Pletcher to devote day at Derby to his fab five
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Todd Pletcher is more organized than the Library of Congress. He has to be to train one of the largest thoroughbred stables in America, currently numbering 192 head.
But even the meticulous Pletcher's organizational skills will be tested Saturday, when he saddles a record-tying five horses in the Kentucky Derby. The Pletcher herd: 8-1 morning line co-third choice Circular Quay; 10-1 Scat Daddy; 12-1 Any Given Saturday; 20-1 Sam P; and 20-1 Cowtown Cat.
And Pletcher personally will saddle them all in the hectic and electric Churchill Downs paddock. Just the way his mentor, D. Wayne Lukas, did before the 1996 Derby.
"You better saddle them in order [of post position]," Lukas said. "You don't go saddle the one you like best, because they'll all be watching over your shoulder to see which one you're going to first."
These small exercises in diplomacy are part of the Derby juggling act for Pletcher. He's not just getting five colts ready to run the biggest race of their lives; he's not just lining up five jockeys to ride those horses; he's also catering to the big-dollar, big-ego ownership groups who keep his barn stocked with premium horseflesh.
Befitting his outrageous purse winnings, Pletcher attracts the best in the business to him. That's how he wound up with a murderer's row of jocks for this race: his A-list rider John Velazquez is on Circular Quay; 2006 national leading money winner Garrett Gomez on Any Given Saturday; defending Derby champion rider Edgar Prado on Scat Daddy; young hotshot Fernando Jara, winner of the 2006 Belmont and Breeders' Cup Classic, on Cowtown Cat; and '06 Derby runner-up Ramon Dominguez on Sam P.
"We couldn't have done much better, rider-wise," Pletcher said.
Or much richer, owner-wise. Among them this Derby are WinStar Farm (part-owner of Any Given Saturday), Padua Stables (part-owner of Any Given Saturday and Curlin), Michael Tabor (owner of Circular Quay and part-owner of Scat Daddy), Jamie Scatuorchio (part-owner of Scat Daddy), Starlight Stable (part-owner of Sam P.) and Donald Lucarelli (part-owner of Sam P.).
Trainers usually sit with the owners of their horses during big races. But what's a trainer to do when he's got that many clients?
Where will Pletcher sit come 6 p.m. Saturday?
"By myself," he said.
And when the race is over, Lukas has some more advice for how Pletcher should handle his ownership groups.
"If you win the race, get to the other four," said Lukas, who won the '96 Derby with Grindstone -- not considered the star of his five-horse brigade. "Don't worry about the winner -- they'll be happy enough. Go hold the hands of the losers."
The hard part is when they're all losers. That happened two years ago to Nick Zito, who brought five horses to the Derby and suffered a ghastly day, with nobody finishing higher than seventh.
"That's a kick in the teeth deluxe," Lukas said.
For Pletcher, even finishing 2-3-4-5-6 in this Derby would earn him a few kicks in the teeth. He's 0 for 14 at this point in the Derby.
You can argue that Pletcher's Derby horses have overachieved more often than underachieved. He finished second with Invisible Ink at 55-1 in 2001, fourth with Limehouse at 42-1 in 2004, and second with Bluegrass Cat at 30-1 last year.
But sooner or later the guy who wins everything else has to win a Triple Crown race. Especially the biggest of the Triple Crown races.
Pletcher is smart enough to know what the outside reaction will be if it doesn't happen this year.
"My career's at the point now," he said, "where anything other than a win can be considered a disappointment."
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.