Although the 7-year-old bay son of Mineshaft finished seventh and then eighth in his first two cracks at the 1 1/8-mile Pegasus for previous trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, there is renewed hope. He comes off his first stakes victory in 20 tries, a commanding Grade 1 score in the Dec. 5 Cigar Mile Handicap at Aqueduct.
The $3 million Pegasus will be run on Saturday at Gulfstream Park as part of a star-studded card that also features the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational. Tom Pedulla spoke to Jack Sisterson, who has conditioned True Timber for his last five starts after McLaughlin closed his barn to become jockey Luis Saez’s agent.
PEDULLA: How challenging is it to be assigned an older horse during the racing season?
SISTERSON: It wasn’t a challenge at all. Credit to Kiaran McLaughlin. He sent me True Timber in great shape. I allowed him to do what he wanted to do and allowed him to move forward in our program.
PEDULLA: Were there any insights Kiaran was able to share?
SISTERSON: Kiaran is such a class act. He sent the horse in great shape. The end-of-the-year goal was the Cigar Mile. We just gave him a little freshening at Keeneland. Having that as the year-end goal seemed to work out well for us.
PEDULLA: So you were constantly building toward the Cigar Mile?
SISTERSON: You looked at his form and sort of his best races were at Aqueduct toward the end of the year. We mapped out a plan, we had a vision, and it was True Timber who executed that plan well.
PEDULLA: Any idea why it took him so long to earn that first graded-stakes win? He had been a runner-up four times and third on six occasions without winning in stakes races.
SISTERSON: You could see in his early training that he had the talent to win a race like that. I couldn’t answer the question why it took him so long. Let me ask True Timber that. But it was rewarding for the horse to show the public that he was capable of winning a Grade 1 the way he did it [by 5 ½ lengths on a sloppy track].
PEDULLA: What did it feel like when he won that elusive Grade 1?
SISTERSON: To win a Grade 1, to even compete in a Grade 1, it’s a humbling experience. It’s definitely a dream come true.
PEDULLA: After the Cigar Mile, you said you needed to choose between the Pegasus and the [Feb. 20] Saudi Cup. What swung the decision toward the Pegasus?
SISTERSON: True Timber is doing great and nothing is going to stop us from doing the Pegasus and the Saudi Cup. Why not let the horse do what he loves to do, which is train and run?
PEDULLA: Are you comfortable that there is enough time between those two races?
SISTERSON: The timing doesn’t bother us at all. True Timber takes his training and his races in great shape. I know you have to ship halfway around the world, but that is when you put your faith in the horse and have the horse tell you whether he is capable of doing it. We’ll put it in True Timber’s hands, like we do with every horse. We never force any horse to do something they don’t want to do, something they’re not capable of doing. As long as he comes out of it in good shape and is telling us he wants to do it, we’ll give it a shot.
PEDULLA: You were an assistant to Doug O’Neill for many years. What are some of the things you learned from Doug?
SISTERSON: He was such a great horseman and businessman and team player. The horses come first and he created that team environment. Credit to Doug that you put the horse’s well-being and the staff’s well-being first, and the rest takes care of itself.
PEDULLA: How is True Timber training for the Pegasus?
SISTERSON: He’s really coming around. He’s 7 years old, but he’s not slowing down. He’s taking his training and his works and he seems to be improving. We’ve changed his training up a little bit and he’s moving forward with it.
PEDULLA: How did you change his training?
SISTERSON: We’ve extended his gallops. We want to get more air into his lungs going around the two turns and he’s taken that very well.
PEDULLA: He tried the Pegasus twice before and did not run very well. Are you optimistic he can turn that around?
SISTERSON: We’re very optimistic going in because he’s coming off a confidence-building run. He’s going into it in a happy frame of mind. I really think he’ll put his best foot forward.
PEDULLA: Can horses really sense when they’ve won?
SISTERSON: Absolutely. You can see it just in the body language walking around the barn. They definitely know it.