‘This Horse Is the Real Deal:’ Co-Owners Leslie and Pierre Amestoy Chat Practical Move’s Derby Chances

Tom Pedulla is interviewing prominent owners, trainers and jockeys as they travel the Road to the 149thKentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve on May 6 at Churchill Downs.

This week’s installment features Leslie and Pierre Amestoy, who own San Felipe Stakes winner Practical Move in partnership with Roger Beasley. They purchased the bay Practical Joke colt, bred by trainer Chad Brown and Head of Plains Partners, for $230,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Spring Sale of Two-Year-Olds in Training.

Practical Move has never finished worse than third in six career starts for trainer Tim Yakteen. He has already ensured himself a place in the Kentucky Derby starting gate with 60 qualifying points and has won consecutive starts, the Dec. 17 Los Alamitos Futurity and the March 4 San Felipe at Santa Anita Park for jockey Ramon Vazquez.

The Amestoys have been married for 34 years and live in Albuquerque, N.M. Leslie, 63, and Pierre, 68, discussed their time in racing and their unwavering confidence in Practical Move during a question-and-answer session conducted on behalf of America’s Best Racing.

PEDULLA: What is your background in racing? I know you have invested in Quarter Horses as well.

PIERRE AMESTOY: We do have Quarter Horses and we’ve had some champion Quarter Horses. But we’ve always been primarily Thoroughbreds, owners and breeders. We’re like 4-1, 3-1 Thoroughbreds to quarter horses.

PEDULLA: How long have the two of you been in racing?

LESLIE AMESTOY: I started in high school, working for one of the premier trainers in New Mexico. I went on my own when I was about 20. I was one of the first women trainers in New Mexico. I trained here for 16 years or so before I started having our family. My older son, Pierre III, is 33. My younger son is Adam. He is 29.

PIERRE AMESTOY: At about 1979, I got to be friends with a couple of jockeys and they asked me to be their agent at Santa Fe Downs and I agreed. I didn’t know what I was getting into but I liked it and I was good at it and I had leading jockeys in New Mexico and Arizona. Leslie and I were both raised in Albuquerque, but we met in Phoenix at Turf Paradise.

PEDULLA: What has racing meant to the two of you through the years?

LESLIE AMESTOY: We know what it feels like to be in the winner’s circle and actually own the animal. We love the horses. It’s part of our marriage.

PIERRE AMESTOY: I get up and I have a construction company. This is something that Leslie and I can do together. We don’t just come home and watch TV. This is something we do together and I think we’ve gotten good at it.

PEDULLA: What drew you to Practical Move?

PIERRE AMESTOY: We went to Florida looking for a horse that could run in graded races. We knew what we wanted. We knew what we were looking for. We found this colt the very first day we were there. Leslie loved him right off the bat. He fit what we were looking for. We put him on our short list and we watched him work. For a big horse, he worked fast.

PEDULLA: Do you remember the time for the furlong?

PIERRE AMESTOY: Yes, 10 1/5. Not only was the work good, what we liked more than that was the gallop out. He went around that turn and we clocked him in 33 (seconds) flat. He had the size, the scope. Everything we wanted, he had. When he came up for sale, we had a range we wanted to buy him in. We were thinking $150,000-$170,000 because we wanted to buy two or three. He got to $170,000, $180,000 and Leslie walked off. She said, “Oh, gosh, we’re not going to get him,” and walked back to our table. I stayed there and I was determined. There were no holes in him. Everything was there. We got him for $230,000. I had my ticket in my book and I walked back and Leslie was kind of sad that we didn’t get him. I whipped out the ticket and she said, “You got him!”

PEDULLA: Leslie, what drew you to him?

LESLIE AMESTOY: He was really nice, big and scopey. His walk was so good. Really good back end. Good mind. Smart. Everything right. We called him “The Gentle Giant” the whole sale. He was an April 30 (foal). That was a little concern but he was mature. He just had a lot of class to him. We were secure with our buy. We had no buyer’s remorse anywhere. We loved him.

PEDULLA: What role has Tim Yakteen played in getting Practical Move to this point?

PIERRE AMESTOY: We said, “Tim, take him through the process that you need to get him to the 3-year-old races.” Tim did a great job of developing him, knowing we wanted to get where we’re at today. He did a great job of getting him to this point sound.

PEDULLA: You were thinking big right away?

LESLIE AMESTOY: We wanted to get a horse that could get there.

PEDULLA: He did not break his maiden until his third race and that was through a disqualification. Did those first two races trouble you?

LESLIE AMESTOY: His first race, he stumbled. He wasn’t standing square. He was big and he didn’t understand how to switch his lead right. It took him all the way down the lane to switch. But by the second race he started to figure it out more and he got more aggressive.

PEDULLA: What is Tim still working on with him?

LESLIE AMESTOY: He’s not real quick out of there because he is big.

PIERRE AMESTOY: He doesn’t break like a quarter horse, but it just takes him two jumps. It doesn’t take him six or eight or 10 and they’re running a route of ground. That long stride is really coming to his advantage.

PEDULLA: How did he transition from 2 to 3?

LESLIE AMESTOY: Well, he was an April 30th (foal) so he was a little immature. Now, he’s really grown into his body. He’s grown into his big head and his big feet.

PEDULLA: When did you start to think you had a good horse?

LESLIE AMESTOY: We saw a future in him from his first race. We could tell. Then we had a couple of bad trips. But after the Los Alamitos Futurity, we knew he could route. Once he learned to switch his lead, he learned how to finish.

PEDULLA: Did his strong performance in the San Felipe surprise you at all?

PIERRE AMESTOY: No. Tim was really confident. He said for three weeks, “This horse has been working through the bridle. He’s filled out. He’s sound. We really expect him to run a good race.” He came through just like we expected him to run.

PEDULLA: What is next?

LESLIE AMESTOY: It’s up to Tim. From what he is telling us, it is going to be the Santa Anita Derby (April 8).

PEDULLA: How are the two of you handling everything that is happening? It sounds as though you have been confident in this horse all along.

PIERRE AMESTOY: Well, we have. He’s shown up every day, every race. We’re horse people. We’ve been in it for years. We know that tomorrow he could have a bruised foot or get colic. We know those things could happen. But, so far, he has not missed an oat. Nothing has gone wrong so far. We’re getting calls from all over from our friends. “When is the Derby? When is the next race?”

LESLIE AMESTOY: We want to be confident in him. He’s our horse.

PIERRE AMESTOY: We have had many horses through the years. We know when a horse isn’t there. We know when a horse is there. We can see a lot that a lot of horsemen don’t see. I don’t think we’re kidding ourselves that this horse is the real deal. So far, he has shown us that he is.