By Steve Sherack
LOUISVILLE, Ky – Well-respected private clocker and bloodstock agent Gary Young sat down for a Q&A session with TDN Senior Editor Steve Sherack to discuss all things GI Kentucky Derby. The Southern California-based native of Chicago has selected standouts such as two-time GI Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Midnight Lute (Real Quiet) and GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Brocco (Kris S.). Other GISWs on his resume include: Capo Bastone (Street Boss), Gabriel Charles (Street Hero), Life At Ten (Malibu Moon) and Tom’s Tribute (Lion Heart).
Q: Who has impressed you the most in the mornings this week at Churchill Downs?
GY: It’s hard to get a better, more imposing looking horse than Justify (Scat Daddy). He may or may not win this race for a multitude of reasons-inexperience, trouble coming out of the gate, etc. But if he doesn’t get eliminated at the start, I think this horse is going to take a whole lot of beating. He’s the biggest dog in the kennel, let’s put it that way.
Q: Last year’s champion 2-year-old colt Good Magic has been receiving plenty of attention in the a.m. here, too. Thoughts on him?
GY: Good Magic (Curlin)’s last work [five furlongs in 1:01.20 8/55 at Churchill Apr. 28] was good. He’s a medium-sized horse that has a medium stride. But he doesn’t have any wasted action or energy and he’s in the barn of a guy who knows how to win these big races. To label Chad Brown a turf trainer is very foolish because he wins a lot of races on dirt and he’s going to win some Derbies, too.
Good Magic is very accomplished, but he doesn’t catch your eye like a Justify or Magnum Moon (Malibu Moon) or like [American] Pharoah did. There’s nothing overly flashy about him, but look, he’s won a Grade I and an Eclipse Award.
Q: Any Derby longshot catching your eye during training hours?
GY: I think as a longshot, Hofburg (Tapit) is going to run pretty good. I as a gambler–I’ve gambled my whole life-have always tried to beat the favorite. I don’t like the idea of coming out here and just telling everybody that the favorite [Justify] is my pick to be the sixth favorite in a row to win the Derby.
But I like betting against weak favorites and I don’t think he’s a weak favorite. I think Hofburg has a chance to hit the board or maybe even get in the exacta. I think he’s coming forward very fast. It speaks volumes that a conservative guy like Billy Mott is running him in the Kentucky Derby.
Q: Anybody that you didn’t really like on paper that has impressed you enough from the clocker stand to make you think twice now?
GY: Hofburg would be that horse and maybe Vino Rosso (Curlin), too. They definitely went up in my rankings since I arrived in Louisville.
Q: How do you see the Derby setting up?
GY: If this race goes the way I think and Justify runs these horses into the ground and opens up four at the quarter pole, there’s going to be a lot of horses with their tongues hanging out. It could set up a horse like Hofburg or Vino Rosso, who will definitely get the distance, to pick up the pieces for second and third.
That is a very plausible scenario for me being a huge Justify fan. If Justify breaks and everything goes right, I can see him laying second outside the Dale Romans horse Promises Fulfilled (Shackleford), and at about the 3 1/2 pole, him opening up. It could become a vicious game of catch up for the rest of the field from there.
Q: You’re clearly very high on Justify. Does his inexperience/ the ‘Curse of Apollo’ worry you at all?
GY: The fact that he’s only got three career races worries me more than the ‘Curse of Apollo.’ Right after he came over from Los Alamitos and worked at Santa Anita for the first time, I said to Bob Baffert, ‘Who the hell is that?’
When you look at a horse like Justify, you would expect him to take a little while to get going–he’s just such a big, massive long-bodied horse. If he was a mid-pack horse or a come-from-behind horse, having only three races so far would concern me a lot more than it does with him being an up-close runner.
I know Bolt d’Oro (Medaglia d’Oro) is a good horse, and for Justify to handle him in only his third race of his life like he did [in the GI Santa Anita Derby], was pretty impressive.
Q: Observing these horses in the morning, what signs do you look for leading up to the Derby?
GY: You want to see a horse that’s galloping freely. Most of them jog before they turn around and gallop-you need to warm up first. Any baseball player or basketball player, they just don’t walk onto the diamond or hardwood and say, ‘Come on, let’s go.’
There are certain horses that don’t warm up that great and this is where knowing the horses on a daily basis can really help. And on cool mornings like we had earlier this week, you’d rather not see horses getting perspired or wet.
Q: Favorite Derby memory?
GY: I kind of put my neck out on the line before ‘Pharoah’ ran and said that he might be the best horse I timed in 35 years of clocking. He went out and won the Triple Crown, so that obviously was very nice and has to be right up there. Winning Colors would be another, I made a pretty good lick on her.
The one thing that will always stick in my mind is the ’94 Derby when I came here with Brocco and Mr. and Mrs. Broccoli, who produced the James Bond movies.
They were with the Winick family and they were the people that mentored me in my early years on the racetrack and they hired me to help assist them in picking horses. I loved Brocco from the day he worked at the sale and we were all convinced that he was going to win the Derby. But when they opened the doors, he got left five lengths behind the field on a muddy racetrack. He made it all the way up to second at the eighth pole and he wound up running fourth.
Q: Closing thoughts?
GY: California, in a rare instance, got blanked in the Triple Crown last year. I don’t see that happening again this year.