Todd Pletcher is heading back to the Kentucky Derby with more than one horse. That's hardly a breathtaking revelation - this is the fourth year in a row and the 12th year in the last 13 that he has entered multiple horses in the race. It hasn't always gone well for him, of course - he has just one win over that stretch despite 35 tries. He seems to think that quantity is key, though, and with Outwork's win in the Wood Memorial he has his second horse heading to Churchill Downs, joining Destin.
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So, is this the year that there is strength in numbers? Can Outwork do what so many other nice horses and major prep race winners from the Pletcher stable have previously failed to do?
Last race: 40.61 seconds. That's the number that keeps coming back to me when I watch and think about Outwork's win in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. That was the time for the last three furlongs of the race. For this level of horse - for any level, really - that is glacially slow. Really, really slow. Despite that, Outwork managed to win by only the narrowest of margins. The final time for the race was also the slowest in the 65-year history of the race being run at this distance. Now, speed isn't necessarily a concern - the track was heavy after rain. There are reasons to be worried, though. For one, two races before the Wood was a stakes race for three year old fillies, the Gazelle, and the winner of that handled the track more capably than Outwork did. Second, the horse that finished narrowly second, Trojan Nation, was a maiden from Southern California that had no business being in the field. Now, Outwork gets some credit - he was pushing a reasonably solid early pace and held on when the horses close to him early on faded. He also showed up on a day when the favorite, Shagaf, was lousy. Still, the Wood Memorial winner hasn't been a big Kentucky Derby factor for a while - which is due in part to the unfortunate injuries to Eskendereya and I Want Revenge - and I struggle to imagine that that will change significantly this year with Outwork carrying the torch.
Prior experience: This colt doesn't have a lot of experience - he has raced just four times. He broke his maiden early, winning at Keeneland over four and a half furlongs way back in April of 2015. That was the last we saw of him for a very long time, though. He next ran in February, taking an allowance race convincingly at Tampa Bay Downs. Then he was back for the Tampa Bay Derby. He led the way early in that one and fought hard throughout, but he was chased down and passed by stablemate Destin. It was a solid effort, and it has been a solid career to date. I just wish he had raced a bit more - but that is so often the case with Pletcher horses in the Derby.
Trainer: I've already been negative about Pletcher, so I might as well not stop now. The guy is as good as any trainer alive today - 364 days a year. Probably better. He is obsessed with the Derby, though, yet he can't win this race. Forty-two starters - the second most ever by any trainer. One win. It's not nearly good enough for a guy with the access to as much premium talent every year as he has. Not nearly good enough. There are a lot of theories to why he has struggled. Personally I think the fact that his horses are frequently too green heading into the race, and that he is unwilling to adapt his typical training style to fit what is needed for success in the Kentucky Derby. Whatever the reason, though, the clear truth is that trusting Pletcher on the big day hasn't been good practice, and until things change I can't act like it is good practice now.
Jockey: John Velazquez has been Pletcher's favorite rider for much of his career. That has meant two things - that he has won a whole lot of races over the years, and that he doesn't have as much Triple Crown success as a guy of his stature should. He won the race just once - Pletcher's Uncle Mo was scratched in 2011, so when Robby Albarado was injured Velazquez was free to step aboard Animal Kingdom for trainer Graham Motion. I don't blame Velazquez for Pletcher's Derby struggles, though.
Breeding: There is a chance for a mulligan here for Velazquez - after missing the chance to ride the impressive Uncle Mo in the Derby, he now gets to ride his son. He's a red-hot young stud with multiple colts representing him in the Derby field this year. He didn't excel at the longer distances himself in his too-short career, so it remains to be seen how his offspring fair in this challenge. Those concerns are mitigated somewhat in this case by the dam side, though - damsire Empire Maker won the Belmont Stakes himself and was the sire of Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile, who sired Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
Odds: BetOnline has Destin at +1150 to win the Derby, which has him tied with other horses as the sixth choice in the race. The Wood Memorial obviously improved the outlook of oddsmakers - in the final official Kentucky Derby futures pool, which took place the weekend before the Wood Memorial, he opened at 30/1 on the morning line and stayed there throughout betting.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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