Todd's Time? - By Dan Liebman

(Originally published in the February 27, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

It seems funny to say fillies took a backseat to the boys, but after the big news of a possible race between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta dominated headlines, it was prep races for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) that took center stage Feb. 20.

Todd Pletcher has been one of racing’s leading trainers the past decade, though the sport’s biggest prize, the Derby, has eluded him. He is certainly not the only trainer who has won many big races but not the Derby. He is the most prominent active trainer, however.

Pletcher has started 24 horses in the Derby since 2000, and has two seconds (Invisible Ink, 2001; Bluegrass Cat, 2006) and a third (Impeachment, 2000) to his credit. He has never started the favorite in the Run for the Roses.

Of the five Derby preps run Feb. 20 in Florida, Arkansas, California, and Louisiana, Pletcher won three. Thus, the trainer who nominated the most horses, 20, to the 2010 Triple Crown by the Jan. 16 early deadline is again pointing 3-year-olds down different paths that all lead to Louisville, Ky., the first Saturday in May.

The most visibly impressive of the group was Eskendereya, who edged away in the turn of the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) and cruised to an 8 1/2-length score. Having won all three of his starts on dirt, the son of Giant’s Causeway—Aldebaran Light, by Seattle Slew, is certainly bred to handle the 10-furlong distance of the Derby.

Eskendereya was purchased for $250,000 at the 2008 Keeneland September yearling sale by Zayat Stables, which has been in the headlines recently for a different reason—the racing arm of Ahmed Zayat has filed for bankruptcy protection. And nothing could help an owner get out of bankruptcy faster than to own a Derby winner.

Two of the three Derby hopefuls Pletcher sent out on the day are by Giant’s Causeway, the other being Connemara, who won the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) for his third win in four starts. The colt, out of the Mr. Leader mare Satin Sunrise, races for Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier, and Derrick Smith. Magnier’s husband, John, is the principal in the Irish-based Coolmore operation, which stands Giant’s Causeway (by Storm Cat) at its Ashford Stud in Kentucky.

Pletcher’s third score came with Discreetly Mine, who won the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds. A son of Mineshaft, Discreetly Mine is a homebred owned by E. Paul Robsham Stables. The colt made his first five starts for trainer Stan Hough before being sent to Pletcher.

The Pletcher group does not stop there. In Steve Haskin’s Derby Dozen, four of his top six are trained by the 42-year-old Texas native, the above mentioned trio as well as the WinStar homebred Super Saver (by Maria’s Mon), who has yet to make his 3-year-old debut. Super Saver won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs, home of the Derby, by five lengths in November.

The Pletcher stable also includes some other top 3-year-olds: Rule (by Roman Ruler), another WinStar homebred, who has won four straight including the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III); the Wertheimer family’s Interactif (by Broken Vow), a graded stakes-winning turf horse who may get his shot on dirt (you are only a 3-year-old once); Dogwood Stable’s Aikenite (by Yes It’s True), who was third in the Fountain of Youth; Anstu Stables’ Ibboyee (by Medallist), who ran third in the Feb. 20 Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II) won by D’ Funnybone; and Twin Creeks Racing Stables’ Mission Impazible, who ran fourth in the Feb. 20 Southwest Stakes (gr. III).

Pletcher has won Eclipse Awards and trained Eclipse Award winners; he was the first trainer to surpass $20 million in earnings in a year; he broke records set by his mentor, D. Wayne Lukas, for stakes wins and graded stakes wins in a year…but he has never won the Kentucky Derby.

This could be his year.

27 Comments

Leave a Comment:

cigarello

Pletcher alwas has a full stable but somehow burns them out prior to the Derby.  Hero and trainer, Michael Matz has the winning horse.  It's time the good guys get rewarded in this sport.

23 Feb 2010 1:36 PM
shane

Not unless he has all 20 starters! lol

I think he gets early maturing horses for the most part and then he gets older horses who were established by trainers who paid more individual attention to those horses. Owners want to get their name out there so they go with Pletcher, but he is not a great trainer in my opinion. Better than me tho!

23 Feb 2010 2:13 PM
Colleen

My son is a statistician with a master's degree in mathematics.  He tells me that statistically speaking, the more a person loses a particular race the more likely he is to keep losing.  

The likelihood that you are doing something wrong increases with each subsequent loss, so a record of 0 for 24 doesn't inspire confidence that Pletcher is just a hapless victim of the odds.

