LOUISVILLE, Ky. – It’s easy to figure out where Todd Pletcher got the idea to enter five horses in this year’s Kentucky Derby. He used to work for D. Wayne Lukas.
For the longest time, Lukas was the biggest star in the sport, the guy in the white hat with an army of thoroughbreds stashed coast-to-coast, winning every big race in sight.
In 1996, Lukas won his third Derby with Grindstone, a horse he considered the weakest of his five entries. It took him decades to admit as much, but he can do that now. At 77, Lukas has 13 Triple Crown wins, including four at the Derby, and is the sport’s elder statesman. He’s already in the Hall of Fame.
Pletcher tried overwhelming the Derby the same way.
He daringly took aim with four horses his first time, in 2000, and then tried a record-tying five in 2007. It wasn’t until he saddled four in 2010 that long shot Super Saver delivered his first whiff of red roses in the winner’s circle.
Lukas had long ago advised him, You can win all these stakes, but you got to get this one on your résumé.
Other than another Derby win or two – he has been to a dozen with only the one win – Pletcher’s résumé couldn’t get much better. He has won Breeders’ Cup races, led the nation in money winnings and commands the best and biggest racing operation in the country.
Indeed, he learned well from the master.
These days, though, they’re a marked contrast of each other – one is loose and takes all questions; the other is a little uptight.
With a fancy cowboy boot propped on a white sawhorse, Lukas holds court until the last visitor is satisfied.
Can you believe we get paid for this? he marvels.
Pletcher can barely stand being quizzed. He’s as buttoned-down as Lukas is casual.
Pletcher might have had seven horses in the starting gate at Churchill Downs if not for health issues with Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Shanghai Bobby and Violence. He knows what to do, Lukas said. It’s such a difficult race to win.
Lukas’ legacy was cemented long ago. If he adds a fifth Derby on Saturday, he could become the oldest winning trainer in race history. He’s throwing two long shots into the 20-horse mix: Oxbow and Will Take Charge.
Of Pletcher’s five horses, undefeated Verrazano is the early 4-1 second choice. Revolutionary, Overanalyze, Palace Malice and Charming Kitten are listed at double-digit odds.