[image url="http://cdn.bloodhorse.com/images/content/flyons_large.jpg"]Frank Lyons[/image]
Born and raised in Ireland, Frank Lyons was introduced to race horses by an uncle who was a horse owner. His interest was enhanced by his mother, Betty, who took him to local tracks such as Phoenix Park and Fairyhouse. While in boarding school, Lyons began getting first-hand experience by working on a horse farm after school. That experience soon evolved into a profession, as Lyons first worked for Gita Weld (mother of trainer Dermot Weld) and then spent eight months in the Irish National Stud’s training program. After working for owner-trainer Frank Dunne and at Airlie Stud, Lyons decided to broaden his horizons in the U..S.
After a stint as assistant at Circle O Farm, Lyons returned to Ireland briefly before relocating to the U.S. permanently. His first job was as assistant manager at Jonabell Farm. While in Kentucky, he became an owner and trainer and relocated to southern California to operate a stable. His greatest success as a conditioner came with the filly Desert Stormer, who won the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
Lyons became a TVG analyst after being discovered during a television interview one day at Hollywood Park. In addition to his on-air analyst role, Lyons is a regular on TVG special programs, such as the popular “The Works” show.
With his diversity of experience, Frank Lyons is well equipped to address a variety of subjects for Talkin’ Horses readers, including training techniques, handicapping techniques, and the most and least enjoyable aspects of his duties at TVG.
Frank, I always enjoy your sharp insight on TVG. Two questions. First, which colt coming from California will best be able to handle the mile and a quarter on the first Saturday in May? Also, do you own any horses in training we need to keep an eye out for?
Brother Derek continues to show he has the talent, and as far as the mile and quarter goes, that might be a little bit of a question. But his sire, Benchmark, is by Alydar. I also don’t think he has peaked too soon, like some of these other horses.
As for the other question, I have a horse called Dark Cheetah I really like, who came from Aidan O’Brien. He just ran behind Bandini when he broke the track record at Gulfstream. He is by Storm Cat. I own part of Brecon Beacon, who was third in the Oak Tree Derby in his first run in the U.S. I also have a nice unnamed Thunder Gulch 2-year-old filly. This might be Thunder Gulch’s year. He might be a little bit of a forgotten sire, and he is going to bounce back in a big way.
Frank, I love your work on TVG. You combine a good sense of humor with years of expertise in handicapping and training horses to give us viewers an interesting and often light hearted view of the sport. Could you give me some idea of how you go about handicapping three year olds on the Triple Crown trail? I find these horses to be among the most challenging handicapping challenges of all. Thank you.
I would say you handicap them with them with the outlook of finding one that has not yet peaked. If they are starting to peak early, obviously they are not going to be around all year. Also, I look at the pedigree and take into consideration what they have done by now and what I foresee that they can do leading up to the Derby. Ideally, I would like to see them have 2-3 races as a 3-year-old before the Derby. But I am not saying I wouldn’t bet on a horse with more than three starts before the Derby. If I think the horse is the best, I am betting him regardless of starts.
First, let me tell you how much I enjoy you on TVG. Your sense of humor cracks me up. That said, I would like your opinion on the Baffert 3-year-old contingent and how you rank them as Derby contenders. I know we will have a better idea after Saturday, but the wagering on the San Felipe could be interesting...thanks
I certainly like Bob and John. First of all, he has a very nice pedigrees. I also think he is a very tough horse. It takes a lot to get to the bottom of him, which is the kind of horse that would do very well on the first Saturday in May. Certainly, I would not give up on Point Determined. Even though his race in Northern California was nothing to write home about, I have always liked the horse and think him capable of further improvement. Late last year, Baffert looked like he would be in trouble, but he’s loaded now.
How much time do you spend handicapping the race cards before you go on the air?
