Pletcher, of course, for most of this decade, is the odds on favorite to win training titles at Gulfstream Park in winter and Saratoga in summer. At Gulfstream, much of the work is accomplished with a gaggle of newly turned 3-year-olds pointing toward May’s first Saturday.
But newly turned sophomores wouldn’t have much of a Classics chance if they weren’t accomplished babies, most of which make a big splash at the track hard by Union Avenue.
It was Pletcher’s 36 winners that were responsible for putting his name on that trophy but he could not have done it without the babies, which accounted for 23 of those victories, 21 of which were maiden breakers.
That’s a lot of ammo.
So when Pletcher swept last weekend’s Futurity and Matron with Overanalyze and Kauai Kate, respectively, it was not a surprise. Neither was the results of the Grade 1 Frizette Mile and storied Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park.
Dreaming Of Julia was one of those maiden breakers. On August 6, she ran off the screen, breaking her maiden by 10-1/2, before coming back and duplicated that in the restricted Meadow Star here in the restricted Meadow Star, only by more; 16-1/4 lengths.
After gate scratches of Roveing Patrol, who reared in the gate, fell, and was trapped under the barrier for 10 minutes before being extricated. When she reared, she clipped Sweet Shirley Mae, necessitating another scratch by the track veterinarian, reducing the field to four and saving the association the proceeds needed to pay off a minus show created by the $382,000 bet on ‘Julia’ to finish third or better.
Some tracks have all the luck.
The show bettors never would have had to sweat the result, but the players who made the undefeated filly the .15-to-1 favorite sure did as My Happy Face, a 21-1/4 1ength Spa maiden breaker, gave her all she could handle.
Taking the lead beneath Ramon Dominguez, she set the pace, loosely pressured throughout by Johnny Velazquez aboard the favorite. Velazquez got his filly to poke her head in front entering the straight and the battle was on.
Head to head they raced, in close quarters for nearly a quarter of a mile, with Dominguez making first contact by trying to get his filly a little breathing room. Very shortly thereafter, ‘Julia’ responded, drifting in and bumping her rival in return.
The two best fillies and the best riders in the room put on a great show, Julia winning by a head.
“We knew that the filly that finished second was very talented,” said Pletcher. “You’re talking about a couple of fillies that have won their last couple by a long way.
“With the scratches, it turned into a virtual match race. The speed horse has the edge so we had to take it to her a little bit. We hope to run [in the Breeders’ Cup]; we were looking at today as a prep, so we hope she comes out of it well.”
There was no time for Pletcher to enjoy the hard earned Grade 1 as his services were required to saddle half the field in the Champagne. Two of his three runners made disappointing efforts.
“They ran like horses [that] had only one start,” Pletcher said of Archwarrior and Micromanage, fourth and fifth, respectively. “Archwarrior got stuck down inside [but] showed some interest late when he got in the clear.
“Micromanage needed to do a little more and I think we learned something about the way he needs to be ridden; probably need to place him in the race a little more.”
But not so Shanghai Bobby, a Belmont maiden breaker this spring and now the winner of four career starts without defeat, including Saratoga’s G2 Hopeful and now the Grade 1 Champagne by 5 lengths in 1:35.55, also taking the divisional lead in the process.
“The one thing we felt Shanghai Bobby had going for him coming into the race was seasoning,” Pletcher said. “Those three starts, sometimes, are really important.”
“Bobby was on his game today,” said Rosie Napravnik, the only rider the colt has known. “We sat real comfortable on the outside of [sharp invader California Goldencents but] he was taking me to the lead before I wanted to go but he was full of it and did it as easy as could be.”
Will he be the favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile? Not so fast my friends.
Jack Wolf, spokesperson for Starlight Racing, hedged when asked about his Breeders’ Cup plans. “We’ll talk to Todd and see how the horse comes out. This was such a great field and I’m very proud of the way he performed against this bunch.”
Proud enough to sit on the divisional lead, and root for an upset at Santa Anita? Apparently the trainer concurs without mention the Juvenile by name.
“Right now, he’s clearly stamped himself as the divisional leader,” Pletcher said.
The problem with remaining on the sidelines is that Eclipse voters sometimes tend to punish major horses that duck the Breeders’ Cup, and history is replete with Eclipse champions that earned their titles in the Juvenile.
The two biggest words is Pletcher’s declaration may be “right now.”