When you’ve got the Kentucky Derby winner and Belmont Stakes winner in your barn, plus multiple divisions at tracks and training centers at various points on the East Coast it’s impossible not to put in long hours. (Originally published in the July 29 issue of The Saratoga Special)
Todd Pletcher knows the grind well and it’s helped lead to seven Eclipse Awards as North America’s outstanding trainer since 2004, five classic wins, nine Breeders’ Cup victories, scores of Grade 1 wins, hundreds of stakes wins and more than $343 million in purses.
Pletcher’s shedrow was quiet Tuesday night at dinnertime, only assistant Ginny DePasquale and a few others around doing a few chores while the barns on the Oklahoma Training Track rested on the first dark day of the meet. Pletcher was there, too, alone at a desk, going over notes, set lists, spreadsheets and other tools to track the horses in his care.
Pletcher won four races in the meet’s first four days.
“I thought we had some live chances but I was a little disappointed with how some of the first-time starters ran,” he said of the Opening Weekend performance. “Thankfully some other ones picked up the slack. You hate to get off to a slow start here, it weighs differently than it would some other places.”
The Special’s Tom Law stopped in for the annual tour of the string that is again a mix of accomplished stars and promising 2-year-olds.
Always Dreaming: The Kentucky Derby winner occupies a stall toward the middle of the barn and on the night of the Stable Tour he was far more interested in looking out his back window at stablemates and the barn’s ponies in outdoor stalls and over the expanse of the Oklahoma than visiting shedrow interlopers. “He’s doing well, settled in well here in Saratoga the last few weeks. He ran well here last year and one thing we’ve seen with him is he’s able to bring his races over multiple surfaces . . . The way the track has been playing (at Saratoga), it’s been slow, it’s been tiring. That’s my biggest concern, that I’ve done enough with him. But you also hope to keep in sight bigger races to come after this. It’s a delicate balance. I hope we’ve gotten it right.”
Tapwrit: In the stall next to Always Dreaming, the Belmont Stakes winner was more attentive but still relaxed, popping his head over the webbing with his tongue out. The son of Tapit worked a half in :48.88 last Saturday over the Oklahoma – the same day Always Dreaming went 5 furlongs in 1:01.71 – in his first work since the Belmont. “It was excellent, very good. I was actually pleasantly surprised. Not that I thought he’d lost his fitness, but he was a week ahead of where I expected to be. He’s going straight to the Travers. We decided two or three weeks ago that going straight to the Travers was the right play. The mile-and-a-quarter suits him. We were concerned that if we ran in the Jim Dandy or the Haskell maybe it wasn’t enough time from the Belmont to come back with a peak performance and then possibly risked not having him dead on for the Travers. It’s always question marks on how you do that, but we felt like with Palace Malice, he ran huge in the Jim Dandy and then missed in the Travers. Destin just missed in the Belmont, ran in the Jim Dandy (third) and didn’t really fire in the Travers. Putting that evidence together with the owners and they were keen to pass this weekend.”
American Patriot: WinStar Farm homebred won the Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile this spring at Keeneland then ventured to England to finish 11th in Group 1 Queen Anne at Royal Ascot. “He’s doing well, pointing to the Fourstardave. He came right back here, landed in Newburgh, went to the quarantine facility there then came up here literally two days after the race. He’s a very cool horse, good-looking horse with a great disposition.”
Neolithic: Third in the Pegasus and Dubai World Cup in his only two starts this year, he’s worked four times this summer at Saratoga for his return for Starlight Racing and Qatar Racing. “He’s come back well, had a very good breeze (July 23). I’m going to try to sneak him into an allowance race and then hopefully the Woodward. He hasn’t run since Dubai, went to WinStar for a couple months, did a little bit of light training before he came back to us. He’s a horse we’ve always thought a lot of, so we’re not surprised he was able to compete in those races.”
Keen Ice: Ended 10-race losing streak, which started after he beat American Pharoah in 2015 Travers, last time out in Grade 2 Suburban at Belmont. The 5-year-old son of Curlin finished fourth in the $12 million Pegasus and seventh in the $10 million Dubai World Cup in his other two starts this year. He goes in next weekend’s Whitney. “That’s the plan right now. I wish it were a mile-and-a-quarter, but he’s run well here before. He came out of the Suburban really sharp and is doing good. We kicked around the Pacific Classic a little bit because it’s a mile-and-a-quarter but I think it would be hard to ship out there, so we’re going to stay home. We felt like last year we were playing catch-up a little bit, he ran well in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he was third, we were pleased with that result. Then we went to Gulfstream to get him ready for the Pegasus and that’s a tough track for him. He ran fine but he didn’t fire a winning race. Then we went back to Dubai, which I don’t think he loves Dubai.”
