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Ron: This is Ron Mitchell for BloodHorse.com’s Talking Horses podcast. Today we’re privileged to have with us Elliott Walden. Elliott is a former horse trainer and is vice president and racing manager of WinStar Farms. As we all know, WinStar last weekend was in the winner’s circle at the Kentucky Derby with the horse Super Saver trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Calvin Borel.
Elliott, welcome and congratulations.
Elliott: Thank you, Ron.
Ron: First, what does it mean for WinStar, your program, and what you guys do to have a Kentucky Derby winner?
Elliott: Well, it helps give validation to all that we’re trying to accomplish here. The Derby is something that is very elusive and we’re just very fortunate to be standing over in the winner’s circle last Saturday.
Ron: Certainly, as WinStar has been built up, you guys won a lot of big races. Where does this rank?
Elliott: This would be number one. The (Dubai) World Cup was a very exciting race to win but this would be number one. The Travers was also exciting but this would be number one.
Ron: OK, you won the World Cup with Well Armed and your Travers winner was?
Elliott: Colonel John.
Ron: Certainly, you guys are in the business of breeding and racing. I guess the perfect storm would be, you breed a horse that you race to great success and it ends up retiring to WinStar Farm. Probably, an inordinate number of questions we’ve had from our readers had been what, when, and how will you decide when Super Saver will be going to WinStar?
I guess the big question is, his father Maria’s Mon is deceased and was a great stallion, would that mean that you guys would retire Super Saver right after his 3-year-old year just to go ahead and try to get that progeny working at the farm or have you even discussed… or is that just too far down the road?
Elliott: Well, it’s just too far down the road right now. We’re just taking it one step at a time. A lot of it depends on what Super Saver does the rest of the year and what kind of shape he’s in at the end of the year. Part of our program is developing stallions, so that is certainly something that we’re excited about for Super Saver. I don’t know if it’s going to be in 2011 or 2012.
Ron: One other question here. WinStar is the breeder on this horse, however, the mating was actually planned by somebody else and you bought the mare in foal. Do you think there should be any kind of mechanism thing The Jockey Club’s registration program that permits the previous owner to be given some kind of credit on the breeding line or is that the way the business works? You guys have probably been on both sides of this. You’ve probably sold mares in foal that ended up going on to do really big things.
Elliott: We have and we have been on both sides of that. I remember my father was the breeder of Time for a Change… he mated Time for a Change, I should say and was not listed as the breeder. So it does work both ways and I think The Jockey Club has their way of doing it and all that is true.
The Phipps family were the ones that we bought Supercharger from. They’re the ones that mated her. If people would know that they mated her twice to Maria’s Mon; the first one was a horse name Hedge Fund. I believe that’s true, Ron, you might check that but I’m pretty sure Hedge Fund was a full brother to Super Saver.
Ron: Right, yeah.
Elliott: So they tried it twice and Hedge Fund actually ran some very good races even though he was a claiming horse. He had a couple of good Beyers and Rag numbers in his line and was one of the reasons why we wanted to buy Supercharger.
Ron: So I mean certainly it’s – I mean you guys were at least astute enough to recognize a nice mare that was carrying a nice foal. In my opinion, it shouldn’t diminish at all the accomplishment.
Elliott: No, and I don’t think anybody should think it should diminish the accomplishment because when you think about breeding a horse, the term bred can equate to raised.
Elliott: And so Super Saver was not conceived at WinStar but the mare was in our feed program, on our grass, from that November sale on and then the foal grew up here at WinStar, so it’s a fine line and that’s just the way The Jockey Club does it.
Ron: We have a question from Kelly – Congratulations on Super Saver’s win in the Derby. What are the plans for Rule going forward? He seems too good of a horse to put on a shelf if he is sound.
Elliott: Rule had a bone scan done yesterday just to make sure that he is OK and we haven’t heard the results of that but that will be forthcoming. If he’s OK, we are targeting June 19th, the Pegasus which has been moved from the Meadowlands which used to be run in the fall to June 19th at Monmouth.
