01/26/2012 12:22PM

Q&A: Kiaran McLaughlin

Barbara D. Livingston

A former assistant to D. Wayne Lukas, he has conditioned 2006 Horse of the Year Invasor as well as 2007 champion turf female Lahudood. McLaughlin has trained for Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin and Darley Stable as well as Sheikh Hamdan’s Shadwell Stable, for whom he won the 2006 Belmont Stakes with Jazil. In 2005 McLaughlin came within a half-length of winning the Kentucky Derby with Closing Argument. He hopes to get there this year with Alpha and/or Consortium.

Birthdate: Nov. 15, 1960 in Lexington, Ky.

Family: wife, Letty; daughter, Erin; son, Ryan.

Got into racing because . . . I grew up in Lexington, Ky., and fell in love with the business at a very young age.

First racing memory? I’m going to say it was probably watching Secretariat win the Belmont by 31 lengths when I was 12 years old. At that time, I wrote a paper in the 7th grade about wanting to be a horse trainer.

First job on the track? My first job was for James Burchell as a hotwalker/groom when I was 16 years old in the summers and on the weekends. We were mainly a claiming outfit.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned from D. Wayne Lukas? I worked for Wayne for seven years. Almost everything that I do is based on what I learned from Wayne in those seven years. Work ethic. Wayne is a hard worker. He had all of his phrases but one was “the rate of the leader dictates the pace of the pack.” I go to work every day, I love to go to work, I’m there early. I think it’s important for the help to see that.

You began the year with Alpha winning the Count Fleet and Captivating Lass winning the Busanda. Can these horses get to the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks? Yes. Alpha finally put it all together and ran a big race in the Count Fleet, and hopefully, he’ll run equally well in the Withers on Feb. 4. He’s a nice, sound horse with a good mind. He has a few little gate issues we’re going to work on. He definitely should get the distance and hopefully has enough graded earnings. I think right now there’s Union Rags and a pretty good drop off, and he fits in with everybody else.

Captivating Lass needs to keep improving, and we hope she does that. That was a big race for her the other day, a big improvement on all of her figures. She’s at Palm Meadows now and we’ll point to Feb.  25, either the Davona Dale at Gulfstream or the Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds.

You also have a nice colt in Consortium and a nice filly Miss Netta. Talk about their prospects for the spring. Miss Netta is a really nice filly who won an allowance at Gulfstream the other day, breaking slowly and trailing the field but came on to win by a neck or half-length. She has trained really well and has shown signs of having a lot of ability. She’s a little funny at the starting gate. She ran in the Monty Roberts blanket last time for the first time, stood in there good, didn’t come out great. We’ll continue to school her and possibly take the blanket off if she schools well without it. She’s pointing to the Feb. 25 Davona Dale. We will more likely not ship her because she’s funny all the way around. Captivating Lass has a great mind and we would ship her before we would ship Miss Netta.

Consortium was unlucky to be second in an allowance race last time; unlucky because he ran into a very nice Bernardini colt [Algorithms] of Todd Pletcher’s. Consortium will run in Godolphin’s name in the Holy Bull on Jan. 29.

Sheikh Mohammed has decided to keep a lot more horses in the U.S. this winter than in the past. How has that impacted your stable? It’s great for our stable. We’re very pleased and happy about it. You don’t have to ship so far to run and ship back for the Kentucky Derby. It helps to have some offspring of Discreet Cat and Bernardini here to advertise their stallions. A lot of things went into their decision. They might in fact go to Dubai in the fall if they belong there. It’s nice for Godolphin to leave some horses. We appreciate it. Sangaree was a good second in the Hal’s Hope, and we might run him back in the Donn Handicap on Feb. 11.

Sheikh Mohammed has always indicated a desire to try and win the Kentucky Derby from Dubai. By keeping horses in America this winter, has his philosophy changed? With the change of surface in Dubai − it now being synthetic − it’s very difficult for anybody to be able to handicap if a horse that wins on a Tapeta track can win the Kentucky Derby on dirt. That might have come into it, I’m not sure. I know he would love to win the Kentucky Derby from Dubai; I feel he’s always wanted to do that. I think he’d be equally as happy to win it from anywhere. To win the Kentucky Derby, it’d be a great honor, and I hope we’re a part of it.

How much does the Derby mean to you? It would be kind of a lifelong dream. Being raised in Lexington, Ky., every horseperson dreams of being involved in the Kentucky Derby. Of course, to train one would be fabulous and exciting. It probably doesn’t get much better than that. Winning the Dubai World Cup is a close second, and we did that already. It would mean a lot for me to win it for the owner, my family, everybody associated with our stable.

How do you think the casino at Aqueduct will impact New York racing and racing in America overall? I think New York racing is going to be a big boost to the whole state. For example, the breeding operation was really hurt badly with the lack of money in purses, and a lot of people were looking to breed Pennsylvania-breds and in other states because of bonuses. Darley brought Girolamo to Sequel Stallions and Becky Thomas. It’s a big, big addition to jobs and a big help to the economy in general. For me, on my level, I consider it a 30 percent raise. It’s great for all jockeys, trainers, owners. Everybody is going to be able to pay their bills easier. It might hurt Kentucky and other places that don’t have the casino money; that part of it is tough. But New York is the best racing in America and the backbone to all of Thoroughbred racing. I think it’s a big plus.

What would you still like to accomplish in this game? I’m not after such big awards or big races. Mainly, I love what I do. I really want to keep winning races, keep my owners happy, and keep the barn full. I don’t have goals of trying to win the Met Mile, Kentucky Derby, or Triple Crown. I like the business. It’s exciting to me. I love to go to work every day and find the Alphas and Miss Nettas and Invasors.

You were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998. How have you been managing that? I’ve given myself an injection every day since June 1999. Luckily, I haven’t had any major setbacks with multiple sclerosis. I don’t walk maybe as well as I did five years ago. I’m sure it’s getting a little bit worse year to year, but luckily, it’s only a tiny bit worse. I feel good. I function the same as I did before getting multiple sclerosis. It’s just that I don’t play golf or am that physically active. My mind is great. I’m not in any pain. I don’t move as well. As I’ve said before, I have it in my hip pocket, it doesn’t have me.

Best horse you’ve seen? It’s hard to say one horse. To me, in my lifetime, Invasor was one of the best horses I ever saw. Luckily, he was in stall No. 1. It was very unusual you had a horse that every time you put the bridle on you thought he was going to win − I felt that way about him. 

If you could change one thing in racing or make one rule, what would it be? I would probably say I’d like to see more uniformity in medication, shoes, starting gate, just in general. Make it easier to get one license to train in every state; medications to be consistent throughout America, withdrawal times and availability to use them. And the starting gate, we’ve had our issues, this state won let you use blankets or won’t let you open the front doors.