Derby Devil - By Dan Liebman

(Originally published in the May 1, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)    

If you toss a coin 24 times, and it lands on heads each time, what are the odds it will come up heads on the 25th try?

Since odds are based on the probability that something will occur, or is more likely to occur than something else, on the 25th try—in fact on every try—the odds are 50-50.

Horse racing also has odds, but the pari-mutuel system is different from simply tossing a coin, where it either lands on heads or tails.

Trainer Todd Pletcher has started 24 horses in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), which many point to as a dismal record in the country’s most famous race for a person likely headed someday to the Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

Truth is Pletcher has never sent out the Derby favorite and 13 of his runners have gone postward at odds of 24-1 or higher. And to his credit he does have two seconds (Invisible Ink, 2001; Bluegrass Cat, 2006), a third (Impeachment, 2000), and two fourths (More Than Ready, 2000; Limehouse, 2004).

Obviously, Pletcher appeared to have his best chance this year, with a horse that would have been favored—Eskendereya. But the son of Giant’s Causeway was declared from the race April 25 after filling was discovered in his left front leg. Pletcher will still be represented by several other starters, including the filly Devil May Care.

As this was written, Pletcher also planned to saddle Derby starers Mission Impazible (winner of the Louisiana Derby, gr. II), Super Saver (2nd Arkansas Derby, gr. I), Discreetly Mine (Risen Star Stakes, gr. II), and possibly Interactif (second San Felipe Stakes, gr. II).

The comments about Pletcher’s Derby record remind this writer of a time when another hot topic was how trainer Bobby Frankel was 0 for 35 in Breeders’ Cup races prior to 2001. That year he broke through with Squirtle Squirt in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I).

From 2002 to 2009, Frankel, a Hall of Famer who died last November at age 68, ran 41 horses in Breeders’ Cup races, among them five winners: Starine (’02 Filly & Mare Turf, gr. I); Ghostzapper (’04 Classic, gr. I); Intercontinental (’05 Filly & Mare Turf, gr. I); Ginger Punch (’07 Ladies’ Classic, gr. I); and Ventura (’08 Filly & Mare Sprint).

I believe Pletcher’s drought will end with a Devil May Care victory. She has the breeding to run long (Malibu Moon—Kelli’s Ransom, by Red Ransom), has the right style and temperament, and her works since she won the March 20 Bonnie Miss Stakes (gr. II) have been outstanding, including her last move, five furlongs in 1:00 1/5 at Churchill Downs April 24.

Devil May Care, owned by John Greathouse of Glencrest Farm near Midway, Ky., broke her maiden at first asking last August at Saratoga and then won the Frizette Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park. In her final race at 2, she ran poorly in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) after having traffic problems and obviously not relishing the synthetic surface. In her first start at 3, she acted up in the gate and ran fifth in the Silverbulletday Stakes (gr. III) before easily taking the nine-furlong Bonnie Miss.

Greathouse and Pletcher had been discussing the possibility of running Devil May Care in the Derby since January, so this certainly is no snap decision.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who won his first Derby with a filly (Winning Colors), has always said it is not about running a filly in the Derby, it is about running the right kind of filly in the Derby. Devil May Care is the right kind of filly.
Had Hal Wiggins made the same decision last year, perhaps Rachel Alexandra would have won the Derby instead of the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I).

Make it Devil May Care over Sidney’s Candy for the Derby exacta. 

Recent Posts

More Blogs