If it’s a day where you might have 30 races to do from small tracks with cheaper races, I don’t spend much time because they are not the type of races I would wager on. Every now and then, there are maiden races or allowances at certain tracks I will take a shot at; but overall, I think betting cheap races is pot luck. At those tracks, I would rather wait until they come on the track and look at them. You look at a race and think I have them figured out, and then you look at another race and say six of the nine runners have a chance. In that race, you make a choice because you have to, but you would not be walking up to the window to bet that race.
Happy St. Paddy's week from Derby Town, Frank!! As a lifelong fan of the sport, I really appreciate the combination of humor/knowledge (in no particular order) you bring to the sport. You make it fun! Thanks! If you had to pick one 3 year old at this point that you'd like to train through the classics this year, who would it be?
I am impressed with Corinthian. In the Fountain of Youth, he was much the best but showed he is a little bit mentally challenged. Quite a few horses can be that way at certain times in their careers and then get it together. I don’t know the horse that well so don’t know if he is capable of taking it to the next level. If he does that, he is a horse of unlimited potential.
I also have lot of respect for Bluegrass Cat. I think Bluegrass Cat has not really had to lay his body down yet, even with the number of starts he’s had. I think it is important for him to have a tough race before the Derby. He has been managed well and brought along slowly.
If you were czar of racing what would you do to hook the kids of today on the sport?
I would continue to show them horse racing on television. When TVG started, people started talking about cannibalization and that people would stay away from the track. It's a proven that fact we didn’t show horse racing when TV was broadcasting baseball and football; because horse racing had the crowds at the track we didn’t feel we needed TV. But those people who were going to the races every day have passed on.
It is the greatest sport in the world, if run well. The fact is that we race five days a week and put on a mediocre product. Look at Asia, where they race Friday through Sunday and people stand in line to get in. If you put on an excellent product Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, you are going to make triple what you would on a Wednesday or Thursday when there are five horse fields with a 3-5 shot. It’s like life. How do you get educated to something if you don’t see it? How the hell are you supposed to know about it? Television is great advertising for anything.
Is it frustrating for you and the other TVG analysts not to be able to show and analyze the races from the premier winter tracks of Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita? Do you have a chance to see the races from those tracks at all?
A lot of the time I am working, so I don’t get to see them. It is a frustration. TVG has already proven it has the ability to get the product out to homes and bring fans to the game.
Redwood City, CA:
Frank, I really miss seeing you and the TVG crew during the Santa Anita Winter Spring Santa Anita Meet. You are 100% my favorite race commentator. What is TVG doing in terms of negotiating with Magna to co-broadcast with HRTV?
Every effort is being made, and I think it is just a matter of time before they come to some sort of agreement. When that will be, we don’t know. When you have one big conglomerate joining another, it takes time. It is just like buying a horse. You have to agree on a price as buyer and agree on a price as a seller, and then it has to vet out. It hasn’t vetted out yet.
Frank, I very much respect your background and thoughts about horses and races. Congratulations on your successes with Castledale. I wanted to know how you acquired Castledale and what you look for in overseas horses who might be good racing prospects here in the U.S.
I came by Castledale when I was in Ireland on vacation, as I do every September, and I had the opportunity to go to races several times and saw him run twice. He had run seven times in nine weeks as a 2-year-old. In one of his last two races, he was beaten a neck when he should have won and the winner was Alexander Coldrun. He ran back the following week. In that seven race sequence, he had gotten up to a mile, and then back to seven furlongs, then to stakes at six furlongs. He outdueled a horse of Aidan O’Brien’s at The Curragh and beat him by a nose. They disqualified him and said he had carried the O’Brien horse out. It was a ridiculous call. I thought that, if he is that tough, he obviously has got a lot of heart.
When I approached David Watchman, the trainer, along with a friend of mine named Brian Grassick, Watchman said he would be for sale. We looked at him and liked the way he looked, and we liked the price and rest is history. As for looking for horses over there, a lot of the bigger yards over there have upwards of 150-200 horses and a lot of times you see something in the pedigree or physically that might suit the states. You like to see a smaller horse who can stay in tight and make a quick move on our turns here. Castledale is not that big of horse, so he is able to handle the tight turns here.
