11/24/2004 12:00AM

A knack for the green stuff


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The nation's other leading trainer will be well represented in California during the holiday weekend, when Ocean Drive, Paddy's Daisy, and Dubleo go forth in various Hollywood Park Autumn Turf Festival races for the stable of Todd Pletcher.

Now known as "Texas Todd" in light of his two-winner day at the Lone Star Breeders' Cup, Pletcher hopes to pad his lead over Bobby Frankel in the only standings that truly mean anything to modern American sports: money. Through Tuesday, about a million dollars in earnings separated the two mega-barns.

This is not to discount the achievement of Steve Asmussen and his robust string of stables decorating America's heartland. Winning 500 races in a season is a breathtaking record and worthy of widespread recognition. A few years ago, when Asmussen won his first title, he suggested a handsome belt buckle might be an appropriate trophy, since he had no real shot at an Eclipse. For passing 500, the guy should get the buckle, the belt, and two pair of boots.

It is purse money, though, that makes the monkey dance. Just ask the 2004 version of the St. Louis Cardinals (105 wins) or the New York Yankees (101 wins). The Red Sox ended the year with 98, but when the money was down, guess who got the girl.

As far as the 2004 money title is concerned, Pletcher's million-dollar lead with five weeks to go is nothing to get cocky about. Frankel will be taking full swings at the richest races of the Turf Festival - the $400,000 Citation, the $500,000 Matriarch, and the $500,000 Hollywood Derby - while Pletcher had to swallow purse cuts for two of his three targets, the Miesque Stakes on Friday and the Generous Stakes on Saturday, both for 2-year-olds. In fact, the Miesque was split into two divisions when 16 were entered on Wednesday, turning a $100,000 stakes into two $75,000 races.

"These two horses" - Paddy's Daisy and Dubleo - "are both doing very well, but we had considered not taking them to California," Pletcher said. "It's a long way to go, and the purses are only $100,000 this year versus $200,000 in the past. But the main thing was they were doing so well, so we said let's capitalize on that now, and let their breaks come in January and February."

Both Pletcher youngsters have a right to run well at Hollywood Park. Paddy's Daisy, a daughter of King of Kings, is coming off minor grass stakes wins at The Meadowlands and Keeneland. Dubleo (pronounced "double-oh"), is a son of Southern Halo who has won 4 of his last 5, including grass stakes at Woodbine and Monmouth. His dam, Secret Red, is a half-sister to the 1992 sprint champion, Rubiano.

Dubleo is owned in part by J.J. Pletcher, the trainer's father, and named for Angel Cordero, the retired Hall of Fame rider who books mounts for Pletcher's primary stakes rider, John Velazquez. Velazquez was aboard for both of Pletcher's Breeders' Cup wins at Lone Star.

"Angel has crowned himself the real life version of Dubleo," Pletcher said. "When we were at Palm Meadows last spring he was one of the first 2-year-olds to come in. When Angel saw him he said, 'Who's that little black colt over there? I like the way he looks.' That's when he became 'Double O.' It's not exactly spelled properly, but that's the only way we could get it."

Both Paddy's Daisy and Dubleo were given a try on dirt before their destinies were sealed on grass.

"Paddy's Daisy was with one of the first groups of 2-year-olds to come in last April," Pletcher said. "She trained really well, so we decided to go ahead and run her on the dirt, even though her pedigree" - she is out of a Woodman mare - "suggests she would be a turf filly."

What a surprise. Pletcher was right. Paddy's Daisy floundered around in the Belmont sand last July, then found her true calling on grass at Saratoga with a five-length maiden score.

"It's amazing to me that you'll see horses where it makes such a dramatic difference between dirt and turf," Pletcher said. "Really, it seems like genetics is the main component."

In the case of the Pletcher success story, organization seems to be the key. He maintains a large supply of talent year-round at Belmont Park and Saratoga, then spins off stables to race at Gulfstream Park in the winter (also using the Palm Meadows training center) and Monmouth Park in the summer. Pletcher has the depth to strike for stakes wherever airplanes fly, and the staff to make sure things go right.

"We've got a full army of people responsible for the season we've had," Pletcher said. "Michael McCarthy - 'Whitey' - makes all the California trips because he's from there. Tristan Barry is at Palm Meadows, then Belmont in the summer. Seth Benzel does the Saratoga-Belmont thing during the winter. Anthony Sciametta is the Gulfstream-Monmouth guy. And then there's a lot of other people behind those guys."

The Pletcher stable can be assured of at least one champion this year - the 3-year-old filly Ashado - and perhaps a second if the vote backs Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Speightstown. Such honors are consolation in the face of Asmussen's headline-grabbing, magic 500, more than twice the Pletcher stable win total. Pletcher is rightfully impressed.

"I know how hard it is to do what we do," Pletcher said. "I can only imagine what Steve does. It's an amazing accomplishment."

It takes one to know one.