Tom Pedulla is interviewing prominent owners, trainers and jockeys for America’s Best Racing as they travel the Road to the $3 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve. The Derby has been rescheduled for Saturday, Sept. 5, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jason Loutsch, racing manager for Iowa-based Albaugh Family Stables, is featured this week. Albaugh is set to make its fourth Kentucky Derby appearance in five years with Thousand Words, a colt it co-owns with Spendthrift Farm. Albaugh, which did not have a starter last year, achieved its best result when Brody’s Cause ran seventh in 2016.
Thousand Words, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, comes off an upset victory against Honor A. P. in the Aug. 1 Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar. The Florida-bred son of 2009 Kentucky Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile was a $1 million purchase at the 2018 Keeneland September yearling sale.
Thousand Words has worked three times at Del Mar since the Shared Belief, covering four, six, and five furlongs. In his most recent drill on Aug. 23, he traveled five furlongs in one minute flat, eighth among 87 at the distance.
PEDULLA: What does it mean to go to the Derby for the fourth time in five years?
LOUTSCH: We don’t take it for granted. We know how tough it is. We’re really excited for the opportunity. You never know if you’re going to get back there in this game. It’s hard.
PEDULLA: What do you attribute this run to? Four out of five years in the Derby is pretty darn good.
LOUTSCH: We put together a really good team and we do a lot of research. We work hard at the sale. We have a system and, to make it four out of five years, the system is working. There is a lot of luck, too.
PEDULLA: You went to $1 million for Thousand Words. Isn’t that unusually high for you?
LOUTSCH: Yeah. You know, we really, really liked this horse. He checked all of our boxes as far as what we were looking for. We knew he was going to be expensive. Thankfully, we had a good partner in Spendthrift that was willing to partner up with us. We didn’t know it was going to go that high. When two people are bidding, you never know when it’s going to stop. That was going to be our last bid. We were very lucky it stopped at that number because we were done.
PEDULLA: When you say Thousand Words checked all the boxes, may I ask you to be more specific?
LOUTSCH: His pedigree, by Pioneerof the Nile. The way he was built. His conformation was outstanding. His presence when he walked was great. He vetted good. We look for horses we think can get a mile and a quarter. He checked all of the boxes.
PEDULLA: Is a big part of getting to the Derby looking for horses that handle the classic distance?
LOUTSCH: When we go to the sales, we’re looking for two-turn colts. I don’t think any horse in America is bred to get a mile and a quarter. As Dale (trainer Dale Romans) says, ‘Get me a mile and a sixteenth, a mile and an eighth, and I’ll take care of the rest.’ We try to get horses that have stamina and a little speed on the bottom side. Thousand Words is out of a sprinter, Pomeroy’s Pistol, on the bottom side, and with Pioneerof the Nile, it’s a great mix.
PEDULLA: What kind of training job has Bob Baffert done with this horse?
LOUTSCH: This is my first horse with Bob. I can’t say enough good things about Bob. It’s been a pleasure to get to meet him and to get to know his team. I always admired what he did with his horses and I’m really amazed with what he’s done with Thousand Words. We always knew the talent was there. He just had to get him happy.
PEDULLA: Did Thousand Words sour on you after he won his first race of the year, the Robert B. Lewis Stakes?
LOUTSCH: He did. The horse has a little bit of an attitude. He needed to mature and just wasn’t happy. He needed to get healthy and happy and feeling good. He ran a dull race in the San Felipe Stakes and then we shipped him to Oaklawn Park (for the April 11 Oaklawn Stakes). It was a sloppy track and he broke terrible. We thought if we gave him 30 days off (after an 11th-place finish in the Oaklawn Stakes) we’d still have time with the Derby delayed this year.
PEDULLA: When he came back from the layoff to run second in the Los Alamitos Derby, was that encouraging?
LOUTSCH: I was very positive about the way he ran. The horse came back good. He came back after that and trained really, really well. Bob was excited going into the Shared Belief. He said ‘It’s as good as he’s ever done. I think he’s going to run big.’ Honestly, we didn’t think we could compete with Honor A. P. But it was really good to see that the way he trained, he ran like that. He ran a great race. You know, a little confidence goes a long way.
PEDULLA: How is he doing since then?
LOUTSCH: He came out of the race tremendous. He is doing really, really good. He is peaking at the right time. We’re excited.
PEDULLA: Did the victory against Honor A. P. give you confidence that Thousand Words belongs in the Derby?
LOUTSCH: Absolutely. We didn’t want to go into the race as an 80-1 shot. We feel we beat a quality opponent, one of the top three or four horses. That gives us a lot of confidence moving forward that we belong, at least we have a shot. If he runs like we think he can, he can compete.
PEDULLA: Is it fair to say the delayed Derby played into your favor?
LOUTSCH: That’s the only real positive for us in the COVID deal. It’s been a difficult year for all of us. The only positive is that we gave the horse a little time to mature, he got happy and it allowed us to qualify for the Derby.
PEDULLA: Is Tiz the Law beatable?
LOUTSCH: He’s going to be one of the biggest favorites in the history of the race. Anything can happen with a 20-horse field, right? If he has a clean trip, it seems he is going to be very difficult to beat. But in a 20-horse field, you never know.
PEDULLA: You’ve done a great job of reaching the Derby. What would it mean to break through?
LOUTSCH: In everything we do, we set goals. To obtain this goal would be huge. The biggest thrill in racing would be to win the Kentucky Derby. That’s why we’re in this game. That’s why we work our butts off every day.