Q&A: Kiaran McLaughlin
By David Grening
A former assistant to D. Wayne Lukas, he has conditioned
2006 Horse of the Year Invasor as well as 2007 champion turf female Lahudood.
McLaughlin has trained for Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin and Darley Stable as
well as Sheikh Hamdan’s Shadwell Stable, for whom he won the 2006 Belmont
Stakes with Jazil. In 2005 McLaughlin came within a half-length of winning the
Kentucky Derby with Closing Argument. He hopes to get there this year with
Alpha and/or Consortium.
Birthdate: Nov. 15,
1960 in Lexington, Ky.
Family: wife, Letty;
daughter, Erin; son, Ryan.
Got into racing
because . . . I grew up in Lexington, Ky., and fell in love with the business
at a very young age.
First racing memory?
I’m going to say it was probably watching Secretariat win the Belmont by 31
lengths when I was 12 years old. At that time, I wrote a paper in the 7th grade
about wanting to be a horse trainer.
First job on the
track? My first job was for James Burchell as a hotwalker/groom when I was 16
years old in the summers and on the weekends. We were mainly a claiming outfit.
What was the most
valuable lesson you learned from D. Wayne Lukas? I worked for Wayne for seven
years. Almost everything that I do is based on what I learned from Wayne in
those seven years. Work ethic. Wayne is a hard worker. He had all of his
phrases but one was “the rate of the leader dictates the pace of the pack.” I
go to work every day, I love to go to work, I’m there early. I think it’s
important for the help to see that.
You began the year
with Alpha winning the Count Fleet and Captivating Lass winning the Busanda.
Can these horses get to the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks? Yes. Alpha
finally put it all together and ran a big race in the Count Fleet, and
hopefully, he’ll run equally well in the Withers on Feb. 4. He’s a nice, sound
horse with a good mind. He has a few little gate issues we’re going to work on.
He definitely should get the distance and hopefully has enough graded earnings.
I think right now there’s Union Rags and a pretty good drop off, and he fits in
with everybody else.
needs to keep improving, and we hope she does that. That was a big race for her
the other day, a big improvement on all of her figures. She’s at Palm Meadows
now and we’ll point to Feb. 25, either
the Davona Dale at Gulfstream or the Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds.
You also have a nice
colt in Consortium and a nice filly Miss Netta. Talk about their prospects for
the spring. Miss Netta is a really nice filly who won an allowance at
Gulfstream the other day, breaking slowly and trailing the field but came on to
win by a neck or half-length. She has trained really well and has shown signs
of having a lot of ability. She’s a little funny at the starting gate. She ran
in the Monty Roberts blanket last time for the first time, stood in there good,
didn’t come out great. We’ll continue to school her and possibly take the
blanket off if she schools well without it. She’s pointing to the Feb. 25
Davona Dale. We will more likely not ship her because she’s funny all the way
around. Captivating Lass has a great mind and we would ship her before we would
ship Miss Netta.
unlucky to be second in an allowance race last time; unlucky because he ran
into a very nice Bernardini colt [Algorithms] of Todd Pletcher’s. Consortium
will run in Godolphin’s name in the Holy Bull on Jan. 29.
Sheikh Mohammed has
decided to keep a lot more horses in the U.S. this winter than in the past. How
has that impacted your stable? It’s great for our stable. We’re very pleased
and happy about it. You don’t have to ship so far to run and ship back for the
Kentucky Derby. It helps to have some offspring of Discreet Cat and Bernardini
here to advertise their stallions. A lot of things went into their decision.
They might in fact go to Dubai in the fall if they belong there. It’s nice for
Godolphin to leave some horses. We appreciate it. Sangaree was a good second in
the Hal’s Hope, and we might run him back in the Donn Handicap on Feb. 11.
Sheikh Mohammed has
always indicated a desire to try and win the Kentucky Derby from Dubai. By
keeping horses in America this winter, has his philosophy changed? With the
change of surface in Dubai − it now being synthetic − it’s very difficult for
anybody to be able to handicap if a horse that wins on a Tapeta track can win
the Kentucky Derby on dirt. That might have come into it, I’m not sure. I know
he would love to win the Kentucky Derby from Dubai; I feel he’s always wanted
to do that. I think he’d be equally as happy to win it from anywhere. To win
the Kentucky Derby, it’d be a great honor, and I hope we’re a part of it.
How much does the
Derby mean to you? It would be kind of a lifelong dream. Being raised in
Lexington, Ky., every horseperson dreams of being involved in the Kentucky
Derby. Of course, to train one would be fabulous and exciting. It probably
doesn’t get much better than that. Winning the Dubai World Cup is a close
second, and we did that already. It would mean a lot for me to win it for the
owner, my family, everybody associated with our stable.
How do you think the
casino at Aqueduct will impact New York racing and racing in America overall? I
think New York racing is going to be a big boost to the whole state. For
example, the breeding operation was really hurt badly with the lack of money in
purses, and a lot of people were looking to breed Pennsylvania-breds and in
other states because of bonuses. Darley brought Girolamo to Sequel Stallions
and Becky Thomas. It’s a big, big addition to jobs and a big help to the
economy in general. For me, on my level, I consider it a 30 percent raise. It’s
great for all jockeys, trainers, owners. Everybody is going to be able to pay
their bills easier. It might hurt Kentucky and other places that don’t have the
casino money; that part of it is tough. But New York is the best racing in
America and the backbone to all of Thoroughbred racing. I think it’s a big
What would you still
like to accomplish in this game? I’m not after such big awards or big races.
Mainly, I love what I do. I really want to keep winning races, keep my owners
happy, and keep the barn full. I don’t have goals of trying to win the Met
Mile, Kentucky Derby, or Triple Crown. I like the business. It’s exciting to
me. I love to go to work every day and find the Alphas and Miss Nettas and
You were diagnosed
with multiple sclerosis in 1998. How have you been managing that? I’ve given
myself an injection every day since June 1999. Luckily, I haven’t had any major
setbacks with multiple sclerosis. I don’t walk maybe as well as I did five
years ago. I’m sure it’s getting a little bit worse year to year, but luckily,
it’s only a tiny bit worse. I feel good. I function the same as I did before
getting multiple sclerosis. It’s just that I don’t play golf or am that
physically active. My mind is great. I’m not in any pain. I don’t move as well.
As I’ve said before, I have it in my hip pocket, it doesn’t have me.
Best horse you’ve
seen? It’s hard to say one horse. To me, in my lifetime, Invasor was one of the
best horses I ever saw. Luckily, he was in stall No. 1. It was very unusual you
had a horse that every time you put the bridle on you thought he was going to
win − I felt that way about him.
If you could change
one thing in racing or make one rule, what would it be? I would probably say
I’d like to see more uniformity in medication, shoes, starting gate, just in
general. Make it easier to get one license to train in every state; medications
to be consistent throughout America, withdrawal times and availability to use
them. And the starting gate, we’ve had our issues, this state won let you use
blankets or won’t let you open the front doors.