Monday, February 4, 2013
Pletcher's arsenal: Is it unbeatable?
By Bill Finley
Special to ESPN.com
Of course Todd Pletcher can lose the Kentucky Derby. It's three months away, plenty of time for things to go wrong, plenty of time for highly regarded horses to fizzle out. Having had Eskendereya, Algorithms, Uncle Mo and a bunch of others, he knows all too well how fast things can go south.
But he also could dominate the 2013 Kentucky Derby in a way no trainer ever has. Pletcher could win. He could sweep the top three finishing positions. He could run nine horses. Three months out, nothing is impossible.
This past weekend was another big one for the Pletcher stable, which is humming along like a high speed assembly line. On Saturday, in the span of two hours and 19 minutes, Verrazano won an allowance race by 16 1/4 lengths, Doherty broke his maiden, Revolutionary overcame a nightmarish trip to win the Withers and Forty Tales ran a huge race to finish second in the Hutcheson.
All four were good Saturday, but Revolutionary was nothing short of amazing. He broke slowly, got caught behind a wall of horses while trying to move up the inside, was shuffled back to last, had to wait for room and, in deep stretch, zigzagged through traffic like Ray Rice dodging linebackers. With jackrabbit quickness he shot by four horses in the matter of a few yards to get to the wire first. Revolutionary may not have beaten the best field, but it was nonetheless an electric performance.
Usually at this time of year we like to rank our Top 10 Kentucky Derby contenders. Maybe it would just be easier to rank Pletcher's Top 10. Here goes:
1: Revolutionary: His Withers win at Aqueduct was as impressive a performance as you'll ever see. Who did he beat? That's a valid question, but on Saturday he did what only special horses can do.
2. Shanghai Bobby: The 2-year-old champion was beaten in his 3-year-old debut in the Holy Bull Stakes, but ran a winning race. He lost by two lengths to Itsmyluckyday but had 11 1/2 lengths on the rest of the field. Was he a precocious 2-year-old who peaked too early? With this one, that's the question.
3. Verrazano: It was just an allowance race and he faced just four others, but it's not every day you see a horse win by 16 1/4 lengths. He's won his two lifetime starts by a combined 24 lengths and is clearly on his way to bigger and better things.
4. Violence: He worked Sunday at Palm Meadows, going five furlongs in 1:02.29. The colt by Medaglia d'Oro is solid but has not yet faced the very best of his division. He is 3 for 3 and a Grade 1 winner, not bad for a fourth-stringer.
5. Overanalyze: Won the Remsen by a nose back in November and has yet to run this year. Prior to that he ran a lackluster third in the Iroquois at Churchill. The worry is that he does not like that track.
6. Capo Bastone: Was transferred to the Pletcher barn after he finished third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, where he ran for John Sadler. With Juvenile winner Shanghai Bobby and runner-up He's Had Enough both failing to win in their post-Breeders' Cup starts, that race is starting to look a little suspect.
7. Forty Tales: Ran a huge race in the Hutcheson. Breaking from the one post in the seven-furlong event, he spun his wheels while racing on the inside and didn't seem to get interested until John Velazquez was able to get him to the outside. Once that happened he closed like a rocket. Pletcher is handling him like he thinks he has distance limitations, but the colt by Tale of the Cat has earned the right to try a distance in a more traditional Derby prep.
8. Delhomme: Named for former NFL quarterback Jake Delhomme, he was third in the Remsen, beaten three-quarters of a length. Also worked Sunday at Palm Meadows, going a half-mile in 49.09.
9. Charming Kitten: The son of Kitten's Joy has done his best running on the turf and his sire is known for producing grass and synthetic horses. Appropriately, he won the Kitten's Joy Stakes on the grass at Gulfstream in his last start. Owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey love the action and you can count on them telling Pletcher he needs to give the colt a shot in a significant dirt race.
10. Palace Malice: A son of Curlin, he finished second in his 3-year-old debut, losing an allowance race at Gulfstream in the slop by 2 1/4 lengths. The 4-5 favorite that day, it was not necessarily a step in the right direction, but it's too early to count him out.
Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This past weekend was another big one for the Pletcher stable, which is humming along like a high speed assembly line.