If there is any pressure associated with having 20% of the 20-horse field for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) under his care, trainer Todd Pletcher is hiding it well.
Standing outside Barn 40 on the backside of Churchill Downs following training hours the morning of May 2, the 50-year-old who saddled Always Dreaming to win the first leg of the Triple Crown a year ago engaged in some friendly banter with one of his long-term owners—Mike Repole—while also discussing the chances of his Derby charges.
Audible, at 8-1 on the morning line, breaks from post 5, with Pletcher's other three starters—Magnum Moon (6-1), Vino Rosso (12-1), and Noble Indy (30-1)—near each other in the auxiliary starting gate at posts 16, 18, and 19, respectively.
"When you only have one, there is pressure, too, because it's all riding on one chance," Pletcher said when asked about balancing the multiple starters and desires of different ownership groups. "I find it way more simple in a situation like this than it can be in a maiden race or something, where there are other options for each horse. I think everyone understands that if you have four horses that qualify for the Derby, everyone is going to take their chance. But each one is going to compete on their own and try to win the race on their own. You do what is right with each individual horse and each individual owner, and we're trying just as hard with each one as the other."
Asked if he liked the chances of any one of his 3-year-olds over the others, Pletcher, who knew Repole was within hearing distance, jokingly said, "Definitely the two that Mike doesn't have." Repole is a partner with St. Elias Stable in Vino Rosso and with WinStar Farm in ownership of Noble Indy.
Returning to serious trainer mode, Pletcher said he has confidence in all four horses.
"Honestly, all four horses are doing really well and are coming into it in good shape and coming off big wins," he said. "It's a great position to be in, and at the same time, it looks like a loaded Derby. A lot of times it's about what year your horse falls in. I've always said Bluegrass Cat (second to Barbaro in the 2006 classic) ran well enough to win a lot of Derbys. Unfortunately, he just ran (into) Barbaro. I don't think too many horses were going to beat (Barbaro) that day. We just hope they all show up and run their race, and (we'll) see what happens from there."
Pletcher said his stable's strategy will be designed to put each of the four in a position to win, keeping in mind that any plan is subject to change once the gates open.
"We have a game plan, but as you know, when the gates open, those game plans can change," Pletcher said. "I'm confident we have four top-class riders that all are capable of making good decisions when the gates do open.
"You can know what you plan to do, but you don't know what everyone else is planning to do. Sometimes the race shape you see—your opponents don't see it the same way and don't apply the tactics we expect them to."
Pletcher said he didn't have as much concern over his Derby post positions after former jockey Donna Barton "told me four of the last seven winners came out of the auxiliary gate, and Always Dreaming was (post) 5 last year. It's a little farther out than we'd like to be with Noble Indy, but hopefully it can work out from there."
With last year's Derby won by Pletcher on behalf of a partnership group that included Vincent Viola's St. Elias Stable, the trainer said the trend toward multiple owners is likely to continue.
"I think it is something we will see a little more of in the near future," said Pletcher, who added that a partnership of Viola and Repole was pretty logical. "They were friends before I started training for each of them, so that was sort of a natural fit. Also, Jim Crupi breaks their yearlings and picks horses for them, so I think that was a big part of it too."
Résumés of Pletcher's Derby starters:
- Audible, a son of Into Mischief owned by China Horse Club, Starlight Racing, Head of Plains Partners, and WinStar Farm, won the Xpressbet Florida Derby (G1) in his previous start.
- Robert and Lawana Low's Magnum Moon, a Malibu Moon colt, won the Arkansas Derby (G1) in his Kentucky Derby prep.
- Vino Rosso, a son of Curlin , annexed the Wood Memorial Stakes presented by NYRA Bets (G2) last time out.
- Noble Indy, by Take Charge Indy, won the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) in his previous start.