Jinks Fires, Kathy Ritvo, and the duo of Todd Pletcher and Mike Repole were among the highlights at the May 4 Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders’ trainers’ dinner, an annual event held on the Tuesday leading up to the Kentucky Derby (gr. I).
Pletcher, who won last year’s Derby with Super Saver, was the honored guest at the May 3 dinner held at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Louisville. He took the opportunity to talk about his two chances this year, Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty, as well as razz Repole, who owns both horses.
“Someone asked me, ‘What’s it like to train for a guy like Mike Repole, ' ” Pletcher said to co-host Todd Schrupp. “To make an NFL comparison, it’s like training for Jerry Jones on speed.”
A short time later Schrupp brought Repole up to the stage. Owners are not normally asked to speak at the dinner, but it was appropriate given Repole’s larger-than-life personality and his close relationship with Pletcher. He did not disappoint.
“Todd and I have a very good relationship, but it’s also a very unique relationship,” Repole quipped. “It’s kind of like Jordan and Pippen, and Batman and Robin. The only problem is that I think I’m Jordan and Batman, and he thinks he’s Jordan and Batman too.”
Jinks Fires, trainer of Arkansas Derby (gr. I) winner Archarcharch, was also a hit on stage. A longtime fixture at Churchill Downs, the 70-year-old Fires will saddle his first horse in the Derby. Among other things, he talked about how special it will be to have his son at the track on Saturday.
“He’s a helicopter pilot captain in the marines,” Fires said. “He did two tours in Iraq and just got back from Afghanistan about two months ago. He came home, got married a couple weeks ago and will be flying in on Friday night.”
Fires was also asked what it’s like to give his son-in-law, Jon Court, instructions about riding his horses in the paddock before races.
“I tell him things, but he’s a jockey so when he leaves the paddock you know how things can change,” Fires joked.”
Ritvo, the trainer of Risen Star (gr. II) winner Mucho Macho Man, has touched many people on the this year’s Derby trail through her ability to overcome a heart transplant in 2008. Humble and gracious, she spoke of that feat May 3.
“I’m doing great and I’m here tonight to ask people to sign their organ donor cards,” Ritvo said. “Because of that, I’m here right now living my dream.”
Graham Motion also drew a nice applause after he made a point to thank Julien and Diane Cotter, who were gracious enough to attend the event even though their homebred, Toby's Corner, was declared from the race earlier that day because of an injury. Motion still has Animal Kingdom slated to run, but was heartbroken over the loss of Toby’s Corner.
“Luckily, (the Cotter’s) still wanted to sit with me,” Motion joked.
Mike Maker, who will saddle a pair on Saturday, also came up with a couple of timely one-liners. Speaking of Ken Ramsey’s homebred Derby Kitten, who was the last horse to qualify for the Derby after winning the April 23 Coolmore Lexington (gr. III), Maker said: “My mom always said I liked to put things off until the last minute.”
Maker also said getting Ramsey back to the Derby was probably a good career move: “It might have helped my job security a little bit,” he joked.
Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear also spoke at the dinner, which was also co-hosted by Paul Rogers.