When the record is examined, the conclusion is inescapable – Todd Pletcher does not like to run Kentucky Derby starters back in the Preakness.
In this century, Pletcher has sent 48 starters to the post in the Kentucky Derby. That’s an average of close to three a year and places him in a tie with his former mentor, D. Wayne Lukas, for the most ever saddled for the Run for the Roses. Of those 48, only three have returned two weeks later to chase the Black-Eyed Susans.
Pletcher, who will celebrate his 50th birthday next month, burst on the classic scene in 2000 with four Derby entrants, two of which carried the green and yellow polka dot silks of Aiken-based Dogwood Stable. Of these, Impeachment closed from last to finish third and Trippi pressed the pace before retiring to wind up 11th. Two weeks later, Impeachment was at Pimlico for the Preakness and again was third. Of Pletcher’s eight Preakness starters to date, none has done better.
“He’s the greatest trainer of thoroughbred horses in North America,” Dogwood president Cot Campbell said this week. “But he’s also the greatest trainer in America at keeping his horses in the barn. We don’t quite see it the same way; if we have a horse that fits a race and is doing well, we want to run.”
So Impeachment ran and ran again in the Belmont Stakes, finishing fifth that time.
Philosophical differences aside, Pletcher and Dogwood have enjoyed considerable success over a period of almost two decades.
After Impeachment, a Pletcher-trained contestant did not appear in the Preakness for seven years. In 2007, he returned with Louisiana Derby winner Circular Quay – 6th in Louisville’s classic – and a longshot named King of the Roxy which had not competed at Churchill Downs. This pair wound up fifth and sixth at Pimlico.
The year 2010 presented Pletcher with a different situation – the obligatory pursuit of a Triple Crown. His trainer’s confidence ebbed as the Derby champ appeared lackadaisical in the interim, and the signs were not misread. Super Saver raced forwardly for a mile, but stopped at the top of the stretch and finished eighth.
The morning after Always Dreaming’s relatively easy Derby victory this year, Pletcher was upbeat about following a road he had not successfully traveled with Super Saver. Noting the importance of the colt retaining his pre-Derby aggressiveness, Pletcher was hopeful that things would be different this time.
With his colt sitting on ready, Pletcher may well be about to break his Preakness drought. If he could just have two more weeks to prepare, it would all be perfect.