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Todd Pletcher’s Kentucky Derby Misery

Can a man that has actually stepped into the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle, even if just once, really be considered an unmitigated failure in the single race that everyone wants to win? In the case of Todd Pletcher, the answer is yes.

As easily America's most successful trainer over the last decade plus, Pletcher has feasted on a steady diet of stakes winners, earnings titles, and Eclipse Awards. It seems when his powerhouse stable loses one member to retirement, two more budding stars are there and ready to step in for the 45-year-old native Texan. For Pletcher, it truly never is about rebuilding, but rather about managing all the talent that can be found in his barn on any given day. But at the same time that the training records have fallen, the disappointing finishes on the first Saturday in May have piled up.

1-for-31. The 3% winning percentage speaks for itself, with only Super Saver’s win on a muddy track in 2010 saving Pletcher from the dreaded shutout. Whether you believe it can be attributed to not working his horses hard enough to succeed in the rigorous Kentucky Derby, not having the right horse, or just plain bad luck, the dismal record on Derby Day for Pletcher is troubling. 

Many of his best prospects for the run for the roses have fallen off the trail before race day. Notably in recent years, Eskendereya was injured in 2010, and Uncle Mo was stricken by a disease in 2011. Possibly his best three-year-old of all was the filly, Rags to Riches, who settled for a win in the Kentucky Oaks instead of a chance to win the big one. Last year, one undefeated hotshot, Algorithms, was injured early in the season, while another, Gemologist finished 16th while suffering an injury in the race.

Finishing that poorly under the famed twin spires has become commonplace of late for his horses. In his first four trips to the Derby, Pletcher collected a 2nd, 3rd, and two 4th place finishes. Respectable results for a young trainer without his first Derby win, but in the last half-dozen years, his charges have finished better than 6th only once (Super Saver’s win.) It doesn’t sound all that bad until you consider that Pletcher has run 17 horses over that period. The average finishing place for those horses is 11th place and if you remove Super Saver from the average, it drops even lower for the other 16. Pletcher's overall average finish for all 31 Kentucky Derby starters is also 11th place.

But for all of us, 2013 is a new year, and for Pletcher, it is another opportunity at Kentucky Derby glory. Once again his stable is loaded, and in fact, Pletcher may have his deepest cast of new three-year-olds in his training career. Multiple stakes winners, Shanghai Bobby, Violence, and Overanalyze, lead the way, but are just a small sampling of potential Kentucky Derby starters he has in his barn. Archwarrior, Delhomme, Capo Bastone, Palace Malice, Revolutionary, Verrazano, Micromanage, just to name a few, also carry the hopes of America’s top trainer as he hopes to improve his career Kentucky Derby record. A record, as you can see below, that is in some desperate need of improving.


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Older Comments about Todd Pletcher’s Kentucky Derby Misery...

