he was a renowned, world class rider and we had an amazing run together. He was very detail oriented, always did his homework, you see his analysis on TV now, he was like that as a rider, always very well prepared. He knew the other riders’ styles and habits very well too and used that to his advantage.

Gary Stevens was amazing and we did very well together. We won the Kentucky Derby twice, with Thunder Gulch and then Silver Charm. We had a very successful time out in Hong Kong too.

HongKongHappyValleyTBP: How did you enjoy the racing in Hong Kong?

RA: Hong Kong was great, but they only had two days of racing a week and there just wasn’t enough action for us. When they do race though it’s very popular, the field sizes are very good and the purses are huge. Race days are a big event, it’s like a rock concert, people show up an hour and a half before the first race and are still there an hour and a half after the last. Even though people can bet in lots of locations away from the track, thousands of people still come to the track every day when they race. When I was there a few years ago they were getting $125 million a day in handle and it has increased since back then!

YutakaTakeI spent a week with their top rider, Yutaka Take. Yutaka is revered like a rockstar over there, he earns a crazy amount of endorsement money before he even gets on a horse. He’s a great rider and I personally found him to be a very nice and classy guy.

TBP: What do we need to do to get more people to come to the track back here in the USA?

RA: The first thing we need to do is we have to stop charging people to come to gamble. With entry, parking and buying a program you’re out so many dollars before you even make a $2 bet. There is no incentive for people to come to the track to gamble over the alternative options of a casino, or to gamble away from the track. We need to operate racetracks like the casinos, where people who are gambling are looked after with free drinks and refreshments etc.. It’s a little scary to think what’s going to happen with the next generation and where the fans are going to come from, unless big changes are made.

TapetaTBP: What is your opinion of the synthetic track situation?

RA: I was a big believer in the synthetic tracks and I really don’t think they got the chance they deserved. In my opinion, some of the track maintenance guys kind of dropped the ball. I think the tracks were maintained incorrectly and probably installed incorrectly. That was my explanation when Demi O’Byrne once called me up and said “Ron, these tracks work everywhere else in the entire world, why don’t they work in the United States?” They were dirt track people trying to maintain tracks that weren’t dirt.

As well as using them for racing, I believe we should have synthetic tracks to train on. Zenyatta was a product of a synthetic racetrack. Synthetics extended and saved her career. She was such a big horse, if she had run and trained on dirt surfaces she would most likely have been compromised, she would not have lasted like she did and we wouldn’t have had the good fortune of experiencing her phenomenon.

ChrisAntley2When the Breeders Cup was run at Santa Anita for two years, they had a maintenance crew from Australia looking after the synthetic track during that time. For those two years, that track was pristine, it was as good and safe as a track can be. I understand that the track management team then changed and they stopped maintaining it as they should have done, and that’s when the problems began.

I think there was also a lot of negative vibe and feeling from the dirt track protagonists and and I’m not sure how much they wanted the synthetics to work. It’s a real shame because I try to tell this to people all the time – these horses are feeding every single person working in or around the game, and the more we can do to extend their welfare, their lives and their racing careers, the better it is for everybody, from even the guy selling beer in the grandstand to everyone else – and synthetic tracks were doing that.

TBP: What sports do you follow outside of racing?

RA: I like Hockey and Football, but this game and what I do is so involving that I really don’t have much time to do too much else!

RonAnderson2TBP: Do you miss California and might you ever move back to the West Coast?

RA: I lived in California most of my life, but I’ve been based on the East coast for quite a while now and I don’t see myself going back to California. The racing is generally very good here in New York and people seem more interested and attuned to horse racing here. I like the East Coast.


The Interviews: Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer Graham Motion

Saturday, April 28th, 2018

Kentucky Derby, Dubai World Cup and multiple stakes winning trainer Graham Motion moved to the US from his native England in 1980. Since starting to train in 1993 Graham’s horses have won more than 2000 races and over $100 million in purses. Graham talked to Thoroughbred People about the Fair Hill training center where he is based, Derby winner Animal Kingdom, the legendary Better Talk Now and his training career so far.

TBP: Tell us how you got involved in racing.

GM: My parents had a thoroughbred farm, Herringswell Stud in Newmarket, England, so I was always involved with racehorses. Growing up I actually wanted to be a jockey rather than a trainer. When I was sixteen my family moved to the US and after I graduated high school here I went to France to work on a thoroughbred stud farm. I did some training of the two year olds over there and I really enjoyed it. Then I went to work for Jonathan Sheppard in Pennsylvania.

TBP: One of the horses you were closely involved with when you worked for Jonathan Sheppard was the legendary Eclipse Award champion steeplechase horse, Flatterer. What was he like as an individual?

GM: I looked after Flatterer and traveled with him to his races, including a trip back to my native England when he ran second in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. He was a pleasure to be around, he was a kind horse and an easy ride. He wasn’t particularly impressive to look at, you wouldn’t walk into the yard and think “wow who’s that”, he was just a plain looking horse.

Graham+MotionTBP: How did you break into training here in the US?

GM: After working for Jonathan Sheppard I went to France again to work for the trainer Jonathan Pease. When I was over in France I became friends with Steve Moyer, who was from the US and was assistant trainer to Maurice Zilber at the time. Steve was going to start training in Maryland, so when he did I came back and helped Steve out. After a while working at Steve’s I got a call from a trainer called Bernie Bond. He was looking for an assistant to work with him at his Pimlico barn. He offered me the job and I worked for him for three years. It was a very different experience to working with Jonathan Sheppard, who trained a lot of older long distance turf horses and jumpers, away from the racetrack on the farm. Bernie’s speciality was speedy two year olds and precocious early types.

When Bernie retired his owners decided to stay with me and I started training the horses myself. One of the conditions of me taking over the string was that we moved the barn from Pimlico to Laurel, which was fine with me because Laurel was a nicer track. Back then the training crew was pretty much just myself, my wife and my present assistant who has been with me since then, Adrian Rolls.

TBP: How did things go at Laurel?

GM: I wanted to try and expand the operation. One horse that really helped me out and put me on the map was a horse Bernie had previously trained, a pretty serious stakes horse called Gala Spinaway. He had been off with an injury. After he came back I won several stakes races with him, and that helped me to attract more owners and horses.

fairhillTBP: How did you get involved with Fair Hill?

