Pletcher seeks victory that keeps getting away

With three contenders, trainer increases chances of winning elusive Derby

Horse Racing

April 25, 2005|By Dave Joseph | Dave Joseph,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

It seems remarkable to suggest that, at the age of 37, there is very little Todd Pletcher hasn't accomplished in thoroughbred racing.

Polished and slightly baby-faced, Pletcher has become one of the top trainers in the world over the past few years while conditioning some of the most expensive horses for the world's rich and famous.

In 2004, he received an Eclipse Award as the country's outstanding trainer when he saddled 240 winners, including Kentucky Oaks and Breeders' Cup Distaff champion Ashado and Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Speightstown.

There is only one thing missing from Pletcher's burgeoning resume, and that's a victory in the Kentucky Derby.

Since saddling his first Derby horse in 2000, Pletcher has saddled nine horses in the 1 1/4 -mile event, with his best finish coming in 2001 when he saddled long shot Invisible Ink to a second-place finish behind Monarchos.

But in a year when Pletcher didn't know if he'd have the horsepower to get to Churchill Downs, he is ready to arrive for the May 7 Kentucky Derby with three legitimate starters and his best chance yet of winning the roses.

It's a bit ironic, really, that Pletcher finds himself in this situation.

When he arrived in South Florida with his stable early in the winter, Pletcher mentioned Harlington, a $2.9 million son of Unbridled, as his top Derby contender. But Harlington wrenched an ankle early in the winter when finishing sixth in the Risen Star Stakes in Louisiana. While other stables might not have been able to withstand such a loss, Pletcher found talented replacements.

First came Flower Alley, who after breaking his maiden at Gulfstream Park, went to Kentucky to win the Lane's End Stakes and finish second in the Arkansas Derby.

Then came Fountain of Youth runner-up Bandini, who returned from a two-month layoff and bruised foot to win the Blue Grass Stakes.

Now comes Coin Silver to complete Pletcher's hat trick of Derby starters. The lightly raced son of Anees, who broke his maiden March 5 at Gulfstream before finishing third in an entry-level allowance race three weeks ago, won Saturday's Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland over a sloppy track.

Pletcher called Coin Silver's performance "a big move forward" and said he hoped to run the colt in the Kentucky Derby. "Anytime a horse comes around this time of year, you've got to love it," he said.

Like D. Wayne Lukas, whom he assisted until going on his own in 1996, Pletcher isn't shy about running horses in the Derby. Some have performed well (Impeachment was third in 2000 and Limehouse fourth last year) and others have been outclassed (Graeme Hall was 19th in 2000).

But Pletcher has as good a shot as ever in this year's Derby. All three of his horses have tremendous potential, they're lightly raced, and they have yet to peak. Pretty enviable, really, especially when you have to wonder whether Bellamy Road is going to "bounce" from his victory in the Wood Memorial, whether Florida Derby winner High Fly or Arkansas Derby winner Afleet Alex can go 1 1/4 miles, or whether High Limit and Sun King will rebound from their dull efforts in the Blue Grass.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.