Since 2000, long shots have won the Derby 50% of the time (huge long shots twice, mid range long shots three times).  So the fact that Pletcher "has never started the favorite" is not a valid excuse for his poor Derby record.          

Long story short, Pletcher is most likely making his own dismal fate in the Derby.  So I'll wait to bet on his horses until one actually wears the roses.    

23 Feb 2010 2:50 PM
John

Love the Headlines Today, "Todd's Time", and "Pletcher begins serving suspension" Love Todd to death, and i admire him and the contributions has brought to the game. But these headlines are becoming more and more "Mcguire like" with the biggest names in sports turning out to play dirty and walk the line.

23 Feb 2010 4:23 PM
Stella

Who does Johnny V. ride if they all make it to the Derby?

23 Feb 2010 4:51 PM
Coldfacts

Dan,

The Kentucky Derby as crazy as it may sound is not a horse race it’s an event. If it were a horse race the likes of Todd Pletcher, Steve Assmusen and Scot Lake would have won it long ago. They know how to win horses races in bunches. The derby without a doubt is the hardest leg of the Triple Crown to win. The problems with Mr. Pletcher operation is his clients. They focus on pedigree and confirmation exclusively. They have never looked at the derby winner’s chart to see the type of horses that win the great event. It is the same problem plaguing Godolphin. Let use Eskendereya as an example. Has Storm Cat or any of his 100 sons that have passed through the breeding shed sired a derby winner? No! Has any of the 444 broodmares sired by Seattle Slew produced a derby winner? No! Should anyone be encouraged to spent $250,000 on Eskendereya and expect to get a derby winner?  No! He was sired by a son of Storm Cat and his dam was sired by Seattle Slew. Your supporter will say that this information is meaningless because of Eskendereya’s impressive victory in the FOY.  Impressive victories in derby preps do not equate to derby victories. Remember Bellamy Road.  Nice colts with a nice pedigree that does not fit a derby winner’s profile.

The horses that are likely to win the derby are either not available to Mr. Pletcher’s clients or they would not be given neither a first nor second look at an auction. Let examine a few in the last 10 Years:

Mine That Bird ($9000) – Small (May)colt/gelding sired by Birdstone a little stallion who stands for $10,000. He was the 1st foal for his unraced dam. If this horse was given to one of Mr. Pletcher’s clients they would feel insulted and he would not want him in his stable.

Funny Cide ($22,000) – New York bred colt/gelding who was sired by the middle distance stallion Distorted Humor. Dam was sired by possible one of Seattle Slew’s worst son on the track. No Pletcher client would give this horse a first much less a second look.

There are those eventual derby winners that were not available to the buying public. I hardly believe if they were available, Mr. Pletcher’s clients would be interested in any.

Street Sense (Homebred winner)

Barbaro (Homebred winner)

Giacomo (Homebred winner)

Smarty Jones (Homebred winner)

NB: Homebreds won four consecutive derbies.

Would Mr. Pletcher’s client purchase either Big Brown sired by Boundary or Monarchos sired by Marias Mon at an auction? Unlikely!

The problem is these big spenders are not focused on the profile of past derby winners for guidance. They are focused the best possible pedigree and confirmation. These are important features that have not been associated with most derby winners.

23 Feb 2010 5:31 PM
Johnny

By the time Connemara won the El Camino Real, my jaw dropped, not so much because of each individual perfomance, Eskendereya notwithstanding, but rather because of the depth of Pletcher's stable. That's four preps within about seven days for the guy when you count in Rule.

Having said that, there are some other very nice ones coming down the pike like Caracortado, Sidney's Candy, a fast closing Dublin in the Southwest, not to mention Lookin At Lucky's three-year-old debut coming soon. And if Buddy's Saint can bounce back, he's still in the mix.

If all these horses stay sound and keep moving forward, this crop could be as good or better than the 2007 one.

This is getting really good.

23 Feb 2010 6:10 PM
Steve

I guess we should call this "green" journalism.  By that I mean turf writers seem to be recycling old articles about Todd Pletcher.  

Year after year we hear about Pletcher's deep bench and all the preps he's won in impressive fashion. Invariably there's commentary about a Coolmore colt in his barn and that this could be "his year".  

And no article would be complete without reminding us that Mr. Pletcher has never started a Derby favorite.  News flash:  Chip Woolley, John Shirreffs, Barclay Tagg and John Ward have never started a Derby favorite either.  

