Pletcher, O’Neill have
numbers in Kentucky Derby

Apr 17, 2007 5:58 AM

Between the two of them, Todd Pletcher and Doug O’Neill could have nearly half of the Kentucky Derby starters this year.

With less than three weeks before the 133rd Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs on May 5, racing’s two young Turks appeared to hold the upper hand in quantity training the nation’s leading 3-year-olds. But numbers may not be enough after Curlin’s jaw-dropping victory in the Arkansas Derby Saturday by a race record 10½ lengths.

The 39-year-old Pletcher held the strongest numbers with five potential starters in the world’s most famous race: Louisiana Derby winner Circular Quay (pronounced "key"); Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Any Given Saturday; Florida Derby winner Scat Daddy; Sam P., third in the Santa Anita Derby; and Gotham and Illinois Derby winner Cowtown Cat. Pletcher said Deadly Dealer, third in the Arkansas Derby, "would not run in the Kentucky Derby."

The 38-year-old O’Neill is down to three hopefuls, including San Felipe winner Cobalt Blue, who laid an egg as the even-money favorite in the Illinois Derby. Merv Griffin’s pride and joy would be joined by Robert Lewis winner Great Hunter, who was a troubled fifth in the Blue Grass, and Liquidity, who will have blinkers removed after a disappointing fourth in the Santa Anita Derby. San Rafael winner Notional will not run. The son of In Excess underwent ankle surgery Sunday morning in Kentucky after fracturing a cannon bone in his left front leg while exercising Saturday at Keeneland.

With 20 starters ticketed for the classic, realistically, Pletcher and O’Neill could have as many as eight starters between them. There is safety in numbers, but the multitude still must successfully negotiate the daunting challenge of the mile and a quarter and conquer the undefeated Curlin, who has won his three races by a combined 28½ lengths and is the Derby favorite in my book at 5/2. But first things first.

"Basically, we’re trying to get them all to Kentucky after their final preps," Pletcher said Sunday morning. "Scat Daddy’s already earned his way in and Circular Quay had a very good work at Keeneland (on April 8) so everything’s on schedule. Any Given Saturday came out of the Wood (third to Nobiz Like Showbiz) in good shape, so everything looks good with him."

O’Neill, like Pletcher seeking his first Derby victory, says it’s anyone’s race.

"Curlin, Nobiz Like Showbiz, Scat Daddy, Street Sense and Great Hunter are the leaders, in my view, but as solid as they are, none has run any kind of crazy numbers this year that would scare anyone off," O’Neill said. "This year’s crop is very deep, so it’s wide open."

"I think it’s a very good crop and it seems like for the most part a consistent crop," Pletcher said. "Horses like Scat Daddy, Nobiz Like Showbiz, Any Given Saturday and Circular Quay seem to have been running their races from their 2-year-old year onto their 3-year-old year, and they’re consistently performing well, so to me, that indicates it’s a strong and consistent group."

The homestretch

”¡ Who is the only jockey still active that rode 27 years ago in the 1980 Kentucky Derby? (Answer below).

”¡ Pletcher has the Grade I Metropolitan Mile on May 28 in mind for Oaklawn Handicap winner Lawyer Ron. "Before the Oaklawn Handicap, we kind of planned on the Met Mile and that still holds," he said.

As for Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up Octave, she had a nightmare trip losing by a head in the Ashland Stakes, but a showdown with stablemate and Santa Anita Oaks winner Rags to Riches awaits in the Kentucky Oaks on May 4.

"Octave was a tough beat," Pletcher said. "We might have run the best filly there. I think we were a little bit further back than we were hoping, and Garrett (Gomez) said he had to wait a little around the turn before he could really get her revved up, but she finished up great and hopefully that will springboard her to the big one. The plan as of now is for both her and Rags to Riches to run in the Kentucky Oaks."

”¡ Looking for the Derby winner? Eliminate every horse except bays and chestnuts. Combined, they have won 91 of 132 runnings. Also dismiss any horse bred outside of Kentucky, which has 99 winners.

”¡ Let me tell you about a first-hand experience I had with Don Slime-us, the so-called "Shock Jock" who got canned because of the firestorm he created with his racial slur against the Rutgers women’s basketball team. Years ago when I was PR director for the Spectrum, I sent a clever blurb to Philadelphia’s leading entertainment columnist, the late Larry Fields, who ran it in the Daily News. A short time later, Slime-us used it verbatim on his show, taking full credit for it.

The guy’s a no-talent plagiarist, whose show offered no redeeming social value. He finally got his comeuppance. And bad news for Robert Redford fans: the former matinee idol is starting to look like Slime-us.

”¡ Answer: Patrick Valenzuela. He rode Bold ”˜n Rulling to a sixth-place finish behind winning filly Genuine Risk.