If there ever has been anything like it for displaying abundant potential, I can't remember it. During the recently concluded Saratoga season, trainer Todd Pletcher won 23 races for 2-year-olds.
You could never anticipate winning that many races, not at Saratoga, where there's so much quality.
”-- Trainer Todd Pletcher
This, of course, was neither a lengthy season nor an ordinary meeting: This was a 40-day Saratoga season with coruscating purses that attracted many of the best and most promising horses in the country. This was the jackpot of a season that every major stable from Kentucky to New York had aimed at and waited for. And one trainer won 25.27 percent of all the races for 2-year-olds. (The win total, by the way, would have reached 24 if Revolutionary hadn't been mugged leaving the gate in his debut; he finished third Monday, but "he won't be a maiden long," his trainer said.)
It wasn't like he brought little Mozart, age 6, to the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna to play for the imperial family. Pletcher brought a rhumba of rattlesnakes, a zeal of zebras, a leap of leopards and a bouquet of pheasants -- he brought, in other words, an entire party of prodigies to Saratoga. And with their versatility and talent, they dazzled: They won from five-eighths of a mile to a mile-and-a-sixteenth; they won claiming races and stakes races; they won on turf, dirt and mud. And to conclude the refulgent display of precocity, Shanghai Bobby won the Hopeful Stakes on closing day, the equivalent of jumping up into the lap of the Empress and giving her a kiss.
"We felt like we had a strong group," Pletcher said, recalling his expectations at the start of the season, "but you could never anticipate winning that many races, not at Saratoga, where there's so much quality."
But, of course, logistical headaches inevitably follow such success. Where is Pletcher going to run all these prodigies so that they don't bump into each other?
"I'd like to split them up," he said. "But there are limited opportunities this time of the year, unless we move to a synthetic surface or accept less purse money."
Pletcher, for example, could have at least four possibilities for the Champagne Stakes on Oct. 6 at Belmont Park. Violence, who overcame a troubled start and a wide trip to win his debut in a photo finish at seven furlongs last month will "probably" go to the Champagne, Pletcher said. "He was very professional," the trainer continued. "It was very impressive that he was able to overcome trouble and win at a difficult distance."
Archwarrior, who won the most eagerly anticipated debut of the Saratoga season; Micormanage, who used an explosive move to beat a solid field by five lengths last Saturday; and, of course, Shanghai Bobby, who's unbeaten in three races, would all seem Champagne possibilities, too. And the Champagne would flow even more abundantly for Pletcher if Palace Malice hadn't "bucked" shins as he was preparing for the Hopeful; the son of Curlin will probably be aimed for a winter return to competition.
Jocosity will probably make his next start Sept. 30 in the Futurity at Belmont. Kauai Katie, who won on opening day at Saratoga and then took the Adirondack Stakes, could go for the Matron, also on Sept. 30. Dreaming of Julia will probably run Sunday at Belmont in the Meadow Star Stakes before aiming at the Frizette on Oct. 6. And so it goes, their dance cards filling up in anticipation, perhaps, of a bigger dance in the future.
Many of Pletcher's 2-year-old winners from Saratoga will resurface at Belmont Park, where racing resumes Saturday. Some will go elsewhere; Coconut Shrimp, for example, could make her next start at Woodbine. And a few, or more than a few, could very well travel to Santa Anita for the Breeders' Cup in November. But it's also tempting to speculate, or perhaps only wonder, in hazy, indulgent anticipation, what these prodigies might accomplish next year, when they begin to mature and to grow up. Even Pletcher, who's too wise to confuse hopes with plans, has to wonder, perhaps briefly but certainly happily, at the possibilities, especially given that so many of his Saratoga winners have pedigrees that imply a propensity for distance.
"For the most part, they're not the speedy precocious types," Pletcher said about his Saratoga winners, "that you'd expect to pop early at 4 ½ or 5 or 6 furlongs." Some of them, in fact, have pedigrees that suggest they won't begin to realize their potential until – well, sons and daughters of Curlin, A.P. Indy, Bernardini, Medaglia d'Oro, Kitten's Joy and Giant's Causeway can only improve as 3-year-olds, right?
Pletcher's 2-year-old winners at Saratoga
Kauai Katie (debut): July 20, MSW
Park City (debut): July 27, MSW
Charming Kitten (debut): July 28, MSW-turf
Lawn Man (debut): July 28, MSW
Top Tier Lass (debut): July 30, MSW-turf
Corail (debut): August 1, MSW
Jocosity: August 3, MSW
Palace Malice: August 4, MSW
Skyfall (debut): August 5, MSW
Dreaming of Julia (debut): August 6, MSW
My Emma (debut): August 8, MCL
Overanalyze (debut): August 9, MSW
Kauai Katie: August 12, Adirondack Stakes
Coconut Shrimp (debut): August 12, MSW-turf
Unabashed (debut): August 17, MSW
Violence (debut): August 18, MSW
Kimono: August 19, MSW
Notacatbutallama: August 20, MSW-turf
Coach A.J.: August 22, MCL-turf
Slamarama (debut): August 25, MSW-turf
Archwarrior (debut): August 30, MSW
Micromanage (debut): Sept. 1, MSW
Shanghai Bobby: Sept. 3, Hopeful Stakes
MSW=Maiden Special Weight