Updated on 09/18/2011 12:48AM

Pletcher's 2-year-olds? Bank on 'em


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Automatic systems for betting on horses never work for long because the horseplaying market assimilates profitable angles and knocks their price below the level of success needed to make a profit. Favorites win three times as often as randomly selected horses, but don't pay enough to beat the takeout. The same goes for backing every horse with the highest speed figure, the leading jockey, or any other equally accessible and obvious piece of information.

Everyone knows that Todd Pletcher is a spectacularly successful trainer of 2-year-olds, for example, so you couldn't possibly show a profit simply by betting every juvenile he saddles, could you? Actually, it turns out that you could. Over the 365 days of racing through this past Wednesday, Pletcher-trained 2-year-olds won an astounding 78 races from 268 starts, a 29 percent strike rate. More astoundingly, even though 25 of the 78 winners paid even-money or less and only four paid 10-1 or more, a $2 win bet on all 278 would have gotten you back a little over $600 for your $556, an 8 percent profit on your investment. Billion-dollar hedge funds have been funded on less reliable returns.

While the flat-bet profit on Pletcher 2-year-olds is a one-year phenomenon, his performance with juveniles is nothing new. In the last five years through Wednesday's racing, Pletcher has won with 276 of 1,017 2-year-old starters, including 69 stakes races, 27 of them graded.

These stats suggest two things. First, horseplayers who constantly complain that Pletcher's 2-year-olds are routinely overbet and offer no value are outsmarting themselves. Second, while Pletcher's dominance of top-tier 2-year-old racing in the East is a given, its extent may actually be underappreciated. Even going back to the heydays of Calumet Farm, D. Wayne Lukas, and Woody Stephens, there has never been anything quite like this in American racing.

In 2006 alone, since saddling his first 2-year-old at Keeneland on April 7 (that one and his next seven lost, one of those dopey short-term "trends" that probably prompted overly excitable analysts to start opposing him), Pletcher has already won 31 2-year-old races from 79 starts through Wednesday's racing. That's a nose under 40 percent, and his actual rate of winning races is higher since he's had more than one starter in several of those events. He has won seven juvenile races each at Belmont, Churchill Downs, and Saratoga, five at Monmouth, three at Delaware Park, and one at Prairie Meadows and Ellis Park.

It's only the middle of August and Pletcher already has won nine stakes with seven different 2-year-olds this year, including a sweep of the first three graded stakes for 2-year-olds at Saratoga - the Schuylerville with Cotton Blossom, the Sanford with Scat Daddy, and the Adirondack with Octave. He also took the Tremont with Out of Gwedda, the Bashford Manor at Churchill with Circular Quay, the Prairie Gold Juvenile and Tyro with Bella Shambrock, the Colleen with Bovell Road, and the A.M. Fisher Debutante with Cowgirls Don't Cry.

When the first Grade 1 races for juveniles are run here closing weekend, the Spinaway and the Hopeful, guess who's got the early three or four favorites for each?

Skeptics who say Pletcher must be enhancing his oats or fitting his juveniles with bionic implants are ignoring the obvious. His stable is an embarrassment of riches in both quantity and quality, and he virtually has his pick of half the top 2-year-olds in training and at auction. While it's impossible to argue that any trainer could do any better with Pletcher's stock, it's the quality of the horses sent to him that's the biggest factor in his success.

Horseplayers tear their hair out when Pletcher wins 2-year-old stakes like the Schuylerville with Cotton Blossom at $17.40 and the Adirondack with Octave at $21.60 because while the trainer angle is so strong, the individual horses may not look all that good on paper. Both of those fillies came into their Saratoga stakes starts with only moderate speed figures earned in their winning debuts. What it pays to keep in mind is that he has his choice of so many juveniles for these spots that their mere presence in graded stakes races suggests they are thriving and may be capable of even better than they have already shown.

On Thursday, Pletcher sent out a pair of 2-year-olds here. In the second race, My Golden Quest finished last at 5-1, and in the featured Saratoga Special, new acquisition King of the Roxy fell three-quarters of a length short of giving his trainer a sweep of the meet's first four graded juvenile stakes, running second to Chace City. The annual yield on betting his 2-year-olds may be down to 7.5 percent now, but that's still better than they're offering for certificates of deposit at the bank.