Once again, Pletcher comes up short with five runners in Derby
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Todd Pletcher had dominated the Derby preps, sweeping the Wood Memorial with undefeated Verrazano, the Louisiana Derby with Revolutionary and the Arkansas Derby with Overanalyze. For the second time, America's most dominant trainer entered a record-tying five horses in the Run for the Roses, and he said he considered it the strongest hand he'd ever held.
Although Pletcher went all in, his horses folded, with their best finish a third by Revolutionary on a sloppy track Saturday at Churchill Downs. Charming Kitten was ninth, Overanalyze ran 11th, Palace Malice 12th and Verrazano a stunning 14th. Pletcher upset the Kentucky Oaks on Friday with Princess of Sylmar and was trying to become the first trainer to hit the Oaks-Derby double since 1952.
The 0-for-5 dropped Pletcher's Derby record to 1-for-36 in 13 runnings since 2000. Revolutionary was his only runner in contention in the stretch, and it never looked as if he would win. His rider was rail-skimming Calvin Borel, who won the 2010 Derby for Pletcher with Super Saver.
"I thought he ran super," Pletcher said. "He got shuffled back farther than we thought and he had to keep waiting to make up ground. But when he could start running, he did really well. He closed strongly and just ran out of ground."
Borel, a three-time Derby hero, agreed. "The only thing I could have done on the far turn was creep up closer with him," he said. "Turning for home, I still thought we had a shot to win, and he gave me a good turn of foot."
Neither Overanalyze nor Charming Kitten ever was in contention. Palace Malice, a 23-1 shot, gave his backers a thrill on the lead until they looked at the fractions and realized he was burning himself out. He and Mike Smith were 3½ lengths in front after 6 furlongs in a blazing 1:09.80, which guaranteed he soon would backpedal in a hurry.
Verrazano, ridden by John Velazquez, chased the pace and faded from third after 6 furlongs to 14th, about 16 lengths behind winner Orb.
"We had a good trip," Velazquez said. "I just don't think he liked the track. He was already in trouble on the first turn when he was trying to get hold of the track. He was kicking a lot and overworking to keep up."
It was a disturbing performance for a brilliant colt who was 4-for-4 by a margin of 27¼ lengths.
"He never got the kind of trip we hoped for," Pletcher said. "That fast pace was just no good for him. And he was the one, of all our horses, who was affected most by the racetrack. He just couldn't handle it."