23 Feb 2010 6:12 PM
PMAC14

Coldfacts

Very good stuff.  

23 Feb 2010 7:13 PM
Mike Relva

Mr. Pletcher is going to be disappointed AGAIN after the Derby!

23 Feb 2010 7:25 PM
itrain4distance

looks alot like zito a few years a go with bellamy road, readthe footnotes, etc. you can use the same cover from bloodorse that year just change the names of the horses.

i like two horses so far dublin made an awsome move in the sw. and i like pleasent prince a decent fourth in the foy but bred for the distance and visibly impressive. w ward will have him ready for the derby or the belmont.

23 Feb 2010 7:47 PM
Suspension?

Is it really appropriate to promote the success of someone under suspension? Seems as if it's spitting upon the jurisdiction which administered it.

23 Feb 2010 7:53 PM
So Cal Racer

So who's to say Pletcher can't win? is not how many horse he has for the Ky Derby its how good those horse will be on that day.. I dont go by trainer alone but the quality of the horse running, it's try hard trainer like Plecher that makes the game if he's horse win good for him if not better luck next time.. as other trainer hopes for a win still come down to the best horse to win it..good trainer helps too.. Pletcher go for the rose!!!

23 Feb 2010 9:11 PM
gogofan

Dear Mr. Liebman,

As much I trust your opinion, in my own opinion Bob Baffert has three guns that

could spoil the Todd Pletcher Kentucky Derby party and they are in order of popularity:

1. Lookin At Lucky (Garrett Gomez)

2. Conveyance (Martin Garcia)

3. Tiz Chrome (Victor Espinoza?)

  Sincerely,

Kyle Stasierowski

25-year-old horse racing fan, TVG viewer, HRTV Live Feed viewer, and Blood-Horse reader from Alden, New York

23 Feb 2010 9:51 PM
Draynay

Mr. Pletcher is 0 for 44 with colts in Triple Crown races.  I would say he has better odds of getting hit by a coconut then winning the Derby.

24 Feb 2010 2:57 AM
Charlomer

As a relative novice in the horse world who just loves watching those beauties run, I found all the comments refreshingly interesting. Cigarella, it was nice to see that someone else cares about the connections' integrity. Barbaro won hands down in that category also! Having said that, I do kind of like Lookin' at Lucky though. For me, Pletcher has always seemed a little too BIG & polished to be hands on. I could be wrong.

24 Feb 2010 6:08 AM
ValeOfYork

Makes me wonder if the horses in the three Triple Crown Races are tested more than an average race for illegal things?

24 Feb 2010 7:09 AM
shane

I agree Dublin looks like tereal thing....give him a jockey change and it would have been lights out in the SW.

24 Feb 2010 8:00 AM
Slew

Ok Coldfacts:  history is not always what it seems.  Pletcher may not have won a Derby, but he won a Preakness, and the Belmont...with a filly no less.  While never even entering the Derby, Cigar was foaled by a Seattle Slew broodmare...and he was one of the "greats", and Slew won an Eclipse as broodmare sire in 1995 - 1996.  His sons have been outstanding.  Swale won the Derby and Belmont.  So I'm hanging on to Ron the Greek,(foaled may 9th) who I see capable of 12 furlongs.  I'm not just looking for a Derby contender, I'm desperate for a Triple Crown magician...which is why Ron and Dave in Dixie...stay high on my list.  History has a way of being upset on a race track, just ask Secretariat about Onion.

24 Feb 2010 8:15 AM
JerseyBoy

This was a nice analysis,Dan. It was refreshing to see that you did not mention the time some of the horses will have between their last prep and the Derby (3,4 ,5 or 6 weeks).  Nor did you mention the number of preps the horses will have. It seems everyone else does. What we should consider is whether some horses won the Derby not because of but in spite of the fact that they had more than one prep. Eskendereya's last start was good enough to beat any horse in this year's field if it had been the Derby.

Logically, if a horse is fit enough to win its first distance race of the year, it should make no difference whether that race is run in FL, NY,CA or KY.It is done routinely in Europe.The Kentucky Derby is just another race. There is only one winner and that is the reason my man Fletcher (like Frankel)  has never saddle one.

This year, once again, regardless of the way the horses are prepared, there will be one winner and possibly up to 19 losers.Hopefully, the best horse wins.

