03/24/2011 3:04PM

Q&A: Al Stall Jr.

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Barbara D. Livingston

Trainer of last year’s champion older horse, Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Blame, he is a native of New Orleans and has seen the story arc of his hometown’s recovery since Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

Birthdate: Oct. 10, 1961, in New Orleans.

Family: wife, Nicole; son, Albert III; daughter, Greta

Got into racing because . . . “My grandfather and father were involved. Just as a young person growing up in New Orleans, you are exposed to Fair Grounds. The season is basically defined by every Thanksgiving through Easter. They used to run 125 days here. My dad was the chairman of the racing commission for about 25 years, so I was born into it. I literally don’t remember when I wasn’t at the track.”

The Louisiana Derby is this week at Fair Grounds. How special is Fair Grounds to you? “When something’s your home track, your home grounds, you are comfortable with it. You know the ins and outs of the place, the people who have worked here for years. I love talking to the old-timers about horses who ran here 30 years ago. It puts you in a comfort zone. That’s the definition of what home is.”

It seems to me that the track is one of the focal points of community pride, along with restaurants and music: “Like most tracks, maybe it has drifted away from that a little bit, but everybody in New Orleans knows Fair Grounds exists and makes it part of their life. Even people who don’t go regularly, they have a tradition of going on Thanksgiving or Mardi Gras Day or other certain days of the year, like maybe during the Christmas holidays. They make it out there once or twice a year, even if they don’t know racing, even if they don’t participate on a daily basis like we do.”

What are the other things unique to New Orleans that you enjoy? “These days, I live here in the winter and move to Louisville most of the rest of the year. I love the pace and history and the tradition of New Orleans. The people here, the attitude in general, it’s different than in 99 percent of the country. While people might not understand that, I understand that and have great appreciation for it. People here are proud of where they are from but are humble enough to make fun of the dysfunction that goes on in our city. This is the type of place where you have to get it. I get it. The food and the music are obvious. But I’m more interested in the people.”

Speaking of the food, how is it possible for you to spend the entire winter in New Orleans and not come away needing to lose 50 pounds? “You’ve got to stay vigilant. I’m going to the athletic club this morning to get after it. You’ve got to be careful.”

How far has the city come back since Hurricane Katrina? “The city’s back fairly well. Some people are depressed. There’s some physical issues, some blight, but it’s headed in the right direction. The NCAA regional finals are here this week. The Final Four is here next year. The BCS National Championship Game is also here next year. The Super Bowl is here in 2013. There is expansion at the airport, and the Superdome is being renovated. There’s a lot of motivation to make things as good as they were, or better. By the time the ball flies off the tee for that Super Bowl, I think we’ll be more than 90 percent back.”

How important was it to the community when the Saints won the Super Bowl in February 2010? “It was unbelievable. It was just something you thought would never happen. But it did. For me, I would compare it to winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The Super Bowl boosted everybody’s spirits and all that kind of good stuff. There’s a certain peace of mind when you know you can do something like that.”

You mentioned the Breeders’ Cup. How gratifying was it for you to have Blame finish off his career with a win in the Classic? “It was surprising, gratifying, all that. There are a lot of horsemen in this game who could do the same thing. I’m thrilled to death it happened to me. It makes you feel comfortable that, given the proper stock, you can get something like that done. It gave me a lot of peace of mind.”

You and Blame’s owners − Seth Hancock and Adele Dilschneider − all seemed to handle the Horse of the Year announcement with grace, even though a very logical case could have been made for Blame to be Horse of the Year, since he beat Zenyatta in the Classic. Looking back, how do you feel about the voters’ decision? “We weren’t all that concerned going in, and we’re not all that concerned now. Around the barn, it doesn’t come up. I did learn a lot about how the process works. Right or wrong, that’s the way it is, and that’s the way it’s going to be.”

Best horse trained? “Blame, obviously. He just did everything right on a daily basis. He was always sound, always willing, always generous. You knew there was something different about him. We were able to point for the Breeders’ Cup so far in advance because he gave you the feeling he was the right kind of horse.”

Best horse seen? “Seattle Slew. I was at the Derby in 1977. It was the first Derby I went to. I haven’t missed one since. I’d reschedule exams in college to get up there, stuff like that. You’d be surprised at the hoops I jumped through to go up there sometimes.”

Hobbies? “I play golf. That takes the most time. I’ve been to about three Hornets games this year. I go to all the Saints games when I’m in town, and some when I’m not in town. I’ve been going to games since 1967. We live right by the original stadium, Tulane Stadium. I remember going to the Super Bowl there. You could buy tickets right out in front.”

Future ambitions? “I’m not a big goal setter. I try to do the right thing every day for my family, the horses, and my clients, and see what comes our way. It’s worked out fairly well so far. I really can’t imagine the Kentucky Derby being that much better than winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic, especially winning the Classic that way, against Zenyatta, at night. Maybe the Derby would be 5-10 percent better.”