Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Todd Pletcher is not one to look back. The present always seems too pressing; the need to plan for the future is too urgent.
His approaching enshrinement in the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame on Aug. 6, however, is all but forcing the hard-driving Pletcher to reflect on an extraordinary career that includes 11 Breeders’ Cup victories, a record seven Eclipse Awards, three Belmont Stakes and two Kentucky Derbies.
“I never thought that type of career was possible when I started out,” said Pletcher. “We tried to do the best we could, and we’ve been very blessed.”
The Dallas native is quick to point to the great owners and staff he has worked with. His consistent success, though, revolves around helping each horse to fulfill its potential, wherever that leads.
“This is a difficult game to set goals in,” Pletcher said. “The one goal we as a team always had is to try to do the best we can with each and every horse we get the opportunity to train. If bringing the best out means winning a maiden with a New York-bred, then we did our job.
“If it means winning the Kentucky Derby or the Belmont or the Travers, then we’re hoping for that. But we go in with the idea that we’re going to try to bring out the best in each one, and we think everything else will fall into place.”
Pletcher took Horse Racing Nation on a Barn Tour, detailing his hopes and plans for some of the most prominent horses in his powerful operation.
Malathaat. The bay daughter of Curlin comes off her first defeat in six starts after missing by a head to Maracuja in the Coaching Club American Oaks. It was her first race since the April 30 Kentucky Oaks, and she was heavily pressured throughout. Malathaat came out of the race well, and there is plenty of optimism that she will rebound in the Aug. 21 Alabama (G1).
Pletcher: “It was a tough race, a little bit of a layoff. I thought she ran courageously. She just couldn’t quite get her head down at the wire. Still, it was a good effort and I hope it springboards her forward to the Alabama.”
Malathaat already has banked more than $1.2 million for Shadwell Stable.
Wit. Many stellar 2-year-olds have passed through this barn and gone on to big things. Wit fits with all of them after dominating his first two starts by a combined 14 lengths. He will look to take another step toward the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in the Sept. 6 Hopeful (G1).
Distance questions surround this son of Practical Joke, questions that can be answered only as the races grow longer.
Pletcher: “Most of the time when you have a 2-year-old win its first two races, it’s usually horses that are quick. They break, they go right to the front. He’s come from off the pace with a big closing kick and it’s been very impressive. We’ll have to see if he’s a mile-and-a-quarter horse, but we certainly feel he can be effective up to a mile and a sixteenth in the Juvenile.”
Life is Good. Trainer Bob Baffert’s woes stemming from a series of positive tests for prohibited substances in his horses led him to lose a potential superstar. This Into Mischief colt opened his career in blazing fashion, breaking his maiden last November at Del Mar before sweeping the Jan. 2 Sham (G3) and the March 6 San Felipe (G2).
The prized prospect sustained a left hind injury while preparing for the Santa Anita Derby (G1). He is tentatively scheduled to make his comeback in the Aug 28 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1).
Pletcher: “Obviously, coming off a layoff, everything would need to go according to plan to make that race. But he’s impressive to watch train. So far, he’s doing great.”
Happy Saver. This 4-year-old was sired by Super Saver, who provided the outfit with what had been an elusive Derby win in 2010. Happy Saver was unraced at 2 and did not make his debut until last June 20. He went on to a 4-for-4 campaign that culminated in victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1). He absorbed his first defeat in six career starts in the July 3 Suburban (G2).
The connections will choose from among three Grade 1 possibilities for his next start: Saturday's Whitney (G1), the Aug. 21 Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar or the Jockey Club Gold Cup, which has been moved to Sept. 4 to capitalize on the great interest in the Saratoga meet.
Con Lima. This ultra-consistent Texas-bred daughter of Commissioner is on course for Sunday's Saratoga Oaks Invitational (G3). She has won half of her 12 starts with five runner-up efforts, including second by half a length to Santa Barbara in the July 10 Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1) at Belmont Park.
Dr Post. This Quality Road 4-year-old has been something of a project from the start. He has had his moments with four wins from among nine starts and more than $700,000 in earnings. But his handlers have always felt they were not quite getting his best. He came in second to Tiz the Law in the 2020 Belmont Stakes and third to eventual Derby winner Authentic later that summer in the Haskell Stakes (G1).
Pletcher: “He kept hinting at better things to come and we talked about blinkers. After the Met, where he was kind of flat (fifth), we decided to try blinkers and, in the short term at least, it made a difference.”
With blinkers firmly in place, Dr Post captured the July 17 Monmouth Cup Stakes (G3). He is likely bound for either the Pacific Classic or Jockey Club Gold Cup – with blinkers staying on.
Following Sea. This Runhappy colt, asked to step up to Grade 1 company in his fourth career start, responded well. He was elevated to second in the July 17 Haskell with the disqualification of Hot Rod Charlie.
Pletcher: “He came out of the Haskell in good shape. The Jerkens is a possibility.”
Double Thunder, Midnight Worker. Both are being considered for the Aug. 14 Saratoga Special (G2). Double Thunder has been particularly impressive in taking his first two starts. The Super Saver colt ruled the June 26 Bashford Manor Stakes (G3) by 4 3/4 lengths at Churchill Downs despite hopping at the break. Mike Repole’s Midnight Worker displayed plenty of grit in his lone outing, eking out a head victory at six furlongs on July 24 at Saratoga.
Sainthood. He has been sent to WinStar Farm for rest and relaxation in anticipation of a 4-year-old grass campaign that likely will begin with the Pegasus Turf (G1) in January 2022 at Gulfstream Park. He has made six starts this season, including an 11th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.
Pletcher: “He just needed a little rest. No injury. We felt if we gave him a little breather now, we might come back with a prep for the Pegasus Turf or do something like that.”