Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour with Todd Pletcher

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Trainer Todd Pletcher’s Saratoga barn
is as deep as ever. Susie Raisher photo.

This was first published in the Opening Day edition of The Saratoga Special, so Thursday, July 13, 2023. The Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour is one of The Special’s most popular features, where we sit down (or stand up) with a trainer at Saratoga and go through the stall list.

As always you can read the full edition on the website.

Saratoga is all about tradition. From the bell at 17 minutes to post to the red and white awnings, to Clare Court, to the Big Red Spring, to the mad dash for Saturday picnic tables, to autograph seeking children and everything in between. 

The tradition of the Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour formed a few years back with Todd Pletcher leading off and the Hall of Fame conditioner obliged to take the first spot again as the 2023 Saratoga meeting opens today. Tradition holds and Pletcher’s seventh Stable Tour – he even did a pair in 2020 – features the usual mix of superstars, proven stakes winners and potential prime-time players. 

Success at the meet for Pletcher and his team often goes through the 2-year-old races and stakes, and 2023 should fall in line.  

“Certainly, having our 2-year-olds perform well is high on the list,” Pletcher said. “And hopefully we can do well in the stakes. That’s kind of it for us, the 2-year-olds and stakes. Then fill in the blanks from there. If we can bat consistently between 20, 25 percent, that’s what we’re hoping for.”

A majority of the Saratoga runners will come from Pletcher’s main New York operation – which features a contingent that prepped in Saratoga this spring with Tristan Berry and Ginny DePasquale and at Belmont with the head man and assistant Byron Hughes, along with a Kentucky group led by Amelia Green. Other strings at Monmouth Park and Gulfstream Park compliment the stellar cast. And like always, the juveniles figure to lead the way. 

“We’ve got quite a few that are getting close that will be ready at the meet. We should be well-represented,” Pletcher said. “That doesn’t always mean you’re going to win a bunch of them, either. Every maiden race up here potentially has a Breeders’ Cup winner in it.”

Two Breeders’ Cup winners – Forte and Malathaat – and three champions – Forte, Malathaat and Nest – were in Pletcher’s contingent a year ago when he led all trainers with a personal best $30,487,787 in purses. That sum marked the 12th time Pletcher racked up more than $20 million or more in purses. He banked more than $5.2 million of it at Saratoga and used another strong showing to land his eighth Eclipse Award as North America’s outstanding trainer. 

Inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2021, Pletcher owns six classic victories, 14 Breeders’ Cup wins and 10 North American earnings titles. And don’t forget those 14 Saratoga training crowns. Could there be a 15th in 2023? 

Pletcher, second in the trainer standings in 2022 for the second consecutive season after winning in 2020, sat down with Tom Law two days before Opening Day to talk about some of the group that could get him there.

Annapolis: Bass Racing’s homebred 4-year-old Grade 1-winning son of War Front won the Opening Verse Stakes at Churchill Downs May 4 and is entered in Saturday’s Grade 3 Kelso. He’s won six of nine, including last year’s Grade 2 Saranac at Saratoga and Grade 1 Coolmore Turf Mile at Keeneland before a run in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland. The bay colt drew post 2 against Big Everest, Casa Creed and five others in the Grade 3 Kelso at Saratoga Saturday. “He’s doing very well, had a good comeback race. We were originally planning to run in the Poker. He had a little frog bruise that kept us from running in there. All that’s good now. Shows up every time, consistently runs well and likes it here. Cool horse.”

Forte: The champ. Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner for Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable also won the Hopeful at Saratoga but faces a possible disqualification from the Grade 1 stakes after testing positive for a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. He also won the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and Grade 1 Florida Derby this year before missing the Kentucky Derby with a minor foot injury. He returned from a 10-week layoff to finish second in the Belmont Stakes and worked twice since at Belmont before shipping north. Pletcher toyed with running in the Grade 1 Haskell next weekend at Monmouth but will keep the 3-year-old son of Violence at home. “We’re now zeroed in on the Jim Dandy. It was a tough call because the Haskell is a Grade 1 and a million dollars. He’s doing well, you get an extra week from that to the Travers, so that was kind of attractive if he went in the Haskell. But you have to ship and run, and he shipped up here. Looking at it we decided we’re going to stay here.”

