As usual, numbers favor Pletcher

Trainer boasts 11 Breeders' Cup entries, but more hasn't always been merrier for him

Horse Racing

October 25, 2007|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN REPORTER

OCEANPORT, N.J. -- Trainer Todd Pletcher walked through the morning drizzle, a satisfied look on his face after having put his 11 Breeders' Cup entries through their morning jogs and paddock schooling.

Yes, 11 entries, the most of anyone here.

It is a situation Pletcher said he and his work force of about 175 people experience six or seven times a year.

He would like to tell you running all these horses at a big, two-day event such as this weekend's Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Monmouth Park is "a whole lot different" from the way he runs his operation on a daily basis, but it isn't, he said.

"It's simply a matter of barn management, organizing and making sure you've got all your people in place and making sure each one knows what he's supposed to do," Pletcher said. "It's really not as complicated as it sounds. We're well staffed. I just make sure people and horses relax and show up on time. And then I wait to see what happens."

It is a phenomenon that has on occasion led to the big disappointment of a winless day for one of America's most successful trainers. Such as last May, when Pletcher saddled five Kentucky Derby runners and wound up winless. And last year's Breeders' Cup in which his record 17 starters all failed to win.

Pletcher shrugs it off and goes on, because he knows the really big numbers are on his side.

Pletcher, his hair cropped short and wearing a rain parka, turned 40 on June 26. At 40, many men begin to reassess their lives and dwell on what might have been. But Pletcher doesn't have time for that as he continues to break records.

Pletcher became the first trainer to earn $20 million in purse money in a single season with $20,867,842 in 2005 and then reset the mark in 2006 at $26,820,243. (He has $23,583,324 so far this year.)

Pletcher broke the record of 92 stakes wins in 2006, too, and the record of 53 graded stakes wins with 57.

Those last two marks were held by D. Wayne Lukas, Pletcher's mentor, a man he worked for as assistant trainer and learned from for seven years before setting off on his own, using much of what Lukas taught him.

And this year, as in 1988 when the filly Winning Colors gave Lukas his first classic race win, a victory in the Kentucky Derby, after a long string of losses, Pletcher got one of the biggest monkeys off his back when the filly Rags to Riches won the Belmont Stakes in a historic duel with Curlin. It was Pletcher's first victory in a Triple Crown classic, too.

This year, his horses already have won seven Grade I races. Perhaps, if he has any momentary regrets, it's that Rags to Riches is not here for the Breeders' Cup because of a hairline fracture in her right front pastern that will sideline her until 2008.

But Pletcher said he doesn't feel any differently coming to the Breeders' Cup now that he finally is the winner of a Triple Crown race than he did before because, he said, the two events are quite different.

"In the Triple Crown, you have one chance with each horse to win," Pletcher said. "In the Breeders' Cup, you can have multiple chances with each horse. This is our third year with English Channel, and Icy Atlantic and Honey Rider have been here before. And Lawyer Ron. These are horses that have been performing well for several years.

"In the Triple Crown, there are no second chances."

But that doesn't mean the Breeders' Cup races are any easier to win. Since Pletcher started his own stable at Gulfstream Park in 1995, he has had 41 starters in the Breeders' Cup but just two winners - Ashado in the 2004 Distaff and Speightstown in the 2004 Sprint.

This time around, his best chances of victory come in the Classic with Lawyer Ron, the top older horse in the field at age 4, and in the Distaff with Indian Vale, a daughter of A.P. Indy. Both have been made the pre-race favorites.

Lawyer Ron and Indian Vale, though, will face tough competition from other Pletcher-trained horses - Any Given Saturday in the Classic and Unbridled Belle and Octave in the Distaff.

A similar situation exists in the Mile, in which Icy Atlantic and Host, two 30-1 shots, will have to beat each other as well as the 12 other horses in the field, and in the Filly & Mare Turf, in which Honey Rider and Wait a While will go head-to-head with 10 others.

Pletcher does have single entries in the Turf, in which English Channel will run, and in tomorrow's Juvenile Turf, in which The Leopard will compete.

"I don't particularly like [running against myself]," Pletcher said. "But in these situations, I like having more than one horse that is good enough to run in these races."

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

Breeders' Cup

Purse: $23 million

When: Tomorrow and Saturday

Where: Monmouth Park, Oceanport, N.J.

Tomorrow

Time, TV: 4 p.m., ESPN2

Races (3): Dirt Mile, Filly & Mare Sprint, Juvenile Turf

Saturday

Time, TV: Noon, ESPN

Races (8): Classic; Turf; Distaff; Mile; Sprint; Filly & Mare Turf; Juvenile; Juvenile Fillies

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