Monday, July 22, 2013


The Toughest Trainer Title There Is


If at first you don’t succeed, you probably lack talent and should give up, but don’t tell that to trainers stabled at the Spa. It’s just like what Homer Simpson said to his son Bart, “If something’s hard to do, it’s not worth doing.”

Let’s face it, he’s the only Homer worth listening to.

Through 10 races on the Opening Day card, 11 trainers won a race. Eleven bros all tied at one. It makes it hard to predict just what will happen this meet. On Day 1, here’s a short list of trainers with no shortage of ability, that no one short of the every-day plodding handicapper may have heard of: David Donk, Mark Hennig, Jason Servis, Jack Fisher, Bret Calhoun and Rudy “Surveillance Camera” Rodriguez.

The others were Bill Mott, Todd Pletcher, Kiaran McLaughlin, Steve Asmussen and Nick Zito.

So maybe the best prediction is that we can’t make a solid prediction. Pletcher rode his two-year-olds from 2012 and destroyed the competition. In 2009, when Linda Rice rode turf sprints to the trainer title, many writers chopped her down saying the condition book played to her strengths. Maybe that’s because turf sprints are a relatively novel conception, the flash fiction of horse racing.

The plethora of juvenile races, though a historical part of the Saratoga condition book, play to Pletcher’s strengths the same way turf sprints played to Rice’s in 2009.

Take today for instance, there’s five baby races and the Pletcher Industrial Complex has four entries (including, it must be added, Pecorino, owned in part by Bobby Flay, uber chef, beautifully named after one of the saintly princes of cheeses. Because, let’s face it, the undisputed king of the cheeses is Parmesan off the wheel. And there’s no debate so I don’t want to see any nonsensical comments that there’s a superior cheese. The only one that comes close is Vermont sharp cheddar.)

As Rice had a runner in just about every turf sprint, Pletcher had/has one in just about every juvenile race. At this point in Pletcher’s career, when he has no shortage of two-year-old sets jogging in parallel, the deck is stacked in his favor. (That will be until he starts to falter. And that day will come. Then again, his empire is so vast that one has to imagine that he’s already forecasted the timely/untimely deaths of his clients so that he will always have an influx of fresh muscle. Also, he needs to keep a steady influx of talented assistants so his sideline doesn’t implode with the abdication of a talent. His bricks appear to made with solid mud. Proof positive after yesterday’s Sanford.)

If the babies don’t run well for him, he will, as they say in your handicapping parlor (isn’t that your home office nowadays?), “come back to the pack.” If he doesn’t win two-thirds of his races, as he did a year ago, in the baby conditions, the door swings open very wide for the rest of the gang.

After Saturday, however, Pletcher created a two-race separation over David Jacobson, who also had a hot day, winning two. Pletcher won three, including the Coaching Club American Oaks with Three-Year-Old-Filly-Division-Leader Princess of Sylmar. Pletcher swings one of those big barreled, red wiffle ball bats, while others get that yellow toothpick.

After three days, Pletcher grabbed another win for five total, with Jacobson, Mott and Asmussen tied at two.

Maybe there’s a formula to take the Toddster down. You can’t fight fire with fire with this guy. It’s as if most trainers are fighting fire with wind and it’s just pissing him off as he incinerates them like Luke Skywalker’s aunt and uncle on Tatooine.

Step 1: Find a Niche

Linda Rice found her niche in turf sprints. Chad Brown found his on the grass in general, and was the only one within a whiff of Pletcher in 2012. Expose this “market inefficiency” and there are races to be won.

Step 2: Parlay Wins in Niche Races to Expand Business

Potential owners see the escalating wins and win percentage and send horses your way. There’s only so many horses being born, less and less every year it seems, and if you show your prowess, a two-year-old in your barn is one less in the PIC. Turning for home in the Derby, Brown’s Normandy Invasion had the lead.

Step 3: Offer Better Day Rates

Rich people know a thing or two about saving dough—it’s how they got rich. Give them value on the day rate and that’s more loot to buy muscle.

Or ... Step 4: Win the Derby

It's just that simple.

Twenty-five trainers won the first 32 races at the Spa. If nothing else it proves how tough this place is and how much truth there is to the sentiment that all trainers are happy to win a race a Saratoga because it’s so dang-gum hard to do it.

So, yes, the Toddster appears unbeatable, but there’s 37 days left and, like the playoffs in all the major sports, the real season doesn’t start until the second weekend.


Written by Brendan O'Meara

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