GM: We started stabling some horses at Delaware Park in the summer as the stable expanded. I had a good friend called Bruce Jackson who had worked with me at Jonathan Sheppard’s. Bruce was training at Fair Hill. He encouraged me to take some stalls there, so we took a group of horses over. When I started training it was really not fashionable to train at a training center. The perception was that you had to train at the racetrack if you were going to be successful. Now it has become much more acceptable. Michael Dickinson helped with his achievements in general and with Da Hoss of course who he trained here at Fair Hill. We have also had two Kentucky Derby winners come from here, Animal Kingdom for me and Barbaro for Michael Matz, so that helped people understand it more.

fairhill1TBP: How many horses are trained at Fair Hill and what are your facilities?

GM: We have two barns now with over a 100 horses. Fair Hill in total probably has six hundred horses and twelve to fourteen trainers. We have two oval tracks, a 7 furlong Tapeta track and a mile dirt track, plus thousands of acres to do what we want with. We also have a turf course with an uphill incline that we can breeze over which is very useful. We have plenty of space and a lot of my horses are turned out in a paddock each day before they train which is great for them.

TBP: How would you feel if you had to go back to training at the racetrack?

GM: I don’t think I could do it to tell the truth. I’ve been fairly spoilt here.

TBP: How many horses do you have in training at Fair Hill and elsewhere?

GM: At the moment I have about 150 horses in total, probably a third of which are two year olds. I have a diverse group of clients, many of whom have been with me for a long time.

fairhill3TBP: What do you enjoy the most about training racehorses?

GM: I think one of the aspects I enjoy the most is pointing a horse to a long term target and pulling it off. And the day to day hands on training of course. I got into this because I love horses.

TBP: What concerns you about the sport today?

GM: The whole issue of medication, and the lack of a national policy, is a huge problem that I am really tired of. We really need to solve it and I am concerned that we never will. It wouldn’t bother me at all if Lasix was banned tomorrow. We lean on medication as a crutch and it takes away from the training. If you don’t have Lasix you just adapt and train a horse differently. That’s the nuts and bolts of it.

TBP: What is your opinion on the removal of synthetic tracks from Santa Anita, Del Mar and Keeneland?

GM: It’s very disappointing, I was devastated when they took the synthetic track out at Keeneland, I couldn’t believe it. I think it’s a real shame because the synthetics were not put in the right way in the first place and were not taken care of correctly after they were put in. It was very badly handled and I think a lot of tracks cut some corners. We have never had a problem with our Tapeta track here at Fair Hill and that’s because we listen to Michael Dickinson when he advises us how to maintain it.

keenelandIt is well documented and proven that the synthetic tracks are significantly safer than dirt tracks for horses and it is sad that the industry does not want to pursue synthetics. I would have thought safety for horses and riders would be the most important priority for racing quite frankly.

TBP: What other issues concern you?

GM: I think we generally have too much racing, which puts a strain on racetracks to fill races. By watering down the product by having so much racing we shoot ourselves in the foot.

TBP: Do you have many options for horses that retire from racing?

GM: Yes, we have a lot of success with rehoming horses. Being located here in Maryland helps. To me the retirement homes should be a last resort as they are often very underfunded. Creating awareness of what retired racehorses can go on to do after they finish racing is a big part of what we are trying to do with Icabad Crane. He ran in the Preakness for us and is now a successful eventer. There is information on him on my website

bettertalknowTBP: Tell us about the prolific winning gelding Better Talk Now who you had an incredible amount of success with. He raced for you until he was ten and really seemed to accelerate your career.

GM: Better Talk now was a useful two year old, but we gelded him after his three year old year because he was a real handful. He still is even now, he is very cantankerous and a difficult horse to ride. Part of what made him was the rapport that Ramon Dominguez built up with him. He won just about every Grade 1 Stake on the Turf in New York and won me my first Breeders Cup race when he won the Breeders Cup Turf. He is turned out here at Fair Hill with Gala Spinaway. It’s really nice to have him around and see him every day.

Animal-KingdomTBP: How about Animal Kingdom who you won the Kentucky Derby with? How did you come to train him?

GM: Wayne Catalano had Animal Kingdom as a two year old. Barry Irwin gave the horse a break and then asked me to train him and the other Team Valor horses. He came to me in Florida in the January and they were pretty high on him. I trained a good horse at the time called Pluck who had won the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf with Todd Pletcher and I started working him with Animal Kingdom at Palm Meadows. Pluck was working well enough, but when Animal Kingdom was doing everything so easily alongside him, that’s when he got my attention.

We won with him at Turfway on the Polytrack. We decided we would go for the Kentucky Derby, if he worked well on the dirt. We had a very wet spring so he ended up doing most of his work on the Polytrack at Keeneland. We finally got a dirt work into him at Churchill where he went unbelievably well. He went on to win the Derby of course under Johnny Velasquez.

AnimalKingdomGrahamMotionI think if he had broken better he could have won the Preakness too.  We were thinking about the Dubai World Cup for him as a 4 year old, but then he picked up an injury and had to have some extended time off.  Barry said we should go for the race the next year as a five year old, which I thought was incredibly optimistic at the time. But Animal Kingdom came back really well. Everything went to plan with his training and he was in great condition going into the World Cup the following year. He won it of course. He was a tricky horse to ride, quite quirky with a bit of streak in him, but overall he was a kind horse, big and strong with a great demeanor. He never got shaken up and always handled things really well.

TBP: Which other horses have been some of your favorites?

GM: Film Maker was very special to me. She was a very kind and generous mare. It was pretty brutal getting beaten by Ouija Board in the Breeders Cup Filly and Mare Turf three times. She was a bit of a hard luck filly being around at the same time as Ouija Board, but she was still very successful and won over two million dollars.  

Shared Account was an absolute pleasure to be around. She was around 40-1 when she won the Breeders Cup Filly and Mare Turf in 2010, beating Henry Cecil’s filly Midday by a neck. It was quite amazing for me to find myself beating Henry Cecil, who I had idolized growing up as a kid in England.

Ring Weekend was a great horse, he won the Grade 1 Kilroe mile at Santa Anita but he had problems with a nasty foot abscess afterwards. He was always a really good work horse. I thought he was the best two year old I had in his two year old year.

Main_SequenceMain Sequence won four Grade 1s and it was very disappointing that he injured a tendon and had to be retired. It makes you wonder how good he was when we see how well Flintshire, who Main Sequence beat in the Breeders Cup Turf, did afterwards. He was a very easy horse to be around. Before he was gelded he could get a little wound up, a little bit nervous but he was generally kind and a good work horse.

TBP: What things can we do to improve the racing product and experience?

