Haskin's Derby Trail: El Al Jets Ready to Take Off

That’s El, as in El Padrino, and Al, as in Algorithms. When Todd Pletcher sent both these talented Kentucky Derby prospects to the gate in separate races on Jan. 29, no one had more interest in the outcome than Pletcher’s father, J.J., who broke both colts at his 80-acre Payton Training Center in Ocala.

J.J., who has provided the early training for a number of his son’s top horses, trains his horses over a five-furlong track with gentle turns that he designed with the intention of placing as little impact on young horses’ legs as possible. His main priorities are getting horses to relax and “not be afraid of anything.”

With El Padrino and Algorithms, he had two near-perfect students, both of whom have demonstrated a professionalism far beyond their years.

That professionalism could be seen in their last starts, as both colts did everything right en route to resounding victories – El Padrino in a high-class allowance race and Algorithms in the grade III Holy Bull Stakes. The Holy Bull victory, a five-length romp over last year’s 2-year-old champ Hansen, catapulted Algorithms all the way up to second-choice behind Union Rags among the individual betting interests in the first Kentucky Derby Future Wager. And who do you think is the third choice? You guessed it, El Padrino, which puts J.J. in quite an enviable position. And who do you think are the only 3-year-olds to have run a triple-digit Beyer speed figure in a non-sprint race this year? Right again. Algorithms earned a 105 in the Holy Bull, and El Padrino ran a 100 in his allowance score, in which the runner-up, the stakes-placed Take Charge Indy, finished 13 ¾ lengths ahead of the third horse.

The success of Algorithms (No, he is not called Al Gore) and El Padrino comes as no surprise to J.J., who had nothing but praise for both colts.

“El Padrino was such a big ‘ol laid back horse, my 13-year-old grandson could have broke him,” J.J. said. “He never breezed fast, but when you put him with another horse he was always right there. It didn’t matter who you breezed him with, he was always right there. I was surprised he shin bucked after Todd got him. I never thought he’d shin buck. I knew all along he was a good colt. He had all the good qualities and a lot of talent, but he hadn’t used all of it. He just did everything right, and you couldn’t shake him up. He was a little heavier type of horse, while Algorithms was a little leggier. Both of them had a great stride and were good gate horses. They just had no quirks at all, and were so good even I couldn’t mess them up.

“Algorithms was a little more aggressive and a little faster than El Padrino. There’s a lot of speed in his female family, but, hopefully, Bernardini stretches him out a little. He was always a real nice colt. When Todd first ran him last June he came back with a little hairline fracture in his hock. He was sent back here and we gave him 90 days, and he was perfect. I called Jack (Wolf, head of Starlight Partners) and told him the colt did everything right and I sent him to Palm Meadows; he’s on the Derby Trail. It’s real exciting having these two colts. I can’t brag on them too much where I’m at, because it’s still so far off. I watched them both work (at Palm Meadows) the other day and they looked great.”

It is conceivable after the Fountain of Youth Stakes (Feb. 25) and Risen Star Stakes (Feb. 26), father and son will have the two early favorites for the Kentucky Derby.

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