You can make the argument Todd Pletcher is the best trainer in horse racing.
He's certainly the hottest.
Virtually all that he has touched this spring has turned to gold. The 42-year-old is headed to the 136th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 1 with one of the heaviest favorites in years in Eskendereya, and he conceivably could have a half dozen other entries in the 20-horse field.
But you can also make the case that Pletcher won't solidify his status as one of the best until he wins a Derby. It's not that Pletcher hasn't had his chances. In fact, no trainer in history has sent more horses to the starting gate without a victory (0-for-24).
"The Best Guy Who Hasn't Won the Big One" is the kind of label you can't earn unless you have had previous success, which Pletcher certainly has had. In 2006, he won 100 stakes races to break D. Wayne Lukas' record of 92, and collected nearly $27 million in purses. In 2007, he won his first Triple Crown race when Rags to Riches finished first in the Belmont Stakes, the first filly to do so since 1905.
But for the most part - at least to the general public - it's the Derby that has defined the silver-haired father of three. In 2007, he had five horses in the field, but they finished sixth, eighth, ninth, 18th and last. But Pletcher is hardly the first trainer to struggle to find success in Louisville on Derby Day.
Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham, whom Pletcher studied under for a summer while he was attending the University of Arizona, won his first Kentucky Derby at age 71 in 1986, after years of swearing off the race.
Eskendereya could be the one for Pletcher. The son of European champion Giant's Causeway blew away the field Feb. 20 in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park, winning by 8 1/2 lengths, then followed it with an even better trip April 3 at the Wood Memorial, winning by 9 3/4 lengths.
"I didn't think Eskendereya could run as well as he did in the Fountain of Youth," said trainer Nick Zito, who could have two horses in the Derby field with Ice Box and Jackson Bend. "(Eskendereya) is going to be a very, very solid favorite."
Pletcher won't quite join the chorus declaring his horse the favorite, but he sings his praises.
"The amazing thing about this horse is the farther he goes, the stronger he gets."