GM: We don’t seem to help ourselves in many areas that could be easily fixed. Aside from lowering the quality of racing by having too much of it, it is ridiculous in this day and age that we don’t even have high definition TV feeds at most tracks. When you see pictures of horses in high definition the beauty and movement of the horses and the racing is captured more and it is naturally a more interesting and exciting spectacle.  

It’s frustrating to me that we don’t have more long distance races. New York has made a big, positive move in creating more long distance races which is great. They are fun to watch, create variety for fans and options for horses.

TBP: Can you ever see yourself doing what John Gosden did and leaving the USA to train in your native England?

GM: Well I would never say never if an amazing situation came up, but I think it would be very hard for me to leave my operation here in the US. I have had good success here in America and I have had great opportunities that wouldn’t have been available to me in the UK, like winning the Kentucky Derby of course! I am very happy here.


Gala Spinaway and Better Talk Now Scratching each other’s backs in their retirement

The Interviews: Renowned Thoroughbred Artist Thomas Allen Pauly

Saturday, April 30th, 2016

Thomas Allen Pauly & American PharoahAward-winning equine artist Thomas Allen Pauly has portrayed some of the finest horses and jockeys in the country. Born and raised in Chicago, Pauly’s work has encompassed Royal Ascot, the Hong Kong Cup, the Arc de Triomphe, the Dubai World Cup, the Velka Pardubicka Ceske Pojistovny Steeplechase in Prague and numerous Breeders’ Cups, Preaknesses, Belmonts and Kentucky Derbies.


TBP: Tom, how did you become an equine artist, and were you an artist before you discovered horse racing?

TP: When I was in 5th grade at John Palmer school in Chicago, my classmate Paul Cronin brought a “Mad” magazine into class. The issue was passed around from desk to desk and it finally arrived at mine. I was paging through it and I came across a cartoon of President Richard Nixon that was illustrated by Mort Drucker, and for some odd reason I was compelled to copy it. I started buying more and more Mad Magazines to do more drawings from them. They taught me how to draw. I ended up with a huge collection. To this day I sign my name with 3 dots at the end of my name, just like Mort Drucker does.

My introduction to the world of horse racing began on June 17, 1978. I was at a party hosted by a guy who’s dad owned tons of harness horses. That night he invited everyone to go watch his dad’s horse Rusty Win race at Sportsman’s Park in Cicero, IL. He captured the feature race by five lengths and we all got to be in the winner’s picture.

A week later, I received the photo and decided to draw my friend’s horse. His dad bought the picture and I was hooked.

ThomasAllenPauly_American PharoahTBP: When you started painting horses was it just for your own enjoyment? At what point did it become a professional situation, was there a turning point where business started to accelerate?

The moment I sold my first horse picture, I decided that painting race horses would be my profession. For 11 years I painted only harness horses. But, it was a commission of the Who’s Who in Racing from newly built Arlington Park that directed my brushes to the Thoroughbreds

TBP: What is your process and how does it start – Do you use film and photo images, and how important is it to experience the individual animal in person? How long does it typically take to paint a horse like American Pharoah, or a picture of a major race? Is there ever a true end/finish? Or could you always continue/tweak etc..?

TP: I enjoy using my own photographs as reference material for my art. I try to see and photograph every horse that I paint. I feel it is very important to view my subjects in person and take notes about their conformation, coloring and tack. I have photographed the last seventeen Kentucky Derbies and those photos, at least to me, are priceless. So many memories.

Once I choose the best image for my layout, I sketch it on the canvas, then I apply the underpainting followed by layers and layers of thin oil paints. It usually takes six to eight weeks. Once I sign the painting, it is completed. I never second guess my work.

ThomasAllenPauly_ArlingtonParkTBP: What proportion of your work is private commissions for horses’ owners or breeders etc. and how much of your work is available for sale as originals or/and fine art prints etc.?

TP: I enjoy doing commissions, I love the artist – patron relationship. I have never had a client influence the way that I would portray their champion. They hired me for my experience and pretty much permit me to paint what I want. In between commissions I will paint racing scenes, jockey portraits or racing silks, still life. I do have a few originals and fine art prints available on my website,

TBP: Please tell us about some of your favorite horses that you have painted, and which works are you particularly pleased/satisfied with?

TP: My favorite horse to portray is the great Triple Crown Champion Secretariat. I have portrayed him 9 times. I had the wonderful opportunity to meet and photograph him while he was at Claiborne Farm. I shot only 36 pictures which I cherish, but I do wish I had shot more. When they led Secretariat out of his barn he noticed that there was a group of photographers waiting for him. He looked at us and stood in the most perfect conformation pose. We were amazed at his professionalism. Last year, I was commissioned as the Official Artist of American Pharoah – Triple Crown champion by his owner Team Zayat. This was a great honor, WOW, a Triple Crown Winner… ! 

We published a limited edition print of him winning the Derby. The print was sold at Belmont Park on the day of his historic Triple Crown win. It sold out in hours.

72_ThomasAllenPauly woodfordRecently, I was selected as the Official Artist of the Woodford Reserve Kentucky Derby Bourbon bottle. They are the Official Bourbon of the Derby and I am looking forward to seeing my painting image everywhere at this year’s event. This will be my 18th Derby.

TBP: What have been some of your toughest/most challenging assignments/commissions?

TP: One of my toughest paintings was also one of my largest. The 5′ x 12′ triptych was commissioned by the National Art Museum of Sport for their Speed and Motion: Racing to the Finish Line exhibit. I only had a month to work on it. Although, it was a tough one, I completed it a couple hours before shipping it down to Indiana. It now proudly hangs in my art studio.

Six For Fun

june_17_1978_first_time_at_trackTBP: What might you pick out as your most memorable day’s racing or racing experience?

There are two that stand out. Photographing my first Kentucky Derby in 1999, and photographing my first Triple Crown champion after witnessing six failed attempts, then meeting American Pharoah.

TBP: When you are not immersed in art, do you pursue any other vocations or hobbies?

TP: I do volunteer work for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF) They do wonderful work. The PDJF is committed to working with both industry and medical research groups to improve the safety of both the human and equine athlete as well as medical research projects dedicated to reducing catastrophic injuries.

TBP: What is your favorite type of music?

Jazz/Big Band. Love Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, they make my brush “Swing”

TBP: Favorite vacation destination?

Paris, France, and Newmarket, England. It is generally considered the birthplace and global centre of Thoroughbred horse racing.

TBP: Favorite type of food or restaurant?

