03/29/2010 12:00AM

Pletcher keeps firing in Derby hunt

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Louis Hodges Jr.
Mission Impazible wins the Louisiana Derby for trainer Todd Pletcher, earning a 94 Beyer Figure.

Winning preps for the Kentucky Derby is one thing. Winning the race is another matter. Just ask trainer Todd Pletcher, who has been there, but not done that.

Pletcher is knocking off Derby preps like a general on a march. On Saturday, he added the to a spring campaign whose stakes conquests already include the Fountain of Youth, Risen Star, El Camino Real Derby, and Sam Davis. Still to come are bids in the Wood Memorial, Arkansas Derby, Blue Grass, and Lexington.

A similar scenario happened in 2007, when Pletcher had so much success in Derby preps that he ended up with five horses - Any Given Saturday, Circular Quay, Cowtown Cat, Sam P., and Scat Daddy - in the Kentucky Derby, tying a record held by D. Wayne Lukas (1996) and Nick Zito (2005). Lukas won the 1996 Derby with Grindstone. But as with Zito, whose best horse in 2005 finished seventh, Pletcher's quintet became the Flop Five, his runners finishing sixth, eighth, ninth, 18th, and last in the 20-horse field.

That is why Pletcher was soberly realistic on Monday, less than 48 hours after Mission Impazible won the Louisiana Derby and Exhi the Rushaway. No one these days knows better than Pletcher how elusive is the Derby. He has had 24 runners in nine Derbies over the past decade, and none has won.

"There's a long way to go," Pletcher said Monday morning from the Palm Meadows training center in Florida. "We're not getting ahead of ourselves."

Examining Pletcher's Derby record has become an annual rite of spring, and Pletcher has to know it's coming. Though he has the ignominious label of being the trainer with the most Derby starters without a victory, it's not like the Derby has been an abject failure for him. Pletcher has had starters in the race only nine times, and has finished second twice, with Invisible Ink (2001) and Bluegrass Cat (2006). But 21 of his 24 horses have finished out of the money, and five have finished last.

Mission Impazible got a Beyer Speed Figure of 94 in the Louisiana Derby. He and his Pletcher barnmate Discreetly Mine - who finished fourth as the favorite - are the likeliest of those coming out of the Louisiana Derby to have the requisite graded stakes earnings to run in the expected 20-horse Kentucky Derby field.

Mission Impazible and Discreetly Mine both "came out of the race well," Pletcher said Monday. Both returned to Palm Meadows from New Orleans and will remain at Palm Meadows until flying to Kentucky on April 20. Pletcher said both would have one workout at Churchill Downs before the Derby.

Pletcher said Discreetly Mine's Derby status was "possible, as of now."

"I want to watch him train and see how he does," he said. "A final decision will be made after his breeze at Churchill Downs. We're training him as though he's being prepared for the Kentucky Derby."

This Saturday, Pletcher will send out Eskendereya, the current Derby favorite, in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. On April 10, he is scheduled to run Super Saver in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn, and both Aikenite and Interactif in the Blue Grass at Keeneland. He said both Connemara, who was third in the , and Exhi could run April 17 in the Lexington, but described both colts, who have had their best success on synthetic tracks, as "unlikely" for the Kentucky Derby.

The Lane's End winner, Dean's Kitten, got a Beyer Speed Figure of 93. His trainer, Mike Maker, said Dean's Kitten came out of the race in good shape and will train up to the Derby while based at the Trackside training annex just a few miles from Churchill Downs. Maker said the Trackside surface is "as good as any in the country" and that he sees no reason why the colt can't just stay there the entire time.

Maker added that Lonesome Street, second in the Rushaway to Exhi, is possible for the Lexington.

Northern Giant, second in the Lane's End, needs more graded earnings to crack the top 20, so trainer D. Wayne Lukas said he is contemplating another prep.

"We would love to get him in if we could," Lukas said. "Earnings-wise, that may necessitate another effort."

Endorsement, the upset winner of the , was to fly to Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday and will train at Keeneland, according to trainer Shannon Ritter, a former assistant to Elliott Walden, who is the racing manager for Endorsement's owners, the WinStar Farms of Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt. Endorsement got a Beyer Speed Figure of 101 while sending Conveyance to his first defeat.

Conveyance "got really tired," his trainer, Bob Baffert, said Monday.

"I think he needed a hard race like that," Baffert said from Santa Anita, where Conveyance will spend the next two weeks. "It was good for him. That's a nice horse who beat him."

As for the Derby, Baffert said, "I'll see how he trains.

"I was going to take him with me to Kentucky anyway," Baffert said. "I think he's the kind of horse you've got to just let roll."

Baffert's top Derby contender is Eclipse Award winner Lookin At Lucky, who will have his final Derby prep on Saturday in the Santa Anita Derby.

"We're all set. He looked good today," Baffert said, one day after Lookin At Lucky worked six furlongs at Santa Anita in 1:12. "Our main goal is to get him ready for the Derby."

Baffert had been strongly leaning toward the Santa Anita Derby for more than a week. His other option was the Arkansas Derby.

The only other graded stakes for Derby runners last weekend was the United Arab Emirates Derby, but no horses from that race are expected to come to the Kentucky Derby.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen, Marty McGee, and Mary Rampellini