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Pletcher targets strong finish
OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Todd Pletcher's ability to win the last four Eclipse Awards as the nation's outstanding trainer was due in large part to his success on the New York Racing Association circuit. From 2004 to 2007, Pletcher won 75 graded stakes combined at the Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga meetings.
Pletcher enters the final major weekend of racing in 2008 with just three graded wins on this circuit.
"It's been somewhat frustrating, obviously, when you're coming off four consecutive years that we had," said Pletcher, who has 26 graded wins overall and still ranks third in the country in purse money won this year. "Certainly, we anticipated having a year that wasn't going to be as good as the ones before."
A lot of that had to do with the retirement of the majority of his graded stakes winners from 2007. Another aspect is that Pletcher expanded his operation to include more of a presence in California, Kentucky, and Chicago as well as maintaining a string at Monmouth Park.
"From a national perspective, it makes you stronger," Pletcher said. "For a place like just New York, it obviously diminishes your quality a little bit when it's spread out between different places."
Pletcher will have a chance to equal or surpass his total of New York graded stakes wins this holiday weekend when he runs horses in all four graded events scheduled for Friday and Saturday. Friday, Pletcher starts Leah's Secret in the Grade 2 Top Flight Handicap for fillies and mares.
On Saturday, Pletcher will run Harlem Rocker in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile; American Dance and Idol Maker in the Grade 2 Remsen; and Boleyn in the Grade 2 Demoiselle.
Leah's Secret is a significant player in the Top Flight. She has done her best running in one-turn races, winning the Grade 3 Chicago Breeders' Cup going seven furlongs in May and the Grade 2 Chilukki at Churchill earlier this month. The Chilukki is run as a one-turn mile, same as the Top Flight.
"It's competitive," Pletcher said of the nine-horse field in the Top Flight, "but with her best race she fits."
Pletcher said the Top Flight is scheduled to be Leah's Secret's final race, though he may try to convince the owners, WinStar Farm, to keep her around for a race on the Sunshine Millions card at Santa Anita on Jan. 24.
Harlem Rocker was responsible for one of Pletcher's three graded wins in New York, having taken the Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct in April. At the time, that made Harlem Rocker 3 for 3. He is only 1 for 4 since, the win being a victory in the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie. He finished fourth in the Travers when, according to Pletcher, he tired the last 100 yards, and, most recently, finished third in the Jerome run over a sloppy track.
"In the Jerome I was a little disappointed because he was training so well leading into that race, but I don't think he really relished the sloppy going that day," said Pletcher, who has won three of the last seven Cigar Miles. "He's trained well leading up to this. The Withers was arguably his best race to date and it's run over the same track, same distance."
American Dance and Idol Maker enter the Remsen off maiden victories. Though American Dance is coming off a win, Pletcher has received permission to equip the colt with blinkers after he leaned in on another horse in the stretch. Pletcher has worked the colt twice in blinkers. Both horses will be stretching out to 1 1/8 miles and two turns for the first time.
"I think both horses are going to appreciate the mile and an eighth," Pletcher said. "They both are bred and train like horses that should like the added distance."
Boleyn enters the Demoiselle off a second-place finish in the Blue Hen Stakes at Delaware Park. She faces a tall order going up against the Grade 1 winner Sky Diva.
"We'll need her to step forward and improve a bit, but she deserves a chance," Pletcher said.
Songster, 'Normandy' out of stakes
Songster and Stormin Normandy both were forced to miss Thursday's $100,000 Fall Highweight Handicap due to physical issues, their connections said Wednesday.
Tom Albertrani, trainer of Songster, said his horse was suffering from a bruised left front foot. Albertrani said he hopes to try and get Songster to the Gravesend over the inner track on Dec. 27.
Meanwhile, Stormin Normandy's career could be in jeopardy after he suffered an ankle injury while bearing out and finishing last as the 3-5 favorite in Sunday's Itaka Stakes for New York-breds.
"It looks like he hurt his ankle, we're not sure about how bad," trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said. "The worst of it is he's retired; the best is you give him time and bring him back."
If he's retired, Stormin Normandy finishes his career with 8 wins from 17 starts and earnings of $381,998. He is owned in part by the International Equine Acquisitions Holdings Stable.
A Rose for You wins Star De Lady Anne
A Rose for You made it three consecutive wins by scoring a 1 1/4-length victory in Wednesday's $68,500 Star De Lady Anne Stakes. Ididntmeantoo, the 7-5 favorite, finished second by a neck over Honest to Betsy.
Under Eibar Coa, A Rose for You took over after a sixteenth of a mile, dueled outside of Boken Lady through a quarter in 22.59 seconds, then turned back Ididntmeantoo and Honest to Betsy to register her fourth win from 11 lifetime starts.
A Rose for You, a 4-year-old daughter of Orientate trained by Michael Trombetta and owned by Jeff Singer, covered six furlongs in 1:10.91 and returned $10.80.
Sunday in Malibu runs Friday in N.Y.
Trombetta will seek another overnight stakes victory here Friday when he runs the speedy Sunday in Malibu in the $65,000 True Affair Stakes for juvenile fillies at seven furlongs.
Sunday in Malibu is 2 for 2 on dirt, with both wins coming in front-running fashion at Delaware Park. There is plenty of other speed in this field, which could set things up for a horse like Seattle Grey or Chocolate Pop, both of whom rallied from off the pace to earn maiden victories.
Other contenders in this wide-open heat include Justwhistledixie, Smokin Bayou, Casanova Move, and Unveil the Mask.