Pletcher Hopes To Improve BC Performance
PLETCHER HOPES TO IMPROVE BREEDERS PERFORMANCE
Todd Pletcher is 10 years from being eligible for thoroughbred racing's Hall of Fame, but he has surged to No. 3 for North American career purse earnings at almost $191 million in less than 15 years as a trainer.
At his current clip -- he seems assured of topping $20 million this year for the fourth time -- it appears only a matter of when he will pass former boss D. Wayne Lukas' all-time mark, currently $256 million.
However, Pletcher will need to pick up the pace if he wants to threaten another Lukas record: 18 Breeders' Cup victories.
Pletcher has three wins in 66 Cup starters. He hopes to make a dent at the disparity, with 11 runners spread over eight races, in the $25.5 million Breeders' Cup on Friday and Saturday at Churchill Downs.
He will have the favorite for the Juvenile in Champagne winner Uncle Mo. Life At Ten, the Beldame winner, could be favored in the $2 million Ladies Classic, and Woodward victor Quality Road is among the top choices in the stellar Classic field.
'I would say, top to bottom, it's potentially the best group that we've brought,' said Pletcher, who ended his Breeders' Cup 0-fer with two wins in 2004 at Lone Star Park near his Dallas birthplace. 'It's certainly the best chance we've brought to the Classic.'
To show the depth of his operation, consider who isn't here: Super Saver, who gave Pletcher his first Kentucky Derby victory after 24 prior starters; Eskendereya, the big Derby favorite until suffering a career-ending injury a week before the race; New Orleans Handicap winner Battle Plan, also retired with an injury; and major winners Devil May Care, Discreetly Mine and Position Limit are on the shelf.
'We've had a really, really good year,' said Pletcher, who has won 13 GradeI stakes this year with nine different horses. 'But when you look back at what could have been, yeah, we've had some big losses. ... We're blessed with a deep stable, but those horses are hard to replace nonetheless.'
And that is why Pletcher keeps his stable at about 175, split among four or five divisions, while having 150 employees.
In an interview at Saratoga, the trainer acknowledged that an economic study of his business model would probably show 'you could maximize your profit margin by having less.'
'But the thing that you can't factor in when you're training horses is (when) you limit your opportunities, which one are you limiting? Is it going to be the one you say, 'I can't take that one'? Is that going to be the English Channel or Honey Ryder or Scat Daddy or Rags to Riches?' he said, referring to some past Grade I winners. 'How do you go about determining that?'
Though he admits he's overstaffed, he said 'we have to prepare for those days in April, October and November, when we have horses running at nine different tracks.'
Recently retired jockey Richard Migliore, in town working as an HRTV analyst for the Breeders' Cup and to get an award Wednesday from the National Turf Writers Association, has known Pletcher since the days when he ran Lukas' New York division before striking out on his own in 1996.
'The guy is amazing -- his work ethic and the way he goes about things,' Migliore said. 'I remember several years ago at Saratoga, he'd won the Grade I stakes and I think four or five races that day. We had dinner together, and he was leaving right after dinner to drive to Belmont to train that string that morning. And then go to Monmouth the next day, and then coming back to Saratoga. So it wasn't like, 'I won five and a Grade I and can relax and enjoy it.' It was, 'I've got to go and take care of the rest of my business.'
'When someone has that kind of relentless drive, that's the end result. He had some unfortunate casualties along the way, but he's still pretty loaded for the big day.'
Despite getting shut out in the Breeders' Cup at Churchill, Pletcher's barn set a record for purses in 2006 at $26 million. He topped that in '07 at $28 million, including English Channel's victory in the $3 million Breeders' Cup Turf. With a slew of his stars retired, the stable fell to $13.5 million in 2008 and $15.4 million last year.
For us, yeah, they're down years,' said Pletcher, who finished second in earnings to Steve Asmussen the past two years. '. .. I mean, once you've led -- whether it's once, twice or three or four years, whatever we did -- seconds are no longer good enough.'
Though he comes across as even-keeled, Pletcher said 'obsessive' fits him.
'There's no question about it,' he said. 'You get that taste, and that's what you want. You continue to work hard and harder for it. To me, if you're not going to continue to strive to do those same things, to be on the top, then I would scale back to 30 horses at one place and take up golf or something.'
Pletcher might not have won a Breeders' Cup race in 2006, but he had three seconds, four thirds and two fourths.
That year, Pletcher horses won four Grade I preps four weeks before the Cup races. In an effort to win both the battles and the war, horses such as Quality Road, Malibu Prayer and Stay Thirsty haven't raced since late summer. They also came to Churchill earlier.
'We've tried to make some adjustments over the years and try to improve on what we're doing,' Pletcher said. '... We're trying to come in with fresh and fit horses.'
by Jennie Rees
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