Haskin's Derby Trail: Big Two Locked and Loaded

Patton vs. Rommel! Lee vs. Meade! Washington vs. Cornwallis! Pletcher vs. Baffert? Yes, the armies are massing and they could confront each other on the banks of the Ohio on the first Saturday in May. It could really happen and there’s nothing to stop it. For example, on one expert's poll in the Louisville Courier-Journal, 11 of his top 14 horses are soldiers commanded by either Pletcher or Baffert. And there are a lot more waiting in the trenches.

Gen. Pletcher is well-equipped for battle with names like Violence and Revolutionary. Gen. Baffert is hoping to match that with War Academy. And who else to bring Baffert back to the glory days of his greatest triumphs than Flashback? Let’s not forget, Baffert’s last Derby victory was with a horse with “War” in his name. And his first was a gray, just like Flashback.

While Pletcher has the luxury of staying put for the most part and have Baffert come to him, Baffert’s Army of the West is confined to one place and he, as he normally does, will have to send some of his troops out on scouting missions in the East to test the strength of the opposition by engaging them in some of the earlier minor skirmishes, while saving his main Army for the big conflict.

Last year, he exposed the Oaklawn Park horses by sending his miler, Secret Circle, to Hot Springs for the Southwest Stakes and Rebel Stakes and left the locals beaten and battered. Then he applied the coup de grace with his big gun, Bodemeister, in the Arkansas Derby. He is planning on using that same strategy this year by sending his miler, Super Ninety Nine, to Oaklawn for the Monday’s Southwest Stakes.

And who can forget Pletcher’s powerhouse platoon from last year, with Algorithms, El Padrino, Discreet Dancer, and Gemologist, as well as several others. That army eventually crumbled into harmless fragments. Some of them were wounded in action, while others were last seen in full retreat on the day of the battle. How difficult is it to keep an army of 3-year-olds intact for four months, especially your most seemingly invincible warriors? Just mention the names Eskendereya and Uncle Mo to Pletcher.

Perhaps this year it will all come down to a mano-a-mano fight between Pletcher’s Achilles, Verrazano, and Baffert’s Hector, Flashback. Now, now, all you Baffert followers, that is not to imply the history books have already revealed the result. Remember that famous incident regarding a certain someone’s heel.

We all know that on the Derby trail things are not always as they seem, and the journey has a tendency to take strange unexpected turns. We often see powerful forces marching to Louisville and it’s the little guy armed with a single cannon that sneaks in and steals all the thunder while the big guys are napping (Remember George Washington and crossing the Delaware River, and the sleeping Hessians?). So if you’re looking for one of those this year, remember one of the little guys, Itsmyluckyday, and his trainer E. Plesa, whose name coincidentally is an anagram for “Asleep.” In other words, watch out for the sleeping giant and don’t get caught napping yourself.

We have established that is unlikely the Pletcher and Baffert armies will make it to Louisville intact without any casualties. We all know the Derby trail every year is strewn with the injured and the vanquished.

But as the battle lines are drawn, watch out for the three Bafferts – War Academy, Shakin it Up, and Belvin -- in Sunday’s San Vicente Stakes, and the two -- Manando and Carving -- in Saturday's El Camino Real Derby, and Super Ninety Nine in the Southwest, and Flashbanck in the San Felipe Stakes, and Code West and Den's Legacy and Curly Top and Tiz the Truth in some other far off battlefield who knows where.

On the Pletcher front, watch out for Verrazano in the Tampa Bay Derby, Violence in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, Shanghai Bobby in the Florida Derby, Overanalyze in the Gotham Stakes, Palace Malice in the Risen Star Stakes, Revolutionary in the Wood Memorial, and Delhomme and Capo Bastone, and Doherty, and Forty Tales, and Charming Kitten, and anyone else in Fort Pletcher who is getting armed and loaded for battle.

Yep, it’s unlikely most of these will make it to the final conflict on first Saturday in May, but good luck trying to figure out which ones will and which ones won’t. In the meantime, it’s gonna start getting awfully noisy around here…BANG!


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