Can you hear an impending stampede getting louder as we start our turn into the Championship Series of the Kentucky Derby Trail?
For those accustomed to the rush of Todd Pletcher trainees gearing up for dominating performances in Derby preps this time each year, it’s a familiar sound.
With the arrival of Audible crushing the Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes earlier this month, Pletcher has once again announced his charges’ readiness to put forth peak efforts in preparation for the first Saturday in May.
Over the past four years, 14 Pletcher trainees have won Derby points races:
- Always Dreaming
- One Liner
- Carpe Diem
- We Miss Artie
- Intense Holiday
Combined, those horses won 15 major prep races:
- Tampa Bay Derby (three times)
- Florida Derby (three times)
- Wood Memorial
- Blue Grass Stakes
- Fountain of Youth Stakes
- Arkansas Derby
- Rebel Stakes
- Southwest Stakes
- Spiral Stakes
- Risen Star Stakes
- Sam F. Davis Stakes
The lists are even more impressive when you realize that they were won over seven different tracks. Pletcher’s ability to pick his spots and his team’s success when shipping all over the East and South are unmatched by any other barn over this time period.
If you’re handicapping any of the Derby preps in 2018, one of your first goals should be to identify if Pletcher has any entries. If so, you must weigh their chances of winning heavier simply based on this historical trend.
Even though Pletcher lost one of his top prospects, Montauk, off the Derby Trail last week due to a throat issue, his barn has many other top horses that may give big performances in the coming weeks.
With 37 Triple Crown nominees (more than any other trainer), let’s rank Pletcher’s Top 20 horses based on their chances to score along the Derby Trail and make the gate for the 2018 Kentucky Derby:
Pletcher’s 2018 Top 20 Derby Prospects
1. Audible: This New York-bred sits at the top of this list after he showed an extra burst at the top of the Gulfstream stretch during his dominant Holy Bull performance. Originally entered in late December’s non-graded, state-bred-restricted Damon Runyon Stakes at Aqueduct (which was cancelled due to bad weather), Pletcher shipped Audible to Palm Beach Downs to resume training, and he’s taken well to the Florida sunshine. The son of Into Mischief rides a three-race win streak and will likely train up to the Grade 1 Florida Derby in early April. Audible’s second dam foaled the dam of Governor Malibu, who ran second in both the 2016 Peter Pan and Jim Dandy Stakes, as well as fourth in the Belmont Stakes, so that should give some indication that Audible may excel at longer distances.
2. Noble Indy: Undefeated in two impressive wins at Gulfstream, this son of Take Charge Indy was game beating a tough horse (Mississippi) in his last start at 1 1/16 miles. Entered in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds this Saturday, we’ll get to see if this WinStar homebred can take it to the next level against top colts including Instilled Regard and Principe Guilherme. In an interview with Fair Grounds, Pletcher spoke highly of Noble Indy: “He’s shown a tremendous amount of talent, not only in the mornings, but in both of his races. He’s a horse with a pedigree that suggests he’ll handle longer distances. Right now, he’s at that stage of development in his career where it’s time to step up into the graded stakes ranks and see where he fits in the big picture. We think he’s a horse that belongs on the Derby Trail and we’re hoping he handles each step up in class, and so far, he has.” Noble Indy acted up in the gate in his first start, but was much better in his second career race, so he will need to be sharp leaving from post #2 in the Risen Star.
3. Vino Rosso: This Curlin colt stalked and pounced professionally in his first two career starts before finishing a late-charging third in last Saturday’s Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. The $410,000 purchase idled a bit on the turn and looked like he was just getting into a groove when he crossed the wire before galloping out well ahead of winner Flameaway and the highly-regarded Catholic Boy. Vino Rosso looks like he’s screaming for longer distances, and his second dam foaled the 2014 Belmont Stakes runner-up Commissioner, so he may be the type of long distance horse that will stay in the picture as this crop continues to stretch out.
4. Marconi: The $2 million Tapit colt can still develop off of a green third-place finish in the Grade 3 Withers Stakes to start February. The half-brother to 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man has been plagued by gate issues in all three of his career starts (all at 1 1/8 miles), and his slow Withers start left him with too much work to do late. Pletcher trained him at Belmont all winter with a focus on the Withers, the first 2018 Derby points race at 1 1/8 miles, but has since given him a change of scenery, moving him to Florida to develop and work on his gate issues.
