Trainer Todd Pletcher started this year on top of the game. He won a fifth Eclipse Award trophy and entered 2011 with three newly turned 3-year-old Breeders’ Cup race winners, including superstar Uncle Mo .
Heading into the April 16 weekend, however, Uncle Mo’s record is blemished with a discouraging third-place finish in the Resorts World New York Casino Wood Memorial (gr. I), and his two runners for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (gr. I) are practically sneaking into Oaklawn Park with little fanfare.
That is fine by assistant trainer Mike Dillger, who will help saddle WinStar Farm’s Brethren and the Edward P. Evans estate’s Dance City in the potent prep for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
Brethren, a son of Distorted Humor and a half-brother of last year’s Arkansas Derby runner-up and Kentucky Derby champ Super Saver , was installed at 10-1 in the 13-horse field with Eclipse champion jockey Ramon Dominguez. He will be wearing blinkers for the first time in a race after becoming keyed up between horses and experiencing his first career loss in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) March 12.
“I think many people will grab on to the connection to Super Saver and bring his price down on the day,” said Dillger, who is one of Pletcher’s top assistants and was at Hawthorne Race Course April 9 saddling Joe Vann to victory in the Illinois Derby (gr. III). “The blinkers will be more about keeping him focused rather than about getting him to show speed. We know there will be plenty of speed. We need him to relax a bit more and make his run.”
Most of the speed in the race is expected to come from The Factor , the rollicking front-runner who romped in the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn last month. In addition to Brethren, three other contestants will be adding blinkers for the Arkansas Derby, making it likely some of them will challenge The Factor earlier than in the Rebel.
While Dillger doesn’t expect the price to be as juicy on Brethren as the 10-1 opening flash, he does see Dance City, a two-for-three City Zip colt, getting largely ignored by the wagering public as he enters his first career stakes race. That could prove lucrative to his faithful followers.
“He’s going to offer a lot of value,” said Dillger. “He’s coming up to this race very well. He’s just been completely thrown off the schedule the boss had planned for him. He was sick earlier this winter and then he had to race against another one of our horses trying to get going again. He’s getting a real test, but we’ve liked him very much all along and he should run better than his odds.”