So what about the 3-year-old championship? “With three different winners of the Triple Crown races and he’s got a Florida Derby win, a Fountain of Youth win and a pretty good second in the Belmont considering the way he got there, he is in the mix. Most of these divisional championships, everybody gets excited about and then they change a lot in the summer and fall. Someone has to take charge and the way they do is win a couple races. That’s what he needs to do, step up and win a couple of them.”

Tapit Trice: Owned by Whisper Hill Farm and Gainesway Stable, the 3-year-old son of Tapit will likely avoid Forte next, after finishing third in the Belmont Stakes and seventh in the Kentucky Derby. He won this year’s Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland and Grade 3 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs before the spring classics. “We’re thinking maybe Haskell, then the Travers, also on the radar. We’ll keep them apart. The owners were in favor of not running with Forte so that made it easy for me to consider him for the Haskell.” 

Charge It: Whisper Hill’s homebred 4-year-old by Tapit returned to Saratoga after a big win in the Grade 2 Suburban on closing weekend at Belmont Park. He won last year’s Grade 3 Dwyer at Belmont and looked like a serious player for the Travers before a foot abscess derailed the rest of his sophomore campaign. He’s won two of five this season with a second in the Grade 2 WinStar Gulfstream Park Mile and a fourth in the Grade 1 Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont. “Maybe that was the breakthrough performance we’ve been expecting. It was a professional race, 106 Beyer figure. We’re looking at the Whitney, which sounds like Cody’s Wish is too. So that makes it a difficult race, but he’s a horse that we’ve always felt had top-level talent and hopefully he’s finally putting it all together.”

Up To The Mark: Another major player in the turf male division in the barn, 4-year-old son of Not This Time won back-to-back Grade 1s in the Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic on Kentucky Derby Day and the Resorts World Casino Manhattan on Belmont Day. The Turf Classic win came the race before the Kentucky Derby, which Pletcher, Repole and St. Elias were forced to miss with Forte. “Right now I think we’ll go to the Arlington Million (Aug. 12 at Colonial Downs). That’s the plan. We wanted to freshen him up a little bit. There wasn’t an ideal race here for him. He could go back to a mile in the Fourstardave, but we’re thinking his Breeders’ Cup race might be the Turf so coming off a mile and a quarter win, we felt like that could lead us to the (Joe Hirsch) Turf Classic and Breeders’ Cup after that. It was interesting because he was a horse we always liked. He broke his maiden first time here (on the dirt) and then he kind of plateaued on us. He doesn’t have a big turf pedigree, but we had an idea he might take to it. I thought his first trip (on the grass) was a wow. It was only an a-other-than allowance but it was a wow performance. We thought, ‘This looks like a serious horse’ and he’s followed up from that. I don’t know if I’d call it a consolation prize winning at Churchill but it did help take a little of the sting out.”

Nest: Another champ. Last year’s 3-year-old filly Eclipse Award winner hasn’t been out since finishing fourth behind Malathaat, Blue Stripe and Clairiere in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Keeneland. Owned by Repole, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Michael House, 4-year-old daughter of Curlin won last year’s Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama en route to the title. She breezed 5 furlongs in 1:02 on the Belmont training track July 7 before returning to Saratoga. “She’ll run in the Shuvee (July 23). She got really sick when she first came into us at Palm Beach Downs this winter. We missed like a month of training and it put us completely off the schedule we had hoped for, which was either the Doubledogdare at Keeneland or La Troienne at Churchill and then on to the Ogden Phipps at Belmont. Then we were thinking we could make the Phipps but we ran out of time. So, we landed here. Same thing as what we were talking about with Forte; maybe we could make a case to run in the Molly Pitcher, it’s a mile and a sixteenth instead of a mile and an eighth, but she’s done so well here. It looks like she’s now back to herself. We wanted to give her a meaningful break, we just didn’t mean for it to stretch out that long. Thankfully she’s healthy again and has trained really well.”