Ron: And that’s a good segue into one of our questions which asks – Will WinStar have horses racing at the Monmouth Park meet and what kind of lessons can the rest of the industry learn from what Monmouth is doing with a very restrictive meet with really large purses?
Elliott: I love what Monmouth is doing and I think the industry can look upon it as a whole and hopefully be excited about it and embrace it. We will support it with horses that we feel will fit, and we are really excited about what Monmouth is doing.
Ron: From Paul – Congratulations to you and the WinStar team on a well-deserved Derby victory. What would you say is the most important physical trait you look for in a racing prospect?
Elliott: Balance. I think the balance translates to athleticism and if a horse is out of balance, if they’re too big in their shoulder and don’t have enough hind end to carry themselves or vice versa or have short legs and this long body or have a short neck and a long body, it creates a horse most of the time that is unathletic.
Ron: Is there any one physical fault that bothers you more than others that you have a tendency to discard a horse because of?
Elliott: Upright pasterns.
Ron: And why is that? What does that do? Why is that such a negative?
Elliott: The upright pasterns is a negative because the horse loses its shock absorbency. The pastern in the ankle and the ability of the ankle to flex allows that horse some shock absorbency that when a horse is straight up and down, their ankles don’t flex as much and they lose some of that absorbency. They can be very fast, but my experience is they don’t last very long.
Ron: Is that something that a lot of trainers would likely agree with as far as being something they don’t like to see or if they like training fast horses maybe they’re willing to put up with it?
Elliott: I think it’s a mixture; I think some people would not like it but other people would. The thing that straight pasterns do for you is they allow for a quick turnover. So a horse can get in and out of his stride much quicker so that again, translates into a faster horse. So some trainers would probably not mind it while others would tend to stay away from it.
Ron: Next question is from John Repesky – Is American Lion going to the Preakness?
Elliott: American Lion is at WinStar for a two-to-three week break and then he’s going to be pointed towards the races at Saratoga – the Jim Dandy and the Travers.
Ron: Neil wants to know – With the emergence of synthetic surfaces, do you see horses being bred with so-called synthetic influence similar to that of horses with their grass or dirt pedigree?
Elliott: You know the best way I can answer that is that when we do our matings at WinStar, we tend to breed like-to-like, so turf mares will have a tendency to be bred to turf sires and dirt to dirt. Now with synthetic, it creates another compliment of mares and stallions that you need to consider and we will similarly breed like-to-like.
Ron: But obviously with still synthetic still being in the relative infancy I guess it’s still too early to have a real breadth of either stallions and/or mares from which to start building a program like that.
Elliott: I think you need to be careful to build a program based on any one surface. It looks like synthetics are here to stay in whatever role they’re playing right now. I’m not sure they’re going to increase in the short term. I think statistics are very positive for them as far as soundness goes, I think there is some real statistical evidence that they help horses stay sound and here at WinStar, that’s something that we really believe in, that we want to try and keep our horses sounder. There’s been some negative light on them, and so I’m not sure that they’re going to expand more than where they are right now but I’d be careful to focus on any one type of surface and rather try to compliment what you already have.
Ron: Matthew Lomas asks – When there are moments like this, does this make you miss training?
Elliott: You know, I haven’t really thought that. It’s certainly a valid question but there are so many things going on here at WinStar that I’m focused on that it’s just a different type of job for me and I’m giving it 100%. I’m focused on that and I’m not really thinking about what it would be like if I were a trainer. I was just very happy… I did try to evaluate, Saturday, how I felt after winning the Kentucky Derby with WinStar versus how it would have felt if I won it as the trainer of the horse and honestly, I just feel like it would felt the same. I felt a tremendous amount of gratification and satisfaction from being a part of WinStar.
Ron: And I guess in your role as racing manager, a lot of people really don’t know what a racing manager does but I would say certainly you have a whole lot of the actual management, stable management that a hands-on daily trainer has but you’re not doing that much of a daily work at the barn. In a lot of ways, you really are still doing a lot of the role of somewhat of a trainer.
