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Transcript of Post-Belmont Stakes Press Conference with the Winning Connections of Palace Malice

By NYRA Press Office
palace-malice-credit-courtney-heeney-L
Smith, Pletcher & Campbell
PHOTO/Courtney Heeney

W. COTHRAN CAMPBELL

TODD A. PLETCHER

MIKE SMITH

 

      THE MODERATOR:  Congratulations on a well-deserved victory.  Why don't I open up the questions out here and ask away?

     

      Q.  Todd and Cot.  Could you just talk about, I guess, the first way he tested your patience and maybe he tested your trust at times?

      TODD PLETCHER:  As for me, I was just hoping that he would have an absence of bad luck.  And not necessarily get a good break, but just don't have anything go against us.

      We had trouble in Louisiana.  We didn't do good in the Derby and God knows we went good today.

      THE MODERATOR:  Anybody else?

     

      Q.  Could you explain what was the difference today than the Derby?  You went so fast in the Derby and then today he was able to relax more?

      TODD PLETCHER:  Well, I think the real key, he was relaxed.  It was actually, I thought, for a Belmont, pretty keenly run, first part of the race.  But the main thing was, Mike was able to get him to a real comfortable rhythm.  The horse had trained really impressively, and we just felt if we could get him into that rhythm, get him relaxed, it wouldn't necessarily matter if he was on the lead, fourth, fifth. Wherever he was, it wouldn't matter as long as Mike had him in that big gallop he had.

     

      Q.  Could you take a little bit, you sort of mentioned when you walked in here, the feeling you had today across the finish line as opposed to last year and all three Triple Crown races?

      MIKE SMITH:  I guess I should be an optimist, you know, and all three races last year, they all ran extremely well. But today meant a lot to me.  Mr. Campbell, Dogwood and Todd, just for having faith in me, believing in me, and keeping me on.

      They certainly could have changed very easily after the Derby.  It wasn't the prettiest of things.  When I came back, Todd knew right away, I think running on a floated racetrack, it made a lot of noise.  He caught such a good break.  I kind of asked him out of there.

      You know, in hindsight, if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't asked him out of there, but we thought we would break well, and have him settled, we rode really well and I asked him out of there, and then all that noise behind him, he was just running scared.  He completely ran through the bridle.

      Whereas today, you know, we were going at a decent clip.  I felt we were moving along pretty good.  He was just so relaxed, and great rhythm, I mean, down the back side. He pricked his ears every now and then, just take a deep breath of air.  I felt very confident he was going to run.

     

      Q.  Todd, could you have asked for three better works leading up to this?

      TODD PLETCHER:  No.  In particular, this second work, or two works back, I told Mr. Campbell afterwards, as good as a work I ever seen a horse put forth in the morning, and you know, not just the five furlong part of it.  But we kind of emphasized the gallop outs you the definitely want a strong gallop out.      

There is not a horse training any better than he. He

 become a little bit frustrating, because we really felt like there was a big one in.  And like Mr. Campbell said, the Louisiana Derby was a nightmare.  He never had a chance to run there.  So we had to kind of alter course and run back quickly in the bluegrass.  And saw some tire marks late in the race there.  Went back to his left lead and kind of lost his momentum.

      You know, probably overthought the Derby a little bit putting the blinkers on, but, you know, I can live with we put the blinkers on and he was two rank if he jumped tire marks 57 yards before the wire and finished second, I was wishing, you know, you live and learn and it paid off today.

     

      Q.  Yeah, for Todd, and especially Mike.  Todd, I asked you about this earlier in the week with Mike.  Can you look back on it now and say for blinkers on might have been the mistake at the Derby, and second guess that all you want, but did that set up this race with blinkers on?  Did it really play a big role five weeks ago to set up this race?

      MIKE SMITH:  He certainly got a lot out of the Derby. I meant he went quick enough.  And he ran a sneaky race in the Derby.  It wasn't like he just folded at the quarter pole and just everybody went by him.

      I mean, he was actually stealing the race at the eight pole.  You take into consideration he never once took, never got a second breath of air running that fast.  He ran incredibly well.

      Today, that's all he did.  I mean, it seemed like every ten strides he would just fill up with air again, there he'd start.  It's a beautiful rhythm.  That's all it was, was getting him into that rhythm.  Certainly bred to go the distance.  All along, Todd always told me he's got it in him.

      And he rode the perfect game plan.  It ran just like he rode it.  I'm just happy to be a part of it.

     

      Q.  Todd, your thoughts with the whole thing with blinkers on setting up this race.

      TODD PLETCHER:  It's hard to say.  I mean, maybe we got to the bottom of it a little bit in the Derby.  Maybe that's what he needed to take another step forward.  But I know that, you know, if the five horses that we ran in the Derby, he was the one that bounced out of it the quickest.

