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Circular Quay
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Skip Dickstein

Juvenile Preview: Pletcher Youth

Leading trainer Todd Pletcher has started three horses in previous runnings of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I). This year alone he has three entrants in the race sponsored by Bessemer Trust, including the probable favorite. And with the year Pletcher has had, one unlike anyone before him, the 39-year-old conditioner is not entering many horses that don't fit.

Earlier in October, Pletcher broke the earnings mark he had set in 2005, as well as passed his mentor, D. Wayne Lukas, for the number of stakes wins in a year. At press time, he needed one graded stakes winner to break another Lukas record.

Pletcher has a long way to go, however, to catch Lukas in the category of Breeders' Cup wins. Lukas has 18, double that of the trainer in second place, Shug McGaughey. Pletcher has won two Breeders' Cup races from 24 starts, taking the Distaff (gr. I) and Sprint (gr. I) in 2004 with Ashado and Speightstown, respectively.

There does not appear to be a heavy favorite in this year's Juvenile, but Pletcher's Circular Quay could end up the choice come Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs despite suffering his only loss in four outings in his last start.

Owned by Michael and Doreen Tabor, Circular Quay was always well regarded in the Pletcher barn as evidenced by his even-money odds in his first start, June 15 at Churchill Downs. He bounded home by 6 1/4 lengths and three weeks later took the track's Bashford Manor Stakes (gr. III) going six furlongs in a good 1:09.96 and winning by 1 1/4 lengths. That the Thunder Gulch colt has two wins over the surface upon which the Breeders' Cup will be run is certainly a factor in his favor.

On Sept. 4, Circular Quay was made the 4-5 favorite for the seven-furlong grade I Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga, and he again came from off the pace to notch a victory, drawing off to win by 4 1/4 lengths. It was on to Keeneland for two reasons--to get a two-turn race into Circular Quay and to keep him away from stablemate Scat Daddy, who would win the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont a week later.

Circular Quay (pronounced Circular Key) was a bit closer to the pace than perhaps he likes in Keeneland's Lane's End Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) and didn't appear to be moving comfortably over the new Polytrack surface, finishing second to Great Hunter.

"He gutted it out despite not liking it (Polytrack) a lot," Pletcher said. "It was only the second day of the meet, and we weren't sure how to ride him; he was closer to the pace than he wanted to be. If it had been a week into the meet, we would have done things differently. But we accomplished what we wanted, which was the two-turn race."

Pletcher will also saddle James Scatuorchio and Michael Tabor's Scat Daddy, by Johannesburg, who has won three of four, his only loss a second to stablemate Circular Quay in the Hopeful; and King of the Roxy, a son of Littleexpectations owned by Team Valor Stables, who joined the Pletcher stable after his first two starts. Since coming east from California, he ran second in the Saratoga Special Breeders' Cup (gr. II) and won the Futurity Stakes (gr. II).

The West Coast will be represented in the race by Great Hunter, who should vie for favoritism with Circular Quay, Principle Secret, who is a neck shy of being unbeaten in three races, and Stormello, who beat Principle Secret in the Oct. 8 Norfolk Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II) at Oak Tree at Santa Anita.

Great Hunter is trained by Doug O'Neill, who won the 2005 Juvenile with Stevie Wonderboy. Owned by Paul Reddam, Great Hunter scored his first stakes win in the Breeders' Futurity after running second in three straight graded stakes. Principle Secret broke his maiden and won the Best Pal Stakes (gr. II) at Del Mar before being caught in the final strides of the Norfolk. He is owned by Charles Cono and trained by Chris Paasch. Stormello, bred and owned by Al Eisman and Bill Currin and trained by Currin, appeared to relish the extra distance of the 8 1/2-furlong Norfolk and should like the long Churchill Downs stretch.