05/09/2011 3:50PM

Kentucky Derby: Trainers respond to Irwin's comment about lying

Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Barry Irwin, president of Team Valor International, owner of Animal Kingdom, lifts the Kentucky Derby trophy. In a televised interview on the way to the winner’s circle, Irwin said he switched his horses to Graham Motion because he was ‘tired of other trainers lying to me.’

ELMONT, N.Y. – Barry Irwin, president of the Team Valor International syndicate that owns Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, did not back away from some controversial comments he made following Saturday’s race, but said he was not referencing former trainers Wayne Catalano or Todd Pletcher when he made them.

Interviewed by NBC Sports' Bob Neumeier on his way to the Churchill Downs winner’s circle, Irwin was asked why he moved all of Team Valor’s horses to trainer Graham Motion, whom Irwin hired late last year.

"I got tired of other trainers lying to me," Irwin said on national television. "I wanted a guy to tell me the truth."

Irwin then answered "plenty" when asked how many trainers lied to him, before departing to the winner's circle.

Phil Mushnick, the longtime TV sports critic in the New York Post, led his Sunday column with the item, in which he wrote, "I may be wrong, but no horse owner ever before accused former trainers of corruption on national TV after winning the Kentucky Derby. But there's a first time for everything."

Some in the industry thought Irwin might have been referencing Pletcher or Catalano, both of whom were training for Team Valor late last fall and had horses moved to Motion. Pletcher had won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf with Pluck, while Catalano was the first trainer of Animal Kingdom, who won his second start before moving to Motion.

On Monday, Irwin said he was not referring to either of those two trainers in his comments.

"I've got the highest respect for Pletcher," Irwin told Daily Racing Form on Monday. "I think he’s the smartest guy in the horse business, and we had nothing but success together. I like Wayne Catalano. Those aren’t the guys I had in mind."

Irwin went on to say that he has had 40 trainers in the last five years.

"Did the majority of them lie to me? Yes," Irwin said Monday. "That’s what they do."

Pletcher, a five-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer, addressed the issue Monday only after receiving a plethora of texts and e-mails on the subject.

"Everyone has been in a situation where they've been very excited after winning a big race or after a big loss and have probably said something that's taken out of context; I know I’m guilty of doing that," Pletcher said. "As far as I'm concerned, my relationship with Barry Irwin was always good. We had what I would describe as a lot of success together, including winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf with Pluck. I felt our relationship began and ended on good terms. I can't recall ever having a single issue with him."

In an indirect way, Pletcher may have helped Animal Kingdom win the Derby. When it looked like Uncle Mo was not going to make the race, Pletcher called Motion to let him know that jockey John Velazquez might be available. Irwin picked up Velazquez to replace Robby Albarado, who had been kicked in the face by a horse Wednesday and did not ride Thursday or Friday.

Catalano said he called Irwin on Sunday to congratulate him for winning the Derby but also to clarify that those comments weren’t directed toward him.

"I know 100 percent it wasn't toward me," Catalano said by phone from Chicago. "I never had a cross word with the guy."

Many New York horsemen were disgusted by Irwin’s nationally televised remarks, but few wanted to go on the record with their comments. Kiaran McLaughlin, who did train briefly for Irwin and Team Valor, was offended by the remark.

"I can promise you and anyone else that I never lied to Barry Irwin," McLaughlin said Monday morning at Belmont Park. "And I don’t appreciate that comment for our whole industry, all the trainers that have trained for him – I don’t feel so bad because it’s a large group and obviously we’re not all liars.

“It took away from the day and the sport and it was uncalled for,” McLaughlin said. “I was very happy for Graham Motion and Johnny Velazquez.”

Mike Repole, the owner of Uncle Mo who employs Pletcher as his trainer, said he was happy to see Animal Kingdom win for Velazquez and because he believes ownership syndicates are good for the sport. However, he thought Irwin’s comments were misguided.

“I thought it was a very inappropriate blanket statement that basically made anybody who ever trained a Team Valor horse guilty of lying and on national TV I felt it was very, very inappropriate,” Repole said. “I know for a fact that one of his trainers was Todd Pletcher, who is the classiest and most honest guy in this industry.”

Irwin said his primary motivation for hiring Motion last fall was because he wanted one trainer who was based at a training center. Irwin’s Team Valor has purchased a barn at Fair Hill in Maryland.

“I wanted a guy who would move to a training center like Fair Hill,” Irwin said. “Graham fit the bill. I didn’t seek him out because of his [clean] drug record. I selected him because I thought he would do the best job with my horses.”