Welcome back to Triple Crown Talk. I look forward to helping everyone get excited about the 2010 Kentucky Derby and providing information about the leading contenders. I already know there will be lively discussion, so I'm not worried about that.
I thought a great way to kick off the season was to talk to Todd Pletcher, who is always a major presence on the Triple Crown Trail and this year has an especially strong group of 3-year-olds. It is well documented that Pletcher has never won the Derby, but it is only a matter of time before he breaks through. His operation is too strong and he is too talented a trainer for it not to happen at some point. Maybe it will be this year.
On Thursday, Pletcher took time to talk about his top 2010 contenders. Don't be surprised if three or four of them are in the starting gate on May 1.
JS: I know it's still early, but how do you assess your crop of 3-year-old Derby contenders as of now?
TP: We had a really good run with our 2-year-olds, which wass encouraging. I'm much more optimistic this year than I've been the last couple of years.
JS: Let's talk about some of them specifically. It looks like most of them are based at Palm Meadows. Let's start with Eskendereya (Giant's Causeway--Aldebaran Light, by Seattle Slew), who runs in an allowance today at Gulfstream. He was ninth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile which had to be disappointing, but it sure looks like he has talent and the right pedigree.
TP: The Breeders' Cup was a frustrating race. He had a tough trip into the first turn and never got into position. But we threw a lot at him in a short period of time. He went right from breaking his maiden (in the Pilgrim Stakes) to the Breeders' Cup. He acts like he'll run as far as the race is. He gallops out very well and stamina is not an issue with this horse.
The one-mile allowance is not ideal for him today. He is really a two-turn horse, but he is ready to go and we had to get him a race. Depending on what he does in this race, we'll probably look at the Fountain of Youth or something like that next.
- Note: This interview was done an hour before Eskendereya went wire-to-wire in an impressive 1 1/4-length win. It looks like the FOY will be next.
JS: How about Discreetly Mine (Mineshaft--Pretty Discreet, by Private Account)? He's a horse you just recently picked up and seems to have a lot of talent. He finished runner-up in the Futurity and Champagne, and he runs this weekend in the Spectacular Bid Stakes.
TP: Yeah, he's a horse we watched this summer and really liked. He performed well with (previous trainer) Stan Hough. Mrs. Robsham and Stan kind of separated and she sent us the colt. He came to us in perfect condition and trains very well. In talking to Stan, he really likes him a lot. I'm still not sure what his optimal distance is. The Spectacular Bid is a tick shorter than I wanted (six furlongs); I really wanted seven-eighths, but we want to get him going.
JS: Super Saver (Maria's Mon--Supercharger, by A.P. Indy) is on everyone's radar after the Kentucky Jockey Club win. How did he come out of that race?
TP: He came out of it well. He went back to WinStar for a bit before he was sent down here. We'll have his first breeze since that race in about 10 days. Elliott (Walden, WinStar racing manager) will come down here and we'll map out a schedule. All of the big stakes are in play--at Tampa, Louisiana, and Gulfstream. We'll take it week by week.
JS: How does Super Saver compare with some of the better Derby prospects you've had over the past few years?
TP: The Churchill race was awfully good. He certainly fits with some of the high-level 2-year-olds I've had. The key with him is going to be if he can settle and relax. But he's a kind and smart horse and we're optimistic that he will.
JS: How about Aikenite (Yes It's True--Silverlado, by Saint Ballado)? He ran pretty well in the Breeders' Cup (finished fifth). What's the plan for him?
TP: He went straight to Florida from that race. We've been preparing him for the Holy Bull (Jan. 23). He's a big, robust colt and should appreciate two turns. He's a pretty straightforward type of horse. He shows up every time we take him to the track.
JS: How about the other WinStar horse who won impressively, Rule (Roman Ruler--Rockcide, by Personal Flag)? By winning the Delta Jackpot he pretty much guarantees himself a spot in the Derby.
TP: Yeah, it's nice not to have to worry about graded earnings. We'll take our time with him and probably look at something in February. We'll manage him as we see fit. He's another one I'd like to see settle next time out. But I think he's been on the lead more because of his talent and speed than anything else.
JS: Interactif (Broken Vow--Broad Pennant, by Broad Brush) is an interesting horse. He ran very well in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf despite his wide post. I see you worked him once on dirt and once on turf since that race. What are the plans for him?
TP: We're going to start him back on the turf in a stake on Feb. 7 (Hallandale Beach Stakes). We'll see how it goes from there.
JS: He's a horse who broke his maiden on dirt and already has a lot of graded earnings. Even though he's shown his best stuff on turf are you thinking Derby with him?
TP: He's probably a little better on turf, but when a 3-year-old has as much talent as he does, you always have (the Derby) on your radar. We are looking at the Santa Anita Derby for him, mostly because (the Pro-Ride) has shown it resembles turf more than dirt. Right now he's a turf horse, but he has a dirt pedigree and we'll just have to wait and see how he performs.
JS: Do you have any other 3-year-olds who might be flying under the radar or we might hear about soon?
TP: We have a couple that are playing catch-up that we like. Mission Impazible (Unbridled's Song--La Paz, by Hold Your Peace) is one we've thought a lot of. He's very talented but had to be given time off to grow up physically. He's trained very well and we're looking forward to his allowance race this weekend (Jan. 9, 2nd race at Gulfstream). Overcommunication (Unbridled's Song--Jealous Forum, by Open Forum) is another one we like. He broke his maiden impressively at Aqueduct (on Dec. 26).
JS: With about eight live 3-year-olds in Florida, is it hard to find different paths for all of them? Im sure you don't want to run them against each other, ideally.
TP: There are plenty of options down here between Tampa and Gulfstream, and it's a short ship to Louisiana. So we can work up the right plan for each individual horse. Most of them wind up separating themselves though. That's how it usually plays out. Sometimes you have to double up, but that's OK.
JS: Anything in your New York barn that you like?
TP: Not right now. We were hoping for more from Ibboyee in the Count Fleet (finished fourth as 2-5 favorite). That was disappointing. We might try him back in the Whirlaway, but we'll have to see.
JS: You're always in the mix for the Derby but have never won one. Do you feel any added pressure to get one as each year goes by?
TP: Not really. I have pressure every time I show up at the Derby (laughs). All you can do is put yourself in good position and see what happens. Right now, we're looking strong, but it's January. You have to get lucky and hope they stay healthy and sound. The rest will take care of itself.