Horse Watch

Pletcher’s Top 20 Derby Prospects for 2017

FACT FINDING in the Pletcher Saratoga barn in 2016 (Photo: Frank Panucci - Twitter: @DRFager132)

Destin, Outwork, Materiality, Carpe Diem, Itsaknockout, Danza, We Miss Artie, Intense Holiday and Vinceremos.

You probably recognize these names, but it’s also easy to forget some of the horses that trainer Todd Pletcher has run in the Kentucky Derby over the past three years. They were full of potential, but were unable to fulfill their promise on racing’s biggest stage. Danza’s distant third place finish in the 2014 Derby to California Chrome was the closest Pletcher got to a Derby win in this time.

It’s become common horse racing lore that Pletcher’s only Kentucky Derby win was in 2010 with Super Saver and his overall record now stands at 1 win out of 45 runners in his illustrious training career.

That doesn’t mean that Pletcher hasn’t done damage in the Derby prep season, though.

The horses named above combined for prep wins in two Tampa Bay Derbies and wins in the Wood Memorial, Florida Derby, Bluegrass Stakes, Fountain of Youth, Arkansas Derby, Spiral Stakes, Risen Star and Sam F. Davis Stakes.

This list of Stakes won by Pletcher in the prep season is impressive since he won major preps over 7 different tracks with these nine horses. Pletcher’s ability to pick his spots and his team’s success to win shipping all over the East Coast and South is unmatched by any other barn in the game over this time period.

M. Spector

2016 Tampa Bay Derby winner Destin in the Pletcher barn sticks his tongue out at newcomer Theory (Photo: Michael Spector)

Pletcher’s Crop

Since the Pletchers are always dangerous during the Derby prep season, let’s countdown his top 20 prospects for 2017.

Pletcher’s promising group of 2017 three-year olds is led by the undefeated #1 FACT FINDING (3-for-3 lifetime), who impressively won the mile Smooth Air Stakes at Gulfstream Park on December 10 over a sloppy strip. Fact Finding won on debut at Saratoga on August 8 and took an allowance at Keeneland on October 12. Pletcher has taken his time developing this son of The Factor even though he showed precociousness in the summer. Pletcher may target the Grade-2 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park on February 4 for Fact Finding’s graded stakes debut.

Pletcher’s two Breeders’ Cup (BC) Juvenile runners #2 THEORY and #3 SYNDERGAARD may not be seen again as soon as Fact Finding, though.

Theory’s career has been a roller coaster ride in particular. After one of the most impressive juvenile debut wins of the Saratoga meet on July 30, Theory suffered a foot bruise and was declared out for the rest of 2016. Soon after though, Theory’s injury was deemed not as serious as first thought and he was put back in training. A dominant win in the Grade-3 Futurity at Belmont on October 15 with a huge gallop out had him primed for a big BC Juvenile.

A quick turnaround may have been the main reason for a disappointing tenth place finish in the BC Juvenile, but then it was also found after the race that Theory had spiked a fever. After staying in California for nearly a month to recover, Theory has needed some time off. His up-and-down season has his team waiting now to get him back to the races to fulfill his vast potential.

As for Syndergaard, his fifth place finish in the BC Juvenile is nothing to sneeze at, as he set a swift pace and was still able to hold on admirably. As reported by TDN, Pletcher has said Syndergaard will get a break before possibly making his season debut in March. He is arguably the fastest horse in this crop and will be a major threat in the sprint division in 2017, if he isn’t pushed onto the Derby trail due to his possible distance limitations.

M. Spector

Theory at the Pletcher Saratoga barn this summer (Photo: Michael Spector)

Second Wave

The Pletcher program starts in the spring each year bringing along their two-year old prospects to prepare for the juvenile races at Saratoga. The horses that are ready will star in the summer at Saratoga like Fact Finding, Theory and Syndergaard. The ones that need more time to develop will be part of Pletcher’s second wave that he unleashes on the racing world in the winter.

Pletcher’s second wave is headlined by #4 FAJA, sired by 2012 Derby runner-up Bodemeister. Faja impressed on debut winning at a mile on December 17 at Gulfstream Park romping by 8 & 3/4 lengths. The fact that he won first out at a mile and that he has distance pedigree makes him an intriguing Derby trail prospect. Pletcher has said an allowance try should be next for Faja.