TP: RL restaurant in Chicago. It’s part of the Ralph Lauren Flagship store on Michigan Ave. The food is great and the entire restaurant is decorated with equine art, jockey silks, saddles and racing memorabilia . It reminds me of my art studio.

72_thomasAllenPauly _Richard DuchossoisTBP: If you could pick any guests for an interesting dinner party who might you invite to your table?

TP: Equine Artist Richard Stone Reeves (my mentor), Jockey Willie Shoemaker, Del Mar Racetrack owner and singer Bing Crosby, Secretariat owner Penny Chenery, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, Arlington Park Racetrack owner Richard Duchossois and Queen Elizabeth… What a dinner party this would be.



Visit Thomas Allen Pauly’s website at 

The Fine Art of Secretariat by Thomas Allen Pauly – View Video

The Fine Art of Racing by Thomas Allen Pauly – View Video


The Interviews: Fairgrounds Leading Trainer, Michael Stidham

Saturday, January 16th, 2016


Since he started out in the 1980s, much travelled trainer Michael Stidham’s horses have won over 1600 races and $48 million dollars in prize money. A recent winner of the Trainer’s title at Fairgrounds racetrack, Michael took time out of his busy schedule to talk to Thoroughbred People about his career to date.

TBP: Michael, how did you get involved in horse racing?

MS: My father was a jockey in New Jersey so I was born into it really. My brother Steve Stidham was the track photographer at Hollywood Park for about fifteen years. As a child I loved the action of the races. The Hall of Fame rider Bill Hartack was a family friend and he also had a big influence on me. My father advised me against being a trainer as he felt it wasn’t a very secure business to be in. He said to go to college, and if I wanted to be around the racetrack he suggested I become a vet. As a jockey on the lower levels he had fought the ups and downs of the game and I guess he just didn’t want me to go through what he had been through. I decided to try the college route with a view to becoming a vet, but after a couple of years it was clear that it wasn’t for me, I really wanted to become a trainer.

MichaelStidham1TBP: Tell us about how your early training career.

MS: I worked my way up through the ranks to become an assistant trainer to my father when we were based at Calder in Florida. Then he sent me with about eight of our lower level horses to Florida Downs, which is now Tampa Bay Downs. I was there for a winter meet and I learned a lot. Then in 1980 I got the opportunity to train privately for Harold Goodman at Louisiana Downs. We did pretty well and won a couple of nice stakes races, then Mr Goodman asked me to go on to Southern California with some of his horses. I spent the next ten years in Southern California. While I was training there I went over to France to look for a stallion prospect for Mr Goodman and we found a horse by Nijinsky called Manzotti. He was a big beautiful horse with an amazing stride. I told Mr Goodman we had to have him and we gave $150,000, which as it turned out was a great deal.

We initially ran him on the turf over here a couple of times and he didn’t run that well, so we switched him to dirt and that’s when he got really good. He was a very tough, strong horse to be around and tough to handle sometimes, but he went on to win several Graded Stakes for us, and later sired Two Altazano who became my first Grade 1 winner.

MichaelStidham2Then towards the end of the ‘80s things got a bit lean for me and I was having to rethink my future. I was down to about six horses, so I decided to go up to Northern California, I had some solid relationships with Southern California trainers and I figured they might send me some horses who weren’t fitting down south and that might revitalize things for me.

Sure enough, within a short period of time up there I was up to around twenty horses and I was back on track, but I didn’t have any really good horses and I wasn’t really getting anywhere. Then Mr Goodman asked me to go to Sam Houston in Texas to train for him. Texas racing was taking off at  the time, but after I’d been down there a year or so Mr Goodman sadly passed away suddenly. The family, who I was close with, were very good to me and allowed me to continue with my contract and also take on outside clients, so I managed to slowly build the operation up through the ‘90s and things started to get better for me.

I knew I had to get on to a good circuit where they had good purses and good turf racing year round as well, so I decided on Arlington Park in Chicago in the summer and New Orleans in the winter, stopping off at Keeneland in the spring and the fall.

MichaelStidham6TBP: Who are your assistant trainers and what sort of client base do you have?

MS: My main assistant is Hilary Pridham, and I have Mitch Dennison at Laurel and Nick Canani at Hawthorne. I have a lot of owners and a very diverse client base. My biggest clients are probably Ike and Dawn Thrash, who I won a Grade 1 stake at Keeneland for with Her Emmynency. I now also train for clients like Marty Nixon, John Adger, Twin Creeks Racing Stable, Cobra Farm, Pin Oak, West Point Thoroughbreds and Dare To Dream Stable, and recently Mr Duchussois, who owns Arlington Park, became a client.

TBP: What is your favourite part of training racehorses?

MS: I really like developing the young horses. It’s like a puzzle to solve when you first bring them in and start working with them, analyzing their pedigrees, watching them train, watching their stride, watching them work with the other two year olds and figuring out what distance and surface they are likely to want.

I try to adapt my training style to the individual horse depending on their characteristics and habits. I watch how they respond to different types of training, identify what works best with  them and make an individual program for each.

MichaelStidham5TBP: What do you think of synthetic tracks?

MS: We train all summer long at Arlington on the polytrack. On a day to day wear and tear basis it is easier on them and you just don’t see the same kind of catastrophic breakdowns on the synthetic tracks that you see on dirt tracks. If I can avoid issues like chips in knees and ankles obviously that’s good news. They talk about temperature problems with the synthetics in California, but it gets hot in a Chicago summer and we didn’t have any problems with the polytrack there.

Here at Keeneland I work most of my horses on the polytrack. For me it’s been safer to train on. I was 100% behind the synthetics all along. I went to see Mr Duchussois to let him know how good I felt about the polytrack at Keeneland before they put it in at Arlington. The Arlington dirt track was a dangerous track when it rained and I’m very glad that they put the synthetic surface in there.

TBP: How did you feel about Keeneland taking out their synthetic track and going back to dirt?

MS: I was disappointed when Keeneland took their synthetic track out. It unfortunately came down to a corporate mentality as there was a feeling that they wouldn’t get the Breeders Cup unless they did that, but it wasn’t in the best interest of the horses.

TBP: Do you see other types of injuries occurring on the synthetic tracks?

On the synthetics we see some high suspensory strains for example, some hind end issues, but the difference is that these are manageable injuries that horses can recover from, unlike many of the terminal injuries that occur on dirt tracks. It is definitely harder to keep horses sound on dirt tracks than synthetic tracks or turf.

Grade 1 Winner Miss EmmynencyTBP: You recently pulled off a great training performance when you won a Grade 1 at Keeneland with Miss Emmynency who you brought back from a long layoff, what was the issue that had put her out of action?

