11/04/2006 12:00AM

For Pletcher, it's all in a day's work


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Todd Pletcher's day began later than usual on Saturday morning.

"I was kind of dogging it today," Pletcher said. "Got out at about 4:45. I had to go to the airport last night, so I was up kind of late."

Unflappable Pletcher seems like the sort of person to rise each morning at the same moment, no prompting necessary. He does, but sets an alarm as backup. "I'd be too afraid I'd oversleep."

Up and at 'em on a frosty Churchill Downs morning, the first sets of horses going to the racetrack under the cloak of darkness - just another day in the life of America's leading trainer. Except this was the day Pletcher was to start a stupefying 17 horses on the Breeders' Cup program.

By 8 a.m., all the Saturday starters had walked the shed row, all the other horses that needed to train had been out and were either cooling off or back in their stalls. Pletcher still had plenty of business to hold his attention. Did he feel butterflies? "No, not yet."

The pit of the stomach might tighten at some point later in the day, but as usual, Pletcher was prepared, had all his bases covered. A two-page printout on his office desk listed comprehensive race-day plans for every Breeders' Cup starter: Lasix, icing, equipment, who was to lead the horse to the paddock. This was the general, drawing up his field plan.

Back to his hotel, change from training clothes into a slick afternoon suit, back to the racetrack - time to start rolling.

"The stakes are obviously high today," Pletcher said. "Once you start racing some horses, it all happens pretty fast. Really, the longest days are the ones that you have to wait around all day, like the Derby. We've got things all lined up now - we just have to go over there and execute."

- Marcus Hersh

It's No Joke by a neck in Ack Ack

Trainer Becky Maker keeps setting the bar high for her stable star, It's No Joke, and he just keeps achieving. Five weeks after he captured the Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup, It's No Joke raced to another important victory in the Grade 3 on the Breeders' Cup undercard at Churchill Downs.

Ridden by Robby Albarado, It's No Joke took the lead turning for home before turning back a sustained run from Irene's Mon to win by a neck. Level Playingfield was along late to finish third, another 1 1/2 lengths back.

It's No Joke, owned by Stan Fulton, returned $8.80 as second choice in a field of 12. He finished one mile in 1:34.77 over a fast track and earning $134,234 from the $232,800 purse. The win was his fifth from 10 starts this year.

Magna Graduate, making his first start in more than seven months, pressed the pace before fading to 10th as the 5-2 favorite. Latent Heat and Wiggins were scratched from an original field of 14.

- Marty McGee

O'Neill, P. Val team up in Very Subtle

Patrick Valenzuela, known for his prowess as a speed rider, played to his strength in winning the $238,200 Very Subtle Stakes aboard Maryfield at Churchill Downs on Saturday.

Under a hustling ride from Valenzuela, Maryfield shot to the front with fractions of 21.70 seconds and 44.67 in the six-furlong race. After turning aside bids from several rivals coming in early stretch, she lasted for a 1 1/4-length victory over Morner. Maryfield raced six furlongs in 1:09.61 over a fast track in the Very Subtle, which kicked off the Saturday's Breeders' Cup card.

Hot Storm, the tepid favorite at 4-1 in the 10-horse field, ran third, a neck behind Morner. Indian Flare, Joint Effort, Trippi Street, and Humorous Gal - who raced in Thursday's Chilukki Stakes at Churchill Downs - were scratched.

Maryfield ($11.40), a 5-year-old daughter of Elusive Quality, is owned by Empire Stables, Mark Gorman, and Jim Perry and trained by Doug O'Neill. She scored her second stakes victory of the year in the Very Subtle.

- Byron King

Big fields expected Tuesday

Tuesday's 10-race program features a $55,000 turf allowance for fillies and mares. As has been common throughout much of the fall, both at Keeneland in October and more recently at Churchill, a full and competitive field awaits Kentucky horseplayers.

Miss Laken, a Dynaformer filly who went through her first two allowance conditions in quick succession in Chicago, could be a slight favorite, although several other fillies figure to take substantial play as well. Those horses could include Wrapped Up in You, Cursora, Moon Berry, Ladyburn, and Quiero Ganar.

Thirteen are entered, although only as many as 10 can start in the 1 1/8-mile race, which carries a third-level allowance condition.

Two other allowances (races 3 and 10) also are part of what will be the lone Tuesday card of the meet. Election Day is the reason for the track running the extra date.

- Marty McGee