Pletcher seeks second Kentucky Derby win
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – With starters 44 and 45 in this year’s Kentucky Derby, trainer Todd Pletcher is edging ever closer to the record held by D. Wayne Lukas, under whom Pletcher apprenticed before beginning his own decorated career.
Pletcher has won a recordsetting seven Eclipse Awards as champion trainer, while Lukas has amassed four. At the Derby, though, Lukas – who does not have a horse in this year’s race – owns four wins from his record 48 starters, while Pletcher has one, with Super Saver in 2010.
Pletcher’s 1-for-43 record looks ugly on the surface, but he usually has multiple runners in the Derby each year – like this year with Destin and Outwork – and he’s actually had starters in 15 Derbies. If he wins this year, 2 for 16 wouldn’t sound all that bad. And just to get to the Derby, Pletcher’s horses have earned their way by winning significant stakes races.
To win this year, though, either Destin or Outwork will have to outrun 19 others in the 142nd Kentucky Derby on Saturday at Churchill Downs. A total of 22 horses were entered Wednesday morning in the Derby, with the draw held too late to make this edition.
Since a maximum of 20 horses can run – based on points earned in 34 designated Derby prep races – the two with the fewest points, Laoban and Cherry Wine, were placed on the also-eligible list in that order.
In order for Laoban or Cherry Wine to get into the race, a horse in the main body of the race must scratch before 9 a.m. Eastern on Friday. Scratch time is a full day before the Derby to facilitate early betting. Laoban would be the first horse in if one horse scratches. If two horses come out by Friday, both would get in. They would occupy the outside posts in the starting gate.
If anyone in the main body of the race is withdrawn after 9 a.m. Friday, the also-eligibles are out of luck.
Laoban and Cherry Wine were ranked 23rd and 25th on the points list as of Wednesday morning but moved up the list when Fellowship (21st), Adventist (22nd), and Dazzling Gem (24th) were not entered.
The 20 in the main body of the race are Brody’s Cause, Creator, Danzing Candy, Destin, Exag-
gerator, Gun Runner, Lani, Majesto, Mohaymen, Mor Spirit, Mo Tom, My Man Sam, Nyquist, Oscar Nominated, Outwork, Shagaf, Suddenbreakingnews, Tom’s Ready, Trojan Nation, and Whitmore.
Destin and Outwork each earned their slot in the Derby through a victory in an important prep race. Destin defeated Outwork in the Tampa Bay Derby, and then Outwork won the Wood Memorial. They figure to be among the many horses in this race who will be midpriced runners.
The acknowledged favorite is the Doug O’neill-trained Nyquist, a son of Uncle Mo, whom Pletcher trained. Outwork is also by Uncle Mo.
Outwork, a hulking specimen who Pletcher estimates weighs nearly 1,300 pounds, has won three of his four starts. He was under a tight deadline to make the Derby, considering that he went nearly 10 months between starts before his 3-year-old debut. He has won two of his three races this year, his lone loss coming to his stablemate.
“Essentially, everything had to go perfectly for him to get to this point,” Pletcher said. “I never felt like we were rushing. Fortunately, we never had any setbacks.”
Outwork has made a positive impression all week, as has Destin, who has not raced since the Tampa Bay Derby, meaning he will come into this race off an eight-week layoff. If he wins, that would be the longest known layoff for a Derby winner, but it’s not a schedule with which Pletcher is unfamiliar on a daily basis. Generally speaking, he prefers plenty of time between starts.
Destin has won three times in five starts and blossomed at Tampa Bay Downs, where he won the Sam F. Davis Stakes and Tampa Bay Derby in succession, earning careerbest Beyer Speed Figures both times. He’s had five works since his last race on March 12, four at Palm Beach Downs and then a final drill here last Friday in which he went five furlongs in 1:01.40.
“I think he’s coming up to the race as well as he can,” Pletcher said. “I liked his breeze here.”
The Derby will be televised live by NBC in a three-hourplus telecast beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern on Saturday. The day’s coverage begins at noon on NBCSN with a four-hour telecast.
The Weather Channel is calling for warming temperatures as Derby Week progresses, with a high of 85 on Saturday after highs of 65 on Thursday and 73 Friday.
If the Kentucky Derby turns out to be three-quarters as good as the six stakes leading up to the main event Saturday at Churchill Downs, it should be an immensely satisfying day of high-class racing. A strong, high-end dirt-mile allowance race launches the 14-race card, and there’s barely a breather until post times start stringing out late in the afternoon.
The day’s first stakes, the Grade 2, $300,000 Distaff Turf Mile, features one of the bestknown horses in North America at the moment, Tepin. It wasn’t entirely obvious at the time, but the fabulous grass mare – who could race at Royal Ascot this summer – put her name on the map by winning the 2015 Distaff Turf Mile, but she will be a wee bit shorter on the tote board than the 9-1 at which she triumphed one year ago.
Tepin, who breaks from the rail, won the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland at 2-5 last month and will be odds-on again despite the presence of some high-quality opponents, including Isabella Sings, who set a breakneck pace in the March 12 Hillsborough Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and still was within one length of Tepin at the finish.
Race 7, the Grade 2, $500,000 Churchill Downs at seven furlongs on dirt, drew an excellent field of nine, including Salutos Amigos and Calculator, the one-two finishers in the Grade 1 Carter last month at Aqueduct; Kobe’s Back, who has scored two sharp California sprint wins this season after having his blinkers removed but drew the rail; and three exciting 4-year-olds, Speightster, Limousine Liberal, and Holy Boss.
The Grade 1, $300,000 Humana Distaff, for fillies and mares at seven furlongs on dirt, goes as race 8 and attracted 10 entrants. Stonetastic will try to lead all the way from post 2, with California shipper Taris and 2015 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint winner Wavell Avenue, both drawn comfortably on the outside, the other two likely betting favorites.
In race 9, the $300,000 American Turf for 3-year-olds at 1 1/6 miles, Airoforce, who started his season as a hot Derby prospect in some quarters, seeks a form reversal with a surface switch. Airoforce finished a close second last fall in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, his most recent grass race, but was well beaten on dirt at Fair Grounds and on Turfway’s synthetic track in his two races this year. He drew post 1 inside 12 opponents in what looks like a contentious race.
Race 10 is the consolation prize for 3-year-olds either too far behind schedule or not quite talented enough to make the Derby, the Grade 3, $250,000 Pat Day Mile. The one-turn dirt mile could have as a favorite a horse who has raced only once, American Freedom, the Bob Baffert-trained colt who got a 98 Beyer Speed Figure – a higher number than 15 Derby entrants ever have earned – in winning his debut April 9 at Santa Anita.
American Freedom might turn out to be a good horse, but his reputation and connections will drag down his price and lend value to contenders like Forevamo and Cocked and Loaded.
The card’s second-mostimportant race, the Grade 1, $500,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic over 1 1/8 miles, came up as strong as could be expected in this era of North American grass racing. Among the 13 entrants are the thirdand fourth-place finishers from the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Turf, Big Blue Kitten and Slumber, both trained by Chad Brown and both making their seasonal debut at distance shorter than their best.
California-based Bolo could be a major player, while Tourist was a useful third in his 2016 debut in the Maker’s 46 Mile last month at Keeneland. Divisidero won the American Turf on the 2015 Derby card and has been pointed all season to this spot by trainer Buff Bradley.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has Destin and Outwork set to start in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.
Destin hasn’t raced since March 12, when he beat stablemate Outwork and set a track record in the Tampa Bay Derby.