The 147th running of the Travers Stakes post-race news conference transcript with winner Arrogate connections, Dr. John Chandler, trainer Bob Baffert, and jockey Mike Smith.
THE MODERATOR: Good evening, everybody. On behalf of the New York Racing Association, we’d like to welcome the connections of the 147th running of the Travers Stakes. Dr. John Chandler, President of Juddmonte Farms USA, Jockey Mike Smith, Hall of Famer, and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
Just to start, you can go down the line. What is the emotion of winning the Travers today, beginning with Dr. Chandler.
JOHN CHANDLER: “There’s nothing like it really, is there? We haven’t run many good horses in our racing in this country. We’ve had some nice — a few nice, very nice horses, but this is obviously the best colt we’ve had.
And I’d like to thank Bob for the marvelous job he’s done with the horse. It’s a rather semi-European thing to take a horse from an allowance race straight into a great one, but he did it the right — pretty well.
To a lot of people’s surprise, the horse came up and kept going with a staggering fast time, and obviously, a very good horse and very good trainer, and we’re very happy with him. We’re very pleased with the job that Bob has done. He’s just done great things with the horse and been very patient with him, and we thank him very much.”
THE MODERATOR: Mike, did you think it would go this fast? Did you expect to be on the lead? Was that Bob’s instructions?
MIKE SMITH: “Yeah, he said you might need to help him out of the gate, which I give a lot of credit to my gate man, Mike Mulligan. He did a really good job of getting him up in the doors and holding him there. He actually jumped very well. After that, once he got up underneath himself, he has a stride that’s tremendous, as you saw. Although we were going quick, he was doing it well within himself. When I asked him down the lane, he responded.”
THE MODERATOR: Bob, first Travers win since Point Given. We’ll talk about the times — 23 in 1/5, 46 in 4/5. What was going through your mind as the race was unfolding?
BOB BAFFERT: My wife Jill said, I think they’re going too fast. I said, no, they look like they’re going easy. But when I heard 46 and change, I think he can handle it. He’s a big long-striding horse. They didn’t look like they were going that fast.
When I saw that — you don’t want to see that, but we know that they’re both pretty fast horses. So I just want to — I think Bejarano, he rode a great race. He broke. He got in a position where he — you know, we took the blinkers off. He wanted to sit off the pace a little bit. I didn’t think they’d be going that fast.
I left it up to Mike to ride his own race. Big money Mike, you just throw him on there and let him do his thing. He knows the horse. He knows this track. My family, we went to the museum yesterday, and we saw Mike Smith all over that place. So you feel good about it.
And today being involved with Juddmonte and Prince Khalid and Garrett O’Rourke, who had the faith to call me up one day, ‘the Prince would like to be involved in California again’ and gave us the opportunity to buy some horses for him. So this means a lot to me.
Every time you looked up and you saw these [Juddmonte] colors, it was Bobby Frankel, one of the greatest trainers ever. To me, it was a very emotional win for me to see those colors. I feel like I finally made it in this business.
But I just — I got a great crew. Jimmy Barnes, Dana, who got this horse. He was a little rambunctious. Spent a lot of time with this horse, from his first day out. A lot of people ask me, why did you start him at Los Alamitos? There’s nothing wrong. Los Alamitos is a great racetrack. He needed that race badly. It was sort of a disaster for him, but he’s come a long, long way, and everything worked out.
Just to win at the Travers is just incredible. Saratoga — when I walked in today, it was just — you could just feel the electricity in the air. Just the racing that’s here — first thing through my mind was my wife Jill, she asked me, look at all the people. I said, I hope we’re not going to stink it up today. That’s what you’re always thinking.
After Drefong, when he ran so well, I knew we were in good shape. We were nervous and all, but I knew my horses were ready. They were going to fire. Even little Bode, he was nervous. He was really nervous today. I felt like I was in the Kentucky Derby today. It was that kind of pressure. I’m just thankful — last year, we were supposed to do this last year. It just didn’t happen. It didn’t work. Everything happens for a reason, unfortunately, but I’m just glad to be back here.
Not only the way he won, won by [13 ½ lengths] — I mean, that was ridiculous. Broke a track record. When I saw 1:59, I was like, wow. It’s like — and Mike, he didn’t know how far he won by. He thought somebody was coming.
But I’m proud of both of my horses. They ran well. That’s all I can ask for.
Q. Jimmy tells me that he has plane reservations for this horse to go back to California on Monday?
BOB BAFFERT: Yes, they’re leaving Monday. They’re going back to California, and they’ll just wait there and just go back to the beautiful Southern California beach. That’s where we’ll be Monday also.
Q. Bob, what’s the plan for the horse after this race? Are you guys going to do another prep before [Breeders’ Cup] Classic? What’s the plan?
BOB BAFFERT: I really didn’t have a plan. This was the plan, today. So I’ll just get him back, and then we’ll see how much this race took out of him.
That was a pretty big jump that he made today. I’m sure that all his buyers and sheet numbers are going to be off the chart. There’s no rush. I think that he’s the kind of horse that, after what he did today, he could go into the Breeders’ Cup fresh like Pharaoh did. I don’t think that’s a big problem for him.
I think that, what he did today, he deserves a little break. For now I would say, he’s a big gangly — he’s getting better. For this horse, I knew he’s going to get better as he gets older. It’s too bad we didn’t have him ready for The Classic, but that’s just the way it worked out.
Q. Dr. Chandler, can you tell me what attracted you to this horse at the sale.
JOHN CHANDLER: Oh, no, I didn’t buy him. Bob bought him.
