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.


Leave a Comment:


This combo of father & son are the top of the top.Yes they get top quality horses but they produce the best performance out of this marvelous equine athlete.All the best to them.

14 Feb 2012 4:25 PM

Can someone please explain what "shin bucked" is?  Thanks.

14 Feb 2012 4:28 PM

Thanks for another informative article, Steve.  To break youngsters like these and watch them excel on the track and be on the Derby trail must be a true joy.  This is not sour grapes and I enjoy watching them run and handicapping as much as the next person but I have always felt that thoroughbreds should not be raced as two year olds.  They are still growing and maturing and bucked shins are as predictable as Derby fever.  I know this will not change, just venting.  Thanks for setting the background on these two colts.  

14 Feb 2012 6:45 PM
Dr Drunkinbum

El and Al have quite possibly the two best strides i've seen in a 3yo this year. I certainly haven't seen any that are better so they are right up there with any. I still think that Al has been the most relaxed, easy, dominating winner so far. I think of Curlin and his easy, dominating 3yo wins. I also think this is the best crop since 2007 and could easily surpass it. Really a fun read. Thanks Steve.

14 Feb 2012 7:06 PM

like to see if discreet dancer can beat algorithms after missing a workout

14 Feb 2012 7:54 PM

DanC--"Bucked shins is a painful, acute periostitis (i.e. the membrane) on the cranial surface of the large metacarpal or metatarsal (the area that on a horse that corresponds with the same area on a human, under the knee and above the ankle, that we call the shin) bone.

It is seen most often in the forelimbs of young Thoroughbreds (2- to 3-yr-olds) in training and racing, and less commonly in Standardbreds and Quarter Horses.

This injury is generally brought about by strains placed on the dorsal cortex during high-speed exercise in young horses in which the bones are not fully conditioned. Microfractures (ie, stress fractures) are believed to be involved. It may progress to a cortical saucer fracture or even incomplete longitudinal fracture. In mild cases, subperiosteal hematoma formation and thickening of the superficial face of the cortex may be all that is clinically apparent. There is a warm, painful swelling on the cranial surface of the affected bone. The horse is usually lame initially, the stride is short, and the severity of the lameness increases with exercise.

Rest from training is important until the soreness and inflammation resolve." (from merck)

when did el padrino buck his shins?

14 Feb 2012 11:03 PM

Thanks papillon for the info.


You can also go to the Bloodhorse search box, type in "bucked shins" and some great articles come up, especially one from 'Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance' dated Aug. 27, 2010.

15 Feb 2012 8:16 AM
Pedigree Ann

Bucked shins used to be considered 'normal' and something most young horses went through in the training process. We know now that it means the trainer pushed into speed works before the horse had built up its muscle and bone density with fast trotting and galloping (jogging does not do it). See the Maryland shin study for the ways to avoid it.

15 Feb 2012 9:25 AM

To fast, to soon causes bucked shins.  It is just as common in QH's as it is TB's.  In the bad old days, a shin bucked horse was pin-fired and blistered.  

15 Feb 2012 10:01 AM


Off the subject, just wondered if you had any thoughts on the name for Rachel Alexandra's new colt? I submitted mine to the Stonestreet Farms contest already. Hope I get lucky!

15 Feb 2012 2:09 PM

Horses break their legs every time they run......shin buck is a broken leg....micro fractures every time they run....this is how bones get stronger too......micro factures promote bone healing or growth......

15 Feb 2012 5:44 PM

So now we have comments/explanations on what a bucked shin is, how about something on pin-fired and blistered as a treatment in the "old days?" (Those terms were mentioned.) What's a good description of those and why, if they worked in the old days, aren't they used now?  

16 Feb 2012 7:56 AM
Pedigree Ann

Blistering involved putting a caustic agent on the shin, the theory being it would act as a "counter-irritant" to pull more healing action from the body to the area. Pin firing involved creating tiny burns on the shin with a red-hot iron, for the same reason. Neither is accepted veterinary practice today.

What heals bucked shins is 'tincture of time.' If the pain is not severe, light exercise should be continued. Otherwise, rest will do it. Some old-time outfits would send a 2yo to the farm after it bucked shins as a remedy.

16 Feb 2012 11:00 AM

with the recent news of aftercare for thoroughbreds i am interested again in horseracing. slightly off topic, is there any news about banning the 'under tack shows'?  thank you.

16 Feb 2012 3:50 PM

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