SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, April 27, 2010--It wasn’t long after Eskendereya was declared from the Kentucky Derby with a filling in his left front leg that a whisper campaign began on the Internet and questions raised on a Capital OTB television network call-in show.
“I don’t mean to imply anything,” said one caller, “but didn’t Todd Pletcher have trouble with some of his horses in Saratoga a couple of summers ago? And the way he’s been winning preps this year, not only winning but dominating, I’m just saying it makes you suspicious.”
Said “Trackfacts” co-host Tom Amello: “But you are implying something.”
The overreaction to the cruel fate of the Derby favorite, and the implications that followed, sadly are the rule and not an exception.
Many of the game’s most recognizable trainers have been cited for drug rules infractions at one time or another. And that‘s the legal kind, not performance enhancers Some are members of the Hall of Fame.
Fans and bettors need to use good judgment. Three-year-olds are not fully matured horses, the human equivalent of older teenagers. Efforts, even with reasonable recovery time between starts, can exact a toll.
The accusations flying at Pletcher are unfair. His horses generally are brought to peak condition and, in the main, hold their form over sustained periods. And they look well. Drugs won’t do that over the long haul. An equine athlete suffered an injured here; nothing more.
What Pletcher is guilty of is trainer-speak; the unwritten rule that it’s OK for trainers to mislead everyone outside the barn, shielding their horses in order to maintain its value. It’s about the Benjamins, the owner’s Benjamins. Without those, trainers would need to find another line of work.
This situation is a little more complicated given that Eskendereya’s owner, Ahmed Zayat, is having money issues. Zayat needs a cash injection to pay his bills and a Derby victory surely would have brought with it significant eight-figure offers for an interest in the horse’s future.
Pletcher was doing his job, protecting his horse’s reputation and Zayat’s investment. His mistake was in being disingenuous.
Scheduled workouts were canceled, the colt walked the shedrow in bandages and, as late as a Saturday morning television interview, Pletcher stuck with his “run-down” story about the ankle-to-knee-length front bandages worn in the Wood Memorial.
All this even as rumors began to swirl in Kentucky last week that his Oaks filly, Devil May Care, might run in the Kentucky Derby. It’s often difficult to put stock in backstretch rumor but that possibility became reality Monday when it was announced the filly would run Saturday, not Friday.
Pletcher still has many live bullets to fire, but it’s impossible not to empathize with Zayat, who’s invested a lot of money in the game and has tried to do it the right way. And neither will the horse, with all the ability in the world, but won’t have a chance to show off on May’s first Saturday.
Here is HRI’s final Derby Power 10, Week 13, in advance of today‘s post position draw:
1. Lookin at Lucky (33) The consensus leader by default with the declaration of Eskendereya. Had a strong final workout over a sealed, wet track Monday and will benefit from the anticipated strong early pace.
2. Sidney's Candy (30) While his final workout was fast, it wasn’t as impressive as his earlier Churchill Downs workout. But he continues to bloom with good health and trainer John Sadler’s has had the best early season this side of Todd Pletcher.
3. Ice Box (27) Nick Zito put some speed into the colt in his final work and now has the presence of hard-hitting stablemate Jackson Bend to keep quality pressure on the pace horses, enhancing his late run.
4. Endorsement (21) Trainer Shannon Ritter cancelled a final scheduled five-furlong work owing to a wet track, claiming her horse keeps himself fit. She likely will come back with a half-mile breeze this morning. Like the confidence the Derby newbie’s showing in her horse and herself.
5. Super Saver (17) Horse for course specialist and training well, Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes winner may turn out to be Pletcher’s best chance to get off the Derby schneid. Peaking at the perfect time.
6. Dublin (13) Colt giving trainer D. Wayne Lukas fits with his early morning antics, trying to bear out in his two most recent trials, a gallop and a work. That’s never a good sign, especially this late in the Derby game.
7. Awesome Act (11) Not a flashy worker, this good looking individual continues to go about his business very professionally. Has an excellent turn of foot, Eclipse Award-winning rider, and plenty of pace up front.
8. Noble's Promise (10) Passed the Monday workout test that solidified his position in the gate on Saturday. His move was excellent but of greater importance was that he passed an endoscopic examination, indicating his respiratory issues are behind him.
9. Mission Impazible (5) Fairly lightly raced, this colt improves from start to start and is having a good two weeks in the bluegrass. Mid-move running style suits Saturday’s race shape and jockey Rajiv Maragh is a rising star.
9. American Lion (5) Trainer Eoin Harty promised that dirt would suit his horse’s running style better than Santa Anita’s Pro Ride and the colt proved him prescient in the Illinois Derby. Also having a good two weeks in Louisville, peaking on top of the race.