Thursday, March 29, 2012

Pletcher Keeps El Padrino at Gulfstream for Florida Derby

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Some trainers may be discouraged by the imposing presence of Union Rags on the list of 3-year-olds ready to run in the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) this Saturday. Todd Pletcher prefers to focus more on the benefits of Gulfstream Park’s signature event than the competition.

“We certainly could have gone other places where it probably would have been a little easier, but we felt it was more a case of managing our horse the way we want to as opposed to handicapping the race,” said the trainer of the 3-year-old son of Pulpit.

While the memory of Union Rags’ spectacularly dominating triumph in the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth (G2) on Feb. 26 is still fresh on people’s minds, El Padrino is also the author of an impressive victory over the Gulfstream track. In his seasonal debut, the Kentucky-bred colt surged through the stretch to capture a stakes-quality allowance race on Jan. 29 by two lengths.

“It’s a daunting task running against Union Rags, who looked awesome the other day, but we feel like the Florida Derby is the right spot for our horse,” Pletcher said.

El Padrino shipped to Fair Grounds in search of graded-stakes earnings in the Risen Star (G2) on Feb. 25, and the Let’s Go Stable’s rising star got all the money with a last-ditch lunge at the wire to overtake highly regarded Mark Valeski by a nose.

“He certainly showed he’s willing to fight,” Pletcher said. “He ran down a nice horse that got the lead off comfortable fractions and had the advantage of being at home, so it was a gutsy effort.”

The Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds appeared to be the logical option for El Padrino’s final prep for the May 5 Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs, considering his winning performance in the Risen Star. However, Pletcher came to the conclusion that the Florida Derby fit the needs of his colt better.

“It takes out the shipping factor and things like that, but the Florida Derby is a significant race, a Grade 1 with a big purse,” Pletcher said. “The Florida Derby is here. We felt it was not only the best next start for him but also the best way to go to Churchill, hopefully.”

El Padrino, a $210,000 yearling purchase at the 2010 Keeneland September sale, closed from far back to finish second in his debut at Saratoga last August before breaking his maiden by nearly 12 lengths at Belmont Park two months later. He finished his 2-year-old campaign with a third-place finish in the Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct, beaten by less than a length by victorious O’Prado Again.

“He’s maturing very well and made a nice transition from 2 to 3, but he was also a graded-stakes 2-year-old that we had high hopes for from the very beginning,” Pletcher said. “All three of his races as a 2-year-old were good, but he seems to be improving a little more as a 3-year-old.”

After zeroing in on the Florida Derby for El Padrino, it made it easier for Pletcher to firm up the schedules of his other Kentucky Derby hopefuls, including Gemologist, who primed for a start in the $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 7 with a dominating victory over Hopeful Stakes (G1) winner Currency Swap in an allowance race at Gulfstream on March 16.

“It was a terrific comeback race for him. He came back really well and came out of it really well,” Pletcher said.

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