Commentary

3-Year-Old report card

Trainer Todd Pletcher may have setbacks but seems to reload quickly

Updated: February 23, 2014, 5:02 PM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

It was the biggest weekend yet on the road to the Kentucky Derby as the Risen Star, the Fountain of Youth and an important allowance race at Gulfstream took center stage and included 36 Derby hopefuls. Here's a look at who did what and their grades:

Wildcat Red: A
The Fountain of Youth winner defeated a solid group and showed a lot of determination to hold off General a Rod in what was essentially a two-horse race. His pedigree says sprinter, his running style says sprinter, but he was able to handle the two turns and the mile-and-sixteenth. Still, a mile-and-a-quarter might prove to be more than he can handle.

He is trained by Joe Garoffalo, and it's nice to see someone develop a top 3-year-old other than the usual suspects.

General a Rod: A-
Like Wildcat Red, he's not flashy and he comes from relatively low-profile connections. But he did everything right in the Fountain of Youth but win.

Todd Pletcher: B +
Only Pletcher could have a day where he wins the $400,000 Risen Star, the $200,000 Davona Dale and a loaded allowance race and not get an A. He had a poor showing in the Fountain of Youth, but what makes Pletcher so formidable is that there are always reinforcements standing by ready to take over for a slumping compatriot.

Many believed that Commisisoner was Pletcher's best hope for the Kentucky Derby, but he was completely empty in the Fountain of Youth. Already being hard ridden by John Velazquez entering the turn, he finished a lackluster sixth. Pletcher's other runner, We Miss Artie, showed nothing. Clearly better on the grass and synthetic tracks, he finished eighth. Neither looks like a serious Kentucky Derby contender off of their Fountain of Youth showings.

It took Pletcher all of 49 minutes to rebound. That was time between the Fountain of Youth and the Risen Star, where Intense Holiday nipped Albano on the wire. Going in, he looked no better than Pletcher's seventh or eighth best Derby prospect, but he beat a legitimate field and figures to carry the banner for Team Todd in the Louisiana Derby.

Intense Holiday's win was also good news for Cairo Prince, who beat him by 6 ¼ lengths in the Holy Bull. How good does he look now?

Pletcher's best 3-year-old among the many he ran Saturday may have been Constitution, who won the Gulfstream allowance by a comfortable 3 ¼ lengths to stay unbeaten in two career starts. After walking out of the gate in his debut, he broke far better this time, took control on the first turn and was in command every step of the way in the stretch. The talent is there. The experience is not.

In the same race, another highly regarded Pletcher youngster, Matterhorn, ran himself out of the Kentucky Derby picture with a last-place finish.

Pletcher won the Davona Dale with Onlyforyou, a Malibu Moon filly who was going a distance for the first time. The owners, Glencrest Farms, ran a filly, Devil May Care, in the 2010 Kentucky Derby, so don't be surprised if they're thinking first Saturday in May with this one. She is obviously good, but to see her drifting out in the stretch was a bit troubling.

Top Billing: B+
The strangest part of the Fountain of Youth was the betting. Top Billing was a huge favorite early on, so much so that it appeared someone made a win bet on him in excess of $50,000. The race was far too wide open for that and he never should have gone off at 2-1.

Considering he was breaking from the 11 post, Top Billing ran creditably in a third-place finish. Rather than risk getting hung out to dry on the first turn, Joel Rosario elected to take back and tuck in. That left him with way too much to do. Had he drawn inside, he easily could have won this.

Vicar's in Trouble: B
Like Top Billing, he was given an impossible assignment because of his draw. Vicar's In Trouble and Rosie Napravnik had to deal with the 13 post in the Risen Star and it was just too much for them. To run third was an accomplishment and he will be heard from again.

Rise Up: D
As the third choice in the Risen Star, he looked overmatched, finishing seventh despite a perfect trip and ride from Gerard Melancon.

• Bill Finley is an award-winning horse racing writer whose work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated.
• To contact Bill, email him at wnfinley@aol.com

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