01/28/2005 1:00AM

Pletcher rose fast and hasn't peaked yet


Todd Pletcher's year was so phenomenal that Eclipse Award voters believed it superior to a record-smashing year by another trainer. Pletcher, who has assembled a stable that promises to be an American powerhouse for years to come, was voted the 2004 Eclipse Award for top trainer over Steve Asmussen, whose 555 wins on the year are the most in a single year in history.

Pletcher won 240 races, and many of them were the right ones. Among his victories were the first two Breeders' Cup wins of his career, with Ashado in the Distaff and Speightstown in the Sprint; the Kentucky Oaks with Ashado; the Champagne with Proud Accolade; the Cigar Mile with Lion Tamer; and an amazing 62 other stakes wins, 38 of them graded. His stable earned more than $17.5 million, the fourth-highest total in history. Ashado and Speightstown were named champion 3-year-old filly and champion sprinter, respectively.

For Pletcher, the rise to the top of the heap has been relatively swift. The son of veteran horseman J.J. Pletcher, he graduated from the University of Arizona in 1989 and went straight to work for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas until going out on his own at Gulfstream Park in January 1996. During his lengthy tenure under Lukas, Pletcher was surrounded by top-class horses, and he clearly has capitalized on those years of experience.

His stable is dominated by a seemingly limitless supply of young, fashionably bred, high-dollar runners who come out firing at first asking and quickly rise through the allowance ranks into major stakes. With dozens of deep-pocketed clients knocking down Pletcher's door, the depth and scope of his stable is frighteningly similar to what Lukas built on his way to becoming arguably the most successful trainer in racing history.

Already, Pletcher, 37, owns the record for most wins at a Saratoga meet, having won 35 races in both 2003 and 2004. He also easily won the 2004 Gulfstream training title and topped the Belmont spring-summer standings for the third straight year in 2004.

Pletcher has become widely known throughout the industry as highly poised and articulate, clean-cut and well-dressed, the prototype of what a young, successful businessman should be. His even-handed demeanor also is appreciated by the many people with whom he comes into regular contact in the sport, including employees, clients, jockeys, media, and fans.

"This is a tremendous achievement for the barn, the staff, the horses, the owners, everyone involved," said Pletcher. "I was fortunate to have great horses and great clients, and everything seemed to jell together the right way. The Breeders' Cup obviously was a great day for us, and that was probably the deciding factor in us being voted the Eclipse. For me, personally, it's the achievement of a lifetime, something you can only dream about. It is just such an honor to be recognized by the industry."

Considering the rapid ascension that Pletcher has made, the 2004 Eclipse Award may have been his first - but the odds are very much in his favor that it will not be his last.

Trainer: Todd Pletcher