There were several quick interviews done with Hal Wiggins after the sale of Rachel Alexandra and the day after she won the Preakness. But now a few weeks removed, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit her former trainer. It's easy to forget but important to remember that he and his team are the ones who deserves all the credit with this filly.
In my mind, Wiggins was part of the reason that the nation became so captivated with Rachel. His graciousness and humbling personality quickly earned him the respect of everyone who followed the story. As you'll see from this candid interview, Wiggins remains unchanged by the recent events and continues to have a positive outlook despite the rollercoaster ride that he could not have predicted a few short months ago.
On a personal level, Wiggins is genuinely one of the nicest people I have ever met in this industry. I appreciate his time and willingness to be so forthright with his answers. Enjoy.
JS: It's been a little over a month since Rachel was sold, how has your life changed?
HW: Well, for one, I don't have to charge my cell phone as often (laughs). But things have certainly quieted down. Not just because we were in the spotlight, but when you have a horse like that your mind is always moving. We had her schedule and breezes planned out all the way through November, so all that stuff is different now. We're basically just concentrating on our 2-year-olds now. It's a lot different.
JS: You really seemed to enjoy the whole run with Rachel. Did you enjoy is as much as we all thought you did?
HW: We did. At first, we were a little nervous in our first few interviews and the first couple of days were overwhelming. But my wife and I sat down after that second day and decided we were really going to enjoy this run. And that's what we tried to do from then on. We tried to be accommodating with everyone, and you know, most of that is natural to us. We really enjoyed the friendships we made with many of the reporters too. The ones we got to know the most would come by the barn every morning and we'd chat about a lot of things, not just Rachel. It was very educational for me because I got to see the job that you have to do. You are the ones who present our industry to the public, so I tried to answer all the questions as best I could.
JS: Have you gotten to see Rachel since the sale?
HW: I don't go to the barn, but I see her on the track two or three times per week. They bring her out at about 6:20 every morning, so I look for her sometimes.
JS: That must be kind of weird for you?
HW: It is. At first, I wasn't prepared emotionally. It took two or three days for me to get over it and then you realize you have to move on. But everyone was so nice to me (after the sale) and that made it easier. We got a ton of phone calls. But you get back into your routine and realize that your life is going to be different without that big horse.
JS: I don't know how much you read this blog or any of the other stuff out there, but there was an overwhelming amount of support for you after the sale. Many people, especially on here, were upset that you lost Rachel. How did that make you feel?
HW: I did read it and it made me feel good. Please tell everyone on your blog I appreciate their comments. At the same time, I knew that Steve was Mr. Jackson's regular trainer and when I heard he was the one who bought her, I knew I was going to lose her. I don't blame him. If Mr. Morrison bought a horse of that caliber he would give her to me. It's a business first. With that being said, as a trainer, it was a bitter pill to swallow. You don't get horses at the top of their class every day and when they are taken from you, it is sad.
JS: How difficult was it for you to watch the Preakness?
HW: It was tough, especially when I saw her in those different silks. It was a tough day.
JS: Was it Mr. Morrison's decision alone to not run her against the boys?
HW: Yes it was. He said he didn't want to run her in the Triple Crown races, but later on down the road, had the right spot presented itself, I think he might have tried the boys.
JS: If it were your decision, would you have run her in the Kentucky Derby?
HW: I think, especially the way things unfolded that final week, that I would have. First of all, I would have paid the $600 nomination fee up front so I would have had that choice. But it would have been hard for me not to (run her in the Derby), especially because of Calvin's confidence. He really wanted to take a shot.
JS: Did you ever try to talk Mr. Morrison into it?
HW: I planted some seeds early on, but he made it clear from the beginning. We've been in business together for 30 years and never had a single argument. So when he made up his mind I respected it. I realize that I am working for him and he's the one putting up these hundreds of thousands of dollars. What he says goes. And that's it. I never pushed it. And truthfully, I didn't even realize how good she was until the Martha Washington. As she got better, I was OK with the decision to go to the Oaks. Mr. Morrison is very intelligent, but he is also the type of person to listen to what others say. But in this case, he had his own philosophy.
JS: With that being said, is there any part of you that looks back and says, ‘As much as Rachel has accomplished already, we could have done something even more special - like win the Triple Crown?"
HW: I try not to look back and say ‘what if.' There is part of my mind that thinks that way every now and then. But winning the Oaks puts mind at ease. Even though I think she could have won the Derby, the best horse doesn't always win. We all know that anything can happen when you put 20 of them in that gate. She might have run second or third that day. Who knows? I would rather win the Oaks than to have run second in the Derby.
But as good as Mine That Bird was that day, I think we would have had a distinct advantage with Calvin. I don't think another rider would have slipped through that hole with him.
JS: The reported sale price was $10 million for Rachel. If she were your horse, would you have sold her for that?
HW: That's a very tough question. You never know unless you are in that situation. Being a trainer and in a whole different financial situation as Mr. Morrison, I probably would have taken it. That's a lot of money to pass up. You always have to remember that this is a business first. You develop relationships with horses, but when you're a trainer you're in debt a lot times. It's still a business. Just like the people that sold Medaglia d'Oro. They probably were attached to him as well, but $50 or $60 million is hard to say no to.
JS: Were you satisfied with your commission of the sale?
HW: First of all, like you, I don't even know what the sale price was. TVG reported it was for about $10 million, but Mr. Morrison and Mr. Lauffer signed a confidentiality agreement with the deal and they were not allowed to tell anyone, even me. But, to answer your question, yes, I was satisfied with my commission.
JS: How many horses do you have with Mr. Morrison now?
HW: I have three 2-year-olds - all fillies. All of them are breezing a half-mile now, so it's a fun time of year.
JS: How many do you have in training, all together?
HW: I have 20, which is a good number for me. I did pick up a few new clients with Rachel, which is nice.
JS: Through all of this, it seems like you are at peace with what has happened.
HW: I think that's a good way to put it. I'll be pulling for Rachel the rest of career. I'll be as thrilled as anyone if she goes on to become the best filly ever. I have no regrets. What will be, will be. Winning the Oaks was such a big thrill for me and I'll always have that.
JS: And you are receiving you Oaks trophy on Saturday at Churchill, correct?
HW: Yes, I think after the fourth race. That will be fun. Mr. Morrison flew in the other day and he came to the track. I showed him Rachel when she went out. He'll be at the presentation, as will Mr. Lauffer.
JS: Thank you for being so candid and gracious.
HW: My pleasure. I'll look forward to reading your blog. Tell everyone I said hi.