The Way To Louisville: Pletcher, Motion Have Plenty Of Practice Pointing To Kentucky Derby

There are a variety of ways to get a 3-year-old to the Churchill Downs winner’s circle on the first Saturday in May.

Just ask Kentucky Derby-winning trainers Todd Pletcher and H. Graham Motion, who hope their entries in Saturday’s Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby can get them to the 2018 Run for the Roses on time.

Pletcher’s charge in the Festival Day 38 showcase at Tampa Bay Downs is Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s colt Vino Rosso, who finished third here in the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes on Feb. 10, seven weeks after winning an allowance/optional claiming event at the Oldsmar oval.

Vino Rosso, who will be ridden by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, is 4-1 on the morning line in the 11-horse field, behind morning-line favorite and Sam F. Davis winner Flameaway at 3-1.

Also on tap Saturday are the Grade II, $225,000 Hillsborough Stakes, for older fillies and mares on turf; the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks, for 3-year-old fillies on turf; the $100,000 Challenger Stakes, for older horses on the dirt; and the $75,000 Columbia Stakes, for 3-year-olds on the turf.

Pletcher – who has won the last three editions of the Tampa Bay Derby, four of the last five and five overall – has trained two Kentucky Derby winners, both of whom raced at Tampa Bay Downs: Super Saver in 2010 and Always Dreaming in 2017.

Motion’s entry is the West Point Thoroughbreds-owned colt Untamed Domain, who will be making his Tampa Bay Downs debut. The colt finished third in the Dania Beach Stakes on Feb. 3 at Gulfstream in his first start as a 3-year-old, three months to the day after a runner-up effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar (behind Mendelssohn, while defeating Sam F. Davis runner-up Catholic Boy, fourth, and Flameaway, eighth).

Untamed Domain, who will be making his first start on dirt after six turf races, will be ridden by Jose Ortiz, who won last year’s Tampa Bay Derby on the Pletcher-trained Tapwrit. Untamed Domain is a son of Motion’s 2011 Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom.

Motion also has two fillies entered in the Florida Oaks, Almond Roca and Peach of a Gal.

If it sounds unorthodox to choose a Grade II stakes race for a horse’s first start on a new surface, one need only remember that Animal Kingdom was the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby despite never having raced on dirt previously.

“It’s always been in the back of our minds to try him on the dirt,” Motion said Wednesday. “It’s not something that just came out of the blue. I thought this race would be a good opportunity, because it just made sense to try him in a race where he’s been working out.”

After working five times this winter at Motion’s Palm Meadows Training Center base in Boynton Beach, Untamed Domain has spent his recent weeks on the Tampa Bay Downs backside, breezing 5 furlongs here on Feb. 23 in 1:03 and 5 furlongs Saturday in 1:02.60.

“I’m happy with how he’s worked here, and the fact he has trained well on dirt” made the decision easier, Motion said. “Look, he’s a graded-stakes winner (the Grade II Summer Stakes on turf last September at Woodbine), so there are not a lot of easy races available for him. Plus there are a lot of (Kentucky) Derby points available, so that obviously plays into running here.”

As a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points race, the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby offers 50, 20, 10 and 5 points to the first four finishers toward eligibility for the May 5 Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve.

While Animal Kingdom never made it to Tampa Bay Downs, the twisting trail to Louisville for both of Pletcher’s Kentucky Derby champions included visits to the track on Florida’s west coast. His 2010 Derby winner, WinStar Farm’s colt Super Saver, finished third in the Tampa Bay Derby in his sophomore debut.

That led to a runner-up performance in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn, followed three weeks later by a date with destiny when Super Saver and Calvin Borel stormed home first to capture the garland of roses in the 136th Kentucky Derby.

Last year, Pletcher sent Always Dreaming to Tampa Bay Downs on Jan. 25 to compete in a mile-and-40-yard maiden special weight event, accompanied by Velazquez. They won by 11 ½ lengths, and the chase for Kentucky Derby glory was on.

Although he did not stay around for the Sam F. Davis or the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, subsequent victories at Gulfstream in an allowance/optional claiming event and the Grade I Xpressbet Florida Derby, by five lengths, provided the perfect Kentucky Derby setup for Always Dreaming, who rewarded both his trainer and jockey with their second victory in the race.

Pletcher’s Tampa Bay Derby winners include Tapwrit (2017), who went on to win the Belmont Stakes presented by NYRABets; Destin (2016), the Belmont runner-up who won last year’s Grade II Marathon Stakes Presented by TAA at Del Mar; Carpe Diem (2015), who won the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland; Verrazano (2013), winner of the Grade I Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and the Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth; and Limehouse (2004), who won the following year’s Grade II Brooklyn Handicap at Belmont.

“I think Tampa Bay Downs is a great place to prep 3-year-olds,” said Pletcher, who is pointing still another Oldsmar “graduate,” the Feb. 15 allowance/optional claiming winner Magnum Moon, to the Grade II Rebel Stakes on March 17 at Oaklawn Park.

“Both of our Kentucky Derby winners, Super Saver and Always Dreaming, were able to move forward off their races at Tampa. It is a good, safe surface that legs horses up well, and the Tampa Bay Derby happens to fit well on the calendar (for horses aiming at Louisville that can target one final prep after their race in Oldsmar).

“With Vino Rosso, we’ve been high on him from the beginning,” Pletcher said. “We felt his race in the Sam F. Davis was a learning experience for him and Johnny V. He continues to mature and fill out as a young 3-year-old, and the thing he does that always impresses us is that he finishes his works strongly and gallops out strong after the wire.

“His pedigree (by Curlin, out of Mythical Bride, by Street Cry) would indicate that stamina is his real strength, and I think as the distance of his races stretches out to a mile-and-an-eighth and beyond is when we’ll really see him at his best,” Pletcher added.

Pletcher said Vino Rosso will be equipped with French-cup blinkers in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby for the first time to sharpen his focus on the job at hand.

“We’re very pleased at the way he’s coming up to the race, and hopefully he performs as well as he’s been training,” Pletcher said.

The post The Way To Louisville: Pletcher, Motion Have Plenty Of Practice Pointing To Kentucky Derby appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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