Todd Pletcher watched Monday’s $100,000 Better Talk Now like he watches every race at Saratoga Race Course. Wedged between assistant Tristan Barry on his left and father J.J. Pletcher on his right, he sits in his box halfway up the clubhouse in line with the finish.
Pletcher started two 3-year-olds in the 1-mile turf stakes – even-money favorite Blind Ambition and the 7-1 Hieroglyphics. Pletcher’s eyes flash from the infield big screen, to the small television in his box, to honing in on his trainees from his binoculars as they make their way down the stretch towards the starting gate.
As the field breaks Pletcher’s binoculars track the field through the clubhouse turn. Blind Ambition is just off the pace, Hieroglyphics chases from mid-pack. The binoculars drop and his eyes dart to the big screen as the horses make their way down the backstretch, his horses holding their positions through fractions of :23.28 and :47.13.
Binoculars raised back up as the field rounded the far turn, John Velazquez steering Hieroglyphics wide as Javier Castellano and Blind Ambition closed in on the leader.
Velazquez rallied, pushing Hieroglyphics towards the leaders as they flew down the stretch. The field approached the wire, Barry smacking his leg and cheering from the box, Pletcher steadily following with his binoculars, and Hieroglyphics digging deep to win by a neck as the other Pletcher trainee finished fifth.
The trio in the box strolled to the winner’s circle, another day at the office.
“That worked out nice,” Pletcher said as he met Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ Aron Wellman on his descent.
Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners purchased Hieroglyphics for $450,000 at last year’s OBS March sale of selected 2-year-olds in training. The son of Pioneerof The Nile and the Limehouse mare Double Lime seemed like a perfect buy for the racing partnership. Pletcher also trained Limehouse to a $1,110,433 career highlighted by a win in the Grade 2 Brooklyn Handicap at Belmont in 2005.
“He had a beautiful breeze, he was a really efficient mover and galloped out well. Beautiful horse, well put together,” said Wellman. “We got kind of nervous because once we got him out of the sale and handed him over to Todd, it was not the horse that we thought we had. We thought he was a dirt horse and he just lost all of his action on the dirt.
“We gave him one shot last year on Travers Day in a maiden special and it was an embarrassment, he never picked up a hoof.”
Following a tenth in his debut going 6 furlongs on the dirt, Pletcher sent the then 2-year-old colt to his father’s Payton Training Center in Ocala.
“We just completely regrouped with him,” said Wellman. “J.J. and Gerard Butler did an incredible job with him.
“We basically wanted to expunge that entire experience out of his mind and his body. We gave him a lot of time and brought him back. We decided we weren’t even going to think dirt with him and go straight to the turf and he’s been a completely transformed horse.”
Hieroglyphics made his second start as a 3-year-old, finishing second by a nose in a 7 1/2-furlong turf maiden at Gulfstream Park in February.
He stepped up to 1 1/16 miles on the turf for his next three starts at Gulfstream this spring, finishing fourth, second and breaking his maiden by a neck in May. He finished as the runner-up and a winner in his last two allowance starts at Belmont and Saratoga this summer.
“He’s one of those colts that just took a little while to put everything together,” said Pletcher. “We could see this winter and spring he was gradually getting better and better and better. I felt like his last two races were a step forward and another step forward here today.
“We actually considered taking him out to Del Mar for the Del Mar Derby. This race came up and he was doing well so we figured we’d just stay home. He had a great trip, the race kind of unfolded the way Johnny and I had talked in the paddock we thought it would unfold.”
Partnered with Velazquez for the first time Monday, Hieroglyphics won in 1:33.69.
“Johnny rode a masterful race; he just put a clinic on out there,” said Wellman. “He was hoping the rail would open up and when it didn’t and we had to check out and go around, I wasn’t sure if he had that turn of foot to finish the way he did. For him to act with these kind of horses and give that kind of finish was pretty impressive.”
The Better Talk Now was Hieroglyphics’ first stakes win and improved his career record to three wins and three seconds with $164,272 in earnings from eight starts.
“The job that Todd and his staff have done with him has been unbelievable when you look at the improvement that he’s undergone from race to race,” said Wellman. “It’s such a testament to what an incredible horseman Todd and his program is and all his staff, Tristan Barry and all those involved, it’s just unbelievable. They’ve just methodically let him mature into the horse he is today and it’s worked out really well.”