07/13/2005 11:00PM

Pletcher focusing solely on Virginia Derby


The $5 million Grand Slam of Grass was not a motivating factor in trainer Todd Pletcher's decision to run English Channel in the Grade 3, $750,000 on Saturday, the biggest day of the year at Colonial Downs.

English Channel has already won the Colonial Turf Cup, the first of four races in the series. A victory in the Virginia Derby would move him halfway toward claiming the guaranteed $5 million in purse and bonus money for a sweep.

"You know, I really don't think I would get caught up in the bonus until maybe if we were fortunate enough to win the first three," Pletcher said.

After the 1 1/4-mile Virginia Derby, English Channel would still need to win the Grade 1, $400,000 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park on Aug. 13 and the Grade 1, $2 million John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf at Belmont Park on Oct. 29 to complete the Grand Slam.

The Virginia Derby tops the second annual Virginia Million Day. The 10-race card gets under way at 1 p.m. In addition to the richest Virginia Derby ever, the card contains two 1 1/8-mile grass stakes worth $200,000 each: the Grade 3 All Along Breeders' Cup Stakes for fillies and mares, and the Virginia Oaks for 3-year-old fillies.

English Channel figures to be favored in the Virginia Derby as he puts a three-race win streak on the line with regular rider John Velazquez aboard.

Pletcher's main concern is the time between races. The Colonial Turf Cup was June 25 and Pletcher prefers a longer recovery period.

"I always love to have a little more time," he said. "I think it's a little less important with turf racing, especially with a horse like this who seems to really run the last quarter of a mile or last three-eighths of a race."

Two other horses return from the Colonial Turf Cup: Interpatation, who encountered traffic trouble before rallying for third, and fifth-place finisher Criminal Mind.

Spring House gets a rider switch to Hall-of-Famer Gary Stevens after being disqualified from second to third in the Grade 3 Kent Breeders' Cup Stakes at Delaware Park.

Trainer Bobby Frankel entered two: Chattahoochee War and the Irish-bred Rebel Rebel, who makes his U.S. debut.

Rey de Cafe beat Prince Rahy by a nose in the Grade 3 Hill Prince Stakes at Belmont Park and both square off again in the Virginia Derby.

Rush Bay, winner of the Grade 3 Jefferson Cup at Churchill Downs, Silver Whistle, and Crown Point complete the field.

* Briviesca, who lost by only a neck in the Grade 3 Gallorette Handicap at Pimlico, has the outside post in the field of 14 for the All Along.

* Trainer Tom Proctor sends in Rich in Spirit for the Oaks. She won the Grade 3 Regret Stakes at Churchill Downs last time out. Stevens has the return call.