On The Gallop's, wear and tear on thoroughbreds is more on dirt than turf, how can you compare apples to oranges?
  • On The Gallop's · What are you talking about?. When did I mention Wear and tear?. Pletcher has sent out 31 horses in 12 years and won 1 derby. In that time he won only the Belmont. I tremendous feat to win a classic yes. But with the load stable he has year after year more is expected sorry. But again where did I mention wear and tear?. If wear and tear is what you speak of, then how much wear and tear did Uncle Mo suffer running two preps prior to the Derby as a 3 year old?. Or Eskendereya who ran only twice at 3 and was injured prior to the derby?, Or how he finished off Rags to Riches after only 5 starts in 2007. Once she recovered from her Injury he trained her back up to race at 4 and she got injured training and was retired. These are very lightly raced horses I mentioned what is your take on that?. · 1727 days ago
  • On The Gallop's · Go look at Marylands post below and see how many horses LAST year he had heading for the derby. · 1727 days ago
I think Pletcher's record is a lot better than people portray
I never buy into the Pletcher hype during Derby prep Season, or Derby day itself if he has horses in the gate.
Todd Pletcher is horrible with horses aimed at classics. You would figure a trainer with as many Eclipse Awards and training titles would have more then 2 total classics to his name. He has a loaded barn year after year. Now compare him to Aiden O'brian who has 28 Classics in 3 countries. Both training for the same amount of time, and both assistants under legends like Lukas,Whittingham(Pletcher) and Jim Bolger(AOB). You can argue that AOB has the money of Coolmore behind him ...yes of course, but Todd also has Billionaire's and Multi Millionaires sending their very best to him every year.
Capo was transferred to Pletcher in Florida after the BCJ. I think just more logistical than anything else.
Unless there was a trainer change, Capo Bastone resides in John Saddlers barn.
Todd has a great chance at getting in, but not at winning. Simple as that.
Whittingham waited almost 25 years before sending another he thought worthy to the Derby: Ferdinand......That is a great trainer to give the ones with a chance a shot......IT IS THE HORSE NOT THE TRAINER that suggests who will both GET to the race and has a shot of winning it. THE HORSE
In my lifetime there have only been 3 KyDerby Trainers that standout: Lukas, Zito, Baffert. All 3 learned the formula for getting their colts there successfully and most importantly getting them to the winners circle. I can't count out TP from eventually standing alongside these 3 but the formula is tough and can take some time
  • Capper · I'm not sure that's the formula for Lukas. His M.O. (along with former assistant Todd Pletcher) seems to be enter as many horses as possible in the race, and eventually the law of averages will work out & they end up in the winner's circle. · 1776 days ago
It's the same story every year, just the horses names change. One year ago TAD was sitting pretty w/ Algorithms, El Padrino, Gemologist, Discreet Dancer, Big Blue Nation, Thunder Moccasin and Springhill Farm. Maybe it's a case of he asked too much out of them at 2 and they peak in February instead of 1st Saturday in May?
Cannonade also won for Woody.
Shanghai Bobby will win the Kentucky Derby.......mark my words.
TV, you had mentioned that Woody Stephens had won the Ky Derby twice, but I can only recall Swale. Who was the other Derby winner?
Woody Stephens won the Kentucky Oaks 5 times and the Belmont 5 years in a row. He had 8000 starters over a 50+ year career in which he trained 11 champions. Pletcher sends out 1000 starters almost every year. He has a derby win which proves that even a blind squirrel can find an occasional acorn. Pletcher is a capable trainer and even better businessman but don't get it twisted, he is no Woody Stephens.
In '05, Bandini was coming in off a Blue Grass Stakes score. Seems like several of his horses have had pre-Derby triumphs. Just no on Derby day.
True, his Derby record is horrible (not good when you 5 last place finishes to 1 win), but a lot of his starters have been big prices that have ran true to their odds. Only 6 of the 31 have been under 10-1.
I don't think Pletcher will have a derby horse, but it is too soon to know 4 sure.
What is the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result? There are some trainers who do more with less (like Romans), and then there's trainers like Pletcher who seem to do less with more!
  • annmatt · He's never won the Breeders' Cup Classic, either. When you think about it, when Lukas was in Pletcher's position, with all the talent (like Pletcher), he dominated the sport. He seemed to know what to do with it! Compare the trainer stats at Equibase and it is not flattering to Pletcher. · 1777 days ago
  • thatbigbay · You summed it up best of all. Thank you, Ann! · 1777 days ago
If you look at the horses in the box above none really stand out as among the top 3 year olds of their year. Flower Alley and Stay Thirsty won the Travers and were solid horses but the others were not exceptional. I am not surprised he didn't win the Derby with any of those horses. His biggest problem seems to be getting his best horses, like Eskendereya and Uncle Mo, to even start in the race, and a lot of that seems like bad luck. As for this year I think most of his 3 year olds will not be at their best at the Classic distances.
Since 1999, no trainer has won the Derby more than once. The large fields have made it so much harder to win the race, let alone win it more than once.

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Meet Brian Zipse 

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, and American Pharoah. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. 

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, or ZATT for short, and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as co-hosting the popular racing show, HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.


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