Pletcher power

February, 21, 2010
It was a big day of racing with Kentucky Derby contenders moving one step closer to the May 1 goal, and as results began to filter in from tracks across the country, one thing became abundantly clear -- Saturday was all about Pletcher power. In one afternoon, at three different tracks, the Eclipse Award-winning trainer moved several of his key contenders up in their careers and in the estimation of the racing public.

While Zayat Stables' Eskendereya stole the show in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park, E. Paul Robsham Stables' homebred Discreetly Mine dominated in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds and Connemara overcame a bad start to win the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields for Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier and Derrick Smith. Having taken the Sam F. Davis Stakes last weekend with Rule for WinStar Farm, and with WinStar's Drosselmeyer also putting in a decent (if somewhat disappointing) fourth in the Risen Star today, Pletcher appears to be holding a similar hand as in 2007, when he saddled five Kentucky Derby starters.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves; down the road for the three compadres are further preps before the actual Derby. For Eskendereya, there's the prospect of a start in the March 20 Florida Derby. For Discreetly Mine, the March 27 Louisiana Derby looms. And for Connemara, one would expect a start in the April 3 Santa Anita Derby.

At first glance, the most visually impressive victory of the trio may have come from Eskendereya. The son of Giant's Causeway romped by 8 lengths after sitting just off the pace for most of the 1 1/8-mile Fountain of Youth, rolling home alone in a final time of 1:48.87 under jockey John Velazquez.

But Discreetly Mine showed great maturity with his wire-to-wire performance and deserves serious consideration en route to Louisville. Granted, jockey Javier Castellano was able to creep along on the lead through early fractions of :24.60 and :48.75, and six furlongs in 1:13.44 is hardly an aggressive pace. But what you're looking for in a colt at this stage in the game is smarts and stamina, and I loved the way the son of Mineshaft galloped along on the lead in the early stages of the Risen Star. His ears were pricked and Castellano had him on a nice loose rein, completely relaxed and in an easy rhythm. When his rider actually did ask him for something turning for home he delivered, and in spite of getting out a little in the stretch (a few right-handed taps from Castellano put him back on course), he finished up the 1 1/16 miles focused and strong.

Then you have Connemara, whose El Camino Real Derby win came with a sweeping last-to-first move after he broke poorly leaving the gate. Jockey Russell Baze was content to trail the field and the duo still had five horses to beat at the head of the stretch, but the son of Giant's Causeway continued his powerful run to win by 1 1/4 lengths in the 1 1/8-mile event.

There are other trainers besides Todd Pletcher, and Richard Dutrow proved his mettle on Saturday when he sent out D'Funnybone to win the Hutcheson Stakes. Many were eagerly anticipating the D'wildcat colt's 3-year-old debut, having watched his Grade 2 victories in the Saratoga Special and Belmont Futurity. His score by a length under an extremely confident Edgar Prado redeemed his disappointing ninth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita last November. Dutrow blamed the synthetic surface for that result and said after this race he'll be pointed toward the Florida Derby with the Classics in mind. Owner Paul Pompa Jr. must be extremely pleased with this latest effort -- the colt galloped out strongly, ears pricked, after ranging up to take the lead with a solid, three-wide move.

Also, the Bob Baffert-trained Conveyance grew up a little in the Southwest Stakes, appearing much more focused and professional than in his last score. In the San Rafael at Santa Anita on Jan. 16, the Indian Charlie colt was lugging in and finished greenly under jockey Garrett Gomez, but at Oaklawn Park he sprinted to a speedy early lead and held off bids from Dublin and Cardiff Giant to win the mile test by three-quarters of a length in 1:36.94.

All-in-all, it was a great day of prep racing with solid deliveries from the stars. I'll take Discreetly Mine as my favorite Pletcher victor, and I couldn't be happier with D'Funnybone's return. After today, who are your favorite 3-year-old stars?



You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?