Trainer Todd Pletcher in the 2014 Kentucky Derby
by Trevor Whenham - 4/28/2014
This is a story that gets updated and retold every year, but Todd Pletcher really brings it upon himself. For 364 days a year there is no better thoroughbred horse trainer in North America - and few in the world. He runs a massive stable with class, and he has tremendous success. Then there is the first Saturday in May. No guy has ever been better at getting horses into the field - or worse at turning those entrants into winners, or even strong contenders.
As we sit less than a week from the 2014 edition of the Kentucky Derby, it appears that Pletcher will have four horses in the field. That will bring his career total to an even 40 starters. In his previous 36 starts he has had just one winner - Super Saver. That's a truly pitiful win percentage for anyone, never mind the six-time winner of the Eclipse Award for top trainer in the country who is winning 23 percent of his races this year. And it looks even worse when you consider that he has had at least a quarter of the field more than once and was left with nothing to show for it. He has had some truly spectacular failures as well.
Qualifying for the Derby gets harder every year, so it is incredible that he is able to get so many horses into the field each year. Somehow, though, someone who excels so impressively at getting horses into the race fails miserably at getting them to actually run at their best in the race.
So, is this the year when things change? Does he have the firepower in his four-horse stable this year to get just his second Derby victory? Will Todd Pletcher's horse be wearing roses? You can color me skeptical. With one possible exception, this is the least inspiring group he has brought to Churchill Downs in a long time. Constitution was the only true quality horse, but he was injured and scratched. Now he has one potentially impressive horse, one mystery that I am skeptical of, and two horses that just plain don't belong here. ( Odds to win the race are from Sportsbook.ag):
Danza, Joe Bravo (+1500): This horse is the mystery. Just thinking about him makes my head hurt. He obviously has talent - he won the Arkansas Derby with authority. He got a very favorable trip on that day, though, finding room on the rail when it looked like there wasn't going to be any. That was just his fourth race, though, so I don't like the inexperience - or the fact that he didn't really prove himself until that last race. I also don't like the breeding at all for the immense challenge of the Derby distance. The horse is coming off by far the best performance of his life, and no one saw it coming - he was 41/1. It makes me really nervous to suddenly be forced to have faith that he can recreate it again here. I'm not going to throw this horse out (unlike two other Pletcher runners as we will see soon), but he won't be a prominent player in my betting, either.
Intense Holiday, John Velazquez (+2500): If there is one horse I like from among the Pletcher contingent, it's Intense Holiday. He had a very impressive work under Velazquez on Sunday, and appears ready to go. He was second in the Louisiana Derby, but I think he's the best horse in that field. That race has been hopeless at producing Derby winners, though - Funny Cide and Grindstone are the only two in 22 years - so that doesn't help his cause here. Mike Smith had been on him for the last two, but this is a solid jockey change, so that's not a concern. He is maturing as a racehorse and learning to come off of what could be a rapid early pace here in the Derby. If he keeps on track he has the best chance of Pletcher's entrants to surprise.
We Miss Artie, Javier Castellano (+4000): Pletcher should be embarrassed to have this horse entered. His work on Sunday was humiliating, and he knew it. In all the years I have watched Pletcher I have never heard him come up with more excuses for one horse than he did here. Besides the rough work, the horse just has not shown any dirt form at all. He's a turf and synthetic specialist being forced into a rough spot here. He's a Canadian-bred, and he is much more suited for the Queen's Plate, the first leg of Canada's Triple Crown run on the synthetic at Woodbine, in June. It's just a shame that they are using the Derby as a prep for that race. Needless to say, I don't like his chances.
Vinceremos, Joe Rocco, Jr. (+9000):
As much as I am down on We Miss Artie, he's basically my favorite horse when compared to Vinceremos. This horse has absolutely no business being here, and
Pletcher has even reportedly tried to convince the owners to not enter him, but he has the points, and at this point he is in. His last two outings tell
the story. First he was second to Ring Weekend in the Tampa Bay Derby. That race lost a lot of its luster when Ring Weekend, who was scratched from the
Kentucky Derby over the weekend, was humiliated next time out. Then Vinceremos came back in the Blue Grass Stakes - hardly the most inspiring Derby prep
field ever assembled - and was dead last out of 14 horses. There was nothing positive to say about that race. You could argue that the issue was that it
was his first time on a synthetic track, but his works on dirt since haven't inspired, either. Then there is the jockey. Rocco is making his Derby debut,
and it's also his debut in the saddle of this horse. It was 13 years into his career before the journeyman won his first graded stakes race. This year he
is winning at just an 11 percent clip. Javier Castellano, by contrast, leads all Derby entrants this year with a 28 percent success rate. A jockey can
boost a horse in the Derby, but that sure isn't going to happen here.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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