Steve Haskin's Derby Report: Pletcher Bids Farewell to Keeneland

Steve Haskin's Derby Report: Pletcher Bids Farewell to Keeneland
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Scat Daddy turns in final work at Keeneland before heading over to Churchill Downs.
Derby Works Photos

Todd Pletcher’s stay at Keeneland, for all intents and purposes, is over, and he went out with a bang, with three of his Derby horses – Any Given Saturday, Circular Quay, and Scat Daddy – turning in excellent works before heading over to Churchill Downs on Tuesday.

These three talented horses have very little in common. They look different, they act different, and they work different. But they all get the job done in their own way. And all were went about their business in different manners this morning.

Watching the Pletcher operation in the morning is like watching a well-oiled machine at work. Pletcher’s detailed and precise instructions to his exercise riders leave little room for miscommunication.

This morning, the “exercise rider” in the spotlight, or the hot seat, depending on how you look at it, was Hall of Fame rider Angel Cordero, who also is John Velazquez’ agent in New York.

Pletcher’s first Derby horse to work was Any Given Saturday, who wins the beauty contest hands down. The son of Distorted Humor   made a magnificent appearance. To steal from race caller Trevor Denman, he exudes class, which is enhanced by the slight bow of the neck and the swagger to his walk. And his coat is resplendent. With his pedigree, it is understandable why he sold as a yearling for $1.1 million.

Pletcher told Cordero to get his opening quarter in :12 and change and do a little something with him in the last sixteenth. Any Given Saturday broke off at the five-furlong, cutting out fractions of :12 1/5, :24 1/5, and :36 4/5. He was smooth as silk in the stretch and just seemed to glide over the ground. He has a tendency to run with his head a little high, but he was able to drop it a bit in the stretch and was in rhythm all the way to the wire, with little encouragement from Cordero. He came home his last eighth in :12 2/5 to complete the five panels in 1:01 1/5.

After his :58 4/5 drill in company last week, this work was all he needed to have him fit and sharp for the Derby.

Next came little Circular Quay, who again worked in company with Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) favorite Rags to Riches. Pletcher and Cordero both said the son of Thunder Gulch has gotten a bit more aggressive since last year, and these works, eyeballing Rags to Riches, are keeping him fine-tuned and geared up for the Derby during his eight-week layoff.

Pletcher again had Circular Quay and Cordero on the outside. Last week when they worked in company, Circular Quay had Rags to Riches pinned down close to the rail, and actually ducked in a little on her down the stretch. This time, Pletcher wanted to give her a little more breathing room. As in the past, Circular Quay laid about six lengths behind the filly going to the pole, but was right up alongside her by the time they broke off.

They worked as a team, head and head, around the turn through a quarter in :24 3/5 and three-eighths in :36 3/5. Cordero still had Rags to Riches pinned on the rail, but wasn’t quite as tight as last time. While she jumped on to her left lead in midstretch, Circular Quay was striding out beautifully on his right lead, lowering his head and reaching out with authority. They came home their last eighth in :12 1/5, stopping the clock at 1:00 1/5, with Circular Quay sticking his nose in front at the wire.

How these works translate to winning the Derby off an eight-week layoff and no races at 1 1/8 miles, no one has an idea. But he is sharp and fit, and whether that’s good enough to take home the roses we’ll have to wait to find out. He’s venturing into new territory, so you’ll have to have faith in Pletcher’s decision and his ability to get a horse fit to go 10 furlongs off such a long layoff. His running style of coming from far back with one monster move, and only running hard for about three-eighths of a mile, should at least help him.

Finally, it was Scat Daddy’s Turn, and it was evident before he even left the barn that his blood was up, as he kicked back hard with both legs several times. Pletcher told Cordero to do pretty much the same thing he did with Any Given Saturday. But that was going to be easier said than done. Cordero gave him a long run to the pole, and the son of Johannesburg was rolling as he broke off into his work through an opening eighth in :11 3/5 and quarter in :23 3/5. He was able to settle into a steady pace, clipping off each eighth in around :12 seconds. His final eighth in :12 flat resulted in a sharp :59 2/5 work, nearly two full seconds faster than Any Given Saturday, which might have been a bit more than Pletcher was looking for.

What was impressive about the work was that Scat Daddy did not look to be going anywhere near that fast. He has a long, sweeping stride, which makes his speed very deceiving, because he’s motoring without anyone realizing it. Needless to say, it was a big surprise looking  at the stopwatch and seeing the final time.

So, Pletcher’s works are done, and all that’s left is the van ride to Churchill on Tuesday, and some solid gallops next week to keep the edge.

Pletcher may have been finished at Keeneland, but he still had one more worker at Churchill Downs, and that was Sam P., who worked five furlongs in company in 1:00 1/5. It took him a little while in the stretch to get into a good rhythm, but once he did, he leveled off nicely in the final sixteenth and seemed to be gaining momentum as he hit the wire. It takes a while for the son of Cat Thief to get his act together, but once he does, remember, he’ll run all day.

 Toyota Blue Grass (gr. I) winner Dominican turned in a bullet five-furlong drill in :59 2/5, also working in company, with the rider way up in the saddle. The son of El Corredor was leaning in just a little on his workmate, while staying on his left lead. He didn’t change to his right lead until he passed the sixteenth pole, and then began to ease clear of his workmate, showing that long stride that carried him to victories in the Blue Grass and Rushaway Stakes.

The final worker of the day in Kentucky was Teuflesberg, who looked good drilling five furlongs in 1:00 4/5, with trainer Jamie Sanders sitting still on him and letting him pick it up on his own. The son of Johannesburg is the iron horse of this year’s Derby with 15 starts, yet he looks great. He’s holding his flesh very well, he looks fit, and his coat has a nice shine to it.

In other works, Nobiz Like Shobiz breezed five furlongs in his usual :59 4/5 at Belmont, while in California, Tiago drilled a sharp six furlongs in a bullet 1:11 4/5 and Stormello went five furlongs in 1:00 4/5.

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