In 2007 Todd Pletcher saddled five Kentucky Derby starters. Though none of them would wind up hitting the board, Pletcher was the main focus of attention in the week leading up to the classic with his horses occupying one quarter of the field.
Three years later, it is starting to look like five starters will be the absolute minimum Pletcher will bring to Churchill Downs. As crazy as it sounds, there is a possibility that he could bring as many as eight to the big dance.
Yes, I said eight.
Ok, the chances that Pletcher would actually saddle eight Kentucky starters sounds absurd, and it is remote. But with less than five weeks until the race, there is a chance it could happen. Follow along.
As of Saturday, Pletcher already has three horses that seem to be locks for the Derby: Rule, Mission Impazible, and Discreetly Mine. All three are done prepping and have plenty of graded earnings to get in. Mission Impazible punched his ticket with his Louisiana Derby upset and Discreeetly Mine ran a good enough fourth to merit a trip.
Pletcher has four other horses with one Derby prep remaining: Interactif and Aikenite in the Blue Grass, Super Saver in the Arkansas Derby or Wood, and Eskendereya in the Wood. Both Interactf and Aikenite have plenty of earnings to get in. Pletcher would need to see solid efforts from both in the Blue Grass, especially from Aikenite, but if both hit the board there is a chance both will earn a bid.
Super Saver is still one of Pletcher's biggest guns. He ran a good third in the Tampa Bay Derby in his first start of the year and figures to improve at Oaklawn or Aqueduct. With $163,000 in earnings he probably already has enough, and if he earns any money in his next he is a shoe in. Simply put, if he hits the board he is going to Churchill.
Eskendereya is Pletcher's No. 1 contender. He has $150,000 and might need a bit more from the Wood. But if the Fountain of Youth winner runs even an average race next weekend he is going. Book it.
The eighth and final horse is Connemara. His third place finish in the Lane's End Stakes was just Ok. He lacked a powerful finishing kick in the stretch and was well beaten by the top two. The $50,000 he earned for third gives him $140,000, which might wind up being enough. Time will tell. But Pletcher said even before the race that Connemara was not a lock to go to the Derby, even with a win. I would have to think he is a longshot to go now, in Pletcher's eyes anyway. But that final decision will be up to the owners, not the trainer. The owners certainly have the money to go. It just depends how much Derby fever they get during the next month.
My opinion is that Pletcher will likely wind up having six: Rule, Mission Impazible, Discreetly Mine, Interactif, Super Saver, and Eskendereya. Unless Aikenite runs huge in the Blue Grass he probably won't go. I don't see Derby horse in Connemara and I don't think Pletcher does either. Of course, this is all just my opinion and is only if they all stay healthy. That is a big 'if'.
If I'm right, six is still a ridiculous number for one trainer to have in the world's biggest race. Ridiculous in the sense that it is an embarrassment of riches. It sure would put a lot of pressure on Pletcher to get his first Derby win. And it sure would give us a lot to talk about in the week leading up to the race.