05/04/2016 11:30AM

Pletcher looking to pick up Derby win No. 2 with Destin or Outwork

Tom Keyser
Destin edges Todd Pletcher stablemate Outwork in the Tampa Bay Derby. They meet again in the Kentucky Derby.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – With starters 44 and 45 in this year’s Kentucky Derby, trainer Todd Pletcher is edging ever closer to the record held by D. Wayne Lukas, under whom Pletcher apprenticed before beginning his own decorated career.

Pletcher has won a record-setting seven Eclipse Awards as champion trainer, while Lukas has amassed four. At the Derby, though, Lukas – who does not have a horse in this year’s race – owns four wins from his record 48 starters, while Pletcher has one, with Super Saver in 2010.

Pletcher’s 1-for-43 record looks ugly on the surface, but he usually has multiple runners in the Derby each year – like this year with Destin and Outwork – and he’s actually had starters in 15 Derbies. If he wins this year, 2 for 16 wouldn’t sound all that bad. And just to get to the Derby, Pletcher’s horses have earned their way by winning significant stakes races.

To win this year, though, either Destin or Outwork will have to outrun 19 others in the 142nd Kentucky Derby on Saturday at Churchill Downs. A total of 22 horses were entered Wednesday morning in the Derby, with the draw held too late to make this edition.

Since a maximum of 20 horses can run – based on points earned in 34 designated Derby prep races – the two with the fewest points, Laoban and Cherry Wine, were placed on the also-eligible list in that order.

In order for Laoban or Cherry Wine to get into the race, a horse in the main body of the race must scratch before 9 a.m. Eastern on Friday. Scratch time is a full day before the Derby to facilitate early betting. Laoban would be the first horse in if one horse scratches. If two horses come out by Friday, both would get in. They would occupy the outside posts in the starting gate.

If anyone in the main body of the race is withdrawn after 9 a.m. Friday, the also-eligibles are out of luck.

Laoban and Cherry Wine were ranked 23rd and 25th on the points list as of Wednesday morning but moved up the list when Fellowship (21st), Adventist (22nd), and Dazzling Gem (24th) were not entered.

The 20 in the main body of the race are Brody’s Cause, Creator, Danzing Candy, Destin, Exaggerator, Gun Runner, Lani, Majesto, Mohaymen, Mor Spirit, Mo Tom, My Man Sam, Nyquist, Oscar Nominated, Outwork, Shagaf, Suddenbreakingnews, Tom’s Ready, Trojan Nation, and Whitmore.

Destin and Outwork each earned their slot in the Derby through a victory in an important prep race. Destin defeated Outwork in the Tampa Bay Derby, and then Outwork won the Wood Memorial. They figure to be among the many horses in this race who will be midpriced runners.

The acknowledged favorite is the Doug O’Neill-trained Nyquist, a son of Uncle Mo, whom Pletcher trained. Outwork is also by Uncle Mo.

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Outwork, a hulking specimen who Pletcher estimates weighs nearly 1,300 pounds, has won three of his four starts. He was under a tight deadline to make the Derby, considering that he went nearly 10 months between starts before his 3-year-old debut. He has won two of his three races this year, his lone loss coming to his stablemate.

“Essentially, everything had to go perfectly for him to get to this point,” Pletcher said. “I never felt like we were rushing. Fortunately, we never had any setbacks.”

Outwork has made a positive impression all week, as has Destin, who has not raced since the Tampa Bay Derby, meaning he will come into this race off an eight-week layoff. If he wins, that would be the longest known layoff for a Derby winner, but it’s not a schedule with which Pletcher is unfamiliar on a daily basis. Generally speaking, he prefers plenty of time between starts.

Destin has won three times in five starts and blossomed at Tampa Bay Downs, where he won the Sam F. Davis Stakes and Tampa Bay Derby in succession, earning career-best Beyer Speed Figures both times. He’s had five works since his last race on March 12, four at Palm Beach Downs and then a final drill here last Friday in which he went five furlongs in 1:01.40.

“I think he’s coming up to the race as well as he can,” Pletcher said. “I liked his breeze here.”

The Derby will be televised live by NBC in a three-hour-plus telecast beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern on Saturday. The day’s coverage begins at noon on NBCSN with a four-hour telecast.

The Weather Channel is calling for warming temperatures as Derby Week progresses, with a high of 85 on Saturday after highs of 65 on Thursday and 73 Friday.