The last time Horse Racing Nation spoke with Terry Finley, founder and president of West Point Thoroughbreds, he stood along the Alabama Training Track, talking about the promise of his two-year-olds at Saratoga (listen below) and the ultimate ownership prize – winning the 2014 Kentucky Derby. Finley paused during the interview to watch a pair of two-year-olds, Commanding Curve and Indy Twist, work under the watchful eye of trainer Dallas Stewart. Fast-forward seven months, and Commanding Curve is one of 14 in today's Risen Star Stakes hoping to make his splash onto the Derby trail.
In catching up with Finley, who landed in New Orleans on Friday afternoon, he was optimistic, but realistic with his horse’s chances. Purchased at the affordable price of $75,000 at the April Two-Year-Olds in Training at OBS, the son of Master Commander is owned by 12 partners, who bought in bargain basement for Kentucky Derby Dreaming.
The last time you and I talked, we spoke about hopes and dreams and two-year-olds and aspiring to win the Kentucky Derby. So I’m interested right now, what kind hopes and dreams is Commanding Curve giving you and your partners?
Well, certainly this is what we’re in it for…you’re looking to have by January, February, March a good three-year-old colt with a lot of potential, and we think we have one…but there are a lot of people around the world, especially in the US, that are sitting on very talented three-year-olds right now. It’s just a matter of getting lucky, and it’s also a matter if they’ve taken a step forward from two to three. I guess we’ll see a little bit of that progression, or lack there of, [Saturday] afternoon.
It would appear that Commanding Curve is enjoying the Fair Grounds' surface. He has a lot of nice workouts with a couple of bullets. What is your trainer Dallas Stewart telling you about how he’s handing the Fair Grounds' track?
Well, he’s been really happy with him, but he’s an optimistic guy. Unless they’re three-legged lame, Dallas is going to be bullish on them. And rightly so, I think it really helps to have people that are positive. We’re happy. I know Dallas is happy. He’s a New Orleans native so it would really be something for him to be able to have a horse with a shot to go into the Louisiana Derby. Really what we’re hoping for is that he shows enough to warrant us progressing to next one.
What will Commanding Curve have to show to continue on – as far as finish position or how he runs – what are you going to be looking for?
Well, he’s got to be able to compete against these horses. It’s a really good, solid group of horses. And as you might well expect for $400,000 and the next to last prep for the Kentucky Derby. It will be a great barometer, but he just has to show. Who knows exactly what it takes? It’s going to be very obvious, if he’s earned the right to go onto the next one, whether that’s the Louisiana Derby or one of the other preps. We’re going to know. He could finish sixth, only get beat a length and run lights out. Or he could be third and stagger home get beat 12 lengths. I don’t think it’s a finish position as much as the feeling he gives going a mile and sixteenth.
Why the Risen Star after Commanding Curve broke his maiden in November at Churchill Downs?
He had made really good progress over the fall. Each race seemed to be better than the last one. I guess that’s one of things Dallas and I talked about after he broke his maiden at Churchill. One, I think that is a huge plus for a horse to brake their maiden and run so well over the Churchill strip. Not everybody loves that strip. The other thing we just said, let’s see if we can take a little bit of a different route. I know people sometimes, they get sucked into running three times before the Kentucky Derby, and we just figured we try a little something different - really give him a blow and a break for the month of December, a good bit of January. Then of course we had to up the tempo, but that’s what we talked about, “Let’s put a circle around the Risen Star,” and we did this back at the end of November then we worked backwards. It’s really come very much according to plan, and we’ve got two shots to get to the big dance. But we’ve got to run well [in the Risen Star] to warrant going somewhere in late March or early April.
How many partners own a share of Commanding Curve, and will they be at Fair Grounds to watch the race?
A majority of them will. There are 12 partners, it’s not a real big partnership. He wasn’t a really expensive horse. I think seven out of the 12 will be in New Orleans to watch.
How do you, or can you, keep the partners grounded in the lead up to such a big race, or do you just let it go?
We kind of let it go. The thing about it is, we’ve been at it a good long time. It’s one thing to hang up a shingle and say you’re in the partnership business. We’re so passionate about what we do, and it’s what we think about all day long. So in that respect, we’re different than some rich guy, who’s a businessperson who says let me lay off some of my riff and start a partnership. In that respect we just people come at it. You don’t really want to dictate to people – some people get really excited. I see people do their best to quell that optimism, and I don’t think that’s really fair. I’m not sure that’s the right thing to do. We just let people experience this type of excitement and this type of environment in the way they want to do it…. To each his own as they deal with this kind of excitement is way we’ve had our most success.
If Commanding Curve finishes first on Saturday, what will be the first thing that will go through your mind?
I really believe and I really think about it a lot is how special it is to be able to offer an insider’s view to Thoroughbred ownership and to racing to so many people. We are the biggest partnership in the country, and we don’t take that responsibility - that we have to introduce the game and to open the game to partners - we don’t take that responsibility lightly. When we begin to take that lightly, we’ll get out of the business, but until then we’ll try to do the right thing. We’ll try to buy winners and syndicate winners.