Road to the Kentucky Derby: Violence Out, but Pletcher Still Loaded

Michael Dempsey@turfnsportFeatured ColumnistFebruary 26, 2013

Trainer Todd Pletcher has a barn full of Kentucky Derby hopefuls
Trainer Todd Pletcher has a barn full of Kentucky Derby hopefulsDavid Turnley/Getty Images

Trainer Todd Pletcher lost a major Kentucky Derby contender last Saturday when the previously undefeated Violence came out of his runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth with a fractured sesamoid bone in his right front ankle, but the five-time Eclipse Award winning trainer still has plenty of bullets remaining.

It was just three short years ago that Pletcher went into the 2010 Run for the Roses sporting a 0 - 24 record, finally getting the monkey off his back by saddling Super Saver, who pulled off the minor upset with Calvin Borel on board, returning $18 for a $2 wager. Pletcher started four runners that year.

While many start their handicapping for racing’s biggest day the past few years by taking a good look at the Pletcher runners, the barn’s record now stands at a rather unremarkable 1 for 31.

Last year, Pletcher started two runners, with El Padrino finishing 13th and Gemologist checking in 16th.

Violence, who won the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity as a juvenile, appeared to be one of Pletcher's best shots at a return to the Churchill Downs winner’s circle on the first Saturday of May, but there is no reason to get the violins out for the trainer yet.

He is loaded with a talented group of three-year-olds and should be as busy as anyone in the paddock on Derby Day.

Here is a quick look at his major contenders:

Capo Bastone: The son of Street Boss showed plenty of talent as a juvenile, breaking his maiden in his debut before capping off the year by running a good third in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

The colt has made just one start this year, a victory against optional claimers at Gulfstream Park on February 16. The colt is flying under the radar in this deep barn. His next outing may come in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on March 16.

He closed at betting odds of 58:1 in Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW).

Delhomme: The colt has not made his three-year-old debut yet, but it is likely to come in the Rebel Stakes.

His last outing was a close up third in the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct behind Overanalyze and Normandy Invasion.

The colt brings early speed to the party and his pedigree is not screaming one-and-one-quarter miles, but he figures to be right in the mix in his three-year-old debut, as the Oaklawn Park racing strip figures to be conducive to his running style.

The colt was 55:1 in Pool 1 of the KDFW.

Overanalyze: This colt has been working steadily since his three year-old-debut at Palm Meadows. He was busy last year, breaking his maiden in August and getting in four more starts, all in stakes company. The colt closed out his juvenile campaign with a gritty nose decision over Normandy Invasion in the Remsen.

Normandy Invasion ran fifth in the Grade 2 Risen Star last Saturday at Fair Grounds.  Pletcher is pointing the colt to Saturday’s Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct, where he will face Grade 2 Jerome winner Vyjack and Grade 2 Hutcheson winner Honorable Dillon.

He was 33:1 in Pool 1 of the KDFW.

Revolutionary: It took four tries for this colt to finally break his maiden, doing so in impressive fashion. Revolutionary earned one of the highest speed figures recorded by a Derby contender so far this year.

The colt then came back to win the Grade 2 Withers at Aqueduct despite a tough trip, winning by a neck over Escapefromreality. Pletcher has not made a decision yet where his final Derby prep would be, possibly the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct or the Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.

He was sent off at 13:1 in Pool 1 of the KDFW.

Palace Malice: The colt made his stakes debut in the Risen Star last Saturday where he made a mild late rally to finish third, beaten a half-length for the top spot as Ive Struck a Nerve pulled off the huge upset at 135:1.

I am not convinced that the Risen Star is will be a productive Derby prep, but this colt only has four starts under his belt and still appears to have plenty of upside potential. Pletcher will have to give him another start to earn enough points to get into the Derby.

The colt was part of the mutual field for Pool 1 of the KDFW at odds of 8:5.

Shanghai Bobby: The 2012 juvenile champion was undefeated in five starts last year, capping off his year with a game win in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. I thought he took full advantage of a speed friendly racing strip to win the race.

He came back in the Grade 2 Holy Bull on January 26 at Gulfstream Park, where he suffered his first career defeat, beaten by the talented Itsmyluckyday by two lengths.

Next up is the Florida Derby where he is going to need to earn some points to get into the Derby field.  Getting one-and-one-quarter miles with his pedigree is going to be a stretch, but he certainly has a ton of talent.

The colt closed at 14:1 in Pool 1 of the KDFW.

Verrazano: This colt did not start as a juvenile and and no horse that made its debuts after two years of age has won the Run for the Roses since Apollo in 1882. Well, he only missed by a day as he made his debut on New Year’s Day, breaking his maiden by seven-and-three-quarters lengths in a dazzling performance.

Next, he took on four foes in a first-level optional claimer on February 2 and dusted the field by 16-and-one-quarter lengths, earning the highest Beyer Speed Figure (105) by a three-year-old so far this year.

Pletcher will send him to Tampa Bay Downs for the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby, where the colt does not have any room for error. If he does not pick up some points, he may not make it to Louisville.

Despite not facing stakes company yet, he was sent off at 11:1 in Pool 1 of the KDFW.

So, which runner out of the Pletcher barn has the best shot?

Plenty can change over the next two months, but I will lean toward Verrazano, who appears to have a ton of upside, while Shanghai Bobby is likely to offer the least betting value in the next two Kentucky Derby Future Wager pools.

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