HALLANDALE BEACH, FLA., March 16, 2012—Twenty minutes before the third race, for 3-year-olds that have not won going a mile since January 16, Todd Pletcher was standing in a doorway in the tunnel opposite stall 1, awaiting the undefeated graded stakes winner, Gemologist.
Gemologist is well turned out for season's debut
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Gemologist is well turned out for season's debut
This was to be an important test, not so much for the consequences of winning or losing, but any time your goal is the Kentucky Derby and you’re cutting it a little fine, opting for a two-prep campaign instead of three, there’s little margin for error. “What are you hoping to see?” Gulfstream’s leading trainer was asked. “Just that he run well and come out of it well.”

Such a kidder, that Pletcher.

How well did Gemologist run? As we waited for the horses to return for unsaddling, and picture taking in Gemologist’s case, journalist and veteran racing publicist Jack Will walked over to join the queue and said without prompting: “That would be a wow.”

About a minute later, Elliot Walden of WinStar Farm, who knows a thing or two about winning an American classic, walked into the circle, cell phone pressed up against his ear, shaking hands, accepting congratulations while never breaking stride.

A minute after that, Pletcher walked by on his way to the circle. “He ran pretty well,” he was told and simply turned around with a big, animated smile on his face. Given Pletcher’s bearing, this is uproarious behavior.

Can’t blame him; the man had a whole lot to smile about.

Gemologist, breaking from the rail as the odds-on choice in a field of five that included another undefeated graded stakes winner, Currency Swap, came out running, almost making the start look bad for the others.
Well...that was easy!
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Well...that was easy!
From there, it the old one-liner about the crusty veteran trainer walking up to his rider in the paddock to give instructions: “Go to the front and improve your position,” which is exactly how the chart reads:

At the three points of call that count, the last one being the finish line, it was 1 by 1½, 1 by 3, and finally 1 by 7. And the tempo, set by Gemologist who was shadowed around the racetrack by his main rival, were individual splits of :24.93, :22.65, :23.68 and :24.69.

“We were hoping to be behind a horse but he broke so alertly that Javier [Castellano] just went on and let him get into his rhythm,” the trainer said.

“From a conditioning standpoint, to come out and run a mile in one-thirty-five and four on this track, we got what we were looking for.”

“He was fine,” trainer Terri Pompay said of the runnerup. “We wanted him to lay off the other horse and he was nice and relaxed.
Javier Castellano could not be more pleased.
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Javier Castellano could not be more pleased.
“The pace was a little slow in the beginning and the other horse ran away from him a little bit but he did everything we wanted and we got the race into him.” Currency Swap clearly was more in need of a run than the winner.

But for the winner, there are lots of options. “You guys know the races,” Pletcher said to the assembled media. “We’ll see how he comes out, will run on either April 7 or April 14, deciding whether we want to come back in three weeks or four into the Derby.

There are three important preps run on the 7th; the Wood Memorial, Illinois Derby and Santa Anita Derby, while the Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby will be renewed a week later.

The Illinois Derby, is Grade 3 and usually contested by second tier contenders and the Sant Anita Derby is 3,000 miles away. Think Wood.

The following week offers two Grade 1s and unless a star is born in Saturday’s Rebel Stakes, a repeat of his his season’s debut would likely be enough to handle those rivals.

As for the Blue Grass, Pletcher is no fan of synthetic-track racing but note that Gemologist broke maiden on Turfway’s Polytrack surface.

Since these connections sent out Super Saver to win the 2010 Derby with a two race campaign, using the Arkansas Derby as the final prep, the stars seem aligned in that direction. Either way, he is likely to need more graded earnings.

All we’ll say is this. At this point of the their seasons, there’s no comparison between these two colts. This latest WinStar production just might be the real deal.

Horse Fight

Been up to my britches in three-year-olds so we hadn’t caught up with the replay of the race at Santa Anita where Martin Pedroza looked like he wanted to knock Joel Rosario off his horse and into the infield.

From where we sit, 3,000 miles away, we think the Santa Anita stewards might have been a little soft on Pedroza. I understand you don’t see too many blatant situations like this, but isn’t that the point?

If we were talking cars and not horses, the charges against Pedroza could have been termed reckless endangerment, or attempted manslaughter, who knows? Instead, Pedroza got seven days for “willfully riding to cause interference.”

Say this for Pedroza and his agent, at least they didn’t play the chutzpah card, deciding not to appeal the ban.

If Pedroza felt he had an issue with Rosario, he should have taken the matter outside. Or they could have had at it near the winners’ circle: Borel-Castellano Redux. Or he could have cold-cocked him in the jocks’ room.

But these weren’t cars. These were horses named Oh Righty (Pedroza) and Put It There (Rosario) in the seventh race March 4. Oh Righty is the property of the partnership of Daniels, Winters, Zondlo and Lovingier, not Pedroza. Put It There is owned by the partnership of Chami, Henwood and Resnick. They pay the bills; not Pedroza.

Pedroza was miffed because Rosario had the impertinence to try to win the Big Cap with Gladding, whose frontrunning style severely compromised Pedroza’s chances with Ultimate Eagle, another speedster and Big 'Cap favorite..

It’s fortunate that neither horse was seriously injured—and PETA members didn’t go the videotape.