Gambling Girl: Repole Stable’s New York-bred daughter of Dialed In finished a game second to Pretty Mischievous in the Longines Kentucky Oaks. A maiden winner here last summer, she added the Joseph A. Gimma against state-breds in late September and finished third in the Grade 2 Demoiselle at Aqueduct. The Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama are key targets. “We took her to Churchill to run in the Kentucky Oaks. She’s a filly that’s always trained OK but sort of overachieved in the afternoon. Then when we got to Churchill, we were like, ‘Wow, she’s really training well here, seems to like the track.’ She ran a great race in the Oaks. Almost got there. My view from where I was standing I thought she might get there, but she just couldn’t quite get there. The fact that she liked the surface there we figured she could do most of her preparation there. So we left her there. The distances (of the CCA Oaks and Alabama) suit her. She liked the mile and an eighth. She’ll like the mile and a quarter. Freshened her up, passed on the Acorn because we knew we’d run the two races here, or at least hope to.” 

Americanrevolution: WinStar Farm’s and China Horse Club’s 2021 New York-bred Horse of the Year and 2022 champion older dirt male continues on the comeback trail. He finished second twice in three starts last season, including the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Saratoga. Five-year-old son of Constitution shows five breezes at Belmont this year, including 1:02.01 for 5 furlongs June 22. “It’s been a little bit of a process getting back but hopefully we’ll make a race at the meet. He’s getting close.”

Far Bridge: LSU Stable’s 3-year-old son of English Channel won last weekend’s Grade 1 Belmont Derby after back-to-back seconds in the Grade 2 American Turf at Churchill and Grade 2 Pennine Ridge at Belmont. Purchased privately from breeder Calumet Farm after a March 11 victory at Gulfstream. “That was a big effort in the Belmont Derby. I give those guys credit, they stepped up, identified the horse, Steve Young and them. They took a pretty good run at them. (Calumet) kept saying no and they kept upping the ante. So, hats off to them. He had a couple tough beats the first few times we ran him, then we got the trip we were hoping for. He’ll go in the Saratoga Derby (Aug. 5).” 

Kingsbarns: Spendthrift Farm’s Louisiana Derby winner finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby then second in the June 17 Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park. “He’s going to get a little vacation. He ran OK in the Pegasus, just got a little bit light. He had a pretty solid campaign leading up to that. He’s going to be a horse that really improves as a 4-year-old so we’ll freshen him up a little bit.”

Major Dude: Spendthrift’s 3-year-old son of Bolt d’Oro, a $550,000 purchase out of the 2021 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale of selected yearlings, won the Grade 2 Penn Mile and Grade 3 Kitten’s Joy this season. Finished fourth in the July 7 Manila Stakes at Belmont Park. “I was a little disappointed in his race the other day in the Manila, it was very unlike him. He’s been super consistent. Irad (Ortiz Jr.) commented that he thought the turf was beat up at the end of the meet and he was not getting ahold of it. That was the only excuse we’ve been able to come up with so far. We might look at the Secretariat (Aug. 12 at Colonial) and send him there. We’ll see how the month goes.”

Emmanuel: Siena Farm’s and WinStar’s 4-year-old More Than Ready colt bounced back from a third in the Grade 3 Dinner Party to take the Grade 3 Poker on Belmont Day. He’s won six of 11 and earned $587,950. “We’re going to go right to the Fourstardave (Aug. 12) with him. Big race in the Poker. He’s had several races somewhat close together so we thought bringing him into that fresh was the right move.” 

Munnys Gold: A $300,000 purchase by Robert and Lawana Low at the 2021 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale of selected yearlings, daughter of Munnings burst on the scene with three straight wins, including the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore at Tampa Bay Downs, before a second in the Grade 2 Eight Belles on Kentucky Oaks Day. She finished fourth last time out in the Grade 1 Acorn on Belmont Day. Part of the 30-member string at Churchill with Pletcher’s assistant Amelia Green. “She’s pointing for the Test (Aug. 5). She’s training at Churchill also. She can be a bit keen and we have some options training back in the chute and doing different things with her there. As you know there aren’t too many quiet spots around here this time of year.”

