On Memorial Day, racing fans will watch as Quality Road--perhaps the most talented and exciting horse in the country--returns from a short layoff in the Met Mile at Belmont Park. After dominating wins in the Hal's Hope and Donn Handicap this winter at Gulfstream to begin his 4-year-old season, Quality Road rolls into the Met Mile as the expected odds-on favorite. Already with three track records to his credit, it would not be a surprise to see the son of Elusive Quality add another one to his name. Unlikely yes, but remember, he set the 6 1/2-furlong track record at Saratoga in the Amsterdam off a more than four-month break a year ago. He is that fast and that dominant. (For the record, the one-mile track record at Belmont was set in 2003 by Najran in a daunting 1:32.24).
In many people's opinion, including mine, Quality Road is the best older horse in the country. The Met Mile will be the first of three or four grade I races he will tackle in New York this summer and then he will ship down to Churchill Downs to try to exorcise his demons in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
It remains to be seen what the rest of 2010 has in store for Quality Road, but the talent is there for a campaign for the ages. On Friday, trainer Todd Pletcher took time to answer a few questions about his star.
JS: Judging by his works, it looks like he is ready to roll for the Met Mile. I'm guessing you're expecting a big performance?
TP: I certainly hope so. He's been training very, very well and has had some very good breezes. We're going into the race extremely confident.
JS: Entries haven't come out yet, but from looking at the probables there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of speed to go with him. Do you see him on the lead?
TP: We'll just plan on letting him run his race and find his rhythm. He's got good natural speed and can run on the lead if he finds himself there. But he can also run well from a number of different positions, so we'll just see how it plays out.
JS: I'm assuming the Breeders' Cup is the major year-end goal for him?
TP: Yes. We want a fresh horse for the Breeders' Cup and that's why we gave him a little break after the Donn. It seemed like the natural place to freshen him up. There isn't a whole lot going on at that time of year unless you are going to Dubai. Our plan was the Met Mile, the Whitney, the Woodward and the Breeders' Cup.
JS: Being that the Breeders' Cup is at Churchill this year and you had the Stephen Foster as an option next weekend there, was there serious consideration given to running him in the Stephen Foster instead of the Met Mile? I'm sure it crossed your mind to get him a race over at Churchill for the Breeders' Cup.
TP: Yeah, the Stephen Foster was our back-up plan. We just felt racing him a mile coming off a break made more sense than a mile and an eighth. And the Met Mile is such a prestigious race from a breeders' perspective. Breeders hold it in such high regard that we feel it's an important race to win.
JS: He's only raced twice at a mile and quarter without a win. Some people have reservations that he can get that distance. Do you?
TP: There is no doubt in my mind he can get a mile and quarter, especially after seeing him in the Donn. He didn't run badly in the Travers, but unfortunately he had to run over the slop in that race, as well as the (Jockey Club) Gold Cup.
JS: He doesn't like the slop?
TP: He tolerates it, but doesn't excel over it.
JS: You mentioned the Whitney, Woodward, and Breeders' Cup as the other three races you have planned out for him. Will it just be those three?
TP: We're still deciding if we'll give him a race between Met Mile and the Whitney. We wait until after this race to decide.
JS: Quality Road's brilliance in the Donn really opened a lot of people's eyes about how good this horse is. I know it's hard to compare, but can you rank him among the best you have ever trained?
TP: We've been fortunate to train some really good older horses. I would say Left Bank and Lawyer Ron are two I would compare to him. They were both champions and set track records. Left Bank's Tom Fool (in 2002) was tremendous and Lawyer Ron's Whitney (in 2007) was unbelievable. They were similar to what Quality Road did in the Donn.
JS: Last year's Breeders' Cup was obviously a disappointment. If he hadn't had gate troubles was he going to run a big race?
TP: He was ready to run as well as he could over a synthetic track. It was a guess as to how well he would handle the surface. I think some of the horses shipping in including the Europeans were at a big disadvantage. But there was no doubt in my mind that if he handled the surface he was going to be a factor in the race.
JS: And the gate problems are a thing of the past?
TP: It's the only race he's had an issue with it. I have a pretty good idea as to the reason why. But its something that we continue to work on so it won't happen again.