      Honestly, if we were thinking about running one back in the Preakness, he would have been the one I would have chosen out the group.  But we just felt like he run in the Louisiana Derby.  He run in the Blue Grass.  He run in the Kentucky Derby.

      Mr. Campbell and I talked about it and decided the right thing was not to run him back in two weeks, but hoping the five weeks would bring him forward.

     

      Q.  Mike, you've [won or hit the board] in the last four Belmonts you’ve ridden in.  You got two wins during that stretch. I mean, is experience some you really need to excel in this race?  Did you figure some things out in your career to do so well at this point in your career in the Belmont?

      MIKE SMITH:  Experience and extremely talented horse. I was just blessed, again, to be part of  it and to have ridden so many years in the Belmont.  I think Gary Stevens put it best when he said, it's like the ocean.  You can get lost, if you don't know it.  And these are my waters.  I know where the fish are at.

     

      Q.  It's been a long time between classic drinks.  But a lot of misconception about where you are in your career.  A lot of people say you're retiring.  But I know you've still got horses.  So what does this mean to you going forward?  How many horses?  And you planning to be in this for a while?

      COT CAMPBELL:  I don't think it will accelerate my retirement.  I'll put it that way.  And I have cut back.  We used to carry 65 horses.  We've got 30, 35 now, and I'm going to just play it as it comes along.  I enjoy what I do. God knows I've had the most wonderful life a human being could have, and this is a great chapter in it.

      And so I'm not in any hurry to do anything but keep on doing what I'm doing.  As I have said, I don't want to chase any rabbits I can't catch.

     

      Q.  You Caught it today.

      COT CAMPBELL:  Yes.

     

      Q.  For Mike, can you tell us as you got toward the end of the backstretch, you know, and you're still tracking those horses, you know, what you saw from Oxbow, and I understand there was an exchange between you and Stevens. I'd like to you elaborate on.

      MIKE SMITH:  Yeah, I was just keeping a close eye on him.  He wasn't going to try and -- would be able to steal it at some point.  Gary is known to do stuff like that.  You know, I was keeping a close on eye on him.  I felt I was moving better.  When I ranged up next to him, it was like a movie scene.  He looked over to me.  I could see his face clear as day.  He says, he go on little brother, you're moving better than me.  Just ride off your win.  Don't leave me yet.

      And I won.  He run second.  You couldn't have written this script any better.

     

      Q.  -- did you feel strongly?

      MIKE SMITH:  One of the closers were going to have to run a race of a lifetime to get by me.  I felt like I was moving that good.

     

      Q.  Earlier in the week you were talking about driving with your dad to first come to work [at Belmont Park for Wayne Lukas].  Can you talk about those days, your thoughts?  You ever thought you'd get to the spot you're at now?

      TODD PLETCHER:  No, I never dreamed it would happen that way.  I was telling someone the other day, they were talking about Easy Goer and Sunday Silence.  My dad and I drove up, it was like a 24-hour drive, basically, and we got to the hotel in time to see that Preakness.

      As you're coming here next day is my first day of working for Wayne and, you know, couldn't have imagined getting the opportunity to win races like this.

     

      Q.  Do you still get excited and nervous about this type of thing?  What are you feeling in the moments --

      TODD PLETCHER:  I don't know if they showed in the replay yet.  They were filming me in the grandstand.  I told Mike about the 16th pole, I jumped on pretty hard.  I kind of looked and I thought that point he had a good chance and kind of surveyed the rest.  Better help Mike ride this one home.

     

      Q.  How does it feel to have your sons here and your dad and family be a part of it?

      TODD PLETCHER:  You know, what's really gratifying more for me about the job that I have is that something that you can share with your friends and family, and you know, having my dad here and my whole family here, and my best friend from college came today, him and his wife, roommates in college.  So they came in.  Really, to me, this win was for Mr. Campbell.

     

      Q.  What are your plans now and future plans, if anything?

      TODD PLETCHER:  For Palace Malice?

     

      Q.  For the horse.

      TODD PLETCHER:  I mean, I know Mr. Campbell pretty well.  I imagine he's got Saratoga on his mind pretty quick.

     

      Q.  Mr. Pletcher, you said Easy Goer once was the best horse you've seen in the last 25 years.  How does a horse like this compare to horses you've had and a horse like that?

      TODD PLETCHER:  I don't know for sure.  I said that, but he was, like I said, you know, the first day I was on the job, basically, was three weeks later.  He was winning the Belmont.  It's an honor to be able to train horses that win races like this.

     

      Q.  Todd, can you elaborate on what this means, to win this for Dogwood and, you know, a client of yours for a very long time?

