Pletcher Rules The Weekend
PLETCHER: KING OF THE WEEKEND
There were many extraordinary individual performances last Saturday. However, the star of the day was a trainer, not a racehorse.
Todd Pletcher, who has had 24 career Kentucky Derby starters without bringing home the roses, is in great position for win number one. Three of the four two-turn prep winners Saturday came from his barn, highlighted by Eskendereya's victory in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
The colt came into the race undefeated on true dirt and left maintaining that record with an 8 1/2-length triumph as the 7-2 third choice. The son of Giant's Causeway left second-place finisher Jackson Bend in the dust at the top of the lane stretching a one-length lead to three in a matter of seconds.
Eskendereya completed the 1 1/8-mile event in a credible 1:48 4/5, but there is one important factor to keep in mind when analyzing the Fountain of Youth. The race set up perfectly for him once the favorite Buddy's Saint ran into severe trouble on the first turn. In addition, Jackson Bend is a horse that sports severe distance limitations and it showed when he ran his nine furlongs in approximately 1:50 3/5 seconds, just a tick slower than $10,000 claimers earlier in the day. The rest of the field left a lot to be desired.
Over in Louisiana, Todd Pletcher placed Discreetly Mine among 11 other colts and geldings in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes. The son of Mineshaft came into the race with only a maiden victory under his belt - a 6 1/2-length score in August over another Pletcher-trained colt named Super Saver, who broke the stakes record in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs later.
Despite the extensive timeframe without a win, Discreetly Mine was made the 5-2 second choice in the 12-horse field. The homebred did not disappoint with a 1 1/2-length gate-to-wire victory in 1:44 4/5 for the 1 1/16-miles.
It's rare when the jockey is more of a factor than the horse he's riding, but that was the case in the Risen Star. Javier Castellano guided Discreetly Mine through easy 48 3/5 and 1:13 2/5 splits on a track that played fast the entire day. In fact, three-year-old fillies went 47 2/5 and 1:11 3/5 just one hour earlier in the Silverbulletday Stakes.
It is doubtful Discreetly Mine will repeat this performance in his next race (most likely the Louisiana Derby) making him a great "bet-against" candidate, especially if favored.
Second-place finisher Tempted to Tapit should improve next time out since he handed Discreetly Mine a full length advantage after breaking slowly out of the gate.
Another horse to follow is Stay Put, who rallied for fifth, beaten about three lengths. The stout closer picked up five lengths on the winner after trailing by eight after six furlongs.
Out on the West Coast at Golden Gate Fields, Pletcher picked up the hat trick when Connemara rolled to a 1 1/4-length score after getting hammered at the start by Ranger Heartley.
Settling back into last place, the lightly-raced colt reeled off a powerful 22 4/5 third-quarter to come within four lengths of the lead. He then rallied five-wide around the turn before reaching the top, coasting home to his third victory in four lifetime starts.
Connemara still has a lot of learning to do as he lost ground at the start for the third time in his short career. Moreover, the field he defeated was the weakest of the four Saturday races. On the other hand, he's a half-brother to Lion Heart (second in the 2004 Kentucky Derby to Smarty Jones) and his running style is well suited for the 1 1/4-mile trip.
All in all, it was a wonderful afternoon for one of the top trainers in the world but his work is certainly not over. Can luck finally be on his side in 2010? With Eskenderya, Discreetly Mine, Connemara, Super Saver and Rule in the barn, there'll be no excuses on the first Saturday in May.
BAFFERT AND LUKAS IN ARKANSAS
California shippers won numerous three-year-old prep races last season on traditional dirt as I Want Revenge came eastward to grab the Gotham and the Wood Memorial while Papa Clem took home the honors in the Arkansas Derby.
This year, the top three finishers from the San Rafael Stakes traveled to Oaklawn Park for the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes and two of the three hit the board, including Conveyance, who held off the late charge of Dublin to win the $250,000 event.
Conveyance has yet to be beaten for trainer Bob Baffert, who also has the Kentucky Derby pre-race favorite, Lookin At Lucky. The son of Indian Charlie took advantage of a speed-favoring Oaklawn surface to wire the field of 10. Nevertheless, the flat mile could be as far as Conveyance wants to go as second-place finisher Dublin was closing like a freight train in the final jumps.
Four-time Derby-winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas was excited for Dublin's three- year-old debut after the colt needed throat surgery over the winter. However, the son of Afleet Alex broke a step slow out of the gate and then almost stumbled three strides later. Down the backstretch, Dublin was a good nine lengths behind Conveyance.
He then ran his middle half-mile in an amazing 46 4/5 but was still six lengths off the lead around the turn. In the meantime, Conveyance stretched his advantage to 1 1/2-lengths, putting away Dryfly and Cool Bullet in the process. The Baffert-trainee then opened up almost three lengths through the stretch and had to hang on for dear life to hold off Dublin's late charge.
HORSES TO WATCH - HORSES TO DROP
In order from best to worst, the top five performances of the day went to Eskendereya, Dublin, Connemara, Tempted to Tapit and Stay Put.
The five horses that saw their stock plummet were Buddy's Saint, Lost Aptitude, Dryfly, Drosselmeyer and Jackson Bend.
I've already discussed the top five so let me delve further into the second group.
Buddy's Saint was not injured during the running of the Fountain of Youth, but he took a huge step back after beating only one horse as the 9-5 favorite. Lost Aptitude, the colt that ran last, beaten more than 45 lengths, will most likely return to the turf where he belongs.
Dryfly couldn't recapture his gate-to-wire triumph in the Smarty Jones and appears to be a couple of notches below the best. Drosselmeyer failed to win his third straight despite a relatively easy trip in the Risen Star, and Jackson Bend should be trained as a miler instead of continuing on the Triple Crown trail.
THE NEW JEFF FRANK TOP 12
The big news this coming weekend is the return of Kettle River, who'll be making his stakes debut in the nine-furlong Sham Stakes at Santa Anita.
Another horse to keep an eye on, although he won't race again until March, is Odysseus. The chestnut colt romped by 15 lengths in an allowance race at Tampa Bay Downs last Wednesday, missing the 1 1/16 track record by just one second. He's got the pedigree to go even longer as his second dam is a full-sister to De La Rose.
There was a lot of turnover in the rankings but with only one graded stakes race on tap for next Saturday, it's doubtful there'll be much change heading into March.
1) Kettle River; 2) Dublin; 3) Lookin At Lucky; 4) Super Saver; 5) Eskendereya; 6) Uptowncharlybrown; 7) Rule; 8) Noble's Promise; 9) Odysseus; 10) Caracortado; 11) Buddy's Saint; 12) Stay Put.
by Jeff Frank
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