What are the most enjoyable and least enjoyable parts of your TVG job?
Most enjoyable would the fact that you get to do shows like “The Works.” which allows me to attend the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders Cup. And certainly there is nothing like a nice spring or fall day at Keeneland, where you get to go. Going to Del Mar is magnificent. Then from January to April, I am in the studio, which is five minutes from my house, and it is a tremendous bunch of people I work with. I am not crazy about being in the studio, but it is a lot better than the alternative.
Do you feel the fans of California racing will accept Polytrack knowing the times of races will be a lot slower than they’re used to? And do you feel polytrack is going to change the breeding down the road.
Yes and yes. Polytrack in the end is going to be very good. For one, you are going keep horses sounder so you will have more horses to pull from to fill cards. Which would you prefer: fast times in a broken down five-horse field or slower time in a fuller field? I don’t think we are going to remember times too much when you have Polytrack all around and horses are racing over the same surface. You will have horses staying around longer and able to race longer. I think we make the mistake of making horses the heroes of our sport because they are not around long enough. It is very, very safe surface.
As far as handicapping, it may be more predictable. But in a 12-horse field where they all have form on Polytrack, you have more horses to choose from and can see who does well on the front, who rates well, and use the same handicapping tools. There is a chance it will change breeding, where offspring of some great sire may not like the Polytrack surface, but in my experience horses who went through great campaigns could go from dirt to turf. That brings you back to the theory a good horse is a good horse. It might change breeding slightly.
Grass Valley, CA:
Did you retain any interest in the breeding rights to Castledale and are you breeding any mares to him?
Yes and yes. I have 13 shares in him. And I am going to do some foal sharings. I really really believe he is the best horse I have ever laid my hands on. His ability was freaky. In the Shoemaker Mile he basically did it in a jog and was a fifth of a second off the track record. He never won by more than neck or nose because that is all he wanted to do. Every rider said he was better horse on the dirt and that he had the same turn of foot on the dirt that he had on the grass and not many horse have that.
Saratoga Springs, NY:
What is your favorite racetrack and why? What is your favorite racetrack city and why?
In America, my favorite racetrack is Santa Anita. My favorite racetrack city is New York. I love New York. Worldwide, I would say I love Fairyhouse Racetrack in Ireland. It just happens to be one near and dear to my heart. I also like The Curragh, and San Siro in Italy is quite amazing. Longchamp and Cheltenham are on the list, too.
Good afternoon, Frank. Rate the chances of Discreet Cat and Electrocutionist for the UAE Derby and the Dubai World Cup, respectively, please?
I think the fact that that the U.S. does not have a superstar going over for the World Cup this year suggests that Electrocutionist has a big chance. He is a very good horse and doesn’t have to travel very far, so give a big advantage to him. As for Discreet Cat, I don’t know about that road from Dubai to the Derby. I think they need to find a back road.
Is the "handicap" strategy still working for the Thoroughbred industry? The Round Pond - Happy Ticket duel stimulated my thinking on handicaps again. I don't think they work as they were intended to in the past, aside from gender weights. Thank you for your input.
I guess I am not a great fan of handicaps because 'why are you going to try to get the best horse beat?' It is hard enough to keep these horses together. If you eliminate the handicaps, then the best horses face each other and the best horse wins. I understand it is necessary to fill races, but at the end of the day, if the purse money is there, they will run.
With her gutsy win in the Azeri, Round Pond looks to be a serious player in the Older Mares division this year. What's your opinion of her, and her stable mate Rockport Harbor?
I have never been huge fan of Rockport Harbor. He is a very one-paced kind of horse who can win a lot of races in a year with no standouts. I am not going to draw a line through him because of one performance. He is a useful horse who will win a lot of races.
