On January 29th, 2012 many of us thought we were watching the start of what would be a dominant Spring for Todd Pletcher on the Kentucky Oaks and Derby trail. Broadway’s Alibi had just dominated The Forward Gal Stakes winning by over sixteen lengths. El Padrino had just beaten a decent field of three-year olds in an allowance race and look primed for bigger and better things. Finally, Algorithms had just easily defeated the Two Year Old Horse of the Year, Hansen. Although the last weekend in January is known for crowning triple crown winners, at the very least it looked as though Pletcher was loaded and ready for the Spring.
It didn’t work out that way. After Algorithms impressive win in the Holy Bull the news came that he would be sidelined for a significant amount of time with an injury. El Padrino ran another big race to win the Risen Star, but followed it up with two lack luster efforts in the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby. He’s now on the farm with a slight injury, and his return is up in the air at this time. The super fast filly Broadway’s Alibi went on to win another graded stakes, and finished second in the Kentucky Oaks, but now she has an apparent injury as well. Blood work has been sent for examination, and she’s been put on hold until further notice.
Unfortunately those horses weren’t the only high-profile horses to go down this year on the triple crown trail for Pletcher. Overdriven was undefeated in two starts, but has been sidelined since July of last year with an injury. Gemologist was undefeated going into the Kentucky Derby, but gave a poor effort and just now had his first workout since the Derby. He looks to be shooting for a fall campaign. So that’s five horses that once had promise, and all of them have had injuries of some sort.
For Pletcher, the high-profile injuries aren’t just limited to this year. Over the span of the last five years high-profile Pletcher horses such as Uncle Mo, Super Saver, Eskendereya, and Rags to Riches have all had their careers shortened by injuries. There are several others that have had to take significant time away from racing because of injuries, and you have to consider the Life at Ten debacle at the 2010 Breeders Cup Ladies Classic as a tremendous black eye as well. For those who don’t remember, Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez both admitted Life at Ten was not acting right in the paddock before the race yet they ran her anyway. The result: Life at Ten did not finish the race. An investigation was launched, and Pletcher escaped severe punishment. Life at Ten would race five more times, but never came close to winning again.
Make no mistake about it, horses are extremely delicate animals. Injuries can and do happen to every trainer no matter what methods they use. They are inevitable and unavoidable in many cases. But, what conclusions can we make when a trainer has repeated injuries year after year? Is it bad luck or bad training? D Wayne Lukas, Plethcher’s former boss, always used to claim the more horses you train, the more injuries you’ll have. It was always his answer when the press came calling for his head as a result of many of his horses getting injured. That is a theory that I can partly agree with. When you have the high-profile horses, you are always going to be under the microscope. However, I think it would be naive to say that’s the only reason we’re noticing these problems.
In the end, who am I to judge a certain Hall of Fame trainer. I’m just a lowly handicapper who loves horse racing. I have no idea if something in Pletcher’s training methods are causing these injuries. I’ll readily admit that I know nothing about the anatomy of a horse, let alone how to train one properly! I’ll also admit that I bet Pletcher horses a lot, and believe in him as a trainer. But, to be a successful handicapper you must pay attention to trends. In this case the trend is clear. Bet Pletcher horses HARD early in their careers. His debuting two-year olds will dominate at Saratoga, then those two-year olds will turn three and dominate at Gulfstream. Once that time period is over, get ready for them to flame out. Sure there are some exceptions, but that’s the overall reputation he has at this time. Whether he got that reputation by bad luck or bad training is a call you’ll have to make on your own. No matter what the answer is, the fact will remain that he has developed a reputation that will stick with him until he proves otherwise.