Elliott: Well, and especially as trainers have evolved into having so many horses, a lot of times they’re managers. When you have 150 to 200 horses, you’re not doing the day-to-day work with a particular horse if it’s stabled a thousand miles from where you call home base. So from that standpoint, the main roles that I have here at WinStar are to look out for the interest of our horses with our respective trainers and make sure that we minimize conflicts that could come up with the trainer having multiple owners, evaluate the competition that our horses are being placed in and making sure that we try to put them in races that are representative of their abilities and give them the best chance to succeed, evaluate the bloodstock that we have in place, of the horses that we have in place at the present time and also look for future opportunities to purchase bloodstock that would enhance WinStar Farm and also work with Doug on the matings.
Ron: So really, it is stable management but it’s a whole lot more than that too, isn’t it?
Elliott: It is. It is.
Ron: Next question comes from Matthew – Do you think there’s any chance Super Saver can win the Triple Crown based upon how he performed in the Derby?
Elliott: Yeah, I do. I think based on how he performed in the Derby, if you would have asked me that question a week ago, I probably would have said no, but based on how he performed in the Derby, I would say that there is a chance.
Ron: But, of course, we all know that that is still pretty far down the road and a lot of other variables have to take place.
Elliott: That’s correct. It’s a really tall task and it hadn’t been done in a very long time. I think that while there are a couple of reasons for that as this racing game evolves but one of the biggest reasons might be that you have horses like Ice Box skip the Preakness to set himself up for maybe a better race in the Belmont. You take new horses that are coming into the Preakness and then you have to go back and face challengers that you had in the Derby back fresh in the Belmont makes it very difficult.
Ron: And also I guess with the whole series of the preparations that most people use just to get up to the Derby which is obviously one of the biggest goals but a lot of times the rigor and toll that takes just to get there, once a horse has won the Derby, they pretty much are a tired horse. But you know you’ve got a relatively fresh horse with only two preps before the Derby.
Elliott: That was by design, and that was called back in January when after he had won the Jockey Club, Todd and I both felt like we wanted just two races before the Derby and it obviously worked out well for us.
Ron: Next question is from Emily – Why did you pick Calvin Borel to ride Super Saver back in November? That would be in the Jockey Club that you’re talking about.
Elliott: Based on Calvin’s success at Churchill Downs and the pure fact that we were trying to do our best to win that race in November, Calvin looked like the best possible solution for us at that time, best possible decision. Once he rode in the Jockey Club and he set a stakes record that had been held for over a hundred years, it made sense to keep him on. When Super Saver ran in the Tampa Bay Derby, Calvin was busy riding Rachel Alexandra in New Orleans and so he couldn’t ride him at that point, but we quickly reunited with him in Arkansas.
Ron: After Calvin and Super Saver won the Jockey Club, were you guys already thinking Derby at that point?
Ron: Considering the same track and how well he liked it?
Elliott: Absolutely. I mean we were thinking Derby but we didn’t think winning the Derby but we thought Derby, yes.
Ron: Then I guess you guys think out a lot…
Elliott: Sure we do.
Ron: …with the nice evolving 2-year old you have in the fall.
Elliott: It is. It’s a focus and I think that’s one of the biggest keys to getting Derby horses is focusing on them and trying to make conscious decisions that take you towards that goal.
Ron: Karen in Indiana wants to know – I was impressed with Super Saver’s demeanor before the Derby. What kind of personality does he have?
Elliott: He has a very focused personality. He’s not a horse that engages humans and is very playful but at the same time he’s not standoffish. He likes and interacts with the people around him but he’s not a ham.
Ron: So he’s just pretty much business-like, would you say?
Elliott: Pretty business-like.
Ron: How did he get his name? What did that derive from?
Elliott: We play a WinStar name game with all our young horses where we ask the employees on the farm to each provide us a name for each of our horses and then we narrow it down to three and then Doug, myself, Kenny, and Bill look at it and pick which name we think is applicable. I can’t remember who actually named Super Saver but it’s a play off of his mom being Supercharger.
