They’ve been racing thoroughbreds since the 17th century, and no trainer’s horses have earned more money than his have. Like LeBron, he’s a first-name guy in his sport. When you say Todd, Pletcher is understood. He’s even a virtual presence on Twitter, where the imposter @NotTheToddster has satirized him for years.
Pletcher, who turns 52 this month, remains at the top of his game — third nationally in earnings this year with more than $8.7 million, raising his career total beyond $375.8 million. His accomplishments fill nearly two pages in the New York Racing Association’s media guide. He has seven Eclipse Awards, a record for a trainer. He’s won the Kentucky Derby twice and the Belmont Stakes three times. If not for being on the wrong side of tight finishes, Pletcher would have five trophies from the 1½-mile “Test of the Champion.”
In the 2014 Belmont, Tonalist rallied to deny Pletcher’s Commissioner, a 28-1 outsider, by a head. Two years later, it was even more brutal as 15-1 Creator came from far back and nailed 8-1 Destin by a nose. The stoic Pletcher’s comment: “Tough beat.”
"The Belmont is a race we really cherish,” Pletcher said Tuesday. “It’s home for us, and I think one of the advantages is most of our horses have trained at Belmont for five weeks after the Derby. It helps, and it’s a race we really enjoy. We’ve been pretty fortunate to have had horses that have run well, and we’ve taken a couple of nasty beats, too.”
Pletcher is unpopular among value-oriented handicappers who take on his many short-priced favorites, especially 2-year-olds. “More Pletcher chalk” is the losers’ lament after one of his 3-5 sure things dominates. But all of his five classic winners paid double digits – Palace Malice ($29.60, 2013 Belmont); Super Saver ($18, 2010 Derby); Tapwrit ($12.60, 2017 Belmont); Always Dreaming ($11.40, 2017 Derby) and the filly Rags to Riches ($10.60, 2007 Belmont). Call him @NotTheChalkster.
In Saturday’s 151st Belmont Stakes, Pletcher will saddle two longshots – Intrepid Heart (10-1 morning line, jockey John Velazquez) and Spinoff (15-1, Javier Castellano).
Intrepid Heart, a stalker, ran third at even money May 11 after stumbling at the start of the 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont.
"We were disappointed because we felt he had a big chance to win,” Pletcher said. “Johnny and I still feel the horse is very green. He’s clocking horses next to him. I really think he needs blinkers, he’s so worried about what everybody else is doing instead of what he should be doing.
"He’s had two good works in blinkers and was a little more focused. I think we need to improve off the Peter Pan, so that’s why we decided to make the equipment change. Now we’ll see if he can step it up a notch.”
Spinoff never got involved in the Derby, finishing 18th on a wet track.
"Two days before the Derby, we had a sloppy track at Churchill, and it was, ‘I don’t think he likes this,’ ” Pletcher said. “I’m hoping that was the case, because he had trained as consistently as some of the horses we’ve run in the Belmont over the years that have performed well. I’m hoping he catches a fast track and gets to prove how good he is, or not.”
According to weather.com, there’s zero chance of rain Saturday.
What would be so surprising if one or both of Pletcher’s lightly raced colts ran well? They’re rested and eligible to improve, and of his three Belmont winners, only Rags to Riches was coming off a victory. Sometimes handicapping is all about pattern recognition.