06/29/2008 11:00PM

Pletcher expects better


ELMONT, N.Y. - By most trainer's standards, being ranked third nationally in purse money won and tied for fifth in races won would be considered a pretty good six months' work.

By Todd Pletcher's standards, the first half of 2008 was pretty mediocre. Through the first six months of the year - and including the results of Dubai World Cup Night - Pletcher has won 114 races and his horses have earned $7,227,546 in purses.

Pletcher has won the last four Eclipse Awards as leading trainer in North America, averaging 270 wins annually over that period. His purse earnings have gone up each year from $17,481,923 in 2004 to a record $28,116,097 last year, which broke Pletcher's record of $26,820,243 in 2006.

But in the sport's major races, Pletcher has been below par. He has just 13 graded stakes victories. His only score in a Grade 1 race came with Monba in the Blue Grass. In the first half of 2007 - the first 45 days of which he was serving a suspension - Pletcher had 31 graded stakes wins.

Pletcher has struggled in New York, where he has won just four stakes, led by Harlem Rocker's Grade 3 Withers victory in April. At Belmont, he has just two overnight stakes victories and only 7 wins overall from 47 starters.

None of this is shocking to Pletcher, who noted that several of his top performers from 2007 were retired and that his 2-year-old crop of 2007 was substandard.

"I told people in the barn this is going to be a rebuilding year for us,'' said Pletcher, who turned 41 last Wednesday. "You can't retire English Channel, Any Given Saturday, Lawyer Ron, Scat Daddy, Honey Ryder - just to name a few - in one year and expect to have the same purse earnings the next year.''

Add Rags to Riches and Octave to the quintet and you have seven horses that combined to win 17 graded stakes and bank $8,911,932.

"Unfortunately, also it landed on the heels of what I would call a subpar 2-year-old crop for us, so, yeah, it's going to be hard to run out $28 million or $30 million,'' Pletcher said. "But really the biggest factor is we retired so many of our top earners from last year.''

Pletcher has reason to believe the second half of the year will be better. He feels this year's 2-year-old crop is superior to last year's. He already has had eight 2-year-old winners, including Garden District, who won last Saturday's Grade 3 Debutante at Churchill.

Pletcher is also counting on the return of some his better older horses who have been sidelined by infirmities, including the champion Wait a While, and graded stakes winners Ravel and Circular Quay.

Two of Pletcher's top 3-year-olds are likely to run in upcoming stakes. Behindatthebar, who won the Lexington but scratched out of the Preakness, is likely to run next in the Swaps at Hollywood Park on July 12. Harlem Rocker could run in Sunday's Dwyer here or the $500,000 Prince of Wales at Fort Erie on July 13.

"I think the second half of the year is going to be better than the first half,'' Pletcher said. "Judging by most standards, even to this point, it hasn't been too bad of a year. But when you judge it against our standards for the last three of four years it's down.''

Proud Spell may miss Coaching Club

Kentucky Oaks winner Proud Spell did not escape her stumbling start in Saturday's Grade 1 Mother Goose completely unscathed. Trainer Larry Jones said Proud Spell sustained a "good laceration'' on her left front ankle and her left knee.

"It's minor swelling compared to what I thought we'd be liable to find,'' Jones said Monday.

Jones said Proud Spell is back at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland and would probably be given a few extra days off before going back to the track over the weekend. Given that, Jones said there's a possibility Proud Spell will skip the Coaching Club American Oaks here on July 19 and point to the Alabama at Saratoga on Aug. 16.

"I don't know if we'll get to make the very next one or not; depends how fast we can get this ankle healed,'' he said.

Jones said that Solar Flare came out of his runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Suburban in good order and could run at Saratoga in either the Whitney on July 26 or the Woodward on Aug. 30.

Music Note more likely to target Alabama

Music Note also stumbled in the Mother Goose, but she recovered enough to win by 3 1/2 lengths. She did not escape the race unscathed either.

As previously reported, Music Note lost her right hind shoe in the race. On Monday, assistant trainer Rick Mettee said that Music Note also dislodged her left front shoe, and suffered a few nicks and scrapes.

While Mettee said he and trainer Saeed bin Suroor would not dismiss running in the Coaching Club, he said the Alabama is more of a priority.

Mettee also oversees the training of Ashland winner Little Belle. On Saturday, she breezed three furlongs in 36.01 seconds, her first workout since finishing second in the Kentucky Oaks. Mettee said a long-range goal for her is the Gazelle at Belmont in September.

Frost Giant may rest until Gold Cup in fall

Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said Frost Giant came out of his upset victory in the Grade 1 Suburban in good shape and would likely be pointed to the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup here on Sept. 27.

Dutrow said that Rising Moon, third in the Suburban, showed signs of a lung infection following an endoscopic examination.

"At least we got something to work with,'' said Dutrow, who had high hopes for Rising Moon entering the Suburban. "The other horse came out of it great.''

My Princess Jess points to Lake George

Trainer Barclay Tagg has laid out an ambitious campaign for My Princess Jess, who won Saturday's Grade 3 Boiling Springs at Monmouth by a neck under Joe Bravo.

It was My Princess Jess's first start for Tagg and owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson, who purchased the filly privately from Georgica Stable and trainer Robert Barbara.

Tagg said he would like to run My Princess Jess back in the Grade 2, $150,000 Lake George at Saratoga on July 25, then the Grade 1 Garden City at Belmont on Sept. 6 and the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland in October. Tagg said the Lake Placid at Saratoga on Aug. 15 is a fall-back in case she can't make the Lake George.

"I thought she was very impressive,'' Tagg said. "She exploded when he asked her to run. I thought he asked her to run a little early, but got the job done anyway.''

* Bit of Whimsy, who won the Queen Elizabeth last year for Tagg, worked four furlongs in 49.37 seconds Monday morning over the Belmont training track. She is preparing for a start in the Grade 1 Diana at Saratoga on July 26.