JC / Railbird

Todd Pletcher

2017 Saratoga Babies

They’re off at Saratoga and that means I’m tracking every juvenile race, every juvenile starter in the Spa babies spreadsheet once again. Through the first few days of the meet, trainer Todd Pletcher is, as usual, the leader in number of 2-year-old starters. He’s sent out eight, but won only two races — and neither of the winners were a post-time favorite. Go figure.

I update the spreadsheet after each day’s card. You can sort the sheet by column. You can also download a copy as an Excel or CSV file for your use.

Reserved

Todd Pletcher
Todd Pletcher at Saratoga.

The latest two-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer has a reputation:

Todd Pletcher isn’t one to lay his cards out on the table.”

Pletcher’s unflappability is legendary.”

Pletcher is the IBM of trainers, a practical, taciturn man for whom the addition of a very modest white goatee is considered a radical play.”

Pletcher … always measures his words and emotions closely.”

The stoic one cracked out a big smile…. As vanilla as he might be in some ways, there are honorable qualities within Pletcher …

The usually imperturbable trainer admitted he had shed a tear beneath his shades.”

It was not exactly what you would have expected from Pletcher. Mr. Cool, Calm, Collected.”

Todd Pletcher’s permafrost finally melted.”

Pletcherology

Trainer Todd Pletcher has decided to pass on the Preakness Stakes, declining to enter either of his two Kentucky Derby finishers, or potential contenders who skipped the Derby, and could, presumably, be Preakness ready, such as Stanford. Materiality, sixth at Churchill Downs, will point instead to the Belmont Stakes. “If you come back in two weeks and you turn out to be wrong,” said Pletcher, “not only could you not run well in the Preakness, it could compromise your chances in the Belmont as well.”

That puts the likely Preakness field at seven*, a short number that inspired Brian Zipse to speculate that the trainer is sending a message, a message that it’s time to alter the Triple Crown schedule:

It should be crystal clear to us all that America’s top trainer is making a strong statement that the Triple Crown races are too close to each other on the calendar. Because of this, the Middle Jewel, the Preakness, is the odd race out for the powerful Todd Pletcher stable …

I’m not sure we’ve ever seen such an obvious example of why the timing between races of the Triple Crown should be expanded. Todd Pletcher, America’s most influential trainer, is not running any of his horses in the Preakness — Not Materiality — Not Carpe Diem — Not Competitive Edge — simply because it is too close to the Derby.

Right.

Tom Jicha makes a related point:

It isn’t just the Preakness that gets short changed … the Kentucky Oaks got Alciabides winner Lovely Maria, Louisiana Oaks champion I’m a Chatterbox, Gulfstream Oaks victor Birdatthewire and Santa Anita Oaks winner Stellar Wind. The Black Eyed Susan is getting none of them.

(My opinion re: a schedule change hasn’t much changed since last year.)

The quick return doesn’t scare trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who had Mr. Z, 13th in the Derby, vanned to Pimlico. “He’ll run in the Preakness or he won’t run at all,” Lukas told Alicia Wincze Hughes. There’s just one problem — owner Ahmed Zayat, also the owner of Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah, doesn’t want him entered. “Can’t stop that man,” he tweeted. “Wow. Mr. Z not running.” Zayat was further “completely unambiguous” when asked if the colt would start on Saturday, reports Marty McGee, saying Mr. Z “does not belong in the race on his merits.” But someone’s signals are crossed: “Oh, he’s running,” said Lukas. The Preakness draw is today, beginning at 5:00 PM ET.

2:45 PM Update: “Lukas was not to be denied.” Calumet has purchased Mr. Z for a Preakness run. “They gave us an offer we could not refuse,” said Zayat.

*6:00 PM Update: The Preakness drew eight. Here’s the field with morning line: 1. American Pharoah (4-5); 2. Dortmund (7-2); 3. Mr Z (20-1); 4. Danzig Moon (15-1); 5. Tale Of Verve (30-1); 6. Bodhisattva (20-1); 7. Divining Rod (12-1); 8. Firing Line (4-1). (Get the Hello Race Fans cheat sheet.)

5/14/15 Addendum: Pletcher, asked about altering the Triple Crown schedule:

“I’m torn on what’s the right thing to do,” Pletcher said last month at Churchill Downs. “I think you lose the historical significance if you [change the schedule]. I think you can argue as the breed has evolved and trainers have evolved, [there should be] more time for the horses between races.

“There’s a far better chance we’ll have a Triple Crown winner if we do that, but will it have an asterisk next to it? I don’t know.”

Before the Hall of Fame

I remember Ashado mostly for her fourth-place finish, a dead heat with Island Sand, in the 2005 Personal Ensign at Saratoga. I met trainer Larry Jones that weekend, when he hired me to walk his filly. It was the first time I’d handled a $1 million earner, and Island Sand was ill-tempered and nippy. Her groom lifted his shirt to show me the enormous bruise she’d left biting his belly. Jones told an off-color joke at a barn BBQ the night before, and was kind enough to drive me into town on a Sunday so that I could escape the backstretch for an hour and read the New York Times. He paid me $30 cash to cool her out after the race. We had to go to the test barn, where Todd Pletcher stood, unmoving, watching Ashado circle the shedrow from behind his sunglasses, and Island Sand pulled me around so hard my arm ached.

Congratulations to Ashado’s connections on her induction into the Racing Hall of Fame today, and to all of this year’s honorees.

Trainers: Who Gets the Distance?

TimeformUS takes a look at the distance race statistics of trainers with likely Belmont Stakes starters. Spoilers: The numbers at 12+ furlongs are small. Pletcher is solid. Mott knows what he’s doing. Clement has great turf form.

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