Todd Pletcher

Top Kentucky Derby Trainers – Todd Pletcher

Those who want to bet on Kentucky Derby odds should consider this: until 2010, Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher had a lot in common with the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills of the early 1990s in that neither Pletcher nor Buffalo could win the big one.

Those Bills also had Hall of Fame talent like Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and Bruce Smith. They ran roughshod over the AFC and reached a record four straight Super Bowls. They lost the first one to the New York Giants on a missed Scott Norwood kick, and then the next three trips were blowout losses. Buffalo still hasn’t won the big one.

Pletcher entered 2010 as a four-time winner of the Eclipse Award as the nation’s top trainer. He had sent several horses to Churchill Downs as the Kentucky Derby betting favorite. Yet he hadn’t been able to saddle a winner in the Super Bowl of thoroughbred racing. That changed in ’10 with Super Saver, hardly one of Pletcher’s best all-time horses. Pletcher’s Eskendereya was among the top Kentucky Derby contenders heading into that race but had to be pulled out with a swollen leg.

That left Pletcher with four horses in the Derby but none nearly as highly regarded as Eskendereya. Off as the 8-1 second-favorite on Kentucky Derby odds, Calvin Borel rode Super Saver along the rail nearly the entire race on a sloppy track to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Ice Box. Pletcher had been 0-for-24 in the Kentucky Derby and his only other Triple Crown win had been in 2007 with filly Rags to Riches in the Belmont Stakes. The Kentucky Derby would be Super Saver’s only grade 1 stakes win. He finished eighth in the Preakness and would race twice more before retiring.

Pletcher won the Eclipse again in 2010 and last year. He has now saddled 36 Kentucky Derby contenders, with only fellow Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, Pletcher’s former boss, having more with 47. Lukas has had four Derby winners. Pletcher likes to load up on the Derby, running at least two horses 11 times in the past 13 Runs for the Roses. Last year Pletcher had five horses in the Derby: Revolutionary, Overanalyze, Palace Malice, Charming Kitten and Verrazano, who went off as the second-favorite on the Kentucky Derby odds. The five entrants tied a record for a trainer. Verrazano entered unbeaten and off a Wood Memorial win but was a disappointing 14th. Pletcher’s only horse to finish in the money was Revolutionary in third. Palace Malice would win the Belmont Stakes after a 12th in the Derby.

Pletcher could have multiple horses again in May in Havana and Commissioner, both of which were listed on the Pool 2 Kentucky Derby odds. Havana won the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes last October at Belmont Park, edging another 2014 Kentucky Derby betting favorite in Honor Code. Havana then lost out by a nose to New Year’s Day at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Commissioner debuted with a second-place finish at Monmouth and a 1 1/8-mile maiden-breaker at Saratoga last August. After a long layoff, the colt won at 1 1/8 miles against fellow winners at Gulfstream on January 3. Commissioner took the lead in the stretch and held off Top Billing by a neck.

“For him to win a mile-and-an-eighth race off a layoff against a top-quality field and Top Billing coming back to win impressively really flatters the race,” said Pletcher.