#5 BATTALION RUNNER jumped way up the Pletcher ranks on the last day of 2016 cruising to win over a maiden group at Gulfstream. He lost to Random Walk in his first career race way back in June at Belmont. Random Walk came back to run second in the Sanford at Saratoga and was one of the most highly touted juveniles at that time. This son of Unbridled’s Song out of a Tapit mare will look to live up to his $700,000 price tag in future spots for his owners, St. Elias Stable.

After the Pulpit Stakes at Gulfstream got rained off the turf on December 10, #6 TAPWRIT drew in off the also eligible list and took the non-graded stakes in the slop. The $1.2 million purchase sired by Tapit was described as a two-turn horse by Pletcher after the race. He’s one of the Derby hopefuls that Pletcher may send to Fair Grounds (if the quarantine is lifted) or Oaklawn to find his optimal configuration.

#7 MASTER PLAN is another big ticket purchase who was sold for $850,000. He completed a very pricey exacta closing late in the Pulpit to finish only a length behind Tapwrit. The way he was moving late was eye catching and may signal he wants more distance. After making his first two career starts on turf, Master Plan’s only start on dirt was that sloppy Pulpit, so he will need to prove himself on a dry track before he can be deemed a true Derby prospect.

M. Spector

Trainer Todd Pletcher overlooks SONIC MULE before the 2016 Grade-2 Saratoga Special (Photo: Michael Spector)

Pletcher’s Crop Continued

Others to watch on the Derby trail for Pletcher include:

  • #8 One Liner – won a salty maiden on Saratoga opening weekend, but was injured shortly after. Returned to the worktab recently at Palm Beach Downs.
  • #9 Made You Look – possible turf star after Grade-2 With Anticipation win and sixth in Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. If there’s a time to try dirt then this is it to get on the Derby trail. Three recent works on dirt at Palm Beach may signal future plans, even though he’s nomimated to run in the Grade-3 Dania Beach on turf on January 7 at Gulfstream.
  • #10 Third Day – son of Bernardini, maiden winner at Monmouth in July hasn’t raced since, but training at Palm Beach Downs recently.
  • #11 Sonic Mule – Pletcher may stick to sprinting Sonic Mule after he took the Buffalo Man Stakes at 6 furlongs at Gulfstream on December 10. Nominated to both the Grade-3 Hutcheson and Mucho Macho Man Stakes on January 7 at Gulfstream.
  • #12 Bonus Points – clunked up closing late for second in the Grade-3 Jerome at Aqueduct on January 2 to get some Derby points and will probably continue on the Derby path in New York.
  • #13 Bronson – returned to Gulfstream on the turf sprinting to get a decent second on December 30, but had shown good dirt form during the summer at Monmouth and Saratoga. Had been working with Battalion Runner before his return race.
  • #14 Action Everyday – sired by The Factor and owned by St. Elias Stable, won a $20,000 maiden special weight in his debut on December 23 at Tampa by 4 lengths.
  • #15 Saraab – second place finisher to Action Everyday in Tampa maiden race, will probably get a ton of action in his next start as he was debuting for Pletcher and is sired by Tapit.
  • #16 Squadron – undefeated 2-for-2 with a sprint win on dirt and non-graded Stakes win on turf, he’s another putting in works over the Palm Beach dirt. Nominated to the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at a mile on January 7 at Gulfstream.
  • #17 Win With Pride – son of Distorted Humor was fourth in both the Grade-2 Remsen and Grade-3 Jerome and may continue to lead the Pletcher New York Derby contingent.
  • #18 Thirst for Victory – fifth in the Grade-1 Champagne in October hasn’t raced since, but another working recently at Belmont.
  • #19 Tolstoy – unraced son of Uncle Mo, sold to Winstar and the China Horse Club for $535,000 during the OBS March Two-Year Olds in training sale. Has returned to the worktab recently at Palm Beach Downs.
  • #20 Egyptian Hero – son of Pioneerof the Nile, this $1 million purchase at the Fasig-Tipton Florida Select Two-Year-Olds in Training in March 2016 debuted on December 14 at Gulfstream with a steady fourth-place finish.

“The Todd Squad” will undoubtedly be heard from this Derby prep season and these are just a few of the horses to watch in the coming months. There’s also always a chance a Pletcher maiden breaker in January will rise to the top of the stable like Materiality did in 2015, so the maiden races in the next few weeks are very important.

With the way Pletcher spots his talent finding the best races for their success, you always have to take note if Pletcher has one or two entered in a Derby prep. You may be seeing these talented three year olds soon at a track near you with a big chance to make the winners’ circle.

Follow me on Twitter @SaratogaSlim for more Derby news and views.

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