'I Don't See Racing's Future as Rosy' – Trainer Eddie Plesa Looks Ahead Following Milestone Victory

Eddie Plesa | Equi-Photo

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Eddie Plesa, Jr. secured his 2,500th career training victory with the 3-year-old gelding Raging Fury at Gulfstream Park Apr. 13. TDN's Senior Racing Editor Steve Sherack caught up with the highly respected 74-year-old conditioner for a wide-ranging interview to discuss the milestone victory, his trip to the 2-year-old sales in Ocala this spring, the future of the sport and much more.

TDN: Let's start things off with your milestone victory. What does it mean to you to reach 2,500 wins?

EP: When you hit a number like that, you take pride in the accomplishment and the longevity. You look back and see certain things that you've accomplished during your career–it's been a long career. I feel very fortunate. I've been very blessed in this game. But there's also a bit of melancholy. I'm sure we'll end up getting into that more. But the business isn't the same, there's no question about it. Don't like the way it's going. But it is what it is.

TDN: Hold that thought for a moment and we'll circle back to discuss the current state of the industry. Let's just chat a little bit more about your landmark victory first. Did you get a chance to celebrate? Knowing how much you enjoy the 2-year-old sales, I'm thinking you might say that you celebrated by signing some tickets in Ocala the following week.

EP: (Laughs)… I went out with family and we toasted. Some close friends came over. Things like that. It was noticed by the people around me and we did celebrate it.

Itsmyluckyday | Spendthrift

TDN: Looking back at your career, Three Ring and Itsmyluckyday were two of your big horses through the years. But is there one win or memory that sticks out when you reflect on your training career?

EP: When Itsmyluckyday won the Grade I in New York (2014 GI Woodward S. at Saratoga), that race really sticks out because–a, it was a Grade I; b, it was at Saratoga; and c, we ran again against the horse that beat us previously (finished second behind the Eric Guillot-trained Moreno in the GI Whitney S.) and there was a little banter going on as far as the Racing Form was concerned. (Guillot) said that he had Voodoo and I said, 'Well, I'll have a medal of Saint Joseph on my horse that day so your Voodoo isn't gonna work.' It was fun.

Needless to say, we were able to sell him (Itsmyluckyday began his stud career at Spendthrift Farm before relocating to Ohio) and we did quite well with that and he also made a lot of money for us (on the track). Any comfort that I have now in my life, a lot of it has to do with Itsmyluckyday. Training horses is not a business where trainers make a lot of money. Especially with everyday trainers, you're (robbing) Peter to pay Paul. I've been very fortunate and lucky. My wife kept a handle on things and did all of the bookkeeping. If I were to quit tomorrow, my lifestyle wouldn't change.

TDN: How many are you training/how big is your operation these days? Retirement doesn't exactly seem to be on your radar after reloading with some 2-year-olds at OBS this spring.

EP: Not very big. I've got 16-18 horses right now. Just kinda cruising. I've got people that have worked for me for a long period of time. My assistant trainer has been with me for over 20 years. I've got a groom that's been with me for probably 26 years. There's a lot of longevity with the people that work for me. I feel a certain responsibility to them. They've been good to me and I would hope they would say that I've been good to them.

How much longer am I going to do this? I don't know, the game's changing so drastically and it's even changing faster now than I've ever seen it. So, I don't know.

TDN: You wound up with three from OBS April ($150,000 Girvin colt; $60,000 Girvin colt; and a $27,000 Win Win Win filly) and one from OBS March ($32,000 Take Charge Indy colt). You've been a long-time supporter of the 2-year-old sales and also purchased the aforementioned Itsmyluckyday (on behalf of Trilogy Stable and Eddie's wife Laurie for $110,000) at the 2012 OBS March sale. How did things go for you in Ocala this spring?

EP: It's a draft system for me. Two-year-olds are what I enjoy most of all. I'll know what the 2-year-olds are that I bought this year at this time next year. I've got some nice horses in the barn now–some stakes horses and stakes-quality horses. That makes you get up in the morning and feel good. If they were just horses, I wouldn't be doing it. I've got some great owners–Karl and Cathi Glassman, David Melin, Marion Montanari, Leon Ellman–and those are the kind of relationships that you enjoy. It makes your job so much easier.

