Trainer looks back on best year of his career
Dec 23, 2014 | 7829 views | 0 0 comments | 144 144 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Christophe Clement
Christophe Clement
“Life is good,” is a phrase you’ll often hear from trainer Christophe Clement. In 2014, life was very good for Clement, who is wrapping up his most successful year since setting out on his own in 1991.

The words not only accurately describe his current state of affairs, but as well his journey through life and daily disposition. It may sound like a cliché to some, but from the French born Clement it is genuine, and earned from many years of hard work and a dedication to doing things the right way.

Already known and respected for his prowess on the turf, a stellar dirt campaign led by 3-year-old Tonalist, further enhanced Clement’s reputation and proved his ability to win on the biggest stages on any surface. A son of Tapit, Tonalist captured two Grade 1 races on the New York Racing Association circuit, including Clement’s first Classic victory in the Belmont Stakes, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational.

With supporting graded stakes wins from the New York-bred Lubash, who went over $1 million in career earnings, Summer Front and Aigue Marine, Clement achieved the highest yearly earnings of his career with more than $8.9 million.

Speaking from his winter base at Payson Park in Florida, Clement took time to reflect on the successful year he’s had to date and what he’s looking forward to.

Q: If you had to sum up your year in one word, what would that word be?

A: Great!

Q: Where does the success you’ve had with Tonalist this year rank in your career?

A: Right at the top, at the very top. It’s been a very good year for the stable, but we always continue to remain humble and work hard every day to continue the regimen and program we’ve had in place.

Q: Following Tonalist’s victory in the Belmont Stakes, you politely excused yourself during the trophy presentation in order to saddle a runner in the following race. What do you attribute to that focus and attention to detail?

A: For me, that was normal. Winning the Belmont Stakes was very important to me, but I have a responsibility to my owners, so being there to personally saddle the horse in the last race was also important.

Q: What does it mean for you, traditionally known as a turf specialist, to have won two Grade 1 dirt races in 2014?

A: Regardless of what I’m labeled as, it was great. I don’t resent being labeled as a turf specialist; however, it was a very good feeling to see this colt develop and mature throughout the year and win some big races along the way.

Q: Besides Tonalist, you’ve also had success this year with Lubash, Summer Front, and Aigue Marine. Can you speak a little on each of those horses?

A: They are each nice horses and performed very well in our stable this year. Lubash always tries his best in every start, Summer Front ran very well in his last race of the year - the Breeders’ Cup Mile, in a very competitive field - and we were thrilled with Aigue Marine picking up two graded stakes wins in her campaign.

Q: It was recently announced that Discreet Marq would continue in training for 2015. Can you comment on the year she’s had and what you expect from her next year?

A: That is correct. We’re very excited about the fact that she will remain in training. She’s a turf mare who always tries her best, and we’re happy to have her for another year.

Q: As you look forward to 2015 are there any particular goals you have in mind?

A: The goals always remain the same for the stable, and that is to have each of our horses ready to perform to the best of their ability. Regardless of surface, we just want to place each one on a track towards reaching their full potential.

(Najja Thompson) NYRA voice honored

Tom Durkin, longtime voice of the New York Racing Association tracks, the Breeders’ Cup and the Triple Crown, will be honored with the Eclipse Award of Merit for a lifetime of outstanding achievement in the thoroughbred industry.

Durkin, 64, retired on August 30 at Saratoga Race Course after a 43-year-career.

“This is quite an honor and quite a surprise,” said Durkin. “Getting my first job calling races at Florida Downs was a dream come true, but I never imagined my career would take me where it did.”

At early age Durkin set his career goal to become a track announcer. “I never really wanted to be anything else,” Durkin recalled.

A theatre major at St. Norbert College, Durkin’s career behind the microphone began at country fair meetings in Wisconsin in 1971 before his first job at Florida Downs, now known as Tampa Bay Downs.

He worked stints at Balmoral, Quad Cities and Cahokia Downs in the Midwest before moving east to call the harness races at The Meadowlands in New Jersey. More big breaks soon came, starting with John Brunetti hiring him to call the races at Hialeah in 1981.

In August of 1990, Durkin became the track announcer for the New York Racing Association venues. When NBC grabbed the rights to the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, Durkin became the television voice of the Triple Crown beginning in 2001 and held that position for 10 years.

Looking Ahead

The Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial will be supported by 13 other stakes worth an additional $2.3 million when racing moves to the main track on April 1 for Aqueduct Racetrack’s 19-day Spring Showcase meet.

New York’s traditional prep for the Kentucky Derby, the 1 1/8-mile Wood Memorial is one of five stakes on Saturday, April 4, including its Grade 1 counterpart, the $400,000 Carter Handicap at seven furlongs.

Joining the first two Grade 1 events on the New York Racing Association calendar that day will be the Grade 2, $300,000 Gazelle for 3-year-old fillies, the Grade 3, $300,000 Bay Shore, and the season’s first turf stakes, the inaugural $100,000 Danger’s Hour for 4-year-olds and up.

Other new additions to the Big A’s boutique meet include the $100,000, one-mile Plenty of Grace for turf fillies and mares on April 11; the $100,000, 1 1/16-mile Woodhaven for 3-year-olds on the grass on April 18 and its sister race, the $100,000 Memories of Silver for 3-year-old turf fillies on April 19; and the $100,000, 6 ½-furlong Belle Harbor for 3-year-old fillies on closing day, April 26.

The meet will run Wednesdays through Sundays, with the exception of Easter Sunday, April 5. Stall applications for the Aqueduct spring meet and Belmont spring/summer meet are due Thursday, February 26.

Following the conclusion of Spring Showcase on April 26, racing will return to Belmont Park on Wednesday, April 29, for the 59-day Belmont spring/summer meet.
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