A Derby prep without Todd Pletcher this spring would be a shocker, given that Pletcher has shown up everywhere while trying to spread out his plethora of Derby prospects.
No surprise, then, that Pletcher's name is pretty much everywhere today throughout the Lane's End Stakes program at Turfway Park.
He has Bullara and Twilight Meteor in the field of 12 going for the $500,000, Grade II Lane's End at 11/8 miles; Meritocracy going for $100,000 in the field of 10 racing in the Rushaway Stakes at 11/16 miles, and Panty Raid racing in the full field entered for the $150,000 Grade III Bourbonette Breeders' Cup for 3-year-old fillies.
Twilight Meteor and Bullara are turf horses and have yet to share star billing with Pletcher's heavy hitters from the dirt courses: Circular Quay, Rags to Riches, Scat Daddy, Sam P., King of the Roxy, and Cowtown Cat.
But winning the Lane's End, with its $300,000 winner's purse, possibly could push either of these onto the main stage for the 42-day rundown to the big event May 5.
That would be adding one more to Pletcher's overflowing cup.
In fact, Pletcher is so well-stocked with Derby hopefuls that when he lost Ravel to a leg injury this past week, the stable didn't miss a beat.
Losing Ravel to a layoff that might keep him out of action until the fall would have dashed all Derby hopes for most stables. In Pletcher's operation, it only made way for another one to move up. Thus, Pletcher said yesterday he now will put Sam P. in the Santa Anita Derby.
Back at Turfway, Pletcher has in Twilight Meteor a colt whose starts have all been on turf except for one: when the Bourbon Stakes was transferred from turf to Polytrack last fall at Keeneland. He won that one as well as his most recent start, the Hallandale Beach Stakes in February at Gulfstream -- on the turf.
Bullara has raced on dirt and turf, achieving his greatest success in turf racing. This son of Holy Bull is stepping up into stakes company for the first time, after winning his two most recent races by a total of 11 lengths.
For once, Pletcher does not have the favorite, for the program lists Hard Spun as the 5-2 choice. This graded-stakes winner went undefeated until his most recent start, the Southwest Stakes Feb. 19 at Oaklawn, when he finished fourth.
Hard Spun's trainer, Larry Jones, said his colt was struggling with the track at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas and thus tired in the Southwest. He has worked well since coming to Turfway, but the biggest question facing him today will be whether he can return to his winning form.
Second choice on the program, at 7-2, is the Nick Zito-trained Forefathers: another colt who, like Hard Spun, performed poorly as favorite in his most recent start.
Forefathers finished seventh in that race, the Hutcheson Stakes, at 71/2 furlongs. In fact, that distance was the farthest that Forefathers has raced. Is he up to 11/8 miles? That's the question facing him today.
Trainer Helen Pitts, with 10-1 For You Reppo, will find herself in against her former employer, trainer Ken McPeek, who has 20-1 Highest Degree in the Lane's End.
For You Reppo is coming out of an allowance race but he does have one advantage over most of the others in this field: he's raced three times at the Lane's End distance, winning one of these and finishing second in the other two. Joe Got Even also has an advantage. He's raced four times over Turfway's synthetic surface, winning twice and running second the other two times.
Sedgefield, at 6-1, is another confirmed turf horse who has run twice on Polytrack: winning at Turfway in December and running off the board at Keeneland. He was second behind Twilight Meteor in his most recent start.
Starbase, from Wayne Lukas' stable, has Polytrack experience. Sports Town, in from Aqueduct, does not. Likewise for Helios, also from Aqueduct. Approval Rating has raced on Polytrack at Woodbine and Turfway.
When: Today Post time: 5:45 p.m. TV: ESPN (5-6 p.m.)
Purse: $500,000 Grade: II Distance: 11/8 miles For: 3-year-olds
Pp. Horse Jockey Odds
1 Highest Degree Quinonez 20-1
2 Starbase Thompson 20-1
3 Sports Town Bridgmohan 15-1
4 Approval Rating Husbands 30-1
5 Bullara Velazquez 6-1
6 Forefathers Leparoux 7-2
7 Twilight Meteor Prado 4-1
8 Helios Hill 50-1
9 Joe Got Even Mena 15-1
10 Hard Spun Pino 5-2
11 For You Reppo Desormeaux 10-1
12 Sedgefield Bejarano 6-1