Round Pond is showing that Awesome Again is a brilliant sire and is in a barn that really knows how to look after a horse. She beat a very good horse in Happy Ticket. I was not exactly thrilled with how Happy Ticket warmed up before that race. I wonder if she was as good as she can be.
Los Angeles, CA:
Hey Frank, it's Michael Chamoun. I met you recently at Santa Anita with my dad you sometimes play soccer with, Samir. Who are your top three horses for the Derby right now?
Corinthian, who has the ability but obviously his head needs to be screwed on better. Also Brother Derek and Bob and John. Bob and John ran the same final time as the Strub winner with slower early fractions. He continued to show he is tough. Brother Derek is just a real good horse. He is a bit like Afleet Alex.
Will Castledale be staying in New Zealand permanently? I sure hope not - would love to see him in Kentucky!
He is standing in Kentucky, at Crestwood Farm for $6,000 live foal. He will also be shuttling.
Are there certain physical flaws that are an absolute turn off for you either for buying a horse or for sending a mare to a stallion? What can you overlook if everything else is good?
You need to know pedigrees well and know the traits that may come along with that pedigree. If I had to say a couple of things I really don’t like, one would be a horse that is back at the knee, and another one would be bad feet. Sometimes, you can overcome one flaw because of how the rest of the horse looks. If you buy the most correct horse, chances are the one that beats you is the one that is not perfect.
Marina Del Rey, CA:
Are you in favor of feeding horses with organic products? Supposedly, Desert Stormer received special organic hay and bottled water.
Yes, it certainly can’t do them any harm. It’s a little more expensive and, as trainer, you have to keep costs down. If an owner was willing to pay for it (with Desert Stormer), I was more than willing to go along with it.
I've heard some interesting ideas about the benefits of racing a horse without their shoes on. The idea is to, among other things, improve circulation and take advantage of a horse's natural cushion in their feet, which is partially stifled by shoes. I was wondering if you'd had any thoughts on this.
There are pros and cons to it. I have trained horses before without the shoes on. In the states, when you are at the racetrack, you’re walking on roads to get to the racetrack and a lot of time you have foot problems. By the time you get them to the point where their feet are hard enough to take the pressure of training without shoes, they are 5-6 years old.
Frank, why do you think it is tough for horses to come back from Dubai? Why no neck tie on the set at TVG?
The trip over to Dubai takes so much out of horses because, in a lot of cases, when they come back they start to get to point where they returned well and people start training them. I think they will come back well if you give them 1 times of what you think it is going to take for them to get over it. They might look great but still haven’t gotten over the trip. You have to say the same thing about Japan. Horses have come back well; just give them more than time. They can deceive you about how well they have come back; that’s when they run those dull races.
I don’t wear a tie because I have a big neck and a big head.
I'm a big fan of TVG. My question is what are your favorite handicapping angles when handicapping a race. Also, what do you look for in long shot horses to include in multi-race tickets.
My favorite handicapping angle is picking the winner. My favorite long shot look is a horse coming off two even type of sprints who has the pedigree to go two turns. And in the race I am handicapping they are going two turns for the first time in their first race. I also like blinkers off on a speed horse.
New Orleans, LA:
Hello, Frank. It's great to see an Irishman talk about the sport of Kings on TV. I grew up going to the races in Tramore, Waterford. What happened to Stronach's On Board Again? He looked great breaking his maiden and then no works?
On Board Again I believe just suffered a minor bucked shin, which is very common in horses. I think he will re-emerge very soon.
Greetings from a TVG fan. Was it hard for you to give up training horses when you went to work for TVG? And what was it like to be involved as an owner with Castledale?
I have a great passion for training horses, but out here in California unless you have great supply of horses and a great ownership base it is very difficult job to make a living at. A lot of time, you are just chasing money and you are under a lot of pressure. While it is the greatest job in the world and there is nothing I would rather do, it is nice to be in a position where I can own a few and put them with good trainers. Training horses is 365 days a year; they can’t feed themselves on Christmas.