While handicapping the Fountain of Youth last week I came across an unusual pattern in the past performances. The horse was Violence who was the favorite, and the trainer was Todd Pletcher. None of that was unusual as Pletcher has consistently been saddling favorites this year. What did strike me was the unusual circumstance of a talented two year old dirt horse being sent across the country to run in what is essentially a prep for the biggest dirt race of the year, the Kentucky Derby.
So in researching for statistics related to this handicapping pattern as it relates to Todd Pletcher, (or any other big name trainer) I found that I was not the only other person to recognize this as an unusual pattern. This excerpt is from an article written in December from ‘Horseracing Nation,’ with an admittedly more optimistic tone directed towards Mr. Pletcher
“Over the weekend we witnessed a surprise move that turned out a very probable result. It isn’t the norm for Todd Pletcher to be racing on the west coast, especially when it’s the All Weather Track at Hollywood Park, but TP knows a good spot when he’s sees one. You can’t rise to the top in this sport unless you make some very calculated decisions on where to enter, so no one should be shocked that Violence shipped in from New York to improve his record to 3-for-3. Perfect.”
Furthermore after looking at the entries this weekend for the Derby/Oaks futures, only 1 out of 46 horses displayed anything close to that pattern of flying a quality dirt horse across the country to run on a synthetic surface.
As it turns out Violence got second in the Fountain of Youth to Orb; a very nice closer trained by Shug McGaughey. In hindsight Violence ran a decent race off the layoff, however he did give it up as a 3/5 favorite. So what was initially intended as an article for finding handicapping angles for beating favorites, took a turn when that Monday it was announced that Violence came out of that race with an injury and would then be retired.
It seems that this pattern is beginning to repeat itself year after year with promising three year olds. And no, they are not all associated with Todd Pletcher, as last year saw really good horses from other trainers prematurely retired with injuries.
What is associated with Todd Pletcher is that he is a five time Eclipse award winning trainer, who has won numerous training titles at big name meets like Saratoga, Gulfstream Park, and Churchill Downs. Not to mention over a quarter billion dollars in lifetime earnings. With these Mantle/Marris type numbers, there is probably no one more aware of the scrutiny and criticism they attract more than Todd Pletcher himself, it just comes with the territory of wearing expensive suits out to muddy winner circles.
What Pletcher also attracts is big money, and it’s no secret that horse racing is a breeders game (that’s why they call it the Breeders Cup), or to put it another way, that is where the money is. Everyone knows that, it’s part of what make the game great, you’re watching genetic excellence in motion who doesn’t want to see that.
The Triple Crown being what it is; which is the biggest event in American horse racing, it stands to reason that a victory in a Triple Crown race or related G1 prep holds the utmost importance in regards to solidifying a lucrative stud fee.
Therefore a logical conclusion is that the most successful trainers get the best horses in the game, with one goal in mind, get the best stud fees. Now if your an owner and your horse wins a couple of G1's even better. An obvious example is last year with former investment banker Paul Reddman almost immediately selling I'll Have Another after he scratched from a date with history in the Belmont Stakes. Now this is all personal business, and how the world works but it also happens to serve as a detriment to the sport of horse racing. A detriment to horse racings' base, which are the fans, who are becoming increasingly cynical, (see any message board regarding an injured horse and a trainer).
Due to its history and role in American culture the Triple Crown races are what ‘weekend,’ fans and sports fans in general relate to, its what 'sticks'. During the summer months and into the fall, three year olds that made a mark during the spring months bring a swell of fans to see them. Take for example Rachel Alexandra, in her first race after winning the Preakness Stakes, Rachel Alexandra ran in the Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park. The field was a laughable three horse race, with Rachel winning easily, nearly beating Secretariat’s track record. The gate that day brought in over 10,000 fans, the previous week, with a handful of stakes races, but no Rachel Alexandra, Belmont may have just cleared 5,000.