I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that Todd Pletcher will NOT win the Kentucky Derby.

I know this is heresy since what's left of the racing media already has conceded the Derby to the Toddster. After all, at this point TP has seven viable candidates for the Derby, one better than the next.

The pecking order:

1. Shanghai Bobby
2. Violence
3. Overanalyze
4. Verrazano
5. Notacatbutallama
6. Delhomme
7. Revolutionary

And this list likely will swell to 10 or 12 by the end of January.

But you need look back only only a year ago to get a reading on Pletch. He had at least a half dozen Derby prospects in the barn in mid-January, but one by one they dropped from sight, leaving TP no morethan a spectator at the Triple Crown.

Of course we are not feeling sorry for the Pletchman. He finished the year with the most grade one victories (21) among trainers, and no doubt will pick up another Eclipse Award for his efforts.

But Todd's record in Triple Crown races is something else. He's won one Derby (Super Saver), no Preaknesses, and one Belmont ( Rags to Riches) in a lifetime of hances. Obviously, an awful lot can go wrong between January and May.

I seem to be the only member of the media who is outraged by the fact that a horse named Violence, in light of recent events, is regarded as a major player on the Triple Crown trail this year.

Racing can create some needed good will if the connections of the horse change his name...and change it fast.

Of Pletcher's Magnificent Seven, only one will make his 3-year-old debut on Saturday, the first day on the road to the Triple Crown.

That would be Notacatbutallama, who will be a price in the Jerome Stakes at a mile-70 over the Aqueduct inner track. And why anyone would name a horse Notacatbutallama is beyond my comprehension.

Anyway, the horse is dismissed at 10-1 in the morning line, but jockey Dominguez, who has his choice of mounts in virtually every race, takes the call so you can't toss him out.

Doug O'Neill has the probable favorite with Mudflats, who broke his maiden impressively going seven furlongs on Dec. 8 at the Big A. O'Neill subsequently made the 6,000-mile round-trip flight from California to supervise the colt's work fo this race.

Joltin' Junior Alvarado has the call from the six-hole in the field of eight.

The 200K Jerome this year was shifted from September at Belmont Park to the first Saturday of 2013 to replace the Count Fleet. which was won in 2004 by
Smarty Jones.

Again, why NYRA would gut the name Count Fleet, named for one of the classic Triple Crown winners, escapes me.

Anyhow, trainer McLaughlin, who last year won the Count Fleet -- and later the Travers -- with Alpha. has a major player in the Jerome with Long River, who broke his maiden at the Jerome distance on Dec. 15 on the inner.

The Jerome is quite the betting challenge.  A reminder: in a column on this site last month, I recommended you take the underdog in the Sugar Bowl. The result: Louisville (+14) 33, Florida 23.

Also, in last week's column, I recommended a play on Il Vilano in the Dave's Friend Stakes at Laurel the next day. Il Vilano aired as the second choice at 2-1.

Which is why it pays to read between the lines.

Speaking of betting challenges, they will run the 100K Sham Stakes for 3-year-olds at a flat mile Saturday at Santa Anita.

For those new at the game, Sham, second to Secretariat among the 1970 crop, was the best horse ever trained by Frank Martin, who passed last summer.

Pletcher is sitting out the Sham, leaving trainers Baffert and O'Neill to run between them four of the six players in the race.

That's the challenge. Which of the four are primed, and which are waiting for another (bigger) payday?

On paper, O'Neill, who gave us Derby/Preakness winner I'll Have Another last year, has the edge with Goldencents, the Delta Jackpot winner and who (according to Dave the Clocker) worked three-quarters in 1:10 the other day, and Greeley Awesome. Bullet Bob answers with Den's Legacy and Manando.

The field for the Sham, which will be run as race three, is completed by Dry Summer and Dirty Swagg.

But Baffert is just warming up.

In the San Pascual, to be run as race seven, Bob will run four of the nine: Jaycito (Leparoux); Hoorayforhollywood (Talamo); Bank the Eight (Bejarano), and Coil (Martin Garcia).

This is the same Coil who won the 2011 Haskell at Monmouth Park. And when was the last time we saw a Haskell winner in the entries two years later?

Incidentally, Monmouth Park was fortunate to escape damage in Hurricane Sandy while billions were lost in property damage all around it. The other highlght of this weekend is the return of Gary Stevens.

After retiring from race-riding in 2006 due to 1) health issues, and 2) to concentrate on an acting career, Stevens will kick off a racing comeback in race six Sunday at Santa Anita, a $50,000 claimer, on a horse named Jebrica.

Stevens, who retired the same week as his buddy Jerry Bailey, has ridden 4,888 winners, including three Derby winners, but he will be remembered mostly for his out-of-the clouds winning ride on Victory Gallop in the 1998 Belmont Stakes when he denied Real Quiet the Triple Crown.

Stevens, 49, says he has been planning this comeback for a year, and shed 13 pounds, from 132 to 119, to do so.

Such a comeback after so long a layoff is unprecented. We wish him luck.

Since Stevens is making a comeback, we can only wish the same for Cowboy Jack Kaenel.

This is the same Jack Kaenel who stands as the youngest rider to win a Triple Crown race -- the 1982 Preakness on Aloma's Ruler at age 16.

The Cowboy (as I named him when the beat man on the New York Post), went on to a successful career, but one curtailed 10 years ago by weight and abuse issues.

I understand that Kaenel is drug-free, down to his riding weight, and presently working horses in California. He's two years younger than Stevens, and needs
only the OK from the California stewards to ride again.

A comeback would be ironic because Jack's son, Kyle, was en route to becomning a first-class rider in his own right, before his career was cut short by injuries.

And, speaking of teen-aged riders in Maryland, a 19-year-old apprentice named Trevor McCarthy booted home four winners on Tuesday at Laurel. Trevor is the son of Mike McCarthy, who, during a span of 30 years, won 2,907 races, mostly on the New York and mid-Atlantic circuits.

And Mike did so despite standing 5-10, making him the tallest sucessful jockey of all time.

Trevor has a long way to go to match his father. His four-bagger Tuesday gives him 16 career wins. But it's a start.

A protege of Graham Motion, the trainer of 2011 Derby winner Animal Kingdom, Trevor started riding professionally just last month at Philly Park, and relocated to Laurel last week.

"Maryland is supposed to be a good place for a bug rider," says Trevor.


Finally, what's the deal with Gulfstream Park? The announced attendance Thursday, on a bright, beautiful Florida day, was 1,288!

Look for Francisco Torres to win his share of races at the Gulf.

Torres, who played the role of Braulio Baeza in the "Ruffian" movie, got off to a slow start at Gulfstream after arriving from Chicago, but as his business picks up, so will his trips to the winner's circle.

Thanks for tuning in. Have an enjoyable, proftable weekend and hope to see you back here next Friday.


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