LOUISVILLE — Trainer Todd Pletcher calls last year's Breeders' Cup Classic "the ultimate letdown." At the same time, the four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer realizes it could have been so much worse.
The 2009 Classic produced a fairy-tale ending with Zen-yatta beating the boys, but the 11/4-mile test was nothing but a nightmare for Pletcher and his charge Quality Road.
Quality Road will go down as a notorious footnote in the event's history after he was scratched at the gate when he began to buck and fight with the gate crew so violently that he emerged with several minor cuts.
The memory of watching his top contender melt down before the biggest race of his life is something that still gnaws at Pletcher. The fact that Quality Road has recovered from the incident to win three more Grade I races this year — all while acting like a gentleman in the gate — has proved to be a great salve.
"It was the ultimate letdown to have a horse prepared to run in a race like that and not get the opportunity to start," Pletcher said. "We're fortunate the horse was OK and fortunate we get to try again.
"The most amazing thing for me is, the very next time we went to the starting gate he walked right in. You would think, with the episode he had, he would have not wanted to go in the gate again. That tells you a lot about his mental health that he can overcome something like that."
Pletcher turned to New York Racing Association starter Bob Duncan to work with Quality Road after the incident.
Duncan soon realized the gate wasn't the problem so much as Quality Road's ego.
"Like a lot of good horses, he's an alpha horse. He wants to lead," Duncan said. "If you can just do a little something every day to re-establish your leadership, then he's perfectly happy. He's the kindest horse to be around."
Midday gets blowout
Defending Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Midday put in her last bit of fine-tuning Thursday, covering 3 furlongs in 42 seconds over the main track.
"She's fresh, happy and eating well," trainer Henry Cecil said. "She's got plenty of life about her. I think she's better than she was last year."
Midday comes into Friday's Filly and Mare Turf with the momentum of three straight Group I wins. Although Cecil expressed some concern about the potential "jarring" nature of the Churchill Downs turf course, the daughter of Oasis Dream won last year's Filly and Mare Turf over a firm course.
"It's going to be on the fast side, but I'm sure they'll make sure there is no jar here with horses of this caliber running," Cecil said.
Indian Gracey out of Juvenile Fillies
Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said Thursday he plans to scratch Indian Gracey from the Juvenile Fillies after the third-place finisher in the Grade I Oak Leaf Stakes came up with a sore right front hoof.
"She has a hot right front, so we're not running," Hollendorfer said. "I'd rather know now than in the race. She's talented, so she'll get other chances."