05/18/2016 9:56AM

Pletcher, Velazquez could finally hit their Preak

Keeneland/Coady Photography
Stradivari won this allowance race at Keeneland by 14 1/2 lengths.

They each have won a Kentucky Derby and two runnings of the Belmont Stakes. When it comes to the Preakness, however, trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez have been blanked.

One could say it’s due to a lack of effort. Pletcher has competed in just five runnings of the Preakness (with seven starters), while Velazquez has ridden in the race only six times. Compare that to the other two legs of the Triple Crown: Pletcher has started 45 horses in 16 editions of the Kentucky Derby and 20 horses in 11 runnings of the Belmont. Velazquez has ridden in the Derby 18 times and in the Belmont 19 times.

“I’ve got nothing against the Preakness or Pimlico,” said Pletcher, 48, who has not started a horse in the Preakness since 2011. “I love Pimlico, I love the Preakness. Just trying to do what we feel is right for our horses.”

Pletcher’s best finish in the Preakness came in 2000 with Impeachment, who finished third.

Velazquez, 44, finished second in the 2011 Preakness with Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom and second in 2013 with Itsmyluckyday.

“It’s definitely one of the races I do think about winning,” Velazquez said. “Obviously, with so much success I’ve had in my career and that race is still missing – definitely it’s one of the races you look forward to winning.”

On Saturday, Pletcher and Velazquez will team up in the 141st Preakness with Stradivari, a lightly raced but talented colt who will be making his stakes debut.

Stradivari, a son of Medaglia d’Oro, has won two races by a combined 25 3/4 lengths after finishing fourth in his debut. He missed some time due to what Pletcher called a minor setback following his maiden win at Gulfstream on Dec. 5. In his only other start, he dominated a first-level allowance race at Keeneland on April 17 by 14 1/2 lengths.

“He wasn’t favored in the race, which was interesting,” Pletcher said. “I wouldn’t call it a star-studded field. No matter how you look at it, it was a visually impressive performance.”

Velazquez said that after the race, he sent Pletcher a text that read, “That was one of the most impressive horses I’ve ridden in a long time.”

“If he could do that in the Preakness,” Velazquez said, “I think we’ll be really, really tough.”

The win came the day after the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. Pletcher said that following Stradivari’s workout on April 8 at Palm Beach Downs, he gave a fleeting thought to running him in the Arkansas Derby.

“His last work prior to the allowance race was so good I turned to the guys that were there and said, ‘Man, if I had courage, I’d run this horse in the Arkansas Derby,’ ”said Pletcher, who trains Stradivari for John Gunther, Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier, and Derrick Smith. “I was under no pressure from the connections whatsoever; everybody was totally relaxed that he wasn’t going to make the Kentucky Derby. Everyone was focused on after that and through the summer.”

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Pletcher said one of the reasons he hasn’t participated in the Preakness too often is the demanding nature of the road to the Kentucky Derby. Of his seven Preakness starters, only three had run in the Kentucky Derby. Impeachment’s late-running style allowed him to run in all three Triple Crown races. Circular Quay had eight weeks between the Louisiana Derby and Kentucky Derby. Super Saver was obligated to run in the Preakness following his Kentucky Derby win. He finished eighth in the Preakness.

“When he was on his ‘A’ game, he was a pretty aggressive horse to gallop,” Pletcher said of Super Saver. “I know those few days at Pimlico he was moving well, seemed happy, but he wasn’t taking a real strong grip of the rider like he could when he was really on his ‘A’ game.”

Pletcher has run many of his Derby horses five weeks later in the Belmont Stakes. He has two wins, four seconds and two thirds in the Belmont.

On Saturday, he brings a horse who is fresh and talented but is stepping way up in class against an undefeated 2-year-old champion in Nyquist, who has won Grade 1 races at five different tracks, including the Kentucky Derby.

In 2006, Bernardini won the Preakness in his fourth start. He was coming off a win in the four-horse Withers Stakes at Aqueduct. Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro broke down in the early stages of that Preakness. Last year, Tale of Verve came out of a maiden win at Keeneland to run second to American Pharoah.

“It might be that with only three lifetime starts, he’s not quite ready for this big a jump, but we think it’s worth a try as long as he shows up and runs well, comes out of it well, and continues to move forward,” Pletcher said of Stradivari. “Whether he wins or not wouldn’t be the end of the world. That would be fantastic if he were able to win, but if he runs well, comes back well, and meets his full potential, it will have been the right thing to do.”