Kentucky Derby 2012 Point/Counterpoint - Pletcher vs. Baffert

Kentucky Derby 2012 Point/Counterpoint - Pletcher vs. Baffert

Kentucky Derby 2012 season has kicked into full gear, and as usual, trainers Todd Pletcher and Bob Baffert have stables full of top Derby contenders. New York State of Racing's Matt Shifman and Managing Editor Brian Zipse discuss which white-haired trainer has the hotter hand for the First Saturday in May!

Todd Pletcher

Bob Baffert
New York State of Racing
Zipse At The Track

Matt Shifman:

This east coast versus west coast debate matches two trainers who have won multiple Eclipse Awards for Trainer of the Year and who were both graduated from the University of Arizona RTIP program. They also happen to be the two hottest trainers of 2012. Todd Pletcher is dominating Gulfstream Park while winning at a 38% clip with 48 first place finishes from 121 starters and earnings of $2,010,470. His closest competition is Chad Brown with 19 winners.


I know that overall Pletcher has a terrible record at the Derby. Actually he is 1 for 24. So, let’s get that right out in the open, that way it can provide only so much fodder for Zipse’s argument. I prefer to look at it in a positive light. Since 2010, when Todd won his first Derby with Super Saver, he leads Baffert 1-0.


Pletcher trains four horses that are from the top 10 of the Horse Racing Nation list of 2012 Kentucky Derby Contenders. In the number three position is Algorithms followed by number six El Padrino, number eight Gemologist, and in the number nine slot is Discreet Dancer. 

Algorithms is three for three in his career with his most recent win a smashing victory in the (G3) Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 29th. The win was assigned a 98 Beyer Speed Figure, which is the kind of number that a Derby winner needs to show leading up to the Run for the Roses. He has earned $301,500 of which $240,000 is the required graded stakes earnings. This son of Bernardini was bet to third choice in the first Derby futures pool at 12-1 behind only Union Rags 7-1 and the 3-2 favored field bet. Algorithms is out of a Cryptoclearance mare and thus should take to the Derby distance. Don’t forget that jockey Javier Castellano recently chose to ride Algorithms over Union Rags. Of course, we math teachers love a horse whose name means “to help with calculations and problem solving”, and in this case, hopefully solving the problem of finding a Derby winner.

El Padrino jumped into the Derby spotlight when Pletcher had this Pulpit colt revved up for a GP Jan. 29th allowance race in which he earned a 100 BSF. El Padrino has only $20,000 in graded stakes earnings so he will need to pick up the cash when he runs in the Risen Star (G2) on Feb. 25th at the Fairgrounds. A win should be no problem because all he has to do is follow in his father’s hoof prints. Pulpit dominated the 1997 Derby preps with wins in the Blue Grass and Fountain of Youth. You better respect this colt because his name means “The Godfather”.

Gemologist won all three of his starts as a two year-old. His last victory came in the Kentucky Jockey Cup (G2), which was run at Churchill Downs. He defeated the Jonathan Sheppard trainee, Ever So Lucky, a horse that has been showing up on a lot of people’s Derby watch lists. This Tiznow colt has been training steadily for his debut in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) on Mar. 10th or the Rebel (G2) on Mar. 17th.

Discreet Dancer is another Pletcher runner with an unblemished record. This Discreet Cat colt won his only juvenile race setting a track record at GP for 5.5 furlongs in 1:02.34. He scored his second victory in an allowance race at GP on Jan. 7th. Pletcher has been training him for his third start to be in the Fountain of Youth (G2) on Feb. 26th. That prep will represent a significant class challenge, but many think that this son of a Gone West mare has all of the talent to handle the Derby distance and contenders.

Pletcher’s barn is loaded with top thoroughbred talent and his horses have started 2012 by running as well as those of any other trainer. With the likes of Algorithms, El Padrino, Discreet Dancer, and Gemologist ready to roll, everything points to Pletcher winning his second Derby and closing the gap on Baffert.

Brian Zipse:

Yes, Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher have been America’s two most prominent and prolific trainers for many years, and this year, the dynamic duo seem to be as loaded as ever for a run at the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown. I just filled out my Road to the Roses stable and the easiest decision was to tab this pair as the two trainers to use. While both men will undoubtedly rack up the earnings on the Derby Trail, I think we both know, Matt, which one has proven to be more dangerous in our nation’s biggest races.

Bob Baffert has won 3 Kentucky Derbies, and 9 Triple Crown races, not to mention multiple near misses. Meanwhile, Todd Pletcher has 1 Derby victory and a grand total of 2 wins in Triple Crown races. Statistics, in the big races like that, have to tell us something. In fact, we only need to go as far back to the last huge 1 ¼ mile race at Churchill Downs to get a taste for their big event prowess. Baffert’s Game On Dude ran a great race in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. I cannot say the same for Pletcher’s pair of Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty.

That’s a solid group, and I have respect for each horse, but a closer look at each reveals that there are only two stakes wins among the bunch. Algorithms and Discreet Dancer have never been two-turns, El Padrino has yet to win a stakes race, and Gemologist has not run yet in 2012. Unlike Baffert, maybe Pletcher does not get enough work into his horses before the rigors of the Triple Crown.

While Pletcher’s stable always seems to excel before Louisville, I am looking for one or more of Baffert’s group to peak come May. With a stable that includes the likes of Fed Biz, Bodemeister, Castaway, Secret Circle, Liaison, Sky Kingdom, Drill, Stirred Up, and Gun Boat, I feel confident that the silver-haired conditioner will do just that. And as good as Algorithms has been in his brief career, how about the three-race career of Fed Biz? In his last two, he has dominated good horses in fast times. He still has a lot to learn, but the potential is clearly big, and he has the advantage of already running in a pair of two-turn races, while Algorithms will not run in his first until Sunday.

I must admit I like El Padrino, and as fate has it, our vacation rental down here in Hot Springs is just down the street from a Mexican restaurant named, you guessed it, El Padrino, but I’m more of a facts based handicapper rather than a hunch player. I think the real Godfather in this conversation is Mr. Baffert. I say that not only for past accomplishments highlighted above, but also for more recent success. Baffert is coming off a perfect weekend, winning everything he entered including sweeping a trio of graded stakes for three-year-olds on Sunday and Monday.


I’m not sure if Gemologist has looked good so far in his recent return to the worktab, nor am I sure if Secret Circle can get the distance, or how well Liaison and Sky Kingdom will rebound from their poor showing in the Lewis, but as unpredictable as the Derby trail has become lately, I like having the power of numbers on my side.


I’ll take your Discreet Dancer and raise you a Bodemeister. Both colts will need to prove that they can do it in stakes company, but I have less worry about the regally bred, Baffert trainee. Named after Bob’s son Bode, this one ran the most impressive non-stakes race that I’ve seen this year, and is bred to run all day. I fully expect him to collect Derby money and win a stakes race in his next start. And speaking of bred to run all day, watch out for Castaway. He just won a Southwest division from the 11-hole, is getting better with every start, and most importantly, the son of Street Sense has the pedigree to excel at distances of ten furlongs and farther.


I have heard that Pletcher is poised to win the Derby before, and save a sloppy 2010 edition, he is an 0-for. My money is on Baffert who has proven time and time again that he knows how to get his charges ready for May, and considering the depth he has in his current stable, 2012 should be no exception.

 See where your favorites rank in HRN's Kentucky Derby 2012 Contenders!

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