Getting to know Steve Klesaris
This conversation took place Friday morning, during the break in training, at Steve's barn. To learn about Steve’s background and career highlights check out his full NTRA bio here.
Jim Mulvihill: Where were you this time last year?
Steve Klesaris: I stayed in Maryland, at the Fair Hill Training Center. We spent the winter there, between there and Delaware Park, which is 20 minutes away. Both places are open year round. We ran right out of there, at Aqueduct and Philadelphia mainly.
JM: Fair Hill has always sounded like an exceptional place.
SK: It’s a great facility. You have a dirt track, a synthetic Tapeta track, a turf course you can train on, hills, trails, paddocks. They have everything you could want there. It’s a serene atmosphere that’s good for the horses and they do well there.
JM: How did you end up at Fair Grounds this season?
SK: Donnie Richardson [Senior Vice President of Racing at Churchill Downs]. He’s been really after me to come to Churchill and come to Fair Grounds. I had been going to Florida, before last winter, for the past 10 or 15 years. I just wanted a change.
JM: Had you shipped in here before for any stakes?
SK: Cajun Mistress in one of the Louisiana-bred filly and mare races a couple of years ago. That was it. [Cajun Mistress finished third in the 2006 Louisiana Champions Day Ladies Sprint, won by Carl’s Frosty Girl].
JM: What are your early impressions so far?
SK: I like the town. It reminds me of a Disney World for adults. That’s exactly what it is. The food is fantastic here. The people are very nice. The racetrack is in very good shape and our horses are getting over it real well.
JM: How many head did you bring?
SK: We’re still bringing them in. We’re at 25 right now and have a few more coming. We’ll keep it about 30.
JM: What would be a good meet for you, then, in terms of wins?
SK: I don’t look at it that way. I just want my horses to perform well, that’s all. It’s not about wins. They all seem to be getting over the track good and I’m looking forward to running them.
JM: What can you tell me about your pair entered in the Old Hickory on Saturday, Forty Thieves and Sunday Blitz?
SK: I’m only running one and the likely starter will be Forty Thieves. He’s a talented colt, and he won his first two races pretty handily, the second one being the stakes race at Monmouth Park [the $200,000 NATC Futurity]. Last time, at Aqueduct [in the Grade III Nashua Stakes], there was a rapid pace, he got caught up in that, and it was a little further than he wanted to go. I think [Saturday] he’ll be back in a distance he’ll relish. He’s trained well since he’s been here a couple weeks.
JM: He didn’t show any timed workouts. He’s just been galloping then?
SK: He’s been galloping since he got here. He had a couple, you know, little blowouts down the lane, but no timed performances.
JM: When you come into a new place how do you pick your riders? You have Francisco Torres named tomorrow—will he be your main guy?
SK: It’s a new meet and I think there are already more riders than horses, and you got more jockeys coming from Churchill. I’ve got a few friends down here and I’ll spread it out a little bit. There are a few guys I know who have ridden in New York and Delaware before. I think Francisco got off to a good early jump and I like a confident rider. Riders that are riding well are confident and I feel good about the chemistry with him on the horse’s back [on Saturday].
JM: You already mentioned you’re not a person who necessarily judges performance by wins alone. How would you summarize your training philosophies?
SK: There are four key ingredients with a horse: sound, fit, happy, and healthy. If you can have those four ingredients, the horse runs. It’s totally common sense.
JM: You make it sound easy, but how often do all of those things actually come together at once?
SK: Well, that’s our job, no matter what. They can’t talk to you so you have to think for them, like 3-year-old kids. It’s those four ingredients, and running them where they belong. With everything you do with them it’s total common sense, not rocket science.
JM: Who are the best horses you brought here or will bring here this season?
SK: The best one that I will bring here but is not here yet is Sky Diva [Grade I Frizette winner and third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies].
JM: How’d she come out of the Breeders’ Cup?
SK: Very good. She’s going to run in New York on the 29th [in the Grade II Demoiselle at Aqueduct] and then she’ll join us here. Another good filly is Livin Lovin, she just won the [Grade III] Tempted at Aqueduct in her third start and she’ll run in the Delta race [the Dec. 5 Grade III, $500,000 Delta Princess].
JM: What do you like to do when you have time away from the racetrack?
SK: There is no time away. This is not a job; this is a way of life. Your whole day is engulfed in something to do with your stable. I used to play football and basketball. I went to college for a short stint, but ran away from there to be back at the racetrack. I don’t think I was there a semester. It was too easy to make money at this racing game. The first horse I ever bought [Skeeter’s J J] was $500 and he made something like $10,000 in three months. That made me think that the game was easy. I was in the 11th grade and I got lucky.
JM: Did you know all along growing up that you would be a trainer like your father?
SK: I was always involved in sports and, to me, as you realized you weren’t going to be in professional sports, what else are you going to do? I love animals, been around them all my life, been around horses since I was four. I would have liked to have gone to vet school, but Massachusetts didn’t have a vet school at the time. The racing, to me, was a way to bring sport and animals together.