02/06/2012 2:52PM

Kentucky Derby 2012: Under the Radar - El Padrino

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Barbara D. Livingston
El Padrino started his 3-year-old campaign with an impressive allowance victory over Take Charge Indy on Jan. 29 at Gulfstream Park.

On a quiet Saratoga morning last July, champion trainer Todd Pletcher sent a pair of promising unraced juveniles to the gate over the hallowed main track. Both babies shared the “bullet” designation after completing their five-furlong workouts in 58.89 seconds.

On July 23, exactly one week after the swift morning trial, the first of the two Pletcher workers, a colt named How Do I Win, made his career debut at the Spa. There was a buzz surrounding the strapping gray, the kind of excitement that affects the tote. There was no doubt the word was out as How Do I Win was sent off the 9-10 favorite in the field of seven.

The best-laid plans of mice, men, and horseplayers often go amiss, however, and How Do I Win finished a tired third after pressing the pace for a half-mile. He would disappoint in his next two starts as well, before an exasperated Pletcher plunged How Do I Win in class. The colt won his maiden for a $50,000 tag over sloppy going at Belmont in October, before scoring in a starter allowance the following month at Aqueduct. Hopeful that the colt had turned the corner, Pletcher entered How Do I Win in both the Count Fleet Stakes and the Grade 3 Withers Stakes over the Aqueduct inner track. How Do I Win finished fourth on both occasions and, as of this moment, doesn’t appear to be a serious Kentucky Derby candidate.

The current outlook seems much brighter for How Do I Win’s workmate, a chestnut colt named El Padrino. Owned by Let’s Go Stable, El Padrino was unveiled by Pletcher in a maiden special weight at Saratoga on Aug. 20. Like How Do I Win, El Padrino went favored. Like How Do I Win, he tasted defeat. But, El Padrino showed some spark in that seven-furlong affair contested over a speed-favoring surface. Lagging well behind for the first half-mile while racing on the rail, El Padrino split horses on the turn before angling back to the inside turning for home. He made up gobs of ground in the final furlong, but fell short by three-quarters of a length to gate-to-wire winner B Shanny. El Padrino galloped out nicely after the fact, an indication that he might appreciate even more distance down the road.

Reportedly sidelined by a shin ailment following his debut, El Padrino didn’t make his second appearance until a one-mile maiden special weight at Belmont on Oct. 29. Racing over a sloppy track, El Padrino pushed the pace while three wide, took control at the head of the stretch, and drew away to win by 12 3/4 lengths under only moderate hand urging by jockey John Velazquez.

For El Padrino’s first start around two turns, Pletcher circled Aqueduct’s Grade 2 Remsen Stakes at nine furlongs on Nov. 26. Breaking from the rail, El Padrino tracked the pace from the pocket before being eased slightly off the inside entering the final turn. He seemed one-paced in midstretch, but found another gear in the final sixteenth, altering course to the outside and finishing well to be a non-threatening third, three-quarters of a length behind winning O’Prado Again. Once more, El Padrino galloped out ahead of the field going into the clubhouse turn after the race.

Pletcher took El Padrino to south Florida for the winter with the rest of his first-string performers. Although considered a possibility for the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds, El Padrino made his seasonal debut in an entry-level allowance event at 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream on Jan. 29. Facing a field that included Grade 3-placed Take Charge Indy and stakes-placed runners Bartolome, Casual Trick, and Argentine Tango, El Padrino once again was pocketed behind the pacesetter on the backstretch. He split horses to come around a tiring pacesetter entering the turn, but found himself three lengths behind the leader, Take Charge Indy, with five-sixteenths of a mile to race. El Padrino set sail for Take Charge Indy, collared him at the eighth pole, and powered away to win by two lengths under Javier Castellano. The final time of 1:42.68 over the sealed, good track earned El Padrino a 100 Beyer Speed Figure.

Foaled in Kentucky on Jan. 22, 2009, El Padrino was purchased for $210,000 at the following September’s Keeneland yearling auction. His sire, Pulpit, received triple-digit Beyers in all of his six lifetime starts, including victories in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream and the Grade 2 Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland. Pulpit prevailed at distances ranging from seven furlongs to 1 1/8 miles and finished fourth in the 1997 Kentucky Derby. At stud, Pulpit is represented by North American Grade 1 winners Pyro (Forego Stakes, seven furlongs), Rutherienne (Del Mar Oaks, 1 1/8 miles on turf), Corinthian (Metropolitan Handicap, one mile), Ice Box (Florida Derby, 1 1/8 miles), Purge (Cigar Mile, one mile), Stroll (Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, 1 1/8 miles, turf), Sky Mesa (Hopeful Stakes, seven furlongs), Tapit (Wood Memorial, nine furlongs), and Mi Sueno (Del Mar Debutante, seven furlongs on Polytrack). Ice Box finished a troubled second in the 2010 Kentucky Derby.

El Padrino’s dam, the Giant’s Causeway mare Enchanted Rock, raced only once, finishing 10th in a maiden special weight over a mile on turf at Belmont Park. Enchanted Rock is a half-sister to Grade 2 sprint winner Waldoboro and Grade 2 route winner Tara Roma. The latter won the Ladies Handicap at the Kentucky Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles. This is the female family of multiple Grade 1 route winner Queena.

Thus far, El Padrino has displayed several admiral traits. He is not afraid to race down inside where there is a possibility of getting dirt kicked back into his face. His lead changes are smooth and professional, and he has shown good tactical speed in his last few races. Add in Pletcher and a rock-solid pedigree, and El Padrino has the look of a possible Derby contender.