Pure Silver and What A Catch: The former is a Twin Creeks homebred daughter of Mission Impazible who is 2-for-2 after winning Lynbrook for New York-breds July 16. “She’ll point for the Seeking The Ante. The latter is a son of Justin Phillip bought by Gary Barber for $265,000 at Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream and is 2-for-2 after his win in the Rockville Centre July 15. “Pure Silver for the Seeking The Ante and What A Catch for the Funny Cide. They’re both straight forward, you hope they’ll be able to stretch out a little bit. It’s a good program for New York-breds, especially the 2-year-olds, there’s a lot of opportunities for them. At some point we might step out and take a shot at something but with the opportunities there we’ll probably stick to that.”
Orbolution: StarLadies Racing’s 2-year-old Orb filly broke her maiden in a 1 1/16-mile turf race July 23. “I trained her dam, My Rachel, who was better on the grass. She was a Horse Chestnut filly. I told the owners awhile ago, ‘this filly is precocious but I think we’ll wind up on the grass.’ She didn’t run badly on the dirt but when we worked her on the turf course up here when it opened it was obvious that she was improved on the grass. The P.G. Johnson should be next.”
Mojovation: The Quality Road colt makes debut in today’s first, a 6-furlong maiden for 2-year-olds. “We like him, too. Although, I’m a little cautious because some of our first few 2-year-olds didn’t run too well. It has me a little nervous. Zayat Stables owns him; he’s a WinStar-bred.
Seabhac: Donegal Racing’s colt by Scat Daddy out of the Curlin mare Curlin Hawk, a half-sister to champion and dual classic winner Afleet Alex. “It’s a Gaelic name that sounds like ‘shouck,’ it doesn’t look like that to me. He’s trained well. He’s been up here all spring and summer. I’m looking at (next Saturday), maiden race on the turf.”
Smash Williams: Named for a character on the NBC television show ‘Friday Night Lights,’ 2-year-old More Than Ready colt finished second in debut June 14 at Belmont. “I thought he’d win and was a little disappointed but without much of an excuse. He couldn’t get by that Psychoanalyze, and that colt didn’t run too well in the Sanford. I love that show. We’ve had that name saved for like five years, and finally I told the guys from Lets Go Stable and Stonestreet, ‘we’ve had this name reserved for a while let’s go ahead and use it.’ I didn’t play football in high school but the high school I went to was in a very competitive district. My senior year our football team went to the state semifinals and we played Odessa Permian, the school that whole show is modeled after.”
Mr. Crow: KRA Stud Farm’s 3-year-old Tapizar colt blasted maidens by 11 1/2 lengths in his second start the first Saturday of the meet. “He trained well last year, had a couple baby issues and we got set back. He came back, ran a winning race last time out just got in some trouble after missing the break. We were expecting a good performance but that was off the charts.”
Patch: The one-eyed son of Union Rags became a media darling this spring after his second in the Louisiana Derby and before finishing 14th in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Belmont Stakes for Calumet Farm. “It’s unbelievable how popular he is. My oldest son had a friend come up from Long Island and he and his whole family wanted to come out here to meet Patch. He’s famous for sure. He’s going to the West Virginia Derby Aug. 5.”
Biblical: China Horse Club went to $800,000 to buy son of Tapit at last year’s Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale. “Actually I like that horse a little bit, he’s kind of a little bit lazy but he’s a half-brother to Princess Of Sylmar. He’s here, probably a month away or something like that. He’s one you’d want to start off at least 6 furlongs, but maybe 7. He’s an interesting color because he’s gray but he’s got a lot of red in him. She was chestnut obviously. Pretty laid back, good disposition, good attitude. He’s the one I’ve been telling he’s our sleeper because he hasn’t done anything fast but he’s kind of laid back about it.”
All Systems Go: Colt from the first crop of Kentucky Derby winner Orb shows steady string of works at Saratoga this spring and summer. Owned by Eric Fein, he’s out of Grade 2 winner Just Louise, by Five Star Day. “Pretty nice Orb colt, looks fast, kind of a blocky made horse that is probably in that same area, August 12, August 19, something like that.”