24 Feb 2010 8:20 AM
Ranagulzion

Undoubtedly this is Todd Pletcher's year to win the Derby and score an unprecedented trifecta on the first Saturday in May 2010. I predict that he will waltz his way into the Hall Of Fame at year's end.  Remember that he also has HOTY contender Quality Road in his barn.  More anon.

24 Feb 2010 9:12 AM
Bill Daly

I'll take a wait and see attitude here.  I think his horses always seem to peak too soon and are over the top by Derby Day.  Too bad they don't run the Derby in March.

24 Feb 2010 10:29 AM
Splitsof12

I was at Golden Gate fields this weekend to watch Connemara run in the El Camino Real Derby, which also happened to be on my 38th birthday. Of all the Derby hopefuls and contenders Todd Pletcher has this season, I feel Connemara will be the horse that gives him the best shot to win the Derby. Here's my reasons why! This horse is very professional. He relaxes nicely, he can sit off the pace or drop back and close. At the start of the El Camino Real Derby this last weekend, he ducked and then was sandwiched in between two runners. He never got flustered, even when the pace was very slow. Connemara and Russell Baze stayed patient, made a nice move 5-wide at the turn,sustained it, and captured the Derby by a length and a half, going away. If you saw the way this horse galloped out, he'll have no problem getting the classic distance. It also doesn't hurt that his Dad is the great Giant's Causeway. Connemara is improving with each race, and I like the way he's handled himself in his last two races. He got a bad inside trip in the California Derby and still finished strong for second, even though he was blocked throughout most of the stretch. I future booked this horse after the California Derby at 75-1, hopefully he can continue to make me look like I know what I'm talking about. Remember this, Real Quiet, finished poorly in the Cal Derby and eventually was a nose away from winning the Triple Crown. Also, in 1999 Charasmatic lost the ECRD, by a nose, and later went on to capture the first two jewels of the TC. Just food for thought.    

24 Feb 2010 12:37 PM
Lucy

Winning the Derby requires luck almost as much as it does talent and training.  These horses are so young, and the fields are so large, that the best horse does not always win. I am not a big fan of Pletcher, but I am not sure his lack of Derby victories say much except that the Derby Gods have not smiled on him. Maybe he will get a victory this year, maybe he won't.  He has plenty of good contenders but it takes only one horse with a bit of talent a a whole lot of luck to win the Derby!

24 Feb 2010 3:42 PM
Pam S.

Slew:  

Pletcher never has won the Preakness.  Rags to Riches won the Belmont, but as Draynay said, he is 0'fer with colts.

24 Feb 2010 5:22 PM
Slew

Pam S...sorry...I believe my mind was probably more focused on A.P. Indy than Todd Pletcher...and I was thinking of Bernardini trained by Albertrani.

25 Feb 2010 8:09 AM
Coldfacts

Ranagulzion,

“Todd Pletcher's year to win the Derby and score an unprecedented trifecta on the first Saturday in May 2010”

You have posted this statement before and I was of the opinion that you were joking. However, it appears you are serious. A trainer that has never won the derby will suddenly account for the first three past the post. Your ambitions for him knows no bounds. Let me give you a little encouragement. In 1996 Todd Pletcher’s mentor D.W. Lukas started 5 horses in the derby and three of them finished in the top six.

1st Grindstone

3rd Prince Of Thieves

6th Editors Note

Lukas was first and third in the 1995 Derby with Thunder Gulch & Timber Country. He was also first and third in the 1999 Derby with Charismatic and Cat Thief. Now, if the mentor can finish first and third 3 times, the brilliant student should be able to eclipse the teacher. Old men dream, dreams and young men see visions. What was the result when the student started 5 horses in a derby?

Circular Quay - winner of the Louisiana Derby (finished 5th)

Any Given Saturday - winner of the Sam Davis, 2nd Tampa Bay Derby & 3rd Wood Memorial (finished 8th)

Sam P - 2nd Robert B. Lewis S.  & 3rd Santa Anita Derby (finished 9th)

Scat Daddy - Winner of the Florida Derby, Fountain Of Youth S; 3rd Holy Bull S. (finished 19th)

Cowtown Cat - Winner of the Illinois Derby, Gotham S; 3rd Swale S. (finished 20th

It appears Mr. Lukas did not teach Mr. Pletcher everything or just may be Mr. Pletcher was not paying attention in the classes on how to win the derby.

25 Feb 2010 10:42 PM

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