11/23/2011 5:08PM

Gemologist tries to follow in Derby winner Super Saver's footsteps

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Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Todd Pletcher gives Javier Castellano a leg up on Gemologist at Churchill Downs last month. The unbeaten colt makes his next start Saturday in the Kentucky Jockey Club.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – History repeats itself, doesn’t it? A promising 2-year-old colt named Gemologist sure could have tongues wagging if he remains unbeaten Saturday in the Grade 2, $150,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs, a feat that would remind everyone of what Super Saver recently accomplished.

Super Saver won the 2009 KJC by five lengths before returning to Churchill the following spring to win the 2010 Kentucky Derby, becoming the first horse to win both races since Cannonade did it in 1973-74. Gemologist, like Super Saver, is owned by WinStar Farm and trained by Todd Pletcher.

“I’m sure a lot of people would make that connection right away,” WinStar president Elliott Walden said. “But, obviously, we can’t get that far ahead of ourselves.”

Gemologist is by Tiznow, the WinStar stallion who has emerged as one of the world’s pre-eminent sires, and is out of Crystal Shard, an unraced 17-year-old dam by Mr. Prospector. He was a $310,000 weanling purchase at the 2009 November sales at Keeneland.

“I thought he was the best-looking horse at that sale, and we always like to support our own stallion progeny,” Walden said.

There were thoughts of selling Gemologist back as a yearling, and he in fact was entered in the Keeneland September sale in 2010 before being withdrawn.

“The market at that time was pretty depressed, and we always thought a whole lot of the colt anyway, so he was a keeper,” Walden said.

Gemologist will be one of the favorites in the 1 1/16-mile KJC, which will be his third career start. He won a Turfway maiden sprint by five lengths on the Sept. 24 WinStar Kentucky Cup undercard and a 1 1/16-mile allowance by two lengths on the Oct. 30 Stars of Tomorrow card at Churchill.

Walden said he recently asked Pletcher where Gemologist fit among his current crop of 2-year-olds, which perennially is among the deepest and best-bred for any trainer in North America.

“Todd said he’s right there at the top,” Walden said.

Pletcher confirmed that he is excited about Gemologist’s potential.

“The horse has done everything right so far,” Pletcher said. “He came to us during the Saratoga meet. He was a big, strong colt, and we weren’t sure how much early pace he would have. But as we got to training him a little bit, you could see he had some speed to go along with his size, and he kept getting better and better.

“We started looking at our options on where to start him, and we talked about Turfway because he’d had experience on the synthetic at WinStar before he came to us. WinStar was sponsoring the Kentucky Cup program so it was a good fit and good timing. Then when he ran him at Churchill, we always felt like he’d be one to carry his speed around two turns, and he proved that in the allowance race.”

One knock against Gemologist are his low Beyer Speed Figures: He earned a 74 in his maiden win and a 75 in the allowance, well below the numbers earned by some of the flashier 2-year-olds this year. But Walden said there is an easy explanation for that.

“I’ve always thought the numbers on the Turfway Poly are hard to equate, and when he won on the front end around two turns, there weren’t many doing that the whole week at Churchill,” he said. “Plus, he’s got a right to improve in a big way.”

For all its success, WinStar has never had a 2-year-old run in the Breeders’ Cup, but Walden said that’s because of the way the program is designed.

“A big reason for that is we don’t want to get our 2-year-olds started until August or September, so it’s hard for us to have a horse we expect to run in the Breeders’ Cup,” he said. “Our whole program focuses on the 3-year-old year. The Kentucky Jockey Club and the Remsen are the two races that are basically our Breeders’ Cup for 2-year-olds.”

Besides Super Saver winning the 2009 KJC, WinStar also had Any Given Saturday, trained by Pletcher, finish second in the 2006 running. WinStar won the Remsen in 2005 with Bluegrass Cat, trained by Pletcher, and in 2007 with Court Vision, trained by Bill Mott.
Pletcher said the early schedule for Gemologist reminds him of the schedule for Any Given Saturday, who went on to win the Dwyer, Haskell, and Brooklyn in the second half of his 3-year-old season in 2007.

“In some ways it’s very similar,” Pletcher said. “Any Given Saturday broke his maiden at Turfway, then won a two-turn allowance at Keeneland before he was second in the Jockey Club. We had planned to run Gemologist at Keeneland, but the race didn’t go. But it turns out that this was even better because now he’s got a race over the track, and the timing toward this next race is just fine.”

WinStar, located in Versailles, Ky., is owned by Kenny Troutt, who bought out his longtime partner, Bill Casner, about six months after they won the Derby together. Since that Derby, Drosselmeyer has carried the WinStar colors to victory in the 2010 Belmont Stakes and the recent BC Classic at Churchill.

“It’s been a great 18 months,” Walden said. “To stand back and look at it all, it’s like, ‘Wow, did that really happen?’ To have all those accomplishments, there’s no question we’ve been blessed. We all work hard and have a great team at the farm that’s committed to the horses from the time they’re conceived until the time they hit the winner’s circle.”

Whether Gemologist can bring them Derby roses again is something that won’t be answered for some time, but clearly the critical first steps are being taken in that direction.

“The Jockey Club was a great prep for Super Saver,” Pletcher said. “At least when we came back for the Derby, we knew he liked the track. That can be pretty reassuring.”