Pletcher Hits the Derby Trail

Todd Pletcher fired a pair of early warning shots on the Derby trail Saturday, as he sent out two of his big guns to impressive victories at Gulfstream Park. In the third race, Indy Dancer turned in a spectacular run from last to first to win a 1 1/16-mile allowance race going away by 3 1/2 lengths.

Indy Dancer, a son of A.P. Indy who had blown away a maiden field at Aqueduct in his career debut on Nov. 11, demonstrated that same devastating move on Saturday. After breaking slowly under John Velazquez and dropping a good dozen lengths out of it down the backstretch, he charged by horses while well out in the middle of the track. In the stretch, he pounced on the Nick Zito-trained Awesome Time passing the eighth pole and quickly drew off to a commanding score.

Awesome Time, coming off a 1 1/8-mile maiden victory, ran a solid race to outgame the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Hot Hand for the place.

Pletcher has always been very high on Indy Dancer, calling him "a class act" and "the real deal." And this was before Saturday's race. What makes Indy Dancer even more special is that he was broken by Pletcher's father, who has liked the colt from the very beginning. The emergence of Indy Dancer, who is owned and bred by Wertheimer Farm, gives added interest to the Fountain of Youth Stakes next month.

In the following race, another colt whom Pletcher has been high on, Twice as Royal, finished a disappointing seventh at 2-1 in a six-furlong maiden race. But Pletcher was back in the winner's circle a race later when Peachtree Stable's brilliant Lion Tamer destroyed his opposition in a six-furlong allowance race, winning by 7 1/2 lengths in 1:10 1/5. Like Indy Dancer, Lion Tamer broke slowly and dropped to the back of the pack. But once Velazquez turned him loose, he blew past the field after turning for home and drew off under a hand ride.

In his previous start, Lion Tamer broke his maiden at Belmont in a sizzling 1:08 3/5. Now it's just a question if he can stretch out his speed. Being by Will's Way, however, he certainly has the breeding to go two turns. Pletcher said he's a light, unassuming horse who might be more geared to sprinting as of now. But he did add that because he's such a kind horse and rates so easily, it wouldn't surprise him to see the colt to carry his speed a distance. In case you don't remember, Peachtree Stable finished second in the 2001 Kentucky Derby with Invisible Ink.

Pletcher has three other 3-year-olds to watch. They are Remsen runner-up Bham, who runs in the Holy Bull Stakes on Jan. 18; Cowdin winner Boston Bull, who is recovering from a foot problem; and maiden winner Aristocat, who should show up in a Gulfstream allowance race shortly.