Preparing for Derby Success

Nyquist and Trainer Doug O’Neill. Photo by Amber Chalfin.

Nyquist and Trainer Doug O’Neill. Photo by Amber Chalfin.

Nyquist is the unbeaten favorite heading into Kentucky Derby 142. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champ in 2015, he has won all seven of his career starts. Doug O’Neill is his trainer and is looking for his second Derby win, having won in 2012 with I’ll Have Another. The man who takes the colt to the track everyday is assistant trainer Jack Sisterson. Sisterson played soccer at the University of Louisville and started off Derby week by hosting his former Cards coach, Ken Lolla, on the backside. Please join me on Friday and Saturday for exclusive coverage of Kentucky Oaks 142 and Kentucky Derby 142 on WAVE 3 News and NBC.

How has Nyquist adjusted to Churchill Downs?
Jack Sisterson: We’re very fortunate to be in the position that we’re in with Nyquist, and we’re very happy the way he has trained at Churchill Downs.

How many years have you been with Doug O’Neill?
Sisterson: I’ve been with Doug  since a year before I’ll Have Another, so it’ll be going on five years now.

Is it shocking to you how much success the barn has had in those five years?
Sisterson: Really words can’t explain the feeling of how it feels. We’re fortunate that we won with I’ll Have Another – and you know how that feeling of winning feels like – and it just makes you want to win it that much more having experienced it. Thanks to Nyquist and the Reddams for the position that they have put us in to experience it again.

How did your time at UofL help you get to this point?
Sisterson: Coach is a mentor of mine. My four years, I couldn’t quite see out the four years with an injury, but Coach taught me life skills to then go on and fulfill your dream. And here I am now.

How special was it for you to have him come out to Churchill Downs and spend a morning during Derby week?
It was an honor for him to come out and bring Tina, his wife. It’s hard to explain – this is what we do for a living, and this is work, if you can call it work. They both got to see our lifestyle and got to meet the horses. It’s all about the horses, and we look forward to the weekend.

When did you graduate?

You’ve coached in the National Championship game. What was it like to be around the Kentucky Derby favorite during Derby week?
Ken Lolla: When we were driving in here, my wife Tina and I could feel the energy of it and the excitement of it. Especially everybody that is involved with Nyquist and the excitement and the energy around the barn.

You spent some time with Doug O’Neill.  Did he teach you some things about the horse business?
Lolla: I think more than anything else, he was sharing the experience with me. One of how much he loves his team of people, Jack being one of them, and how important that is to have a successful organization. You have a group of people, not only that you love being around but who are competent and also driven to be successful. Then just sharing some principles as it relates to soccer and building a team there and him building his team as well.

How did Jack go from soccer player at UofL to assistant trainer?
It’s a great story. A lot of people don’t realize that when Jack was at the University of Louisville, soccer ended because he had an injury. Our hope always, for all of the players who come into the University of Louisville, is that we prepare them to be successful, no matter what they’re doing afterward. Just because he got injured didn’t mean we stopped investing in him and helping him. In fact, it was then that we probably invested a little bit more in him and helped guide him in a direction and continue to provide him some principles to be successful no matter what he did. To see him here and now, it doesn’t surprise us, but that’s part of what we do. We’re excited when they leave us and continue to be successful.

Why do you say it doesn’t surprise you?
He fits Doug and his team because he’s so positive, he’s so driven, he’s so committed, he’s so loyal and all of those are qualities that I know Doug values in Jack. VT