5. Magnum Moon: The hype machine will build this week for this sharp debut winner that’s entered in a 1 mile, 40 yard allowance race at Tampa on Thursday, February 15. In that January maiden-breaker, Magnum Moon beat Machismo, who came back to win impressively at Gulfstream next out. The son of Malibu Moon, out of an Unbridled’s Song mare, sold for $380,000 as a yearling at Keeneland, but he was unraced as a 2-year-old, so he’ll need to build his foundation fast in order to compete with the more seasoned horses on the Derby Trail.
6. Navistar: It’s back to the drawing board after this son of Union Rags absolutely blew the far turn and needed to be eased in his two-turn debut, a salty allowance at Gulfstream to start February. The $900,000 purchase still has upside if he can get back into form. His easy maiden-breaker at Gulfstream in December, and his runner-up debut performance behind top 3-year-old Mask back in November, both showed his potential. Pletcher was planning to send him to contest January’s non-graded Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn for Derby points, but he couldn’t get a flight due to bad weather, so we’ll see if Navistar gets a shot in a Derby prep next out.
7. Impact Player: Riding a two-race win streak at Gulfstream after breaking his maiden in December and taking an allowance in January, the son of City Zip is progressing nicely for the Todd Squad. His second dam foaled the Grade 1 winner Candy Ride, who sired the 2017 Horse of Year Gun Runner, so there are some very good distance influences in Impact Player’s family. Impact Player is likely to run in the Grade 3 Southwest at Oaklawn on Monday looking to get Derby points, so we’ll see if he can step up against some top colts in that field from Baffert, Asmussen and Lukas.
8. Gidu: A tough-luck loser by a nose in the Grade 3 Dania Beach Stakes on the Gulfstream turf to start February, this Zayat Stables flag-bearer has big upside and a bigger pedigree. A son of Frankel out of an Unbridled’s Song mare, Pletcher recently said that Gidu has always trained well on the dirt, so he may consider making a surface change at some point. Nominated to the Triple Crown, trying a major prep to see if he could qualify for the Derby wouldn’t be far-fetched.
9. Life’s a Parlay: Mike Repole owned 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Uncle Mo and teamed up with St. Elias to buy this son of the champ for $725,000 as a yearling. Unraced as a 2-year-old, Life’s A Parlay raced twice in January, breaking his maiden at a one-turn mile on the Pegasus World Cup undercard. He went gate-to-wire in that race, holding off the late charge from promising colt Personal Time, a full brother to the 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb.
10. Hazit: After winning a super-salty maiden race on Travers Day at Saratoga over eventual Juvenile champion Good Magic, this son of War Front didn’t successfully step up into Grade 1 company, finishing fifth and eighth in the Champagne and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in his next two respective starts. Back working at Palm Beach since early January, the $430,000 purchase needs to live up to the promise that he showed in his Saratoga debut if he wants to make noise on the Derby Trail.
11. Road to Damascus: This son of Pioneerof the Nile sold for $475,000 to WinStar, China Horse Club, and SF Racing as a yearling at Keeneland. He broke his maiden going 1 mile and 40 yards at Tampa in mid-January in his second career race after finishing fourth in his career debut at Gulfstream behind stablemate Impact Player in December. His full brother, the ultra-fast, Grade 1-placed Social Inclusion, ran third in the 2014 Preakness behind California Chrome, so there’s a possibility that he can go long, but he may be very dangerous in mid-range distance races. Road to Damascus may run in the Southwest at Oaklawn on Monday.
12. Gleason: A debut maiden winner by 5 1/2 lengths at Tampa Bay on January 20 while going 7 furlongs, this Algorithms colt could be promising for owner Paul Pompa. His dam dropped a mare that foaled the speedy sprinter Recruiting Ready, so there may be some distance limitations in his pedigree.
13. Pony Up: Finishing fifth in the Holy Bull definitely didn’t disgrace him; he was trying dirt for the first time since his debut last July. Finishing behind graded stakes winners Speed Franco and Flameaway in his previous two starts on turf displays his class, so maybe he’s earned another start on the Derby Trail.
14. Bal Harbour: He disappointed after shipping north for the Withers at the beginning of February, basically not running a step in the race. Maybe he just didn’t like the boggy Aqueduct surface because he was impressive at Gulfstream, winning the non-graded Smooth Air Stakes in December before running second in the non-graded Mucho Macho Man Stakes behind top Derby prospect Mask to start January. Pletcher will need to go back to the drawing board with Bal Harbour to find his optimal distance. Perhaps he’s more suited to a one-turn mile.
15. Seabhac: This Grade 3 Pilgrim Stakes winner on the turf to end September hasn’t been seen on the worktab since. The fact that this Scat Daddy son out of a Curlin mare was nominated to the Triple Crown indicates that he’s returning soon.
