04/19/2010 3:09PM

The Pletcherecord


The "0 for 24 in the Kentucky Derby" epithet is going to be hurled repeatedly at Todd Pletcher for the next dozen days, especially now that he's training a Derby favorite for the first time. It's a somewhat misleading stat, though, the closer you look at it:

First, saying someone is "0 for 24" at something implies that if perfect, he could be 24 for 24, but Pletcher has run horses in only nine Derbies, not 24, due to having multiple runners in most years. So in this case, barring dead heats, the best he could be is 9 for 24 had he simply won 9 of the last 10 Kentucky Derbies.

Second, look at the prices on his starters: No favorites, one second choice, and two third choices. By performance, his Derby record is 24: 0-2-1, but by favoritism it's a similar-looking 24: 0-1-2. Half of those 24 starters were 30-1 or more. As you can see by comparing the finishes with the "Choice" column (where each horse was ranked by his share of the win-pool betting), his horses have outrun their odds as often as they have underperformed. His two second-place finishes were at 30-1 with Bluegrass Cat and at 55-1 with Invisible Ink. (I didn't use betting ranks for the 2000 Derby because two of his four starters were part of an entry with horses he didn't train and there was also a mutuel field.)

While technically correct, harping on the 0-for-24 stat as if it's a major storyline in this Derby implies one of two things: Pletcher is either terribly unlucky, or has some flaw as a trainer that has kept him from the roses. Neither is true. He didn't have the best horse in the race in any of those nine years, and has yet to be unjustly deprived of winning it. Nor does anything about his record and career suggest he has any problem winning Grade 1 races for 3-year-olds at classic distances (cf. English Channel, Flower Alley, Rags to Riches.)

Which of those nine Derbies was he "supposed" to win? The 2002 edition, where his sole entrant was Wild Horses at 58-1? The 2008 one, where he only sent out turf/synth runners Monba at 31-1 and Cowboy Cal at 39-1? There are only four Derbies in which he had individual starters who were less than 10-1, so the indictment againt him kind of boils down to Dunkirk, Scat Daddy, Bandini and Balto Star losing the Derby. The idea that he's laboring under a massive hex or handicap just doesn't hold up very well.

On a more positive note, his march through this year's Derby preps has been more than impressive: He entered 18 graded stakes for 3-year-old males on the main track and won seven of them, with six different horses: two with Eskendereya (Wood, Fountain of Youth), and one each with Rule (Sam F. Davis), Connemara (El Camino Real), Discreetly Mine (Risen Star), Mission Impazible (Louisiana Derby) and Exhi (Lexington). He also had three seconds and five thirds in the preps with additional 3-year-olds including Aikenite, Ibboyee, Interactif and Super Saver: