ELMONT, N.Y. – Yes, the Kentucky Derby is still more than five months away, but it’s not too early for trainer Todd Pletcher to begin thinking about it.
On the cover of his white binder that houses his various condition books is a list of all the prep races that lead to the May 4 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
Given the depth of his crop, there may not be a race restricted to 3-year-olds run in the first part of 2013 in which Pletcher isn’t participating.
When Overanalyze won Saturday’s $250,000 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct, it was the 56th victory in a 2-year-old race this year for Pletcher. Sixteen of those wins have come in stakes, 10 in graded races.
With horses like Overanalyze, undefeated Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Shanghai Bobby, Nashua winner Violence, and a bevy of maiden winners, Pletcher knows he will be the center of attention when the Derby prep season begins in January.
“Oh without a doubt; get a bunch of nice horses expectations are high,” said Pletcher, who is 1 for 31 while participating in 12 Kentucky Derbies since 2000. “We had a great Saratoga with a lot of 2-year-olds running well. It doesn’t always mean it’s going to continue on, but so far it has. We won a lot of important 2-year-old races, so we’ll get them down [to Florida] and try to figure out where most of them are going to start.”
Figuring out where everybody is going to start takes on added importance this year with a change in the qualifying rules for the Kentucky Derby. Gone is the graded stakes earnings rule, which, if in effect, would mean that Shanghai Bobby and Overanalyze would be virtually assured a spot in the Derby field.
That has been replaced by a new points system that emphasizes races run in late March and April such as the Florida Derby, Louisiana Derby, Wood Memorial, and Arkansas Derby.
Due to the new system, Pletcher has decided to point Shanghai Bobby to the $400,000 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 26 to give him the option of running three times if need be, though he would prefer to run just twice.
Despite wins in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Champagne, and Hopeful, Shanghai Bobby has just 20 qualifying points.
“To think you have to be cognizant of earning points with a horse that’s 5 for 5 and won the Breeders’ Cup, whether he was my horse or not, that needs to be looked at,” Pletcher said. “The Breeders’ Cup champion shouldn’t have to worry about points, but it’s so heavily geared to the final preps. Hopefully, the points he accumulated already and if he earns a few more in his next prep, he’s in a position that if he ran well in his final prep that even without winning he’d qualify.”
Pletcher would like to run Shanghai Bobby in the Holy Bull and then Florida Derby, a 100-point race on March 30 prior to the Kentucky Derby.
Overanalyze also has run five times and picked up 10 points with his victory in the Remsen. Pletcher could wait for the Fountain of Youth – a 50-point race – to run him, though the colt’s versatility gives Pletcher several options.
“I think he’s proven his versatility; he’s a horse you have to now consider to be capable of doing just about anything,” Pletcher said. “Now, he’s won wire to wire, he’s won from last, he’s won from a stalking position. He’s run well every time, but I thought [Saturday] moved his stock way up.”
Pletcher ran two others in the Remsen with mixed results. Delhomme finished third after setting the pace. Micromanage finished last, his second subpar performance after a solid debut win at Saratoga.
Delhomme shipped to WinStar Farm – he is co-owned by WinStar and Twin Creeks Racing – for a brief freshening before rejoining Pletcher at Palm Meadows.
Pletcher said he could not find an excuse for Micromanage and said he will get him down to south Florida and regroup.
Already in Florida is Palace Malice, a son of Curlin who won a maiden race at Saratoga in August but was sidelined due to sore shins. He could return to the work tab this weekend.
Archwarrior, a debut winner at Saratoga, was stopped on after finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Champagne.
“We felt like we were pushing a little sooner than we needed to,” Pletcher said. “He didn’t run badly in the Champagne. The one thing is the 2-year-old form is holding up great out of New York this year.”
Violence, a son of Medaglia d’Oro, is 2 for 2, including a victory in the Nashua Stakes. Pletcher plans to send him to the $750,000 CashCall Futurity at Betfair Hollywood Park on Dec. 15.
Pletcher knows not all of his 2-year-olds will turn out to be Derby horses, but that does not mean he won’t give them the opportunity.
“That’s going to sort itself out when we start running in these prep races,” he said “There might be some that are better suited to start back in the Swale and Hutcheson, races like that, but none of them are such that I don’t think they’re capable of attempting to stretch out.”
Pletcher will even give his New York-bred turf horse Notacatbutallama a chance to show his prowess on dirt by running him in the Damon Runyon Stakes for statebreds on Dec. 2.
In addition to plotting a path to the Derby, Pletcher also will have fillies to point to the Kentucky Oaks. Unlimited Budget put herself on the Oaks trail with her victory in the Demoiselle, joining Dreaming of Julia, the Grade 1 Frizette winner.
Pletcher said that Kauai Katie, the Matron winner, would be kept sprinting and could run in the Old Hat Stakes at Gulfstream on Jan. 1.