16. National Flag: Bet down to the odds-on favorite in his debut at Belmont in early July, he disappointed while finishing a distant seventh. However, at Saratoga in early August, he returned to win impressively over Engage, the eventual Grade 3 Futurity Stakes winner, but then faded after setting the pace in the Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga in his last start. He returned to the Palm Beach Downs work tab in early January.
17. Biblical: He finished sixth in the Remsen after breaking his maiden over stablemate Marconi. This $800,000 Tapit colt has been putting in consistent works at Palm Beach since mid-January.
18. Slot: He ran a good second from an outside post at Gulfstream in a maiden special weight last Saturday behind the highly-regarded He Takes Charge. Still a maiden, this son of Candy Ride has good back class in his past performances, including a second behind Derby prospect Tiz Mischief.
19. Coltandmississippi: He was the rabbit for his stablemates in the Withers and tried to wear down the favored Avery Island early, but to no avail. He may be a step below Pletcher’s top runners, but he did place third in the non-graded Jerome Stakes to start January and was an impressive debut maiden winner at Saratoga. Maybe this Pioneerof the Nile colt will get another chance along the Derby Trail.
20. Hyndford: After being dropped into $50,000 maiden claimers at Gulfstream in mid-January, he broke his maiden by a 1/2-length going a one-turn mile for Donegal Racing. Debuting on the turf and then running in claimers doesn’t look like the move of a Triple Crown contender, but maybe he’ll surprise. He’s entered in a salty Thursday allowance at Tampa with stablemate Magnum Moon.
Pletcher’s Honorable Mentions nominated to Triple Crown
While those are the Top 20 Pletchers on the Derby Trail right now, we know that a new name can always jump up into the scene quickly, so here are some “Honorable Mentions” that are nominated to the Triple Crown for Pletcher:
Salmanazar: He faltered as the favorite in the Tremont Stakes at Belmont to start June, then went to the bench. He returned to the worktab at Palm Beach the day before Christmas and needs to regain the form that he showed as a precocious debut winner at Keeneland in April, where he beat the eventual Grade 2 Saratoga Special winner Copper Bullet going 4 1/2 furlongs.
Mojovation: After impressing in his debut maiden win at Saratoga to end July, this son of Quality Road hasn’t won a race since, but has been running mostly in Stakes company. He recently moved to the turf for his last two starts for the Zayats, finishing fifth both times.
Maraud: He’s never raced on dirt, but he was nominated to the Triple Crown after an allowance win over the Gufstream turf in mid-January. The son of Blame, out of an Empire Maker mare, sure has the pedigree to try the dirt, and he’s hit the board in all four career starts on turf against top horses including Speed Franco, Voting Control, and stablemates Pony Up and Seabhac.
Mufasa: He debuted over the Gulfstream turf on January 6, dead-heating for second. This son of Malibu Moon out of an Empire Maker mare has plenty of distance pedigree.
Airtouch: This $450,000 Tapit colt ran second in his 7-furlong debut at Saratoga and has recently been working at Palm Beach.
Galatians: A half-million-dollar purchase by WinStar Farm and the China Horse Club, this unraced Pioneerof the Nile colt was bred by Charles Fipke and has been working out at Palm Beach since Christmas.
Dream Friend: This unraced Ghostzapper colt has been putting in bullet workouts at Palm Beach since early December and was a $400,000 purchase at the 2017 OBS April sale.
Country Squire: Fourth on debut at Saratoga in July, this $180,000 Stay Thirsty colt hasn’t raced since, but he has been working at Palm Beach since the end of November.
Scrapper: Second on debut (all the way back on June 1), he just returned to the worktab with a bullet work on January 19 at Palm Beach. This son of Orb sold for $600,000 at OBS March 2017 to Sumaya US.
All Systems Go: This $450,000 Orb colt won his debut on Saturday at Gulfstream, going 5 furlongs over the grass.
Autostrade: An unraced maiden, this $400,000 Giant’s Causeway colt has been working at Palm Beach.
Times Square: This unraced Tapit colt out of an Empire Maker mare, out of the family of 2012 Travers winner Golden Ticket, has been working out at Palm Beach since December with some gaps in his workout pattern.
Racing Raven: Fifth in his debut at Aqueduct at the end of November, he’s been training at Belmont.
Bugle Notes: This $825,000 Ghostzapper unraced maiden had his first official workout at Palm Beach on February 9 after not registering an official work since November.