Over the past decade, it almost seems like a rite of passage that Todd Pletcher will dominate the Kentucky Derby preps. When making any Derby list, you have to start with Pletcher horses, and this year is no different.
In fact, as we sit here in early February, Pletcher's hand looks as strong as it ever has. He's always the first one to point out that winning races over the winter does not always translate to Derby success, but I bet you he wouldn't trade places with anyone. As we approach Round 2 of the Derby preps, Pletcher took a few moments to talk about his contenders and laid out a temporary plan for each of them. Here is the best of the current Todd Squad, listed by the geographical region that they are likely to race in next.
South Florida--Algorithms and Discreet Dancer: Algorithms romped in the Holy Bull and earned the right to stay in Florida. He will be pointed toward the Feb. 28 Fountain of Youth, along with Discreet Dancer, who will make his stakes debut after two ultra impressive wins at Gulfstream to begin his career. To many, Algoristhms seems like the more logical Derby horse because he is by Bernardini and isn't a need the lead type, but Pletcher has seen no indication that Discreet Dancer, by Discreet Cat, won't go longer, even though he is a front-running type of colt.
"Watching him train and watching his mile race the way he finished and galloped out, I'm pretty sure he'll handle more distance," Pletcher said of Discreet Dancer. "I think with most of them, getting a mile and a quarter is a little bit of a question mark, but nothing he's done nothing in any of his breezes or his two races that have indicated to us that he has any real distance limitations."
"The plan for Algorithms is still the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby."
Louisiana--El Padrino: Insiders seem to think that the son of Pulpit is Pletcher's top Derby threat. Not only does he have a solid classic pedigree, but he has the right running style and is a smart horse that has already shown the professionalism to handle a Triple Crown run. With only $20,000 of graded earnings so far (third in Remsen), money is the main objective for him right now, so Pletcher has made the decision to send him to the $300,000 Risen Star (gr. II) on Feb. 25. The race won't be easy, especially if Mr. Bowling and Z Dager show up, but it might be a better spot than the Fountain of Youth, as Pletcher points out.
"He's definitely made the top of the list. We've thought a lot of him all along. That (Jan. 29 optional claimer) was sort of the breakthrough performance from a professional and speed figure standpoint that we were looking for. It makes sense for him to go (to the Risen Star). We have to be aware of graded earnings. The Fountain of Youth will have horses like Algorithms, Discreet Dancer, Union Rags, and Hansen, so we're looking more along the lines of graded earnings."
New York--Dan and Sheila, Raconteur, and Big Blue Nation: With How Do I Win disappointing in the Withers, Pletcher's top 3-year-olds in New York right now are all a little bit of a question mark. Dan and Sheila, who ran fourth in the Lecomte after breaking his maiden in his debut, will be sent back up north. Raconteur, by A. P. Indy out of a Storm Cat mare, took six tries to win a race but did so at a mile and an eighth, and followed up with Feb. 3 optional claiming score--both at Aqueduct. Big Blue Nation, by Bluegrass Cat, will make his season debut in a Feb. 11 one-mile allowance race, and they will make plans with him after seeing how he runs. The colt was third in the Hopeful.
"We're looking at the Gotham for Dan and Sheila. We'll probably also run Raconteur, a Dogwood colt that won a ‘one other than' at Aqueduct. Big Blue Nation has been training well. He gives us the impression that he'll stretch out. We'll run him a mile to begin with and see how he does from there; maybe look for a two turn race after that. His Hopeful wasn't a bad a race on a horrible racetrack. We're looking forward to getting him started."
Central Florida/Arkansas--Gemologist: Undefeated in three starts including the Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II), the WinStar colt just recently began light training again. He had his first work of the year on Sunday, an easy three furlongs in :39 4/5 at Palm Meadows. Pletcher said they want to follow the same schedule as they did with Super Saver from a few years ago.
"He came back to us 30 days ago and we got a month of galloping into him and his first breeze, so everything is going well so far. We're trying to follow same pattern as Super Saver, two preps before the Derby. What we're thinking about right now is the Tampa Bay Derby on March 10 or the Rebel on March 17."
New Mexico--Ender Knievel: It's rare that Pletcher will send a Derby prospect to Sunland Park, but that's what he's doing with this well-bred colt that many have yet to hear about. The son of Distorted Humor, out of an A. P. Indy mare, was recently purchased privately and sent to Pletcher. After losing his first three starts while trained by Rusty Arnold, including a Dec. 24 sprint at Gulfstream, Pletcher took control and the colt promptly won a one-mile maiden race over the same track by 7 3/4 lengths.
"That was first time we've run him. He came to us in good shape; he's a pretty straightforward horse and he obviously ran well. The connections are from New Mexico, so the Sunland Derby makes sense for him."
Pletcher also has a couple others that he will give a chance on the Derby trail, including Our Entourage, who will run next on turf but may get another chance on dirt after that, and Declaration of War, a War Front colt recently transferred to him a Coolmore group after a couple of impressive wins in Europe. Plans for those two will be decided in the near future.
"We've been blessed with having a good fall and early winter. Horses are stepping up in heading in right direction. We're happy to be in the position we're in. We have a number of horses that are on their way to a number of different prep races that could move on them to next round."