Rain Could Help Pletcher’s Horses
LOUISVILLE - If it wasn't for bad luck, the 136th Kentucky Derby would seemingly have no luck at all.
No matter the outcome Saturday at Churchill Downs, this edition of the 1 1/4-mile classic will always have a question mark attached to it rather than an exclamation point.
What if potential superstar Eskendereya, a winner of his two prep races by a combined 18 1/4 lengths, had not been withdrawn with a leg injury six days before the most important race of his young life?
"If he was in it and he was right, to me it was a no-contest," said trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., who gained new hope for his long shot, Homeboykris.
Bad luck continued when Sunland Derby winner Endorsement was sidelined by an injury shortly before a draw for post positions that worked against the top two choices in the early odds.
Lookin At Lucky, a 3-1 favorite, received the worrisome rail, while 5-1 Sidney's Candy, the front-running Santa Anita Derby champ, was sent as far outside as possible to post 20.
"It's wide, wide open," Dutrow said. "I guess the trip means a whole lot."
Track condition will be another key. If the forecast is correct, the clouds that seem to hang above this $2 million Derby might dump enough rain to turn the traditional dirt surface into a sea of mud.
It would be yet another variable that trainer Bob Baffert, gunning for his fourth triumph in the opening leg of the Triple Crown, could do without as he considers his chances with California-based Lookin At Lucky.
"Lucky has never had mud in his face before, so you don't know how he's going to handle it," he said.
If a wet track becomes a reality, it might finally be a bit of good fortune for trainer Todd Pletcher, a four-time Eclipse Award winner who has not reached the Derby winner's circle with a record 24 starters.
With Eskendereya out, Pletcher's high-powered operation is left with Super Saver, Mission Impazible, Discreetly Mine and a filly, Devil May Care.
One of Pletcher's runners shows especially promising form on a wet track. Super Saver splashed home by 7 lengths when he gained his first career victory Sept. 11 at New York's Belmont Park. It also is worth noting that the son of Maria's Mon owns a win at Churchill Downs, achieving that in a Grade 2 event Nov. 28.
Pletcher noted that all of his horses breezed well beneath the twin spires when the track was sloppy last Saturday.
"If there's some likelihood of slop or something similar, it may be an edge for us. We know we can get over it, and I'm not sure all of the others can say that," he said. "For instance, you've got the California horses that don't see wet tracks. It's hard to know how they might react to such a situation."
Given the events of last year, when Rachel Alexandra defeated males three times and Zenyatta became the first female to take the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic, Devil May Care might bear watching.
She has prevailed in three of five starts, boasts $399,000 in earnings and comes off a rousing 2 3/4-length score in the Grade 2 Bonnie Miss Stakes at Florida's Gulfstream Park.
"She's very strong-minded," jockey John Velazquez said. "No matter what you put next to her, she wants to be better."