Julia Shining: Stonestreet Stable’s 3-year-old daughter of Curlin – and full-sister to the Pletcher-trained two-time champion Malathaat – returned to the work tab June 30 at Saratoga. Off since a third in the Grade 1 Central Bank Ashland April 7 at Keeneland, she was entered in the Kentucky Oaks but didn’t draw in off the also-eligible list like eventual Black-Eyed Susan winner Taxed. “A little too early to have a race pinpointed. We freshened her up a little bit. She’s doing good now and hopefully we’ll make something at the meet. She didn’t get to run in the Oaks, was on the AE. All the scratches were in the Derby and none in the Oaks.”

Miracle: A four-time runner-up in stakes for owners Siena Farm and WinStar Farm, New York-bred daughter of Mendelssohn finished third in the Grade 3 Delaware Oaks July 1. A $250,000 pinhooking prospect at the 2021 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga New York-bred yearling sale, she broke her maiden here in her first start July 27. “Thought it was a solid effort in the Delaware Oaks. She’s pretty consistent. We’ve got to get her a stakes win.”

Falconet: Winner of the Top Flight Stakes in April at Aqueduct, 4-year-old daughter of Uncle Mo finished fourth last time out in the Allaire DuPont Distaff at Pimlico Race Course. Owned by China Horse Club and WinStar, she finished first or second in eight of 10 starts and earned $398,340. “I might send her to the Molly Pitcher. She’s another one, pretty consistent. Ran OK at Pimlico. Seems to be training pretty well right now so we’ll keep an eye on the Molly Pitcher.”

Fearless: The marathoner. Purchased for $205,000 from the Fasig-Tipton July Horses of Racing Age sale in 2021, Repole’s 7-year-old Ghostzapper gelding won last year’s Birdstone Stakes at 1 3/4 miles and the Grade 2 Brooklyn Stakes at 1 1/2 miles. He finished fifth in the Grade 2 True North at 7 furlongs in his lone start of 2023 before heading to a second career with a record of 8-6-1 in 19 starts and $1,251,450 in earnings. “He’s just been retired. He’s going to go to Old Friends at Cabin Creek. He’s been a great horse for us, done a little bit of everything. The miles have kind of caught up with him. Mike’s doing the right thing, giving him a good home.”

Who will fill the void in the long-distance dirt races? “I don’t have anything and I hate that. I like those races. Looking back I think (the Birdstone) was pretty hard on him last year. He ran hard and never quite recovered from that. We ran him at Parx and he didn’t run well (in the Greenwood Cup). Gave him the winter off and he came back and was never able to regain that form.”

Wine On Tap: MKW Racing’s entrant in today’s Grade 3 Schuylerville won her debut by 3 lengths June 18 going 5 furlongs at Belmont. A $600,000 yearling, daughter of Tapit is the 5-2 morning-line favorite for the Opening Day feature. “That was a very good debut for a filly that I think is a two-turn filly. So, for her to win going 5 first time out was a straightforward debut. She did everything right and came back with a good work. She’s obviously moving forward. MWK Racing is Pete Williams and his daughter Martha is involved as well. They’ve stepped up, bought some nice horses. He and his daughter came down to Palm Beach Downs and we visited a little bit. They sent us this filly and there are a few more in the pipeline.”

Lady Blitz: One of two juvenile fillies entered in today’s second race for the stable, daughter of Audible finished fifth in her debut June 16 at Monmouth Park. MyRacehorse bought the filly for $320,000 at last year’s Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale. “She was a little disappointing at Monmouth first time. It was a weird track. An early race and they were expecting rain. They sealed the track even though it hadn’t rained so they ran on a fast, sealed track. Never felt like she got a hold of it very well. There was a lot going on in the gate with some other horses. She ended up standing in there a long time, behaved really well but ended up breaking a little flat because of that. She came back with some good works so I would expect some improvement from her.”