Ron: Next question by someone that goes by the name of Sky Fire (probably not the real name) – How do you decide on which trainer to send a particular horse to?
Elliott: I typically look at the strengths of each horse and try to treat them as an individual, try to get to know them and understand the horses and then also combine that with what we’re trying to accomplish with each horse and what the strengths of the trainers that we use. Sometimes it’s well thought out based on a particular region or we might want to send a horse to California or New York or Kentucky, and then sometimes it’s just feeling like we have one of our better horses and wanting to send that particular horse to Todd or to Bill (Mott) or to Eoin (Harty).
Ron: Along the same lines, with the training job that Shannon Ritter did on Endorsement, will she be given more and/or better horses by WinStar?
Elliott: You know, she is a great team player for WinStar and we feel like she’s a big part of a team. She is provided opportunities with horses that we feel like fit where she’s going. For example, the reason she got Endorsement was because she was going to the Fair Grounds and we felt like we wanted Endorsement to be in New Orleans so that hopefully he could break his maiden very quickly versus being in Florida where sometimes it’s hard to get in a maiden race and the competition in maiden races is so tough that a really good horse could finish second or third and take longer to break your maiden.
So as long as Shannon continues to place herself in racetracks that we want to participate in, we’ll sure support her.
Ron: I would say she’ll probably try to accommodate you.
Elliott: Yeah, she does a great job.
Ron: Someone that goes by the name of Ebayou – Do you and/or your group of advisers, use speed figures to managers stable?
Elliott: Yes. We look at Ragozin and get them weekly and then evaluate them from there.
Ron: Next question comes from Ralph – Has Calvin Borel’s projection of Super Saver will win the Triple Crown place unnecessary pressure on Todd Pletcher and the WinStar team?
Elliott: No, I don’t think so because if you know Calvin, you know that he is very passionate about what he does and that’s Calvin being Calvin.
Ron: I would say the pressure is there with or without what anybody says, right?
Elliott: Yeah, the pressure’s there with or without.
Ron: Stan Smith wants to know…more of a management question here – What kind of feed do you use and what kind of hay?
Elliott: We are feeding McCauley’s feed and we use a timothy and alfalfa mix on the hay.
Ron: Is that the McCauley’s feed, is it something that you guys had formulated just for you or is it something that’s off the shelf there?
Elliott: No, it’s off the shelf there.
Ron: Next part of Stan’s question is – If a horse is in hard training for a race, do you weigh and monitor how much feed they consume or do they just get all they want?
Elliott: It depends on the horse and that’s on an individual basis. If the horse is heavy and carries a lot of condition, you might monitor how much they’re eating but if they’re a little on the light side and you’re having trouble keeping weight on them, they would get as much feed as they could take.
Ron: Our first international question comes from Peter Hayden in England – What in your view are the biggest changes in the last 10 years that have had a positive or negative impact on racing?
Elliott: From a positive standpoint I think the consolidation of the big races on days like the Kentucky Derby and Breeder’s Cup, is older than 10 years but so is the Derby but there’s been more of a focus on trying to make big days, big weekends, and moving stakes to one day and creating a real festival of one day instead of trying to have a major stakes on each weekend and dragging it out through the course of the year.
It started about 10 years ago where you have these big days leading up to the Breeder’s Cup where you have the Super Saturdays at Belmont Park or Keeneland would have it’s opening weekend that would pack three or four grade Is in that opening weekend in the fall leading into the Breeder’s Cup. And so I think the consolidation of major races to promote the sport on big days has created a lot of interest.
Ron: Yeah, that’s a good idea. I agree.
Elliott: Negatively, I think that we are still too fractured as a sport and a lot of times with the division between states, not everybody is going in the same direction and the lack of national presence and leader focus, I think, creates a tremendous amount of division. The other thing is the main leaders that we have are all conflicted because they have their own individual assets, they have their own individual agendas. It makes them hard to disassociate themselves from that and do what’s right for the sport of horse racing in general.
