Pletcher: Derby is 'One You Want to Win Most'

Pletcher: Derby is 'One You Want to Win Most'
Photo: Skip Dickstein
Todd Pletcher congratulates Calvin Borel after winning the Kentucky Derby.

As rain continued to pour on a soggy Churchill Downs stable area the morning of May 2, trainer Todd Pletcher was absorbing the previous day’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) victory by Super Saver   as the trainers of those who finished behind the WinStar homebred were considering their future plans.

Pletcher said WinStar Farm’s Super Saver would remain at Churchill Downs and likely ship to Baltimore, Md. on May 12 to prepare for the May 15 Preakness Stakes (gr. I), the second leg of the coveted Triple Crown series for 3-year-olds.

Pletcher, who rarely shows much emotion, experienced the highs and lows of the Kentucky Derby leading up to the 136th renewal. Earlier in the week, Eskendereya  , the morning-line favorite, was scratched due to an injury and Rule was withdrawn from consideration. Pletcher responded by entering the filly Devil May Care in the Derby instead of the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), giving him a  four-horse Derby entry.

"It’s the one thing that was missing on our resume," said Pletcher, who was winless with 24 starters prior to this year’s Kentucky Derby. "I don’t think it necessarily makes me a better trainer than I was, but I think in everyone else’s eyes it means something.

"As far as accomplishments, there are a lot of big races and races with bigger purses, but I think everyone out there and my colleagues would agree the Derby is the one you want to win the most."

Referring to his four Derby runners, Pletcher reported they had all come out of their 10-furlong battles in good order. Each was walked on the shedrow at Barn 34 as a hard rain fell outside.

When asked if he slept at all the night of May 1, Pletcher replied, “A little bit. We went back to our hotel and had some dinner with family and friends, like we always do, though I must say this one was more fun.”

Overall, the trainers of horses that finished behind Super Saver were complimentary of the Derby winner, noting that he was the best horse and that jockey Calvin Borel, winning his third Derby in the last four years, was a major factor.

While winning the Derby was satisfying to Pletcher, he said he was especially happy for owner WinStar Farm and his stable staff. With 175 horses in training and 150 employees, Pletcher has one of the largest stables in the country.

Glencrest Farm’s filly Devil May Care, who finished 10th in the 20-horse field, would not be considered for the Preakness, Pletcher said. That was the case also with E. Paul Robsham Stables’ Discreetly Mine  , who finished 13th.

But with ninth-place finisher Mission Impazible  , owned by Twin Creek Racing Stables, the jury was still out. “We’ll take a couple of days and think about him running there,” Pletcher said.

The trainers of Ice Box  , Paddy O'Prado  , and Make Music for Me  , the respective second through fourth finishers in the Derby, were non-committal about running in the Preakness.

Officials of the Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Pimlico, said the short list of Preakness possibles include Super Saver as well as Dublin  , the Derby seventh-place finisher, and Stately Victor  , who ran eighth. Among others committed to the Preakness are Aikenite  , Bushwhacked, and Caracortado, while A Little Warm and Schoolyard Dreams are possibles.

"There are people who are sitting on the fence, but they have said ‘don’t put my name out yet.’ But I think we will have a full field (of 14)," said MJC stakes coordinator Coley Blind.

Nick Zito, who trains Ice Box, said he was pleased with the colt’s runner-up effort, considering all of the problems he had in the race.

"He was checked three times, he easily could have run 18th," said Zito, who was non-committal about the prospects of Ice Box and 13th-place finisher Jackson Bend for the Preakness. He said that he would wait until later in the week to make a decision.

Despite being bumped around in the race, Ice Box only had superficial scrapes, the trainer said.

“It was kind of great to see Ice Box run so well,” said Zito. “You salute WinStar, but you always say what could have been,” said the Hall of Fame trainer who saddled Strike the Gold (1991) and Go for Gin (1994) for Derby victories.

“It was a tough race to lose, obviously, but a great race to be thankful for. We have to be thankful for the horse we’ve got, and knock wood, it looks like he came back good; that’s the most important thing,” Zito said. “(Ice Box) definitely had an excuse, that’s for sure. The winner was very good and Ice Box was just as good, that’s for sure. He was just as good as the winner, he just didn’t get the chance to win.

