Updated on 03/24/2017 12:04PM

Derby Watch: Pletcher knows how to play the game

Coady Photography
One Liner, one of many Todd Pletcher-trained Kentucky Derby candidates, wins the Southwest Stakes.

Todd Pletcher already has won the Southwest Stakes, Rebel Stakes, and Tampa Bay Derby in the past 30 days; has horses running in the United Arab Emirates Derby, Spiral Stakes, and Sunland Derby this weekend; and is preparing runners for the Florida Derby, Louisiana Derby, Santa Anita Derby, Wood Memorial, Blue Grass, and Arkansas Derby over the next few weeks. This logistical challenge has reaped great rewards for his clients while highlighting the trust Pletcher has in personnel who carry out his wishes in his absence.

Those upcoming races are so crucial, in fact, that Pletcher won’t be at Meydan – where he also has two runners in the Dubai World Cup – or Sunland Park or Turfway this weekend but rather at the Palm Beach Downs training center in Florida, where the likes of Always Dreaming, Battalion Runner, One Liner, and Tapwrit all are supposed to work in advance of significant stakes that also serve as final preps for the May 6 Kentucky Derby.

“I hate having horses in Dubai and not go,” Pletcher said from Palm Beach Downs, “but we’ve got some important works here, and I felt they were ones I needed to see to make the right decisions for those horses and their connections.”

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Pletcher has made the right moves so far. One Liner was sent to the Southwest Stakes and successfully stretched out around two turns, as did Malagacy in the Rebel, a victory that kept him unbeaten. Tapwrit won the Tampa Bay Derby over a track at which he had finished second in the Sam F. Davis Stakes. Pletcher will be spread out in upcoming weekends, too, including likely sending Battalion Runner to the Santa Anita Derby.

Of great help in these endeavors are the likes of Adele Bellinger, who saddled Malagacy in the Rebel and will saddle Hedge Fund in the Sunland Derby, and Ginny Dipasquale, a longtime assistant who is overseeing Master Plan in the UAE Derby as well as Keen Ice and Neolithic in the Dubai World Cup. Juan Tovar is with Bronson at the Spiral. Behind the scenes is Maggie Sweet, who handles all the logistics, such as shipping for the horses and flights and hotels for personnel.

“Fortunately, I’ve got a capable staff who know how we want things done and jockeys who know their horses in these races this weekend, so I’m most useful being here,” Pletcher said. “We’ve got a good system set up; everyone knows their assignments. Ginny’s been with me right about 20 years, and she’s been to Dubai a number of times. Having a great support staff, a team like this, is critical when you run in different locations.”

No one has played this part of the spring better than Pletcher. He has had 45 horses – the second-most all time – make it to the Derby. He owns just one Derby win, with Super Saver in 2010, but it can be argued that many of his Derby runners overachieved just to get there, that his shrewd management optimized their value. A perfect example would be Cowtown Cat, who knocked off both the Gotham Stakes and Illinois Derby in 2007.

Pletcher twice has had five runners in a Derby, which ties the record. He did it in 2013, when his runners won the Arkansas Derby, Louisiana Derby, Withers, Wood Memorial, and Tampa Bay Derby as 3-year-olds prior to the Derby, and in 2007, when his runners won the Florida Derby, Fountain of Youth, Gotham, Illinois Derby, Louisiana Derby, and Sam F. Davis.

He also has had four runners in the Derby three times and twice has had three runners in the Derby. His four runners in 2014 were Danza, Intense Holiday, Vinceremos, and We Miss Artie, none of whom has gone down in Derby lore, yet they collectively won the Arkansas Derby, Risen Star, Sam F. Davis, and Spiral. So, did they underachieve on Derby Day or overachieve just to get there?

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All those multiple entrants in multiple Derbies skew Pletcher’s strike rate, as even the best he could do in 2013 or 2007, barring a dead heat, was go 1 for 5. Plus, the stakes those horses have won prior to the Derby, while often merely described as preps, are in and of themselves important, lucrative graded races.

For instance, Malagacy’s win in the Grade 2, $900,000 Rebel was worth $540,000 to Oussama Aboughazale’s Sumaya U.S. Stables. He was bought as a 2-year-old in training for $190,000 and already has earned $586,800. They’re out and then some.

“Everyone is trying to get to the Derby, and that’s the goal in mind, but these are signature races leading up to it,” Pletcher said. “A lot of them are career-making-, stud-making-caliber races. They’re preps, but they’re game changers. Winning a $500,000 race is hard to come by.”

Six late nominees to Crown

Six horses were announced Wednesday as late nominees to the Triple Crown, including Thunder Snow, who runs Saturday in the UAE Derby at Meydan, and Parlor, who runs Saturday in the Spiral Stakes at Turfway.

The other four are Hollywood Handsome, More Than Words, Rapid Dial, and Stretch’s Stone.

Those six were made eligible to all three legs of the Triple Crown with a payment of $6,000 that was due Monday. Another 419 3-year-olds were made eligible to the Triple Crown back in January for a payment of $600.

The Triple Crown begins with the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 6, followed by the Preakness at Pimlico on May 20, then the Belmont Stakes on June 10.