Ron: You know we’ve seen that not just… that’s something that’s been evolving, not just the last 10 years but over the decades but do you think now with our economics and the industry the way they are, there’d be more pressure on the industry to try to resolve that?
Ron: Obviously, when things are going good and everybody is benefiting, there is less focus on your problems but it looks like now with the industry and the economic state that it is, it looks like it would be more imperative to try to work on that.
Elliott: That’s what’s exciting to me about right now because I have not seen in the past year and a half…there’s been a real change towards getting things moving and people willing to put their own agendas aside and move towards a common goal. I think medication has moved quite a bit in an area to consolidate. Licensing was done four or five years ago, it still has some improvement to make but there are different areas that have improved and I think I am excited and encouraged about leaders being able to get together and move quickly on something that makes a lot of sense.
Ron: And that’s the key right there is moving quickly on it too. It seems like there’s always another alphabet soup committee names to something and you never hear from it again.
Ron: Next question. I have two questions along the same lines. Susan A. wants to know – How is Well Armed doing? Of course, that was your Dubai World Cup winner.
Elliott: He’s doing well. He is in Texas with Bill. Bill loves that horse.
Ron: That would be Bill Casner?
Elliott: Bill Casner. He likes to have him close to home and he’s rehabbed there numerous times throughout his career. He’s doing well and had a little ankle surgery last fall and I think Bill, we’re just deciding and talking about whether he is going to come back for another go.
Ron: Well, along the same lines Michelle wants to know how he’s doing but also says – If he is retired, would there be a plan in which he would either be at WinStar Farm so people could see him or at the Kentucky Horse Park?
Elliott: Well, we haven’t really crossed that bridge yet because we’re still trying to evaluate it. That decision will come later in the fall.
Ron: Tell me more about the vibration machine and the oxygen chamber.
Elliott: The vibration plate is a tool that we use at WinStar on certain horses that are not in training to help keep bone density at the same level as they are when they’re in training. Now, occasionally we’ll put horses on it in training here at the farm but it’s a tool that can be beneficial for keeping bone density. There has been a scientific study that the vibe plate helps maintain bone density and that’s kind of what we’re using it for. It’s not a proven thing but it’s something that we’re experimenting with and trying to determine exactly what are the real benefits of it. The horses typically stay around anywhere from 10-20 minutes a day. Most horses like it and we’ll put up a hay rack and they’ll just stand on it and eat their hay and that’s it.
The hyperbaric chamber is something that’s used for numerous things, but one of the biggest things, it’s also a tool. One of the biggest things that it is beneficial for is for infections. If a horse had an infected joint or an infected leg, or a horse has an infection in his lungs, the hyperbaric chamber will help your antibiotics, the medications that you’re using to penetrate the tissues of the horse and really treat that infection much greater and a better response than it would typically in a normal setting without it. So that’s probably the biggest thing we use it for.
We also put our mares in it one time after foaling to help rejuvenate the foal and give the foal a blast of 100% oxygen to help the tissues in the foal, the lungs, all the organs and just make sure that they’re working right, but we typically put every mare in once.
Ron: Any downside to either one of these?
Elliott: Not that I can see other than, there’s probably an inherent – just a safety risk but it’s very minimal. We haven’t had any problems.
Ron: I mean considering the attributes of that oxygen chamber, you think we’ll see oxygen bars at racetracks all over the country at some point?
Elliott: I don’t know. I don’t know, maybe.
Ron: Michelle says – I noticed that WinStar has a Web site with the WinStar store – and I think everybody knows the money from that goes to charity…
Ron: She said – I would love to see racing DVDs made available there. Is there any chance the DVDs might be added of Well Armed and Colonel John’s best races?
Elliott: Yeah, that’s something that we can certainly consider, Michelle and we’re looking for ideas and we are open to all suggestions. It sounds like a good one.
Ron: Really, that’s about it, Elliott. I really appreciate you’re taking your time today. Congratulations. Good luck in the Preakness and I certainly hope that Calvin’s prediction comes true.
Elliott: Thanks, Ron.
Ron: Thank you.
Elliott Walden Bio