MS: Miss Emmynency came down with colitis when we were preparing her for the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies in 2014. We got her to the clinic in time and luckily we saved her. We gave her four months off at the farm and she recovered well. As a two year old she had showed us a lot of talent, she was very quick. We took her to Del Mar where she broke her maiden and was then second beaten just a neck in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante. Then we went to Santa Anita where she won the listed Surfer Girl Stakes on the turf very impressively. After that is when she came down with the colitis.

TBP: Where are you on the medication debate?

MS: I feel strongly that things needed to be reigned in, things were out of control with so many guys abusing things like clenbuterol, anabolic steroids and regularly injecting horses right on top of races. With our racing schedule however I am against banning Lasix. We’re racing year round here and I think if we can help these horses with some issues with things like that and anti-inflammatories then why not?

TBP: Tell us about some of your other good horses. Istanford?

MS: Istanford was a very quirky filly, highly strung and a little difficult to deal with in the mornings, quirky in the paddock too, but a lot of talent, very athletic. She won the Grade 2 San Clemente at Del Mar in 2014 and we also won against the boys in the Arlington Classic. She was similar to Two Altazanno in that if she made the lead in her races and got her way she was very hard to get by.

MichaelStidham4TBP: How about Upper Line?

MS: Upper Line is a great story. I trained for Stonerside for Bob and Janice McNair. John Adger who was their racing manager and has known me since my days with Harold Goodman, called me when they were selling their operation and horses to Darley. John said that there were some yearlings that Darley were weeding out but that were from well bred families, and he asked me if I wanted to go see them.

We bought a package of three for around $40,000. Upper Line was one of them. She wasn’t perfect confirmation wise, but we thought she was the best of the three. Hilary my assistant and I both stayed in for 25% and Upper Line went on to win $700,000 on the racetrack.  Arthur Hancock became interested and bought in and because of that we bred her to War Front, just before War Front got white hot as a stallion. We sold her in foal to him and she brought $1,750,000 at the sale, so that worked out alright!

TBP: What was she like as an individual?

MS: She was a laid back filly, she never really jumped out at you in her work and was something of an overachiever, she had a lot of heart. It was only later in her career when we stretched her out to a mile and a half and she won well that we realized that she could have been even better over a distance of ground. 1.04

MichaelStidham3TBP: Would you like to see more long distance races?

MS: Yes, I think there is too much of this nonsense where some trainers just want to run their horses over shorter and shorter distances and seem to be scared to send their horses further than a mile. Some of the mindsets seem quite ridiculous, for some it seems to be just about sending them and just speed, speed, speed. That’s not my style, I love to train horses to run long, especially on the turf, I really enjoy that.

TBP: What other horses are memorable for you?

MS: Wilcox Inn is another great story. We were at the Fasig Tipton sale and Hilary and Marette Farrell said you have to come and look at this Harlan’s Holiday colt. He was very small but he was very athletic and had this amazing walk. He would have been about 15.1 hands high when we bought him and would be no more than 15.2 or 15.3 when he was fully grown. We went for him for $50,000 and I said we either have a racehorse or a shetland pony here. He turned out to be an amazing horse.

On his first start at Arlington he ran against Animal Kingdom, and the move he made in the race from way back to beat the future Kentucky Derby winner was amazing. He was from a good family for turf and distance, Cetewayo is in the family, and he won over a million dollars.

We had him set up for a stallion career but unfortunately he died in a paddock accident just a few months ago. He was bred to 30 mares though, which is something. He was a real character, he’d always be nipping at you and wanted to be tough about things, but not in a mean way.

MichaelStidham8Gran Estreno was an amazing horse originally from Argentina, we claimed him for $25,000, He was a massive, powerful horse, maybe 16.3 hands high, huge shoulder and hip. When we were thinking about claiming him Marty Nixon (Feels Like Thunder Stable) called me up and asked me if I knew why they were dropping him in for $25,000. We figured he had some major problems and that they were trying to lose him, as he had been claimed for $25,000 from Dick Dutrow and was running him right back for the same money. I made a call to a guy who knew the assistant to Dutrow, he said there was nothing wrong with the horse, he just hadn’t panned out as expected and they didn’t want him anymore.

He won by eight lengths the day we claimed him. He went on to earn over $400,000 for us and won three Graded Stakes including the Washington Park Handicap twice.

Sutra was a filly who was probably not one of the most talented horses I trained but we were in the right place at the right time with her. She had done well as a two year old, and the owner Jack Hodge persuaded me to go to Belmont for the Grade 1 Frizette. I remember looking at the track and thinking that it was so deep that day, even for the “Big Sandy”, and wondering how Sutra was going to handle it, but she ran a huge race, the rider found a gap on the rail and she ran on and won, she clearly loved the track.

Another horse we claimed for $20,000 was a Texas Bred called Sandburr, also owned by Marty Nixon (Feels Like Thunder Stable). We won several stakes with him and he won over $470,000. He was a really kind, gentle horse who just went out there and laid his body down for you every time. We raced him till he was nine and he wasn’t as good as he was, he came back down the claiming ladder and was beaten for $25,000.

I called Marty and said listen, we’re at a point right now where for this horse to be competitive we are going to have to drop him down to $10,000. He’ll probably get claimed and then go to run at some low level track for $4000 and who knows where he might end up, so we need to do the right thing for this horse and retire him, which we did. He is retired with Kathy Volkman on her farm in Texas and they still send me pictures which you can see on my website, he’s very happy.

TBP: Have you had success rehoming your horses when they finish racing?

MS: We have a good track record of rehoming retired racehorses, Hilary Pridham is very good at it and has a lot of connections with hunter jumper people. I don’t think the majority of the people in the business, owners, breeders, trainers and even jockeys, step in and do enough to find homes for these horses when they retire. It should be made mandatory for everyone involved in the industry to play some small part in this matter.

TBP: What issues would you like to see resolved in racing?

MS: One thing that gets me is the corporate mentality racetracks who put a big front side show on, but don’t look after situations and often deplorable backside conditions for the employees and the barns. These people need to be held accountable for what’s going on on the backstretch, just like when the State of Louisiana stepped in at the Fairgrounds and told Churchill Downs that if they didn’t fix up their backside and renovate the turf course they would pull their slot licence. Churchill then went in and fixed it of course.

In Texas it’s a shame what’s happening, it’s shocking to me that Texas racing didn’t take off and do better than it did, I think a lot of it is down to a political mess which shouldn’t have happened.

