By Christina Bossinakis

A well-established fixture in the lead up to the Triple Crown, trainer Todd Pletcher is attempting to secure a record 16th training title during Gulfstream Park’s 2018-2019 championship meeting, while diligently working to unearth another jewel who can join his roster of five prior Classic victories. As recently as 2017, the seven-time Eclipse Award winning trainer employed his South Florida base of Palm Beach Downs as a launching pad for a pair of Classic wins: Always Dreaming (Bodemeister; GI Kentucky Derby) and Tapwrit (Tapit; GI Belmont S.). The TDN caught up with Pletcher, who provided a glimpse into his success at Gulfstream Park and offered a closer look into the development of the stable’s youngest and brightest racing talent.

TDN: Why do you think Gulfstream Park suits your program so well?

TP: Well, Gulfstream traditionally has a lot of 3-year-old races, and now that it starts in December. With 2- and 3-year-old racing, we emphasize that program. I think because of the timing and the calendar, it’s allowing the later developing 2-year-olds and early developing 3-year-olds to get ready. We’ve been fortunate enough over the years to have had five GI Florida Derby winners, so timing wise it works well for us. I also think that the speed-favoring nature of the main track plays in how our horses generally run. They’re generally into the race early on, and show some pace. So I think that suits them as well.

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TDN: You mentioned the Florida Derby, and it is a stop that you have used with success in the past. You used it with Always Dreaming, who won the Kentucky Derby in 2017. In terms of its timing, why do you think that works so well for you?

TP: I love the spacing of the Florida Derby–five weeks out from the Kentucky Derby. It’s ideal. We’ve also gone elsewhere– Super Saver won the GI Arkansas Derby three weeks out–so it’s not mandatory. The good thing about it is, if you’re fortunate enough to have some decent 3-year-olds, there’s so many good options everywhere. Generally, every weekend there’s a significant prep race being run somewhere. But the Florida Derby, I think, where it’s positioned on the calendar is ideal, and that’s why we’ve seen it as a very successful prep in the past.

TDN: Now that you have a couple of Kentucky Derby wins under your belt and you’ve seen what it takes to win it firsthand, what are you looking for with your 2-year-olds turning three? What is the ideal progression that you want to see with a young horse?

TP: Well, you know it just depends. You have some that you know what their established form is, so you’re sort of targeting some prep races early. Then you have some other ones that are just getting started and that you’re trying to figure out where they are. But in Always Dreaming’s case, even though he was still a maiden at this time, we had high hopes for him based on his 2-year-old form, so we were kind of laying down a program for him. Occasionally, you’ll have some step up and surprise you and, hopefully, you’ve already got a line on a few others from early summer and fall that you’ve been laying out plans for. It’s an exciting time of the year, you’re obviously hoping to see them physically develop and make that transition from two to three.

TDN: Do you currently have any 2-year-olds that you think might be the type to potentially join the Triple Crown trail?

TP: Well, we’re hopeful. We don’t have any obvious standouts at this point on the dirt, and I think [Red Oak Stable’s] King for a Day (Uncle Mo) ran a better-than-looked fourth in the [GII] Kentucky Jockey Club. He’s one that we have high hopes for, even though it’s only his third start. We’ve got a few other ones we’re getting ready to run, so the next 60 days are a really key period of development.


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