Todd Pletcher Aiming for Big Day at Breeders' Cup
by Trevor Whenham - 11/01/2006
If Todd Pletcher doesn't have a very good day at the Breeders' Cup he has no one to blame but himself. The trainer has an absolute embarrassment of riches when it comes to starters on the big day. The 18 horses he has entered is by far a record for the most any one trainer has had. The previous record holder, with 14 entries, is D. Wayne Lukas, the man Pletcher worked under as an assistant for many years before branching out on his own. Lukas will be at Churchill with one horse, Pegasus Wind in the Juvenile, continuing his record streak of having a starter in every Breeders' Cup meet.
Lukas has also set the marks for success that Pletcher is aiming at. In 1988, Lukas brought 12 horses to Churchill and left with three wins and three seconds. Overall, Lukas has 18 Breeders' Cup wins from 145 starters. Pletcher still has some work to do to catch up. If he keeps up the ridiculous pace of this season, however, those records, and all others, will fall. Pletcher has already broken Lukas' record of 92 graded stakes victories in a year. He's miles ahead in earnings and will almost certainly add another Eclipse Award to the mantle. The only Achilles heel the guy seems to have is the Triple Crown. He can't win there, but at least that gives the other guys a chance.
It's not just quantity that Pletcher is throwing at racing's biggest day. He's packing the quality, too. He could have as many as four favorites by post time - Circular Quay in the Juvenile, Fleet Indian in the Distaff, Wait a While in the Filly and Mare Turf and English Channel in the Turf. The only race that won't see Pletcher in the paddock is the Mile.
For my money, the best of Pletcher's entries is Fleet Indian. The five-year-old mare has an eight-race winning streak on the line in the Distaff, She's been mostly dominant during that streak, winning five of the races by five lengths or more, including a crushing 12-1/2 length victory at Hawthorne in April. She'll be favored by one of the wider margins on the day, and she should be able to live up to the billing as long as she draws a good post position. Interestingly, the horse goes from the track on Saturday to the sales ring on Monday, so a win would make her owners much, much more than the winner's share of the $2 million purse. She will be joined in the Distaff by Pool Land, who is coming off a win at Belmont, and Spun Sugar, who was crushed in the Spinster at Keeneland in a race that you may want to toss out.
The most consistently dominant race for Pletcher is the Juvenile. Circular Quay had a disappointing second at Keeneland last time out after three wins, but the new Polytrack surface may have again played a role in the outcome. He'd outclassed his opposition before that and bettors will likely look past the last race. Joining him is Scat Daddy, who's only blemish on a four race record is a second to Circular Quay. He comes in off a big win in the Champagne. The third Pletcher entry, King of the Roxy, is perhaps the most interesting. He once sold for just $8,000, but he comes into this race off a Grade 2 win. Pletcher only took over training the horse in July. He bumped him up into Grade 2 company and posted a win and a second in two starts. Any of Pletcher's horses could find the winner's circle.
The three-year-old filly Wait a While could be favorite in the Filly and Mare Turf after four straight wins, but she will have to overcome the great Ouija Board both on the tote board and on the track. Ouija Board has won races on three continents, including this race in 2004, which she followed up with a second last year. Pletcher's horse has the best chance to beat her, but it obviously won't be easy. Honey Ryder is another Pletcher horse in the field. She is talented, but may be outclassed here. A third horse, Quiet Royal, is making her first start for Pletcher, which makes her a bit of a wild card, but she seems to be in tough.
The Sprint isn't likely to have a happy ending for Pletcher. His only entry, Friendly Island, would need a not-so-minor miracle to find the winner's circle. Octave in the Juvenile Fillies isn't as out of place, but she still seems a step behind the best of the division, and her best race wasn't enough to win last time out. Stable mate Cotton Blossom appears to be in a very tough spot in that race, too.
English Channel has put together an impressive run on the turf this year. The race appears to be a three-way battle between him, Cacique and Hurricane Run. A coin flip seems to be all that separates them at this point. English Channel's last race earlier this month at Belmont was particularly interesting. He won by 4 1/2 lengths despite being forced wide on both turns.
Pletcher could truly prove that he is a great trainer if he were able to pull off a miracle in the Classic. He has two runners, but both provide all sorts of questions. Flower Alley was second in the Classic last year, but has had a disastrous season this year. His consecutive seventh place finishes in his last two starts makes you wonder why he has bothered to come to Churchill. The other choice, Lawyer Ron, is a three-year-old with a pile of potential, much of which has already been realized. He'd won six straight coming into the Kentucky Derby and was very highly regarded, but ended up a disappointing 12th. After a win in the St. Louis Derby and a second in the Super Derby as heavy favorite, the horse was pulled from the stable of Bob Holthus and sent to Pletcher. Pletcher has had him for just over a month, and he would have had to find a lot of improvement in that time for Lawyer Ron to challenge that other three-year-old, the great Bernardini.