Todd Pletcher takes sure and steady approach to Preakness

0 Comments

BALTIMORE (AP) The Preakness has never been Todd Pletcher’s race.

Sure, it’s the middle jewel of the Triple Crown. But Pletcher has made a habit of skipping Baltimore in order to beat the pack to his home base of New York after the Kentucky Derby and await the Belmont.

The Preakness’ position two weeks after the Derby is too soon for Pletcher. He prefers giving his horses more rest between starts. He’s 0 for 8 in the race, with his best finish being third with Impeachment in 2000.

Of course, it’s become incumbent for the trainer of the Derby winner to bring the champ to Pimlico for a shot at making a Triple Crown bid. So Pletcher is here with Always Dreaming and he’s enjoying himself in his customarily restrained way.

Click here to stream the 2017 Preakness Stakes on NBC Sports

He’s wolfing down crab cakes at every opportunity and offering up local restaurant tips to anyone who asks.

“He never was a real charismatic, funny person,” mentor and Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said, “but he always handled himself well.”

And his horses even better.

Pletcher has won Eclipse Awards seven times as the nation’s leading trainer, including four in a row. He has won nine Breeders’ Cup races and four Triple Crown races, while finishing second or third 13 other times.

“He was going to be good if he never met me,” said Lukas, the career leader with 14 Triple Crown victories, who employed Pletcher as assistant for seven years until he went out on his own in 1995.

Always Dreaming has surprised Pletcher in how quickly the dark bay colt bounced back from his 2}-length victory in the Derby on May 6. He galloped 1+ miles on a warm, muggy Thursday and will jog on Friday because “that’s what we did the day before the Derby,” Pletcher said.

“The tank seems full and he seems eager to go,” he said.

Always Dreaming is the first Derby horse Pletcher has run in the Preakness since Super Saver in 2010. That colt earned Pletcher his first Derby victory before finishing eighth in the Preakness.

Never one to ignore lessons learned, Pletcher is using his experience with Super Saver to guide Always Dreaming’s preparation. He gave Super Saver a breeze – or timed workout – between the first two Triple Crown races. He didn’t with Always Dreaming.

“The two weeks is a quick turnaround, and sometimes you don’t know until they get in the stretch and you see what you have in reserve,” he said. “We’re just trying to keep it as simple as possible. We’re not overthinking it. We’re just letting the horse gallop and be happy.”

Pletcher sent Always Dreaming to Pimlico three days after the Derby, wanting to give the colt known for some aggressive behavior in the mornings a chance to get used to his new surroundings well before race day. It was quiet around Pimlico last week, when Always Dreaming practiced standing in the starting gate and visiting the paddock area where he will be saddled indoors on Saturday.

“I like the way he’s behaving around the barn,” Pletcher said. “He’s quiet in the stall. When he gets on the track, he’s strong but in a good way. We don’t want to see him get too excited and step on himself.”

Always Dreaming will have nine rivals in the race, including four that ran in the Derby.

If the colt is showing an eagerness to compete again, so is Pletcher.

“I just want the race to get here,” he said. “He’s doing so good.”

Despite overseeing a stable that runs in races nationwide, Pletcher is single-minded in his approach with each horse in his barn. So don’t even get him started on talk of winning the Triple Crown.

“Let’s hope that Sunday morning we wake up and have to think about that,” he said.

Kentucky Derby modifies qualifying, elevates prep races

kentucky derby
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
1 Comment

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs has modified paths to the Kentucky Derby and Oaks, awarding points to the top five finishers in qualifying races and increasing significance for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and late prep season events.

Most Derby prep races during the qualifying series for 3-year-olds will award points on a 10-4-3-2-1 sliding scale after using a 10-4-2-1 system since 2013. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, run during the season-ending championships on Nov. 4 at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, will increase points from 20-8-4-2 to 30-12-9-6-3 to differentiate the Grade I event from others during prep season.

Select prep races for the 20-horse Derby field have elevated points from a 10-4-2-1 scale to 20-8-6-4-2 to increase their importance and motivate hopefuls to begin their 3-year-old campaigns earlier in the season, track officials stated in a release.

“We believe these modifications adhere to and amplify our goal of assembling the finest group of 3-year-olds in the starting gate for a race at the classic distance of 1\ miles on the first Saturday in May,” Churchill Downs vice president/general manager Mike Ziegler said.

The 149th Kentucky Derby and Oaks for fillies will be held on May 5-6, 2023. Derby qualifying season begins with Saturday’s $300,000, Grade III Iroquois for 2-year-olds at Churchill Downs.

The point changes apply to Oaks qualifiers.

Elevated Derby preps include the Lecomte at Fair Grounds in Louisiana; Southwest at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas; Withers at Aqueduct in New York; Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park in Florida; Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita in California; Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs; and John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park in Kentucky.

Bob Baffert wins record 16th Del Mar Futurity with Cave Rock

Getty Images
1 Comment

DEL MAR, Calif. — Cave Rock won the $302,000 Del Mar Futurity by 5 1/4 lengths, giving Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his record 16th victory in the Grade 1 race in which he finished 1-2.

Ridden by Juan Hernandez, Cave Rock ran seven furlongs in a stakes-record time of 1:20.99 on closing day at the seaside track north of San Diego. He lowered the old mark of 1:21.29 set by Declan’s Moon in 2004.

Baffert tied Phil D’Amato for the trainers’ title with 19 wins each at the 31-day summer meet. It was Baffert’s eighth title at Del Mar, but his first since 2003.

Hernandez won the jockeys’ title.

Havnameltdown, also trained by Baffert, finished second in the race for 2-year-olds. Skinner was another 4 1/4 lengths back in third.

Longtime Baffert clients Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman own the first and second-place finishers.

Cave Rock paid $2.80 to win as the 2/5 favorite. He earned $180,000 for the win.