'Room to move forward': Pletcher optimistic for Dr Post in Haskell

'Room to move forward': Pletcher optimistic for Dr Post in Haskell
Photo: Courtesy of Gulfstream Park
If trainer Todd Pletcher feels as though he has been playing catch-up with Dr Post, it's because he has been.

The Quality Road colt showed he was not ready for prime time when he debuted last year on July 4 at Belmont Park, bobbling at the start and finishing fourth in a 5 1/2-furlong contest. It became clear that the best course after that was to give him a fresh start at 3.

“He’s a very big colt, like a lot of Quality Roads tend to be,” Pletcher said. “He was just a little jarred up coming out of that race, minor 2-year-old stuff. We thought a lot of him. We thought potentially he would be better at 3. We took a conservative path with him.”

That path was rewarded when Dr Post made a determined late run to be second in the June 20 Belmont Stakes, 3 3/4 lengths behind ultra-impressive winner Tiz the Law.

“I was very encouraged. I thought he ran extremely well,” Pletcher said. “He was second best on the day to a horse that has proven to be, at this point, the divisional leader. As I have said before, when you look at where Dr Post is, he broke his maiden the day after Tiz the Law won the Florida Derby. So he’s come a long way in a relatively short period of time, and I think he still has room to move forward again, hopefully.”

It will become clear whether that is the case when Dr Post goes post-ward in the $1 million Haskell Stakes on Saturday at New Jersey’s Monmouth Park. The 1 1/8-mile contest will award Derby qualifying points to the top four finishers on a 100-40-20-10 basis. The 53rd Haskell also offers the winner an expense-paid berth in the $7 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 7 at Keeneland Race Course.

The Derby qualifying points are inconsequential for Dr Post. He already sits comfortably in ninth position on the Churchill Downs leaderboard with 60 points, certainly enough to allow him to enter the starting gate on the first Saturday in September on behalf of St. Elias Stable.

Pletcher is stressing the importance of winning the Haskell for other reasons, though.

“It’s a Grade 1, and that’s very important to a horse with his potential stallion value,” the trainer noted.

He had to choose between the Haskell and the Aug. 8 Travers, being run at the Derby distance of a mile-and-a-quarter at Saratoga Race Course. Timing and distance led him to opt for the Haskell.

“We liked the timing from the Haskell to the Kentucky Derby at seven weeks a little more than we did the Travers at four weeks,” Pletcher said. “Ideally, the Haskell would have been a week later and the Travers would have been a week earlier. But having to pick between the two, we felt like taking a good shot at a Grade 1 at a mile and an eighth gives him a little more foundation before we get to a mile and a quarter.”

Dr Post will be making only his fourth start this season. After breaking his maiden in a seven-furlong race at Gulfstream Park on March 29, he remained at the South Florida track to win the 1 1/16-mile Unbridled Stakes by a length and a half on April 25 for jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.

When Pletcher was asked about the obvious progress with every start, he replied: “Not only every start, but I see improvement in his training between races. He trained exceptionally well leading into the Belmont. I thought he would make another move forward, and it certainly seems as though he has in his training."

Dr Post turned in a pair of crackling four-furlong drills since the Belmont. In the more recent of them, he blazed four furlongs in 48 seconds on July 12 at Belmont Park, fourth among 70 horses that worked the distance that morning.

Pletcher was forced to make one quick adjustment because of the New York Racing Association mandate that members of the Saratoga jockey colony not travel as a way of attempting to curb the spread of COVID-19. Joe Bravo will replace Ortiz.

“Joe’s a great rider. He’s had a lot of success at Monmouth Park,” Pletcher said. “He’s had a lot of success for our stable and St. Elias Stable, so we’re happy to have him on board.”

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