11/27/2002 12:00AM

Pletcher thankful in New York

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - This is not a news flash. Travel during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is a nightmare. Those who venture forth risk freeway gridlock, airport delays, and ruined reunions. The wise hide their keys and hunker down at home with football and leftovers.

Todd Pletcher, a New York trainer with three live runners in Hollywood Park's Turf Festival, is keeping to his own coast this weekend while assistants saddle Ocean Drive in the $200,000 Miesque Stakes, Lismonte Knight in the $200,000 Generous Stakes, and Texas Glitter in the $200,000 Hollywood Turf Express. When reached by phone on Wednesday afternoon, Pletcher was commended for taking a pass on the nasty cross-continental commute. He demurred.

"My wife is expecting a baby," Pletcher said.

The caller asked when she was due.

"Today," he replied.

He is excused.

Given this news, whatever happens in the Turf Festival will be pretty anticlimactic around the Pletcher household. Pletcher and his wife, Tracy, already have two sons, Kyle and Payton.

It should be noted, however, that the Turf Express will be the American racing farewell of Texas Glitter, who has been a fast and steady performer for Pletcher through four seasons.

Texas Glitter was among Pletcher's 2-year-olds of 1998, when the trainer made his first major splash at the top of the game. He is a durable son of Glitterman who has won 10 races in a career of 35 starts. It could have been 11, but he got nailed on the wire by El Cielo in the 2000 running of the Turf Express. Last year, in his second Turf Express try, Texas Glitter finished a game fourth to Swept Overboard.

"He's had a great record, with a lot of near-misses and some real heart-breakers," Pletcher said. "As he got older, he kind of found a home on the turf. His turf races have been extremely consistent, and he's always run well, whereas on the dirt he'll sometimes fire a good one then throw in a clunker."

The record bears him out. On grass Texas Glitter is 7 for 16. Why the difference?

"I don't know for sure," Pletcher said. "He's a cantankerous old dude. A really smart horse who really knows the game. I think maybe the grass gives him a little added enthusiasm, being a different surface from what he trains over on a daily basis.

"He's really got a mind of his own," Pletcher went on. "He kind of does what he wants to do, and he doesn't do much in his training without being prompted with some company. We just try to keep him happy and healthy, and let him run his race."

Texas Glitter is 6 now, and his best efforts have been good enough to win such respected sprints as the De Francis Memorial, the Laurel Dash, and the Spectacular Bid Stakes. After he faces El Cielo once again on Friday in the Turf Express, Texas Glitter is bound for Hong Kong, where he is scheduled to make the final start of his career in the $450,000 Hong Kong Sprint on Dec. 15, at a straightaway 1,000 meters.

"It's exciting we finally got invited," Pletcher said. "Five-eighths on the grass is really his game. That's why we've come to California with him the last three years, hoping to go on to Hong Kong."

A successful California-Hong Kong parlay would tie a neat ribbon on Pletcher's personal best campaign. At age 35 and nearing the end of his sixth full season as a public trainer, he ranks fourth in 2002 earnings with $8.2 million, trailing only Bobby Frankel, Bob Baffert, and Steve Asmussen.

But there have also been dark moments. Even as the Pletcher stable led the prestigious Saratoga meet in winners, it was hit with three gut-wrenching fatalities, all because of illnesses.

Both the 3-year-old colt Warners (founder) and the 2-year-old filly Freedom's Daughter (colitis X) were pearls of great price. The transcendent star of the Pletcher stable, however, was Left Bank, the runaway winner of the Whitney Stakes over Street Cry. Left Bank was clearly in the best form of his life at the age of 5, but the dust had barely settled on his Whitney win when he was stricken by colic. He died a month later after several surgeries.

"He was a horse like Texas Glitter who was in our barn a long time," Pletcher said of Left Bank. "Obviously, you get emotionally attached to those kind of horses.

"We could handle the part about him not being able to race again," Pletcher went on. "He made it through the initial surgery, and it looked like he'd make it to stud. But then to have the recurring problems, multiple surgeries, and not making it at the end - it takes a while to get over something like that.

"You could say it's been a bit of a roller coaster this year," Pletcher said. "But we've had some great moments as well. So we'll be thankful for those."