Trainers' Dinner Full of Good Humor

Hall of Fame trainers D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert kicked off the annual Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders' trainers' dinner April 28 with humor and vivacity, and that attitude lasted throughout the evening.

Held in the Hyatt Regency ballroom in downtown Louisville, Ky., the post-dinner interviews with trainers of Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) hopefuls brought some insights into the running of Derby 135, which will be held May 2 at Churchill Downs.

For all their good natured teasing, Lukas did take time to acknowledge the fact that Baffert recently found out he has been selected as a member of racing’s Hall of Fame class of 2009.

“In all sincerity, if we didn’t put him in, we don’t have one,” said Lukas said.

Baffert will send out grade I winner Pioneerof the Nile  in the Derby, and Lukas will saddle Flying Private. While the two trainers have won multiple Derbys between them, this renewal of the Run for the Roses will involve several first-time trainers, including Kelly Breen, Bennie Woolley Jr., and Tim Ice.

For the first time in recent memory, every trainer of a Derby hopeful attended the trainers’ dinner, which brought enthusiastic applause from the audience. However, although last year’s winner Big Brown  was honored, trainer Rick Dutrow was unable to make the event.

The emcees for the evening were Paul Rogers and Chris Lincoln, and prior to each trainer appearing on stage, a video of their Derby contender (or contenders in some cases) was shown. In all, most of the trainers approached the evening with a light hearted and easygoing attitude.

Of the trainers that are first time attendees of the event, none have been more publicized the Tom McCarthy, who at age 75 will saddle General Quarters in the Run for the Roses. In his last start, General Quarters won the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland.

“I’m not really 75 years old – I have the same eyes and same feelings as a 45-year-old has,” joked McCarthy, who as a retired high school principal was asked to compare the two professions. “You like to take a horse and go up by stages and get them to a point where they are a winner. (Similarly,) you like to take a child--and they grow up in stages also--and you like to make them a winner."

At the end of the evening, trainer Todd Pletcher won a drawing for a free one-way airfare for one of his horses in training. He will send out three horses in the Derby on Saturday: Advice, Join in the Dance, and Dunkirk.