11/18/2010 2:19PM

Q&A: Diane Alvarado

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Barbara D. Livingston

Scored her first Breeders’ Cup victory as a trainer on Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs with Eldaafer in the Marathon, a race overshadowed by the subsequent fight between jockeys Calvin Borel and Javier Castellano

Birthdate: June 19, 1978, in Chicago, Ill.

Family: son, Robert

Got into racing because . . . ? “I did hunter-jumpers for a long time, but it got boring, and it seemed that sport was more who you knew, not what you knew. I just walked into the racetrack, and they asked if I knew how to ride. I first worked for Noel Hickey. After I got run off with one morning, he sent me to his farm in Ocala, Irish Acres, to learn to gallop racehorses.”

Was this something you always wanted to do? “It wasn’t until I was about 17 or 18 that I had the courage to go to the track and find out how to get involved.”

Besides Hickey, who else did you work for before going out on your own? “I worked for Steve Asmussen, Dallas Stewart, D. Wayne Lukas, Todd Pletcher, and Barclay Tagg. I went on my own in April 2009. For Dallas, I galloped Dollar Bill and Kimberlite Pipe. For Wayne, I galloped Commendable, Yes It’s True, Surfside, and Cash Run. Barclay was probably the first one who left a voicemail message for me after the Breeders’ Cup. My voicemail ended up full, and I had 85 text messages.”

How did it feel to win your first Breeders’ Cup race? “It was surreal. It was great. My whole family was there; they had come down from Chicago. It was emotional. I couldn’t stop crying. Eldaafer was training good. I expected him to run good. He’s learned so much in the last few months. When I got him he would gallop halfway around the track and stop. He’d fight you if you hit him. You can’t beat him up. He has to wake up on the right side of the bed. He does his own thing. It was very rewarding.”

Where were you when the fight between Borel and Castellano broke out? “The fight was by the clerk of scales. We were taking pictures in the winner’s circle, and all of a sudden there was chaos, but we didn’t realize it was a fight. I didn’t see it. We were so happy. Eldaafer had run such a huge race. We were all trying to celebrate. I was upset that Johnny Velazquez didn’t get to do the presentation. Both those riders should call and apologize to my owners and to Johnny. It was disrespectful to carry on the way they did.”

You’ve called Eldaafer “a punk.” Is he a handful to train? “It depends on his mood. One day he loves you, the next day he hates you. You have to let him do his own thing. One day he’ll walk as slow as he can, the next day he’ll march like he can’t wait to train, and then he’ll stand for 10 or 15 minutes. One day he’ll gallop a mile and an eighth, the next day two miles and he doesn’t want to stop. You don’t want to fight him. To me, he’s not a normal horse. He’s special.”

How many horses do you currently train? “I just set up at Gulfstream, and I’ve got nine horses.”

What’s the maximum number of horses you’d like to train? “No more than 20. I like to get on them. I like to see how they feel.”

You gallop and work your own horses. How big an edge is that for you? “To me, they’re like your kids. Like with Larry Jones, it’s an advantage that we’ve got. You know how a horse feels going into a race. So after walking them, if they jog funny, you can feel that underneath you. I think it’s a big advantage. And I like to get on horses anyway.”

What differences did you notice in Eldaafer from getting on him? “Last year, you had to ask him to work five furlongs in 1:02. This year, he’d go in 58 or 59. After he won a starter-allowance race this spring, he was a different horse. He was more focused. He had more confidence. Last year, he was a pain to work. I still have to work him in company. He usually hangs with other horses. But his last work before the Breeders’ Cup, when I asked him to go past the other horse, he flew. I never had to touch him. He just went. He trained so forward. He’s more mature. He’s just getting better.”

What is your schedule like during the year? “I go to Gulfstream in mid-November, and stay there until going back to Delaware at the end of April or beginning of May.”

I’m sure this is obvious, but who’s the best horse you’ve trained? “Eldaafer. He changed my life. I look forward to walking into the barn knowing he’s there. He puts a smile on your face. Last year, everybody was saying some of his success was a fluke. It was kind of aggravating. This year, he showed how good he is. It’ll be hard to see him go when he goes. He’s always going to be special to me.”
Best horse seen?: “Zenyatta. I saw Cigar when he ran at Arlington. But Zenyatta is probably the best horse I’ve seen. It made me cry when she lost. It broke my heart.”

Closest racing friends? “Johnny Velazquez, Dallas Stewart – he’s like my dad – Keith Desormeaux, and Peter Walder.”

Hobbies: “I love football, and Peter got me hooked on hockey. I like scuba diving. And when I’m in Delaware, I like going trail riding at Fair Hill. It’s only 25 or 30 minutes from Delaware.”

Person most admired: “Princess Diana was such a strong woman, always trying to help others. She always believed in the truth. I can’t stand people who lie. Princess Diana, people still look up to her. She’s not forgotten. She’s a strong woman who believed in what she believed in.”

Future ambitions: “I’d like to bring Eldaafer back for next year’s Breeders’ Cup, God willing. The Kentucky Derby, that’s a whole different situation. Everybody dreams about that. I’m 1 for 1 at Churchill Downs. Maybe I should leave it like that! Eldaafer is on a farm now. He’ll come back in a couple of weeks. It would be nice to do the same thing again next year.”