I like what’s happening at Laurel. I met with Tim Ritvo and I think that at the end of the day even though some people are upset with the changes Stronach made at Gulfstream and is making at Laurel, they are providing options to get people’s attention and make it an all round entertainment situation. They are doing things in a corporate way but they are promoting racing along the way.

This is a business I truly love and I love horses and training. It has been very good to me and I am always looking to give back to to help the sport and the horses.


The Interviews: Michael Blowen, Proprietor of Old Friends

Friday, October 9th, 2015


Originally founded in 2003 by former Boston Globe film critic Michael Blowen, Old Friends today cares for more than 100 horses across three states whose racing and breeding careers came to an end. A “living history museum of horse racing”, the farm attracts nearly 20,000 tourists annually. Thoroughbred People talked to Michael about the operation

TBP: How did you get involved with horses and how did Old Friends begin?

MB: An editor at the Boston Globe where I used to work invited me to Suffolk Downs one day. I went a few more times and just fell in love with the sport.

I thought if I learned more about horses themselves I could become a better handicapper and so I apprenticed myself out for a couple of years to a claiming trainer at Suffolk Downs. He was known as the King of the Fairs. He would get old horses with some back class ready for a couple or races, but then they would disappear off the scene. It was the disappearing part that I wondered about, they used to tell me that they had found homes for these horses at riding academies in Maine.

The truth of the matter was that they were just going to the meat buyer. A lot of owners are kept in the dark by trainers about what really happens to their horses when they finish racing.

I did some stories on some of these horses, one of them was a horse called Saratoga Character who ended up in a wonderful program that the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation ran. I got connected to them, one thing led to another and when I retired from the Boston Globe the TRF asked me to become their Operations Director.

It was a wonderful experience with Amazombie_Caponewonderful people. I discovered however that nobody in the horse retirement business was interested in taking pensioned stallions because they were considered too much trouble, too temperamental and too tough to handle. I thought maybe if we started rehoming some stallions we might be able to get a public following and people might pay to visit them and help support the operation.

TBP: How did you go about getting land and a facility?

MB: We started out leasing some land and then leased a little more, then we picked up the 52 acres in Georgetown which we now own. We always need more land as we usually have a waiting list. I just signed a lease on a property next door to us which is 47 acres, and there is another opportunity to get another 100 acres, which would be great. 

TBP: Do you sometimes get horses that you retrain to go on to become riding horses or to compete in other spheres?

MB: If we have a horse sent here that can be retrained we will send them over to New Vocations in Lexington who do a great job in that area. Likewise, if they get a horse over there that is proving to be a problem and can’t be retrained they will come here.

bobbyfrankelTBP: Tell us about the New York operation of Old Friends, and how it came to be named after Bobby Frankel.

MB: Cabin Creek in New York is very successful, it’s run by Joanne Pepper and her husband Mark with a lot of wonderful volunteers.

I didn’t personally know Bobby Frankel, but the first great stallion we got here was a horse called Ruhlman, who Charlie Whittingham trained after Bobby had him. Ruhlman came to us with a real reputation, Peggy Whittingham told me that he was the only horse Charlie was ever afraid of. When he got here he was very tough, but after a few months he mellowed. He would roll over on his back and let you scratch his stomach and all kinds of things.

Bobby won the Woodward Stakes with Ruhlman and I ran into him at Saratoga just after Ruhlman had come to us. I said “Mr. Frankel, my name’s Michael Blowen. I have your great horse Ruhlman at my farm.” He said “That’s nice” and just walked away.

ruhlmann_oldfriends298About two days later he taps me on the shoulder and says “Aren’t you the guy with Ruhlman? I loved that horse, he was the toughest horse ever. I was really sorry I had to send him to California but I am glad he was successful out there.”

That was the longest conversation I ever had with him. Then when Bobby died, Dottie Ingordo, who worked for him, called me and said that Bobby had left Old Friends a lot of money and most of his trophies.

He donated well into six figures to us. He was a New York guy and that’s how Old Friends at Cabin Creek, The Bobby Frankel Division came to be named in his memory.

Eldaafer and goats2TBP: How many horses and staff do you currently have?

At the farm here in Georgetown we have 104 horses and over in New York there are 13. We have five paid employees. The rest are all volunteers. Our Georgetown farm manager Tim Wilson does a phenomenal job. 

TBP: Was it a long process to become registered as a 501c charity?

MB: Yes, it was really a big hassle, I think it might be worse than getting audited by the IRS! We jumped through a lot of hoops to get it done and it took about two years.

TBP: How has the funding flow been since you started?

MB: Well there have been some very tough times when we have come close to becoming financially obliterated, but people came through with money for us at the right time fortunately. We are on a reasonable financial footing now, but it’s a constant challenge.

Battles_Silver CharmTBP: Tell us about some of the best known horses you have had at Old Friends.

MB: When Silver Charm came here after his breeding career in Japan, thanks to Beverley and Jeff Lewis and the JBBA who have been tremendously helpful to us, it was one of the greatest days of my life. I’ve been in love with Silver Charm ever since 1997 when he won the Derby and the Preakness and just got beat in the Belmont to miss the Triple Crown. Now he is in my back yard it totally freaks me out! We have had other horses here who won big races, like Black Tie Affair who won the Breeders Cup Classic, Precisionist who won multiple Grade 1s and went to the Hall of Fame, Sunshine Forever, Marquetry, Tinners Way, Williamstown, Commentator. Interestingly, even though they came in all different shapes and sizes and from different training regimens, they all had one thing in common. They were all smarter than most other horses.

TBP: How do you generally raise funds?

MB: Well one of the best things to happen to horse racing in the past few years has been the creation of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. They put together a fundraising program with many great ideas. They raise a lot of money and they accredit aftercare facilities and organizations very thoroughly and very well.

We also sell “shares” in our horses. You can buy a share in Derby winner Silver Charm for a hundred bucks! That works really well. We have also been successful in getting grants from various foundations and organizations and there are a lot of wonderful individuals who help out. Bob Baffert donated $50,000 and came down to the farm to see Silver Charm the Tuesday before the Derby. His jockey Gary Stevens came to see him too.


TBP: Old Friends does a fantastic job but there is obviously a limitation on the number of horses you can take. What can be done about the broader problem of the many horses who can’t be accommodated by organizations like Old Friends because they simply don’t have enough room or funds?

