It's time now for what has become an annual tradition in recent years. This is where I tell you why betting on Todd Pletcher in the Kentucky Derby is a lousy idea despite the fact that he could have as much as 20 percent of the field racing under his name this year. He is the most successful trainer in North America and a seemingly annual winner of the Eclipse Award for top trainer. For some reason, though - or a combination of them, really - he just can't perform in the Kentucky Derby at the same level that he does every other day of the year.
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Up to this point, Pletcher has entered 40 horses in the Kentucky Derby - second only to his mentor D. Wayne Lukas. He has won 22.8 percent of the races he has entered in his career - more than 3,700 wins to date - and more than 24 percent of races this year. In his 40 Derby starts, though, he has won just once - with Super Saver. Now, to be fair, he frequently has had several runners in the race, so it's not like he has tried the race 40 years and only won once. Regardless, though, he has not had nearly the success he should. He has repeatedly come into the race with highly-touted horses that just haven't fired. They have been massive disappointments. He has also come into the race with horses that didn't really look like they belonged in the race on paper - and they lived that out in real life.
Pletcher deserves credit for getting so many horses into the field each year as qualifying has become more difficult with the new points structure. But why does he struggle so badly to shine in this race? It's a combination of factors, but they all come down to one theme - that he doesn't have horses as ready as they should be for this race. So, is this race going to be different? Is he going to break through and get his second win this year? He has four horses entered, but Stanford is not a certainty to actually run as I write this. I'll admit up front that I'm not a big fan of any of them - though I have lots of respect for Carpe Diem - but let's take a look:
Carpe Diem, John Velasquez (8/1 morning line): This horse would be favored most years, but with Dortmund and American Pharoah in the race he has some serious competition - competition that he is a step or two behind in my eyes. That being said, he has done little wrong. In five career starts he has four wins, and he has a second in the totally bizarre 2014 Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He typically races on or near the lead, though he did run way, way off the pace in the Breeders' Cup. His breeding is strong for the race.
We don't really know how he is liking the Churchill track leading up to the race because he has been among the lower-key horses in late training. John Velazquez is the rider. He is Pletcher's first-choice jockey and could have ridden any of the four horses, so it's a good indication that he chose what seemed to be the obvious mount. If he had looked elsewhere then there would have been cause for concern.
Is Carpe Diem good enough to win the race? Absolutely. I won't be betting on him to do so, though -- though this morning-line price is better than I was expecting.
Materiality, Javier Castellano (12/1 morning line): He's undefeated. He won the Florida Derby - which has produced a lot of Kentucky Derby winners in recent years. I like his breeding. I should like this horse. I really don't, though. The reason is simple - he has raced only three times in his career, and that first start didn't come until Jan. 11. No horse since Apollo way back in 1882 has won the Derby without running in the calendar year prior to their Derby appearance. Many have tried. Horses with so few races over a short career lack the depth of fitness and experience that they need to handle the massive challenge of the Derby. I'll pass.
Itsaknockout, Luis Saez (30/1 morning line): This horse is only marginally more attractive than Materiality from an experience basis - he has had just four starts, and his first was just a month before Materiality made his debut. He was just dismal last time out in the Florida Derby - finishing fourth by about a football field. The track was really heavy that day, though, so that could be an excuse. It's not enough of an excuse to get me excited, though. I think he is solid but just not of this caliber.
Stanford, Florent Geroux (30/1 morning line): His connections are unsure whether the Derby is the right spot for him, and they are going to hold off as long as they can to make a decision. They are right to question it. Want to get a sense of what this horse is like? Go to the grocery store and buy a generic container of vanilla ice cream. Eat a bowl of it. It's decent, right? Nice. Good, even. But not at all memorable and not even in the same galaxy as the best ice cream you have ever had. That's this horse. He's talented and solid, but he just isn't good enough to win - or even contend seriously.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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