04/19/2010 4:09PM

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:


astonish More than 1 year ago
Hi Mr Crist, your odds list of past winners and deep analysis of expected prices is nothing short of excellent. Ive been an avid horseplayer for years and thoroughly enjoy your analyses. Congrats on making the DRF relevant again in an age of a flurry of online horse publications. i look forward to reading your columns more than anything!
turf2dirt More than 1 year ago
Well Eskendereya just scratched, sorry Todd your winless streak continues this year
Diceman More than 1 year ago
The Churchill Downs Track Saturday, Opening Day, was not fit for Man or Beast, especially Professional Handicappers! I refused to make a bet at Churchill on Saturday due to the impossible track conditions. I did have Fun and Winners, and made a profit, at Gulfstream and Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday. Unfortunately, when it rains all day at a North American Track (USA,) the professional bettor is confronted with four (4) possibel track conditions as follows: Fast,Sloppy, Muddy,Good and back to Fast again. It's impossible to bet with confidence under these changing track conditions and circumstances. To make matters worse, Turf races are usually taken Off and moved to the Main Track, with 4 possibly different surfaces to consider before betting!
Seeking the Gold More than 1 year ago
Yet another example of why nyra should not move stake races with a heavy favorite out of the pick 4. When that favorite loses you get great pick 4 payoffs.
gorgon More than 1 year ago
Seems like his unnimpressive derby record is as much the result of running many horses whoch had no right to be run in the race as anything else. Supposedly one of Pletchers strengths is picking proper spots for his horses but it appears than when it comes to the Derby that rule is thrown out the window. I'm pretty pissed that Esky isnt runnning because I think he would have been great to play against. His FOY and Wood wins were both run with extremely soft early fractions against horses amost all of whom wanted no part of 1 1/8 miles....
George Quinn More than 1 year ago
Hey Steve, Keeneland handle dips again. Poly? or economy? George in Tampa
Syracuse Ernie More than 1 year ago
DRF Cover, Derby Trial is for real this year. Hey, wait, go back to just 2008. Macho Again exits the Trial and is second in Preakness to Big Brown. And D'Tara. 33-1 long shot Winner in 2008 Belmont wins out of this same 2008 Trial. Macho Again set a track record for Trail, then 7.5 fl. If anyone has the time (128.45) to go back and look at this race 4/26/2008 @ Churchill it is a classic in visual trip handicapping as Macho Again bumps in stretch and then is overcome,passed and looks beaten by Kodiak Koboy and re-rallies. KK is another durable horse out of this now graded race back at 8 fl distance. PS, D'Tara ran big race on undercard Preakness day. It is more likely key horses out of Trial will be pointed at 2nd and 3rd Jewel races. Coming back on six days rest to Derby not a positive connection's move.
Steve C More than 1 year ago
Steve, great info as always. Bottom line given Eskendereya's performances this year that have been very impressive and the other contenders Todd has he is looking good going into this year's Derby.
Lori Piccin More than 1 year ago
I happen to like Todd Pletcher very much and believe he is a great trainer. Winning the KY Derby is a lot like winning the lottery. Just ask the late great Bobby Frankel. Would anyone question his training abilities? I think not. I live in South Florida and was at the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream and saw the awesome performance of Eskenderaya. I told Todd Pletcher then that this was his year and he would win the KY Derby. Just like I knew Curlin would be an awesome horse by his maiden (blowout) victory at Gulfstream, I know TP will win at CD this year.
fastjoey More than 1 year ago
"Derby Dog Biscuits". And ain't that the truth - what a record for dogs in the Derby for Todd. The only worse bet than anything Pletecher saddles, this year, is Zito's carnival pony, Jackson Bend. A "plucky little colt"? Maybe so, Litfin. But how can anyone say this midget of a thoroughbred stands a chance. What is he 12-hands "tall". I have never seen a smaller Grade 1 horse. And plenty of the little 10,000 claimers I've won big bets on would tower over him. Well, maybe he is "plucky", but he stands NO CHANCE!