John Clay

Todd Pletcher set to be all-time leader in Kentucky Derby starters. Now if only he had more wins.

Trainer Todd Pletcher walks back to the barns after being bested by American Pharoah and jockey Victor Espinoza who won the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs May 2, 2015.
Trainer Todd Pletcher walks back to the barns after being bested by American Pharoah and jockey Victor Espinoza who won the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs May 2, 2015. Lexington Herald-Leader

If at least four of his five Kentucky Derby-eligible horses make it to the starting gate on May 6, then trainer Todd Pletcher will pass D. Wayne Lukas for the most total entries in the history of the Run for the Roses.

“That only means something if I had as many winners as he’s had,” cracked Pletcher on Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs.

The legendary Lukas has entered 48 horses in the Kentucky Derby with four taking the blanket of roses after hitting the finish line first.

Pletcher, a former Lukas assistant, has placed 45 in the starting gate for the Derby with only one first-place finish, that coming from Super Saver back in 2010.

Still, Pletcher is always right back trying year after year. Since 2000, he missed the Derby just once, in 2003. In both 2007 and 2013 he sent out five entries for the mile-and-a-quarter race. Lukas in 1996 and Nick Zito in 2005 are the only other trainers to have as many as five entries in a single Derby.

Pletcher could send another quintet again this year, including the impressive Florida Derby winner Always Dreaming; Wood Memorial runner-up Battalion Runner; Tampa Bay Derby winner Tapwrit; Louisiana Derby runner-up Patch and Rebel Stakes winner Malagacy.

If not a fabulous five, it is at the least formidable.

“We’re optimistic,” Pletcher said.

A quick rundown.

Always Dreaming: His 5-length romp in the Florida Derby was arguably the most impressive of all the Kentucky Derby preps. The winning time of 1:47.47 especially turned heads.

“Any time you run a sub 1:48 for a mile and an eighth that’s pretty rare territory,” Pletcher said.

The Florida Derby has produced 23 Kentucky Derby winners, including Nyquist last year. A son of Bodemeister (second in the 2012 Kentucky Derby), Always Dreaming is three-for-three since coming to Pletcher’s barn.

Battalion Runner: Pletcher pointed out the Wood Memorial was Battalion Runner’s first race in 64 days and first at a mile-and-an-eighth. The son of Unbridled’s Song led in the stretch before being passed by winner Irish War Cry.

“We think that race could help him out,” Pletcher said.

Battalion Runner had won two of three starts before the Wood. And remember, Unbridled’s Song also sired current Breeders’ Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup champ Arrogate.

Tapwrit: After winning the Tampa Bay Derby, Tapwrit failed to show up in the April 8 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, finishing fifth.

“He didn’t fire at all that day,” Pletcher said.

Pletcher has seen horses follow clunkers with standouts, however. In 2006, Bluegrass Cat ran a dull fourth in the Blue Grass only to bounce back with a strong second to Barbaro in the Kentucky Derby.

Patch: The Calumet homebred has shown tons of talent in just three career starts despite suffering an unexplained injury last year that cost him his left eye.

He finished second in his debut, broke his maiden by 1¾ lengths on Feb. 18 then ran second to Girvin in the Louisiana Derby, his first stakes start.

Pletcher admits seasoning is an issue, but thinks stamina won’t be. Sire Union Rags won the Belmont and Patch is out of an A.P. Indy mare. A.P. Indy also won the Belmont.

Malagacy: He was a perfect three-for-three after winning the Rebel on March 18 by 2 lengths, but distance may have been an issue in the Arkansas Derby where Malagacy ran fifth.

His sire, Shackleford, won the 2011 Preakness and that race’s shorter distance might be more to Malagacy’s liking.

“Malagacy is here and training but no definite plans have been made,” Pletcher said Tuesday. “We want to see how he works over the track. I thought he galloped well this morning.”

To be fair, of Pletcher’s 45 Derby entries, only one left the gate at odds better than 6-1. (That was Dunkirk at $5.20-to-1 in 2009.) Bad luck in back-to-back years caused him to scratch the probable Derby favorite because of illness (Uncle Mo in 2011) or injury (Eskendereya in 2010).

“Everything’s challenging in this business,” he said Tuesday. “The main thing is your horses stay healthy.”

You have to be in it to win it.

Todd Pletcher’s 45 Kentucky Derby entrants

Year

Horse

Jockey

Finish

Odds

2000

Impeachment

Craig Perret

3

$6.20

2000

More Than Ready

John Velazquez

4

$11.30

2000

Trippi

Jorge Chavez

11

$6.20

2000

Graeme Hall

Shane Sellers

19

$46.30

2001

Invisible Ink

John Velazquez

2

$55.00

2001

Balto Star

Mark Guidry

14

$8.30

2002

Wild Horses

Rene Douglas

18

$58.50

2004

Limehouse

Jose Santos

4

$41.70

2004

Pollard's Vision

John Velazquez

17

$24.50

2005

Flower Alley

Jorge Chavez

9

$41.30

2005

Coin Silver

Patrick Valenzuela

12

$38.60

2005

Bandini

John Velazquez

19

$6.80

2006

Bluegrass Cat

Ramon Dominguez

2

$30.00

2006

Keyed Entry

Patrick Valenzuela

20

$28.80

2007

Circular Quay

John Velazquez

6

$11.40

2007

Any Given Sunday

Garrett Gomez

8

$13.60

2007

Sam P.

Ramon Dominguez

9

$43.70

2007

Scat Daddy

Edgar Prado

18

$7.20

2007

Cowtown Cat

Fernando Jara

20

$19.80

2008

Cowboy Cal

John Velazquez

9

$39.20

2008

Monba

Ramon Dominguez

20

$31.60

2009

Join in the Dance

Chris Decarlo

7

$51.40

2009

Dunkirk

Edgar Prado

11

$5.20

2009

Advice

Rene Douglas

13

$49.00

2010

Super Saver

Calvin Borel

1

$8.00

2010

Mission Impazible

Rajiv Maragh

9

$16.70

2010

Devil May Care

John Velazquez

10

$10.90

2010

Discreetly Mine

Javier Castellano

13

$31.60

2011

Stay Thirsty

Ramon Dominguez

12

$17.20

2012

El Padrino

Rafael Bejarano

13

$29.40

2012

Gemologist

Javier Castellano

16

$8.60

2013

Revolutionary

Calvin Borel

3

$6.40

2013

Charming Kitten

Edgar Prado

9

$33.20

2013

Overanalyze

Rafael Bejarano

11

$16.20

2013

Palace Malice

Mike Smith

12

$23.70

2013

Verrazano

John Velazquez

14

$8.70

2014

Danza

Joe Bravo

3

$8.70

2014

We Miss Artie

Javier Castellano

10

$27.60

2014

Intense Holiday

John Velazquez

12

$14.10

2014

Vinceremos

Joseph Rocco

17

$49.70

2015

Materiality

Javier Castellano

6

$11.50

2015

Itsaknockout

Luis Saez

9

$30.60

2015

Carpe Diem

John Velazquez

10

$7.70

2016

Destin

Javier Castellano

6

$18.00

2016

Outwork

John Velazquez

14

$26.50

Kentucky Derby

When: May 6

Post time: 6:34 p.m.

Where: Churchill Downs

TV: NBC-18

Pletcher’s 2017 contingent

Todd Pletcher trains five horses who could run in this year’s Kentucky Derby (listed with ranking on the Derby points leaderboard and Derby points):

7. Always Dreaming, 100

12. Tapwrit, 54

13. Malagacy, 50

18. Patch, 40

19. Battalion Runner, 40

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