      TODD PLETCHER:  Mr. Campbell gave me an opportunity when no one knew who I was, and I didn't have any horses. He's been a supporter of me, basically, from the very beginning.  We've had a long, terrific relationship.  He's been very, very good to me.

      COTHRAN CAMPBELL:  Let me pitch in and say that I sent maybe four horses to Todd in 1996, and I guess he had eight, and he might have lied a little about his age.  I think he said he was 30, and he probably was 29, but it's been a great relationship and we've hit it off, we never had a bad moment, and I'm proud of what he's done.

      He will go down as one of the great trainers in the history of the game.  At least I had the good sense to give him a shot early on.  Lucky.

     

      Q.  Can you compare this Belmont to the first you won back in 2007 with Rags to Riches?

      TODD PLETCHER:  Yeah, I mean, I feel just as excited about this one and for all the reasons I just talked about but you know I felt like to me that Rags to Riches was sort of getting the monkey off your back.  Hadn't won a Classic up to that point, we had opportunities in the Derby, few in the Preakness the Belmont.  We hadn't won one yet.  After a little while, it started to build on you a little bit.  I felt like it was tremendously exciting but also a relief. This one was just exciting.

     

      Q.  Just following up on those questions, Cot, is this Dogwood's finest hour?

      COT CAMPBELL:  I wouldn't be surprised.  I don't know what would beat it.  It comes at, you know, what is certainly the twilight of my career, to put it euphemistically.  So I wouldn't be surprised.  It's a race that means a lot to me.  I like the tradition of it, and I've come to the Belmont many years and, yeah, it's hot stuff.

     

      Q.  Mr. Campbell, I wonder is this might be worth another book this race this victory?

      COT CAMPBELL:  If there's another book in me this will push it on a little bit.

     

      Q.  Obviously the Derby was a sloppy track in Kentucky. Were you worried it was going to be like this today with the weather we had yesterday?

      MIKE SMITH:  Early on it was sloppy, they were getting over it pretty good and getting over it well, and with the wind that was going on and the great weather this track dries really quick of course by the sixth, seventh race you could already it was going to be a fast track.

     

      Q.  You said Mr. Pletcher drew up a game plan, what was the game plan?

      MIKE SMITH:  Right where I was.  He gave me a plan B, he said, hey, don't think you don't have to be -- if you're going 49, go to lead, lead on 49, but more likely you'll be sitting right outside of Oxbow, just keep your eye on him and you just play it from there.  That's really what we did. We thought Freedom Child would probably be in front.  I knew that Kenny McPeek, he was going to try to send his horse in the one hole, but I just didn't think he had his feet that Freedom Child did, I knew Oxbow would be sitting right of him, and we just parked ourselves right outside of that him.

     

      Q.  Mike and Todd, do you think that having the post position of 12 helped your horse, did that play into his strengths at all.

      MIKE SMITH:  I was happy with the post.  I know Todd was, Mr. Campbell was.  We didn't have to do a lot for jockeying for position, it was a matter of getting in the right order, getting into rhythm, once I put my hands on him, he's been taught that and he did it.

     

      Q.  Todd, were your eyes pretty much on this horse the whole way with all your other guys out there?  What was going on there?

      TODD PLETCHER:  He was the easiest one to see just because of the position he was in, and I kept trying to monitor where some of the other ones were, I saw Revolutionary making kind of a move down the back side, looked like Overanalyze and him were kind of stuck down inside.  I could barely see the Unlimited Budget, she was parked on the outside, certainly felt like by the three-eights pole you could tell Mike was moving really comfortably, turning for home, I kind of saw Orb was making his run.  At that point, you're thinking you've got a quarter mile to go already run a quarter mile hoping he's got enough left in the tank.

     

      Q.  You mentioned Unlimited Budget, what is the future?

      She's just a big, nice-looking filly; what's down the road for her?

      TODD PLETCHER:  Well, you know, we give her plenty of time after this race to regroup and think maybe in Saratoga, the Coaching Club or Alabama probably makes sense, well see how she mounts after this.

     

      Q.  Mr. Smith, how does this horse rate to some of the great Belmont wins you've been in?

      MIKE SMITH:  As Todd said earlier, he knew he had that good one in him he showed that today.  If he could come back and keep this performance a time or two, he's going to rank way up there.  Some big races left for him.

     

      Q.  What point during the trip did you feel that he really had the Belmont locked up and knew you were going to win the race?

      MIKE SMITH:  I've been around a long time you don't have nothing locked you.  I love the way he was moving.  I liked the way he was doing things.  It ain't locked up. Just for an example, look at last year, I thought it was locked up, get through down on the inside on me.  So it anit over till it's over.

     

      Q.  Any last questions before we let these gentlemen go?

      MIKE SMITH:  Thank you. Campbell thank you.

      TODD PLETCHER:  Thank you.   

 

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