Todd Pletcher is probably the best trainer in the United States. He is consistently excellent. Except, of course, on the first Saturday in May. I have taken great pleasure in pointing that out and, very profitably, picking against him over the years. It's only fair, then, that I give him a little credit for mixing things up a bit, applying some lessons, and trying to get a better result. What's that saying - insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?
Here's the story. Last year on the first day of the Breeders' Cup Pletcher had two huge wins - Liam's Map in the Dirt Mile and Stopchargingmaria in the Distaff. They both had something in common - long layoffs. Liam's Map had last raced on Sept. 5, so he was inactive almost two months before the biggest win of his career. Stopchargingmaria had been off a few days longer. Pletcher could easily have found a suitable final prep between those last races and the Breeders' Cup - most every other horse in the fields did. He chose instead to train them up to the date, and it worked very well. So that is exactly what he is doing with Destin.
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In his last outing Destin looked very solid winning the Tampa Bay Derby. That was March 12. He could have hit any one of the final prep races - the Blue Grass, Wood Memorial, Florida Derby and so on. Pletcher knew the horse had the points he needed to get into the field, though, and he clearly didn't like any of those challenges as much as he did the opportunity to train this horse longer and give him what he needs personally. Will it work? We won't know until that first Saturday in May. If it does, though, it will have a big impact going forward.
Last race: Nine horses lined up for the Tampa Bay Derby, and it was Brody's Cause who was getting the most attention. Destin broke well and settled just off the pace behind two horses. He had a dream trip around, and the race lacked suicidal early pace. As he turned for home rider Javier Castellano asked him for effort, and he gave it in spades. He moved to the front, battled stablemate Outwork down the stretch, and ultimately won by a length - in track record time, no less. Brody's Cause was an irrelevant seventh. There wasn't a lot to complain about in terms of the horse's performance on the day.
Prior experience: He set himself up for the Tampa Bay Derby by winning the key prep for that race - the Sam F. Davis. That spot clearly suited him better than his season and stakes debut - he was fourth in the LeComte at Fair Grounds in the middle of January. To his credit, though, the first- and second-place horses in that race - Mo Tom and Tom's Ready - have both finished their final preps are heading to the Derby, too, so it was a strong field. He was slow to get his career rolling at two, breaking his maiden in October at Belmont and then finishing second in an allowance at Gulfstream two months later.
Trainer: I touched on Pletcher early on, so I won't kick him too much while he's down. He has won the Derby once - with Super Saver. He has entered the race way, way, way too many times - with expensive, beautiful horses coming off of nice wins - to only have one race to show for it. It's beyond a coincidence at this point. The sample size is big enough that we can call his struggles a trend.
Jockey: He has Javier Castellano, and it's obviously not a bad thing to have the best jockey there is right now on your back. Castellano has won the Eclipse Award as top jockey each of the last three years. The lone knock on Castellano is that he doesn't have a Derby win - though it isn't helped that he rides most of his big mounts for Pletcher. His lone Triple Crown race win was on Bernardini in the Preakness in 2006.
Breeding: Destin is a son of Giant's Causeway, who has been North America's leading sire three times. He has not won a Triple Crown race yet as a sire, but he had plenty of stamina as a runner and has passed that along well to his offspring. His damsire is Siberian Summer, a largely unremarkable California-based sire who won the Strub Stakes - an early-season race over a mile and an eighth for older horses at Santa Anita as the highlight of his racing career. He's far from the best stud represented in the Derby, but he could be worse.
Odds: BetOnline has him at +1000 to win the Derby, which has him tied with several horses as the second choice in the field - albeit far behind favorite Nyquist at +300.
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