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Pletcher brigade comes out in force
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Todd Pletcher's seemingly endless army of talented horses laid siege to the Palm Meadows training center on Sunday morning, coming out in well-orchestrated waves beginning shortly after dawn and ending more than three hours later when the last of his stable left the racetrack.
With General Pletcher laying out the battle plans from atop the clockers' stand adjacent to the finish line, the show began with no less an attraction than Kentucky Derby favorite Eskendereya and continued with his other top 3-year-old prospects, such as Super Saver, Rule, Aikenite, Discreetly Mine, Interactif, Mission Impazible, and Ibboyee. They were joined by several of Pletcher's older stars, including Grade 1 winners Munnings and Take the Points, as well as Harlem Rocker, who is among the leading candidates for Saturday's Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap.
Eskendereya moved to the top of his class with an explosive victory in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth two weeks earlier. Pletcher was looking for an easy half-mile in 49 seconds in Eskendereya's first work back since that performance, and jockey John Velazquez was pretty much on target, getting Eskendereya around in 49.38 seconds, after which he galloped out a strong five furlongs in 1:02.51 and six panels in 1:15.22.
"He worked well and galloped out very well," Pletcher said. "He's doing everything the right way, and what makes me most excited is that he likes the distance. He's still got one more work to go, but right now the most likely and logical scenario is for him to run back in the Florida Derby, since he's already shown he likes the racetrack."
Pletcher said that in a perfect world the Florida Derby would not have been moved up a week on the schedule to March 20.
"We had a choice of running him back in four weeks here or waiting six weeks for the Wood, and after analyzing which would be the best scenario we felt the Florida Derby would be the safer play," said Pletcher. "Especially since he went six weeks to the Fountain of Youth and ran so well, and that will give us six before the Kentucky Derby."
Eskendereya was followed several minutes later by Super Saver, who went five furlongs in 1:00.71 in company with Munnings. Super Saver broke off just in front of Munnings and was still in front at the wire while in hand before galloping well clear, pulling up six furlongs in 1:13.41. After the work, Pletcher all but confirmed that Super Saver will make his 3-year-old debut in Saturday's Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby.
"I really like what I saw this morning from Super Saver," said Pletcher. "We have other options with him, but Tampa would be the easiest trip."
Pletcher also cautioned not to make too much out of the fact that Super Saver appeared to outwork the more seasoned Munnings, whose next start will come in the Grade 1 Carter.
"Munnings will fool you if you don't know him," said Pletcher. "He's a game-time horse, not a real good work horse."
Interactif and Ibboyee were next, going in company in 49.61 seconds. Pletcher is looking at the San Felipe for Interactif if he can make the proper travel arrangements, while Ibboyee will wheel back here on March 20 in the Grade 2 Swale.
Aikenite, a distant third behind Eskendereya in the Fountain of Youth, followed by breezing a half-mile in 48.98 seconds along with one of the up-and-coming older horses in Pletcher's barn, Battle Plan. Aikenite is headed to Keeneland for the Blue Grass, while Battle Plan is expected to make his stakes debut on March 27 in the New Orleans Handicap.
Following a brief respite during the renovation break, Pletcher sent out the rest of his troops. This wave began with Rule and Harlem Rocker, who went as a team, posting a quick three-furlong split of 35.82 over the freshly harrowed track before completing five-eights in 1:01.09. They were followed by Risen Star winner Discreetly Mine, who breezed an easy half by himself in 49.24 seconds.
"I thought Rule worked extremely well," said Pletcher. "At the moment, I'd like to keep him and Eskendereya separate, although he could still go in the Florida Derby with our backup plan being the Wood."
Discreetly Mine will return to the Fair Grounds for the Louisiana Derby on March 27.
She Be Wild looks headed to Tampa
Trainer Wayne Catalano said he is leaning heavily towards sending Eclipse Award winner She Be Wild to Tampa on Saturday for the Grade 3 Florida Oaks. She Be Wild did not appear to handle the local strip in finishing fifth making her 3-year-old debut in the seven-furlong Forward Gal earlier this winter.
"We really have only two options with her, which would be to get her a prep and then bring her back in three weeks for the Ashland, or to just train her up to the Ashland," said Catalano. "She's doing well at the moment, and it looks like the race in Tampa is going to come up a fairly soft spot, so right now I think that's the way we'll go."
Odysseus tunes up
Trainer Tom Albertrani is also going back to Tampa on Saturday with Odysseus, who will like vie for favoritism with Super Saver in the Tampa Bay Derby. Odysseus, who has captured both his starts at 3, including an easy allowance win in his two-turn debut last month at Tampa, worked five furlongs in 1:01.40 at Palm Meadows on Monday.
"Hopefully there will be a little more pace to this race and the scenario will be similar to his last start," said Albertrani. "If he happens to jump up and win, then we'll have some decisions to make whether to run him one more time in a race like the Wood or just wait and train him up to the Derby."
Kimmel firster impresses
Trainer John Kimmel was accepting congratulations left and right at the clocker's stand at Palm Meadows on Sunday morning after sending out back-to-back winners the previous afternoon, including Khancord Kid in the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride. Kimmel also won with the good-looking first-time starter Friend of Foe. Both horses are New York-breds owned by Mary Broman and Chester Broman Sr.
Friend or Foe is particularly close to Kimmel's heart, since he is a son of Friends Lake, a horse he trained to win the 2004 Florida Derby for the Bromans.
"He's a big colt, 17 hands, and it took a while to have everything in order," said Kimmel. "I was a little nervous five and one-half furlongs might be too short for him, since his daddy won at a mile and one-eighth, but he ran very professional for a first-time starter."
Kimmel said he will likely give Friend or Foe a little time off following his big debut win.
"We'll obviously look to stretch him out and we've got a lot of options with him, including waiting to get back to New York against statebreds," said Kimmel.
* Pulsion worked six furlongs in 1:14.80 at Gulfstream on Monday as he continues to prepare for his next start, the Florida Derby.