Another 'Special' day at the Spa for Pletcher

August, 11, 2013
There's no more revered spot for racing 2-year-olds than picturesque Saratoga Race Course.

The oasis for Thoroughbreds in the Adirondack Mountains has traditionally been a showcase for the sport's richest bloodlines and most promising runners among its juvenile class.

Some of the sport's all-time greats, like Triple Crown champions Secretariat and Affirmed, were stakes winners at two years old at Saratoga, and more recently three of the last four winners of the Kentucky Derby raced at Saratoga as a juvenile.

It was that correlation between Saratoga in August and Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May that helped focus enhanced attention on Sunday's $200,000 Saratoga Special. A field of seven 2-year-olds, each with connections who had thoughts of Triple Crown dancing in their mind, contested the 6 ½-furlong stakes that produced a predictable yet surprising result.

Seeing trainer Todd Pletcher in the winner's circle after a 2-year-old stakes was hardly a jolt to the nervous system, yet the price on the tote board hardly resembled the odds-on prices that usually accompany the trainer's juveniles at the Spa.

We were on the fortunate side of the head bob.

-- Trainer Todd Pletcher
As synonymous as Pletcher has become with quality 2-year-olds, Corfu was sent off at 6-1 odds and returned $15 to win after weathering a brutal 44.02 seconds half-mile on the front end and holding off Sanford Stakes winner Wired Bryan by a margin that was officially termed a nose but was no longer than a fingernail.

The win was the second in two career starts for Corfu, both of them at Saratoga.

Candy Dandy, the even money favorite trained by Steve Asmussen, was a well-beaten fifth.

"We were on the fortunate side of the head bob," Pletcher said.

Fortunate is just one of the terms to describe Pletcher's position at a time when an increasing number of talented 2-year-olds are appearing on the scene -- most of them from Pletcher's overstocked barn.

Just a week ago, Pletcher sent out King Cyrus to win by 11 lengths in his career debut. When asked about where Corfu stood on the barn's 2-year-old depth chart, Pletcher smiled and said, "He's No. 1 right now."

"We've liked Corfu all along," added Pletcher after Corfu, a $675,000 purchase in March, covered the distance in 1:15.57 for owners Michael Tabor, John Magnier and Derrick Smith. "We felt like he was a fast horse [at the Barretts sale] and felt that he was precocious 2-year-old."

Corfu's final time was the quickest in 18 editions of the Saratoga Special contested at 6 ½ furlongs, yet a case could be made that he wasn't the Pletcher horse in the race with the best chance of being a factor in a longer championship race like the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. That honor might ultimately go to Danza, who rallied quickly in the final furlong to finish third, just a half-length behind his stablemate.

"Don't overlook Danza," Pletcher said. "He ran very well today."

Pletcher said if all goes well, Corfu will probably return in the seven-furlong Hopeful on closing day the Spa, Sept. 2. Danza will most likely join him.

And, without going too far out on a limb, in another week or two, there will probably be another name or two to add to the list of Pletcher juveniles with a graded stakes appearance on the horizon.

August, Saratoga, 2-year-olds and Todd Pletcher. As another summer season of racing rolls on, it's almost impossible to think of one without all of the others.

• Bob Ehalt grew up a few furlongs from Belmont Park and has followed horse racing as a fan, turf writer or owner since 1971.
• Has won three Associated Press Sports Editors awards and was the recipient of the '09 Breeders' Cup media award for outstanding social media.



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