MB: This is a huge problem but there are some interesting things currently going on that might help. There is a group that is getting together that is being organized by the Gaming Commission. They are seriously considering making horse aftercare taxes a condition of getting a pari-mutuel gaming license in New York. I have had some preliminary discussions with them and I am hopeful. Jack Knowlton, who owned the 2003 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide, has been very involved in aftercare programs and has helped get this meeting put together.

Forte and StarspangledOne of the best ideas I have ever heard came from the jockey Richard Migliore. He said look, you can’t create rehoming facilities for the thousands of horse who need it in the Bluegrass, because the land is too expensive. So instead, you go out to places like Montana and Wyoming where land is cheap and buy thousands of acres. You put up housing and you offer that housing to retired jockeys, trainers, veterinarians and grooms so that they can live out their retirement and volunteer to take care of the horses. It could be a tourist attraction too.

TBP: Do you have many visits from kids and schools?

MB: Yes we do, the kids love coming here. In particular, some troublesome kids who get kicked out of school come to visit and it does them a world of good. Horses can do so much for people, they don’t just need someone on their back to be useful. I think we are just scratching the surface of what they can do.

Genuine Reward 3TBP: What is the process when a new horse arrives at Old Friends?

MB: When a horse arrives here we segregate them and quarantine them for three weeks so they can get acclimated and get the lay of the land. That usually means they spend half the day in a stall and half the day in a round pen. Then Tim Wilson our farm manager does some evaluating and figures out who might make friends with who. It’s quite amazing, Tim has a real knack about matching horses up. Cat Launch and Rail Trip are best friends. Game on Dude is inseparable from a horse named Yankee Fourtune. After a few more months we re-evaluate and review how they are getting along.

TBP: When a horse’s time does come along, what happens?

MB: They are usually euthanized humanely out in their paddock. I actually never believed it and I thought this was apocryphal, but they really do tell you when they’re ready to go.

I don’t think we have ever euthanized a horse too early, but I think we have euthanized a couple too late. You think you are doing the best trying to keep them alive but sometimes it’s a mistake. We’ve had a couple of older horses undergo colic surgery and if it doesn’t work the last few hours of their life can be very rough.

MichaelBlowenWe had a wonderful old horse here called Ogygian. Before he died, he just sat down in his paddock one day. I called the vet and all Ogygian’s friends and the volunteers who looked after him. We all gathered around him in his paddock and you could tell that it meant a lot to him. He was very relaxed. He knew exactly what was going on and he was ok with it. It was very peaceful. It did his caretakers a lot of good too.

TBP: Do you still get to the races and handicap?

MB: I do, but I am now an even worse handicapper than I ever was, because I can’t be objective. I look for horses who are related to those we have here and I am obviously biased towards them regardless of their chances!

The Interviews: Renowned California Race Caller Michael Wrona

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

MichaelWronaTBP: Where were you born and raised?

MW: Brisbane, Australia. I have family down there and some family in Sydney too. I’ve actually seen more of the US than I have of Australia, having been here since I was 24.

TBP: What are the big racetracks in Brisbane?

MW: There are two main metropolitan tracks, Eagle Farm and Doomben, which are across the street from each other, and there are a whole host of smaller tracks within the remaining area.

TBP: How did you become interested in race calling?

Radio broadcasting of racing is very big in Australia. I had a lot of exposure to listening to race calls, it interested me and I found myself mimicking the callers and wanting to emulate them.

My grandfather gave me a horse racing game called “The Melbourne Cup”, I still remember the ten plastic horses, rolling the dice and betting the false money, but I derived the most enjoyment from calling out the horses’ names as we pushed them around the board. I decided the dice were holding me back so the next thing I did was to make paper cutouts of the horses’ silks of that era, each one measuring about an inch to an inch and a half. I accumulated about a thousand of them, grouped them into categories for different types of races and distances and would push them across the floor shouting the call at the top of my lungs into a tape recorder. It probably drove the neighbors crazy. I was set on becoming a race caller.

eagle-farm-Race-TrackTBP: So how did you go about getting into the business?

MW: I wrote a couple of letters to established race callers in Brisbane and they invited me out to Eagle Farm and Doomben to meet them. They sometimes had a spare booth up in the grandstand and they would let me practice calling races into a tape recorder.

When I was 17 I got my first chance to call a public race live over the public address system at a track about an hour and a half outside of Brisbane on the provincial circuit, a place called Kilcoy. It was April of 1983. It must have gone reasonably well because I was asked to call the following race as well.

I had left high school and was working at a bank when the first opportunity to call a full card came a couple of months later. It was the most humble and basic of beginnings, it was way out in the middle of Australia in the outback at a track called Brunette Downs in the Northern Territory. People would converge from hundreds of miles around for this annual weekend of racing. The horses were a mix of thoroughbred and quarter horses. It was on a dirt track, which was unusual in Australia, it was bigger than US tracks though with no outside rail. The journey involved a flight in a normal commercial airliner, then the last leg was in a three seater plane for a couple of hours. The opportunity came my way because the original caller couldn’t do it and the next choice didn’t want it because they didn’t like flying in small planes. I didn’t even have a tent to sleep in when I got there, I slept at a cattle ranch under the stars.

brunettedownsI had to take a couple of sick days off my bank job to go up there and a few eyebrows were raised when I got back with my tan….  Over the next couple of years I got more part time opportunities at the tracks around Brisbane, and then an opportunity came up to go and work at the radio station that was dedicated to horse racing. It was mainly a behind the scenes job but it was a foot in the door, I started to get rostered on to call some greyhound and harness racing as well as the odd thoroughbred race, on Saturdays I’d be at the main racetrack assisting the team.

Then out of the blue came a life changing phone call from the race caller who I had most idolized growing up, the main race caller in Sydney, Johnny Tapp. He was offered the job at Hollywood Park in 1990 which he declined. He did bring his family over for a working vacation and called for three weeks, but by his own admission he felt he was a bit long in the tooth to make a move of that magnitude, so when they asked him if he could suggest anybody else he recommended me. I didn’t realize he was even aware of me! So arrangements were made and I came over to California in the Spring of 1990. I’ll never forget the first call I made at Hollywood Park, as I was calling them past the finish line Tappy was slapping me on the back.

One of my favorite memories of that first meet when I came over in 1990 was a classic renewal of the Hollywood Gold Cup with the great reigning horse of the year in Sunday Silence meeting Criminal Type, who would become the horse of that year. They were stride for stride in the last three eighths of a mile, Criminal Type won by a nose and I thought to myself that it was a long way from Brunette Downs and Kilcoy and the other places I used to knock around, so that was a very memorable race.