Soca: The other half of the uncoupled entry in today’s second, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ 2-year-old Speightstown filly is out of the Grade 3-placed Tapit mare Rattataptap. She cost $100,000 last year and makes her debut under Flavien Prat. “She acts like she’s got some natural speed. She’s been up here and trained pretty forwardly.”

Dreamlike: Repole’s and St. Elias’ 3-year-old Gun Runner colt returns to the races and the maiden ranks after a third in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial in early April. He only lost that by a head, following back-to-back runner-up finishes in Gulfstream maiden events. Irad Ortiz Jr. rides from post 3 in Friday’s second race, a 9-furlong maiden special weight. “He’s a horse that’s always shown potential. Got a little break after the Wood, hopefully we’ve got him ready to go a mile and an eighth off the layoff.”

Haul: A debut winner for Eclipse and St. Elias Sunday at Belmont, 2-year-old son of Army Mule cost $260,000 this year. He won by 3 lengths and heads to stakes company next. “We’re pointing for the Saratoga Special (Aug. 12). He trained professionally. Kind of a laid-back colt that does everything right. We were optimistic going in and felt like he gave a good performance.”

Classy Edition: A $550,000 purchase by Robert and Lawana Low at the 2021 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May 2-year-olds in training sale, New York-bred daughter of Classic Empire is a six-time winner and earner of $590,290. She won the Critical Eye Stakes over fellow state-breds May 29 then finished a game second in the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap July 8. Also won this year’s Grade 3 Royal Delta at Gulfstream. “Man that was a tough beat (at Delaware). When you have one try as hard as she did in that race you feel sorry when they don’t win. That was a big effort. They were 10 lengths clear of the third horse. She’s been a really nice horse for us. There’s a New York-bred race back but I’ve kind of got to gauge how she does off that. That was a pretty demanding effort. I don’t know if she’ll be ready to bounce back in a month.”

Whatlovelookslike: Barry Schwartz’s homebred 4-year-old daughter of English Channel picked up her first stakes win in her first attempt in the July 4 Port Washington at Belmont. She improved to 4-for-10, with three seconds, and $285,550 in earnings. “Straightforward. Always trained well and like a lot of the English Channels we expected her to get better. Might try to stretch her out in an allowance race, like a mile and three-eighths.” 

Medaglia d’Oro-Dreaming Of Julia filly: Stonestreet’s half-sister to Malathaat and Julia Shining. “Nice filly. Kind of like her two older sisters we’ve had: nice moving, good attitude. She could be ready sometime in August I would think.”

Pirate: Smartly named Peter Blum-bred colt by Omaha Beach out of the Medaglia d’Oro mare Treasure is a half-brother to Preakness winner National Treasure. A $350,000 purchase last year by Starlight Racing and Harrell Ventures, he’s breezed seven times on the Oklahoma including a half in :48.65 from the gate July 7. The dark bay colt drew the inside post in Saturday’s opener. “Been training forwardly. We’re excited to run him.”

Protective: Two-year-old son of Medaglia d’Oro out of Grade 1 winner Grace Hall cost Repole $250,000 last year. He breezed 5 furlongs Tuesday in 1:01.16 on the main track, after going the same distance on the Oklahoma in 1:02.21 July 4.

Annointed: WinStar homebred 2-year-old by Justify is out of the Frankel mare Ambrosia, who cost $1,736,690 in 2018. Owned by WinStar and Siena, he breezed in company with Protective Tuesday. 

Curlin-Jacaranda colt: Fifth foal out of the Grade 3-winning Congrats mare that cost breeder Alpha Delta Stables $2 million at the 2016 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November mixed sale. “He could also be ready soon; been training pretty forwardly.”

Camera: One of 14 seven-figure yearlings at last year’s Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale at $1.05 million, daughter of Curlin is the first foal out of the Grade 1-placed Flatter mare Cassies Dreamer. “She might have a race on the 23rd. She’s also trained well.”