Over the three-day weekend, trainer Bob Baffert secured the spotlight when his Kentucky Derby prospects Shakin It Up and Super Ninety Nine won key stakes races.
Will this weekend be Todd Pletcher’s time to shine?
Pletcher sends out undefeated Violence as the favorite in Saturday’s Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park, and he also has improving Palace Malice in the Grade 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds. Both races are worth 50 points each to the winner in the new Kentucky Derby point system.
In addition to his Derby hopefuls, Pletcher has two fillies who could develop into Kentucky Oaks contenders: Dreaming of Julia in the Davona Dale at Gulfstream and Unlimited Budget in the Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds, both favorites.
These Derby preps provide just a sneak peek of the strong contingent Pletcher is readying for the first Saturday in May. He estimated he has six to seven contenders on the Triple Crown trail.
Violence is one of the group’s standouts. The son of multiple graded stakes winner Medaglia d’Oro has won at three different tracks, on two different types of surfaces, all at different distances.
Palace Malice is a son of Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Curlin and is an intriguing prospect, as he is bred for longer distances. Rosie Napravnik, leading rider at Fair Grounds, will ride the colt for the first time.
Pletcher, who won the Derby in 2010 with Super Saver, noted an interesting aspect of the Run for the Roses he deemed the overlooked variable: the racing surface at Churchill.
“It can be so peculiar,“ he said. “If we see a surface like we did for the Breeders' Cup in 2011, there's a lot of horses that just hated that surface, and I ran quite a few of them myself. Sometimes it doesn't matter how good you are, or how well-prepared you are, or how many points you have. If you show up and the Churchill surface is in one of its quirky states - and we're going to have a new track superintendent this year, to me that's the huge X factor in the whole thing; there's a lot of horses that just will not handle that surface. You've got to get lucky in that regard.”
Photo by J.J. Hysell