“I don’t like making excuses, but even if you read the paper a little bit, you’ll see he was checked not once but three times. He ran a winning race. He runs even harder than the winner.”

Zito was far from disappointed with Jacks or Better Farm and LaPenta’s Jackson Bend’s 12th-place effort in which he had to alter course under Mike Smith on the turn into the homestretch. “Jackson Bend came back good. He’s a tough little guy,” Zito said. “Mike said he didn’t beat him up. He had to be checked at a bad time.”

But Zito didn’t sound enthusiastic of running Ice Box back in the Preakness.

“He had six weeks for this race, so you have to train him pretty hard, so it’s not necessarily easy to come back in two weeks. We’ll see about (Jackson Bend) and talk to Bob, but I’m not going to make any decisions now, that’s for sure.”

Both Ice Box and Jackson Bend will remain at Churchill Downs while their connections decide upon their next starts.

Should he decide to pass on the Preakness with Ice Box, Zito said he’d have no trouble training the Florida Derby (gr. I) winner up to the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park.

Zito brought back Birdstone   from an eighth-place finish in the 2004 Derby for an upset victory over Triple Crown hopeful Smarty Jones   in the Belmont.

Dale Romans, who trains Donegal Racing’s Paddy O’Prado, said there was nothing he could see that would preclude the third-place finisher from going on to the Preakness. He could make a decision later this week.

Baldemar Bahena, assistant to Dale Romans reported the colt “came back fine and ate up” after his Kentucky Derby run. “He is good this morning.”

Alexis Barba, whose Make Music for Me was the final horse to draw into the Kentucky Derby field and finished fourth, said she would take her colt to Keeneland. Barba said a Preakness decision would be made after she consulted with owners Peter and Ellen Johnson.

“I feel great; he’s a great little horse,” she said. “He’s fabulous. He ran a winning race as far as I’m concerned.” Make Music for Me closed from last place in the 20-horse field to finish fourth under Joel Rosario in his first start on a dirt track.

Chasing Dreams Racing 2008’s Noble's Promise   is headed back to trainer Ken McPeek’s Magdalena Farm in Lexington May 3 “to be a horse for a couple of days,” McPeek assistant Philip Bauer said May 2.

Noble’s Promise had the lead at the quarter pole under Willie Martinez, but was overtaken by Super Saver and Calvin Borel.

“To be in the lead in the Derby is pretty thrilling,” Bauer said. “When I saw they went :46 and 1:10, I was worried he might be too close (to the pace). He left everything out there. You couldn’t ask him to run any harder.”

McPeek said the Preakness would be discussed in the coming days along with the possibility of going to Royal Ascot for the St. James’ Palace (Eng-I) to be run at a mile on the grass June 15.

“We will see how it looks like the Preakness is shaping up, but I would say now it is doubtful but not out of the question,” McPeek said. “He may not come back to Churchill Downs. If he goes to the Preakness, he would probably ship from my farm to Pimlico. If he goes to Royal Ascot, he would train at my farm and at Keeneland.”

Trainer Bob Baffert’s Derby duo of Zabeel Racing International’s Conveyance and Pegram, Watson and Weitman Performances’ Lookin At Lucky   returned “in good order,” according to the conditioner.

“They’re all good,” Baffert said the morning of May 2. “I’m not sure what we’re going to do with them next. It’ll be the end of the week before we make a call on that.”

Conveyance cut out the pace for the first seven furlongs of the 10-furlong Derby before running out of steam and finally finishing 15th in the 20-horse field. Lookin At Lucky, who was roughed up early in the race and virtually lost all chance, did well to finish sixth in the Run for the Roses.

“Tough luck; what are you going to do,” Baffert said.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said that Robert Baker and William Mack’s seventh-place Dublin likely would be headed to Baltimore for the second leg of the Triple Crown.

“It’s tough to make a decision the day after the race, but I would say more than likely he will go,” Lukas said. “He’s fine this morning and came out of the race good.”

Lukas had pleasure of watching one of his former assistants, Todd Pletcher, win his first Kentucky Derby with Super Saver.

“I am really happy for Todd. It was great,” Lukas said. “He’ll be back (with a chance to win more Derbys), no doubt about it.”

 

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