05/02/2012 2:35PM

Churchill Downs: Plum Pretty the clear La Troienne standout


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Bob Baffert was wearing dark glasses, so it would have been hard to say for sure, but he seemed surprised at the obviousness of a question asked of him one morning earlier this week. Was he looking at Plum Pretty as a Breeders’ Cup Ladies' Classic contender, and plotting her schedule backward back from the end of the season?

“Well, yeah,” Baffert said after the moment’s hesitation. “She’s definitely a Breeders’ Cup kind of horse.”

So, that settled the long-term expectations for Plum Pretty, who could finish only fifth after setting the pace in the 2011 BC Ladies' Classic. In the near term, Plum Pretty is 4-5 on the morning line for Friday’s Grade 2, $300,000 La Troienne Stakes at Churchill Downs and might be bet down below that price facing six less-accomplished horses.

[KENTUCKY OAKS: Get PPs, watch analysis video, read latest updates]

For the second time in a row, a prospective matchup between Plum Pretty and 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace has failed to materialize. A week before the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park, Havre de Grace’s connections said they weren’t running, citing dissatisfaction with assigned weights. Plum Pretty wound up winning by 2 1/2 lengths in her 2012 debut. Havre de Grace was being pointed for the La Troienne when she was retired last week with an ankle injury.

With the Horse of the Year out and none of the other elite members of the division in, Baffert had a “why not” moment with Plum Pretty, who had returned to California after her Apple Blossom win in Arkansas.

“She worked really well, and she seemed happy, so I just decided to run her here,” he said.

That, if anything, is the chink in Plum Pretty’s armor. Her peak performances – the Apple Blossom was one, a 7 1/2-length victory over It’s Tricky in the Cotillion last fall another – lie on a higher plane than the best any of her La Troienne rivals can muster, but a horse back three weeks after a strong post-layoff run – entered as something of an afterthought – could be a touch vulnerable.

Even if Plum Pretty regresses, one wonders if anyone can topple her. Absinthe Minded tracked Plum Pretty in the Apple Blossom but couldn’t get within two lengths of her in the stretch. She has also made nine starts at Churchill and won only once.

The other five horses in the race exit layoffs. St. John’s River has had the longest break, and might not be ready to tackle the likes of Plum Pretty in her first start since last August, though she rallied powerfully to finish a neck behind Plum Pretty in the 2011 Kentucky Oaks. St. John’s River disappointed in the Aug. 20 Alabama Stakes after winning the Delaware Oaks last summer, and after a layoff, trainer Andy Leggio had her in steady training last fall at Fair Grounds with hopes of a January comeback. But St. John’s River developed a breathing problem that required surgery, delaying her return.

“She’s training great, but I hope she’s fit enough to run one and one-sixteenth miles first time out,” Leggio said.

Maristar holds some appeal. Trained by Englishman Gerard Butler, she might have beaten males with a better trip in the Washington Park Handicap last summer, and her first try on dirt produced a decent sixth-place finish in the Hawthorne Gold Cup. Maristar has been working bullets at Keeneland, but she and the other La Troienne lesser lights must hope Plum Pretty runs below form.

La Troienne S. (G2), Post Time: 1:26 ET Friday

Purse: $300,000; 1 1/16 miles





ML Odds


Afleeting Lady

D. Romans

J. Castanon



St. John's River

A. Leggio

R. Napravnik



Love Theway Youare

M. Cho

J. Rosario



Plum Pretty

B. Baffert

R. Bejarano




M. Maker

R. Dominguez



Absinthe Minded

D. Lukas

M. Smith




G. Butler

J. Graham