07/20/2003 11:00PM

Pletcher well aware how fortune can change


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Trainer Bobby Frankel may be winning all the major stakes races run in New York this year, but Todd Pletcher seems to be winning everything else.

After putting the wraps on a record-setting Belmont spring-summer meet, Pletcher will seek to defend the Saratoga training title he won last year when the 36-day meet gets under way on Wednesday.

Pletcher won a remarkable 40 races during the 55-day Belmont stand that concluded Sunday. That total comfortably surpassed the 36 wins trainer Frank "Pancho" Martin compiled in the 70-day meet in 1982.

Now, Pletcher may have enough ammunition to challenge Syl Veitch's Saratoga record of 24 wins, accomplished during a 24-day meet in 1954. Pletcher has 135 horses among Saratoga, Belmont, and Monmouth and figures to match the 97 starters he had last year.

"I'm always leery when I go to Saratoga," Pletcher said. "I know how hard it is to win there, especially when your maidens are now one-other-thans, and the one-other-thans are tougher there than they are anywhere else in the world. You got to have realistic expectations - your batting average will go down a little bit."

Pletcher has won 103 races this year, and his North American starters have earned $6,221,559. Add in the money Harlan's Holiday earned for finishing second in the Dubai World Cup, and Pletcher's stable has won more than $7.3 million.

"The one thing I try to keep in perspective is you better stay focused and grounded, because as good as you're doing you might go 0 for 30 at Saratoga," Pletcher said. "This business is up and down. When things are going good or bad it can all change overnight."

Pletcher learned that firsthand last summer up here. One week after saddling Left Bank to victory in the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap - a win Pletcher calls his most satisfying as a trainer - Pletcher had to ship Left Bank to a Tufts University hospital for emergency colic surgery. Though he made it through the operation, Left Bank died a month later.

As that was going on, Pletcher lost the graded-stakes-winning Freedom's Daughter to a bout of Colitis X, an intestinal disease, and Warners, a sharp allowance winner, to laminitis.

"You have a hundred horses, more things are going to go wrong," Pletcher said. "By the same token we've been blessed and had a great run in a lot of ways. That was a small window, a very unfortunate situation, circumstances that were beyond anyone's control. You ask yourself the question is there something that we did wrong? Is there something that could have been prevented? When the clear answer is no, then what do you do? Suck it up and go on."

Pletcher said he has not taken any extra precautions leading up to this Saratoga meet other than to cut out grazing his horses in the afternoon. As best as Pletcher could determine from autopsy reports, Freedom's Daughter and Warners picked up something grazing. Left Bank's case was different, though he had had colic surgery earlier in his career.

Left Bank was voted an Eclipse Award as champion older horse for 2002. He was Pletcher's first champion. Pletcher has many candidates to be his next champion, as he is loaded with a barn full of talented 2-year-olds. Pletcher has already won five juvenile stakes this year and is likely to have runners for all six juvenile stakes run at this meet.

In addition to running Ashado and Hermione's Magic in Wednesday's Schuylerville Stakes for fillies, Pletcher will send out Chapel Royal and Heckle in Thursday's Sanford Stakes for colts and geldings. Later in the meet, Lokoya will run in the Adirondack, and Limehouse, the Bashford Manor and Three Chimneys winner, is being pointed to the Saratoga Special.

Though Pletcher has already unleashed almost a dozen 2-year-old winners, he has plenty more in the barn. Two to look out for are Path of Thunder, a full sister to Spain, and Value Plus, a $1.2 million son of Unbridled's Song who on Sunday breezed a bullet five furlongs in 59.65 seconds out of the gate.

"I enjoy training the babies," said Pletcher, who is 19 for 115 with 2-year-olds the last four Saratoga meets. "Part of the fun is the excitement of not knowing for sure what you have, hoping you might have something really good. We're well represented in the stakes, and we'll see how these horses develop over the summer and stretch out and see what kind of horses they are.''