Pletcher on the fast rise of his 4 Derby contenders

Pletcher on the fast rise of his 4 Derby contenders
Photo: Carolyn Greer

Louisville, Ky.

Todd Pletcher was at Churchill Downs Tuesday with his four Kentucky Derby hopefuls — each of which jumped into contention only in the last three weeks.

In that span, the Florida Derby (G1) happened. And the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3). And the Wood Memorial (G2).

Known Agenda became the soon-to-be Hall of Fame trainer's first colt to earn his way into the Churchill Downs starting gate when he won the Florida Derby on March 27. You might have seen that coming a month earlier when the Curlin colt added blinkers, dipped into allowance company and won by 11 lengths at Gulfstream Park.

The St. Elias Stable homebred "seems to really be coming around," Pletcher told Horse Racing Nation Tuesday. "He's a horse that we've gradually seen improve. Going back to Saratoga last summer, he was showing us some things in the morning that we thought were promising. He has a pedigree that suggests he wants to run longer, but you can really see in his last few starts, he's kind of starting to put it all together.

"And the addition of blinkers is part of that mental maturity and experience that he's gotten," Pletcher said. "But it's exciting, you know – he's a horse that's improving at the right time and should like the longer distances."

On the same day as the Florida Derby, Sainthood worked his way to the Kentucky Derby with a second-place finish in the Jeff Ruby Steaks to Like the King. It was only his third start; he broke his maiden at 1 1/16 miles in February after coming in second in his debut at six furlongs. The son of Mshawish is owned by WinStar Farm LLC and CHC Inc.

"He's probably the least experienced of the group, but he was a little bit unlucky at Turfway," Pletcher said. "He got a little bit of traffic and he was coming on best of all in the end, just couldn't quite get there in time. But he's doing good since then."

A week later, Pletcher had the top two finishers in the Wood when Bourbonic went from last to first to edge Dynamic One by a head.

Bourbonic, a Calumet homebred sired by Bernardini, went off at was 72-1 considering his previous wins were in a maiden claimer and then a starter allowance at Aqueduct.

"Bourbonic obviously had a huge huge step up last time," Pletcher said. "Always a horse that we felt like would appreciate longer distances. And he got a good setup with a solid pace and got a clever ride from Kendrick (Carmouche), so we're happy with that."

The Wood was Dynamic One's first start since breaking his maiden on fourth try in March. The son of Union Rags is owned by his breeder, Phipps Stable, along with Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable.

"Dynamic One, I think, is one that's still still sort of putting it all together," Pletcher said. "He kind of made the lead in the Wood and then got a little bit lost. But he's another one that's always shown a lot of promise in the morning. So, I think he too is starting to put it all together."

This will be the fifth time Pletcher has had four Kentucky Derby starters. The last came in 2018 when Audible led the way to finish third. He has also twice had five starters in a Kentucky Derby. Pletcher's two Kentucky Derby wins came with Super Saver in 2010 and Always Dreaming in 2017.

According to Pletcher, having multiple starters does not much alter his training routine.

"To be honest, it's not a whole lot different than what we do every day," Pletcher said. "Just in this case, these four horses are pointing to the same race. If they weren't pointing for that race they'd be pointing for a race."

Overall, he said, "it's a good group. … The one thing I would say about the group as a whole is they're all horses that should appreciate the mile and a quarter."

Jockeys have been lined up for three of the four: Jose Ortiz on Dynamic One, Irad Ortiz Jr. on Known Agenda, and Kendrick Carmouche on Bourbonic.

Pletcher also has a leading Kentucky Oaks contender in Malathaat. The Curlin filly, owned by Shadwell Stable, is 4-for-4, with a late win by a head in the Ashland (G1) last out.

"She's basically been a star her whole life," Pletcher said. "Impeccably bred, beautiful yearling and she's been perfect so far. She's a pleasure to train, very straightforward, professional. Obviously, I'm very, very pleased with the way she came back, able to get up in time in the Ashland. I think she's already won at a mile and an eighth [in the Demoiselle (G2)], so we're just really happy with her. And she's been a pleasure."

Pletcher has won the Kentucky Oaks three times, most recently with Princess of Sylmar in 2013.

As much have things have changed for Pletcher's barn in the last three weeks, there still are three weeks to go.

"Hopefully, everything goes smoothly, but you never take anything for granted."

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