Ticking | Lauren King

TDN: Any big races coming up for the stable or horses that you're looking forward to running in the near future?

EP: The 2-year-olds are a ways away. I've got an older horse Ticking (Bolt d'Oro) whose gonna run in a seven-eighths of a mile stakes race (Big Drama H.) at Gulfstream. We gave a lot of money for him ($675,000 '22 OBSAPR). He's a 4-year-old and he's shown flashes. He needs to break through. Hopefully, this will be the race. I've also got a filly Epona's Hope (Adios Charlie)–she's a 3-year-old and I think that she's a stakes horse. She's won a couple of allowance races.

TDN: You touched on it earlier that the business just isn't the same. What are some of the biggest issues that you are concerned about right now?

EP: The industry did it to itself. Jurisdictions never worked together. They didn't work together on something as simple as licensing and uniformed medication. When I first came around, stewards were to be feared. If you did something that racetrack ownership and management didn't like, they would kick you out. That seemed to go by the wayside. I think managements of most racetracks are more concerned with how many horses does so and so have. 'Oh, I can't kick him out. He's got 40 horses. He's got 50 horses.'

I don't see racing's future as rosy. I see a business that–and it's kind of ironic–Dennis Drazin (the chairman and CEO of Darby Development, the management team that operates Monmouth Park) fought the war to get sports gambling. What did horse racing get out of it? Nothing. I mean really, nothing. Sports gambling comes in. Now what happens? People want to bet on sports. They get away from horse racing. Younger people are not betting on horse racing because they're more interested in sports. You can barely find an article in a newspaper that says anything about horse racing except for the Kentucky Derby. And the coverage is next to nothing. You watch ESPN and there's just a little blurb about the Derby.

We've lost our way. We've lost our strength. At one time, we were the only game in town. That's not true anymore. I just read an article that handle betting on horses is down nationwide and it's not a surprise.

When I first came around, there was no such thing as year-round racing. We hear a lot about racetracks and horses breaking down. When you run year-round on racetrack surfaces, those surfaces need a break. They need to be revamped. They need time off. And they don't do that. They look for a solution. What's the solution? We're gonna put in a new synthetic racetrack. It's a shortcut.

I believe that I've seen the best of it–no ifs ands or buts. I hope I'm wrong. I truly am.

I've got three children and I could've brought two into the business. At that time, I had a good business going–50-60 horses–and they would've been an asset to me. But I saw what was going on. One of them goes to work now with a gun at his hip–he's a police lieutenant–and I feel better that he has the job that he does as a civil servant rather than coming into my business being a horse trainer.

Eddie Plesa | Coglianese

TDN: It certainly doesn't sound like it, but do you feel any better about racing's future with HISA (Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority) now firmly in place?

EP: I give them credit for trying. But, it's the same old story. You're bringing in the federal government to police a sport that should've been policing itself. I just think logic is gone. There's logical steps to do things and they just refused to do it. That part of the game is over. They got HISA in and they are trying to do the best that they can. But what experience do they have in the game? It makes it tough on us.

TDN: You no longer have to compete against Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis, but do you still feel like a lot of trainers are cheating? How clean do you think the game is right now?

EP: It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that some of these trainers that just went away were cheating. I don't think it's as bad as it was, but do I think people are still taking advantage? Yeah, I do.

TDN: Any closing thoughts?

EP: I've been so fortunate. I feel blessed that I have a great family. I feel blessed that I met a lot of people in this game that were captains of industry–doers and shakers. That's the one thing about being a horse trainer, you meet these people. Barry Schwartz (owned GISW Three Ring) was one. I'd call him and talk about his horses. And he was a 50% owner in Calvin Klein.

The average person has no conception or idea about the care and love that these horses get. No idea. It's a great sport and it doesn't get the credit that it should.

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