BOB BAFFERT: Well, it was Donato Lanni helps me at the sale, and we got there, and we went around there, and he was on the short list. We looked at it, and Garrett O’Rourke, we work along with him. And plus — not only we have a short list, but then we send it back to Prince Khalid, and he has the final thing. If he’s all right with the pedigree, he wants — he made it known that he wants — not only wants to try to get a good horse, but a good stallion with good pedigree. So he fit — you know, we had to check all the boxes.
I’ve got to give Prince Khalid a lot of — there’s a lot of good horses, and we got the okay for him. That’s the way the process works.
JOHN CHANDLER: I’d like to say something. Prince Khalid has been in major international racing for 40 years, and he’s had some of the best horses — he’s had the best horse in the world, and he’s had a lot of very, very good horses. And he has always had implicit trust in his trainers. He’s never, ever told a trainer what to do, where to run a horse, or when not to run a horse.
He’s always said, he’s a professional. I trust him. Whatever he wants to do with the horse, I know he will do it for his good and for my good.
So when he wanted to — after Bobby died, we didn’t have any horses in California, and he said he’d like to have some horse ins California. Obviously, he chose Bob. Our breeding program wasn’t quite — didn’t quite produce the sort of horses that Bob trained, and he said, well, buy some horses then.
He went to the sale and picked out some of the horses. But the ultimate, whether he liked the horse or not, was with Bob, and the prince trusted him to do that. And, well, this turned out pretty big today.
BOB BAFFERT: I remember when I got there — I was in Arizona, and I was visiting my dad. When I got the call, he said, this is Garrett O’Rourke from Juddmonte Farms. I thought he dialed me by mistake or something. He said, the Prince would like you to get involved in California, and we’d like you to come in December and pick some horses out. I thought, sure, okay.
When I hung up, my dad, whose hearing is sort of bad, he goes, who is that? I said, oh, it’s a new — they want me to buy some horses for them. It’s Juddmonte Farms. Juddmonte Farms, hey, I know who they are. So I remember he was with me there, and we were thinking, wow, I thought like, man, this is really, really incredible when you get picked by that organization. You just feel like it was even an honor to be involved with them.
Q. Bob, could you take us through why this horse didn’t run at two in his development to get to this point.
BOB BAFFERT: He had some — he was a really big horse. That’s one thing about the organization, which is take your time. Just let him develop on his own. He’s big. As you see, he’s a big lanky horse. He might have had maybe like some baby issues, shin, nothing really serious. So we just let him come on his own. And finally, we brought him in, and like my assistant said, boy, this horse is ready to come over. So we started working.
But he was tough. He was wanting to get a little hot, and his first race proved that. He was a mess his first race. It was almost like American Pharaoh, had the blinkers on, got away from the pony, wanted to run. He was just a mess that day. Got him back. Got him relaxed.
Then all of a sudden, Dana Barnes, who gets on him every day, just really spent a lot of time with him. He’s like a big kid. We just try to stay out of his way, and he responded. He was perfect in the paddock. He was quiet. He was good. A lot of Unbridled’s Song’s, they can get a little hot.
But he broke like a shot today. Mike just got him out of the gate. Once he got him in that high cruising speed he has, I just sat back and watched — you know, when my wife Jill started — and I heard the announcer say, that’s pretty fast for this distance, and Jill said, he said it’s fast for this distance. I said, yeah, but Mike knows what he’s doing, and the other horse looked like he’s traveling well. 46, that’s a little fast, but Mike knows what he’s doing.
Once Mike is on a horse like that, he doesn’t take away their speed from them. But like I said, turning for home, I sat back, and I just thought, wow, he is just — what I was hoping he was like, and I knew there was no way they were going to catch him. He was just getting in gear.
Rafael Bejarano, who’s been riding him, he had to ride that other horse. He put in a lot of work, and he knew that this horse going 1 1/4 miles, that’s when he was going to really, really shine. I mean, the sky’s the limit for this horse.
Q. Bob, could you contrast the emotions last year to this year. How tough was it?
BOB BAFFERT: Last year you probably could have poured me out of a shot glass. We were pretty dejected. It’s not only — I felt bad for the horse. The horse got beat. He ran hard. He got in a speed, whatever, but he ran his heart out. So we were sitting here, and it was just emotional. The whole town came out to see him do something like Arrogate did today. We were all looking for that turn for home, cheer up, great end of a movie theme, whatever, but I’m just glad to be back here with another chance at it.
And my horse is like what he did today is pretty incredible. He looks like a superstar in the making. So I think the fans, they’ll remember watching a horse like this because I know, when I see performances like this, very rare. We’ve been lucky to see some great performances. You saw song bird come up here, and then Mike come on this horse. It’s been a great — like today the horse that we saw run today, I mean, Saratoga, best horses here. So I’m glad to be a part of it, and everything went well.
Q. Bob, you told us the other day that you came in here with the two best horses and not to take anything away from Arrogate, but what’s it like to one 1, 2 in a 13-horse field in the Travers.
BOB BAFFERT: Well, you want to run 1, 2. When you have two horses, the thing is that they run 1, 2. It’s a sign of the people that I have that work for me, our whole team. Like I said, I couldn’t say more for Jimmy Barnes, who’s like the heart and soul of this operation. We work great together. That’s why I came in here — I knew we were — we came in here armed, but it was up to our — we needed some racing luck, and that’s very important, but I’m just glad they showed up.
Q. Mike, can you talk a little bit about your summer here.
MIKE SMITH: I had a great, great meet, really good meet. As a matter of fact, after song bird I’d won, Bob sent me a text. That text said, we need an Alabama-Travers double. I texted him back thumbs up. That sounds great. Very blessed that he chose me to ride this horse today and just happy to be there. The guy that got to keep the weight on his back, to be honest with you. He was ready.
Q. What does Arrogate mean?
JOHN CHANDLER: Being arrogant, but not in an unpleasant sense and not really a real word.
MIKE SMITH: That’s funny.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports / NYRA