10/31/2006 12:00AM

A triple threat for Pletcher


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Todd Pletcher has the numbers. More than 1,000 starters in 2006 have won close to $24 million in purses. He already has set a single-season record for stakes wins by a trainer. Wins of all sorts have come at a 26-percent clip. The operative Pletcher number in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, however, is three, as in three of the projected 10 starters: flashy 3-year-old Wait a While, unbeaten and untested in four turf starts; Honey Ryder, who has battled her way to 12 turf wins and is closing in on $2 million in earnings; and Quiet Royal, the French import who was third Oct. 14 in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup at Keeneland, then joined Team Pletcher.

Not too long ago, Pletcher dominating a turf division would have seemed unlikely. From the Wayne Lukas School, his operation slanted toward dirt and younger horses, the annual target the Triple Crown. Now, the barn has no weak spots, with turf milers, turf marathoners, and a slew of turf females.

"The real key is just having grass horses," Pletcher said. "Frankly, I find training turf horses easier than dirt horses, since you don't have to do as much with them."

Wait a While hasn't been beaten in her four turf races. The way she has won them, she might never be. Traveling from New York to California to take on older rivals for the first time, Wait a While's most recent romp was a 4 1/2-length buzzing of the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon at Santa Anita. The place horse that day, Dancing Edie, has enough quality that her connections are taking a shot in the Filly and Mare Turf.

Wait a While was purchased at auction with dirt in mind, and she kind of goes about her turf races like a dirt horse. She shows pace, relishes a quick course, and runs the competition silly with acceleration off the turn and into the stretch. "She's more an aggressive horse, more forward," Pletcher said.

That puts her at odds with Honey Ryder. Both horses are gray - similarities end with the hair.

"They're pretty far apart," said Pletcher. "Wait a While's a big scopey mare, Honey Ryder more a classic European-looking horse. Honey Ryder's really a true long-distance mare. The mile and three-eighths is just getting her going."

Wait a While burst into racing by winning three of her first five starts, including the Grade 2 Davona Dale in Gulfstream mud. Honey Ryder eased into the game. She needed four tries to win her maiden, 12 attempts over 1 1/2 years to notch three wins, and didn't capture a graded stakes until she had been racing for 19 months.

"I don't think as a 2-year-old we imagined she'd be anywhere this good," said Pletcher. "But I know [owner] John Greathouse and I talked about how she'd be better going farther and getting older."

True enough. Starting with that first graded victory, Honey Ryder has won nine of her last 12 races, including a pair of Grade 1's, most recently the Oct. 7 Flower Bowl. She started seven times last year, and this, her first foray into the Breeders' Cup, will be her seventh outing of 2006.

"She's been very, very sound," said Pletcher. "The only time we really gave her a significant break, when she was out of training, was after the Hilltop" at Pimlico in May 2004. "She's never left our care since then."

Honey Ryder is proven on the softer turf likely to be found here Saturday, and she specializes in races around three turns, something Wait a While never has tried. Still, Pletcher said Wait a While turned in a strong workout over wet turf Sunday at Belmont, allaying his concerns about course condition. And while Wait a While likes to show her speed, she has the racing temperament to stay out the longer distance, Pletcher believes.

So, who you do like in the Filly and Mare Turf?

Pletcher, Pletcher, or Pletcher?