There was some pressure at the time to not call close finishes, but I stuck my neck out and fortunately got it right. I like to make the photo call if I have a strong feeling about it. If you know the angle and the horses are in stride you can be more confident about it, it’s when they are out of stride that it’s usually better to stay out of it.

hollywoodparkTBP: How did that first experience work out?

MW: Within a year my Hollywood Park tenure was sadly over, I had the rug pulled from under my feet as there was a big upheaval and controversy over the ouster of Marge Everett, who was the lady who brought Johnny Tapp and myself over. It was a very bad, nasty, proxy fight. Fortunately I was contacted by Bay Meadows so I came up to Northern California. Then Golden Gate expressed an interest and for a while I had the Northern California circuit to myself.

Then in 1993 a similar thing happened at Bay Meadows to what had happened at Hollywood Park. I had never imagined that politics could reach the person in the booth on the roof and I found myself looking for another track, as Golden Gate by itself wasn’t really enough.

I went to Retama Park in San Antonio to call their inaugural season in ‘95 for a spell and then I was contacted by Arlington Park and I went there for two years, where I had the chance to call Cigar’s record breaking win for consecutive wins when he won the Arlington Citation Challenge. Arlington was a beautiful, opulent track and then the owner closed it down.

I went back to Hollywood Park and Turf Paradise was a part of that deal too. Then I went to Lone Star Park for five years, working concurrently at Fair Grounds in Louisiana.

TBP: How are race callers hired and paid?

MW: It’s normally a per diem contractor arrangement and is seasonal of course. I don’t get paid if I am not working unfortunately.

LosAlamitosTBP: How was your spell at Los Alamitos this past July?

MW: Los Alamitos was very enjoyable and very challenging because of the configuration of the track and the different angles compared to a track like Golden Gate. It has the longest home stretch in the country and they angled the backstretch differently to other tracks. There are some challenges with glare from the sun in the late afternoon too, but it keeps you on your toes and it’s nice to get yourself out of your comfort zone. It was also very nice to get reacquainted with Southern California.

TBP: What is your process as a caller to memorize colors and recognize horses?

MW: The focus is the jockey’s colors. It is helpful to have the colored saddle cloths too but you are taking a big risk if you rely on them alone because if you get a horse directly outside another in a bunched field you might just get a flash of the jockey’s cap and the saddlecloth can be totally obscured, so I always make myself learn the jockey’s colors. The equipment can also help, different color bridles and shadow rolls etc.. I repeat each horses name many times in the post parade as I watch them.

TBP: For me a great race caller calls the race in a very informative way as if it is for people who cannot see the race, which is your style in my opinion, as opposed to some callers whose style revolves around the idea that they are calling the race to people who are watching it with them.

MW: Well my style is really the old school Australian style because it was done mostly for radio, using that descriptive nature for an audience who cannot see the race, so that’s what I do.

michaelwrona2TBP: You are also known for the odd humorous quip, but in my experience when you do that it never comes at the expense of the call.

MW: Well thank you, I never want to be branded as a comedian and the accuracy of the call is paramount. Occasionally if a call can be embellished and give people a chuckle then why not, as long as you always keep the priorities straight.


TBP: How is racing different in Australia to here in the US?

MW: Horse racing is much more part of the general sporting culture in Australia, there is a vast network of betting shops, they are always around the malls and these days there are betting terminals in the pubs, bars and clubs. People have much easier access to horse racing. The equivalent of the Daily Racing Form is available at all newsagents and everywhere newspapers and magazines are sold.

TBP: In Australia you have bookmakers competing with each other at the tracks offering different odds on the runners.

MW: Yes, there is the tote system like we have here but there is also the option of betting with a bookmaker at the track and getting a fixed price. It adds a lot to the atmosphere, color and excitement of a day at the races. Apart from the fact that people can’t take a fixed price with our tote system, one of the big issues here is the way the odds change after the race starts. It is very disconcerting and you wonder how and why in this technology age, it happens. In Australia even back in the 1980s the odds on the tote system changed instantaneously and they never changed after the start of the race. The US is supposedly the leader in computer technology, so how is it that we are still seeing such fluctuating odds after the start of the race? The whole idea of betting is to know what odds you are getting and to determine value and choose to bet when the odds are in your favor.

TBP: Do fillies race against colts in Australia?

MW: Yes very often, it’s no big deal for a female to beat a male horse in a race.

TBP: I also understand that there is a much broader variety in race distances in Australia.

MW: Yes there is and I would love to see more distance races here in the US. I wish more tracks had a seven furlong chute and could accommodate those races. There are incremental distances below six furlongs and above a mile, yet it’s a quantum leap going from six furlongs to a mile. I would really like to see more long distance races, there are no races for stayers here and they are very popular in other parts of the world. You never know how much potential is left untapped in some racehorses here, with no long distance races being run.

TBP: What is the race day drug situation in Australia?

MW: There is no tolerance for it whatsoever. It is well policed and the penalties are severe. There is no Lasix, there is nothing allowed on race day. There is a controversy over cobalt at the moment, but that situation demonstrates how non tolerant the Australian authorities are of race day drugs.

Horses breaking down in Australia is a rarity. The horses run more regularly than they do here and that gives fans the opportunity to latch onto horses and follow them and become fans. It is turf racing of course, perhaps that is easier on them than the dirt. Horses appear more sporadically in the US and the premature retirement of the good ones is a blight on the popularity of the game, although that is an international problem with the money available in breeding these days. It doesn’t give fans a chance to follow their favorite horses, and that’s how a lot of racing fans are born.

There were a couple of champion geldings running back when I was a kid that absolutely were the catalysts for me becoming hooked on racing. It’s a pity that there aren’t more incentives for older horses in the prize money program and structure here in the US, but even then it would be hard to compete with the stud fee numbers.

DSC_0302TBP: Is calling races on the Tapeta surface at Golden Gate different to normal dirt?

MW: Well when it rains, yes it is, because a horse can come from dead last through the field to win with completely clean silks, so from a completely selfish perspective I like it – it’s nice to be able to see the colors clearly! Winners also seem to come from all different positions in a race, you don’t get the kind of one dimensional speed bias that you often get on a dirt track.

TBP: Is there anything else that would make life easier for you as a race caller?

MW: I am very fortunate that I am doing what I always really wanted to do. One thing that I would enjoy though would be if owners of horses with tricky, strangely spelt names would get in touch with me so I could get the pronunciation right. I am not hard to get a hold of and I hate to get it wrong, so that would be very much appreciated!