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Apr 02, 2010

Pletcher on a Mission to win First Kentucky Derby

By: by Jeff Frank, Contributing Editor


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It has been well documented how poorly Todd Pletcher has fared in the Kentucky Derby with 24 losing starters. However, the four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer could have as many as seven entrants in this year's running after Mission Impazible pulled off the upset victory in the Louisiana Derby.

Ridden by Rajiv Maragh, the son of Unbridled's Song defeated A Little Warm by three-quarters of a length to pick up $450,000 in graded earnings, assuring himself a spot in the Kentucky Derby.

Maragh guided Mission Impazible into a dream trip from post position two placing the Pletcher charge on the rail just two lengths off the lead after a relatively slow 47 4/5 first half-mile. (For comparison purposes, Redsugar and Battle Plan ran their first half-miles in 46 2/5 and 47 seconds flat in the other two-turn stakes races.)

Mission Impazible stayed on the inside before swinging into the three-path through the stretch, drawing on even terms with both A Little Warm and Discreetly Mine. The 7-1 shot then drove past the two pacesetters inside the final sixteenth, finishing the 1 1/8-miles in a slow 1:50 1/5 seconds. The lightly-raced colt ran his final three furlongs in 37 4/5, a full second slower than Ice Box came home just one week earlier in the Florida Derby.

One could point out the reason Ice Box ran a much faster final 3/8 of a mile was due to the fast pace in front of him, but that would be incorrect as the Florida Derby winner actually ran his first six furlongs two ticks faster than Mission Impazible did in the Louisiana Derby!

The trouble-free trip and slow come-home time notwithstanding, Todd Pletcher has another shooter in his Kentucky Derby arsenal to go alongside Eskendereya, Super Saver, Rule, Discreetly Mine, and, quite possibly, Interactif and Aikenite.

Can Pletcher finally get the monkey off his back even with 35% of the Derby starters?

Realistically, only two, Eskendereya and Super Saver, have a decent chance of winning. However, if the race was today, neither colt would even be in the race due to lack of graded earnings. Both will get a chance to move up the ladder in the coming weeks as Eskendereya looks to cement Derby favoritism by winning this Saturday's Wood Memorial and Super Saver returns in the Arkansas Derby on April 10.

LANE'S END STAKES - A BOON TO GRASS HORSES

A turf horse has now won two of the last three Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park as Dean's Kitten joined Adriano in the record books with a 2 1/2 length win over Northern Giant.

The son of 2004 turf champion Kitten's Joy came into the race with just one career start on synthetics (a third at Keeneland in April 2009) and only one on conventional dirt - a 33 length loss to Eskendereya!

Like Mission Impazible in the Louisiana Derby, Dean's Kitten stayed within a few lengths from the lead in a very slow 48 2/5 first half-mile. But unlike his counterpart, he stormed to the top around the far turn with a quick 23 4/5 third quarter before pulling away from Northern Giant through the stretch.

If you remember, Northern Giant finished third in the Risen Star Stakes, so from that perspective, Dean's Kitten is on par with those that raced in the Louisiana Derby. Still, it's highly unlikely any colt that ran in either race will come back to finish first, second or third in the Kentucky Derby.

IT'S EASY TO ENDORSE ENDORSEMENT

The lone three-year-old from last weekend that could make some noise on the first Saturday in May ran in the Sunland Derby.

Endorsement blew past Conveyance to win by three lengths, stopping the clock at 1:48 2/5 for the 1 1/8-mile event - just one tick off the track record set in 1961. It was easily the second most impressive prep race of the season behind Eskendereya's Fountain of Youth victory.

People might be wondering how a recent maiden winner could all of a sudden catapult himself into one of the Kentucky Derby favorites? But, in reality, it has been a two month process.

Endorsement first showed he was a serious racehorse on January 10, finishing second to Down With Dixie. Breaking from post 10 in the 1 mile 40-yard race (a very disadvantageous position) at the Fair Grounds, Endorsement was hung wide the entire trip. Still, he defeated Northern Giant by five lengths.

He won his next race, wiring a decent field of well-bred maidens at Oaklawn Park. In addition, New Madrid, the colt that ran second that day, was a next- out winner on March 13.

The son of Distorted Humor (Funny Cide's sire), sent off as the 11-1 fourth choice in the nine-horse Sunland Derby, ran like a 1-5 shot, easily dispatching the previously-unbeaten Conveyance through the stretch. Not only that, he ran his final three furlongs in 36 2/5, the same time it took Eskendereya in that colt's Fountain of Youth victory!

However, the track at Sunland Park was very fast last Sunday. For example, Tempted to Tapit, the third-place finisher, came home in 37 1/5 seconds, just two ticks slower than Ice Box ran in the Florida Derby. Furthermore, if one projects his final 2 1/2-furlongs from the Risen Star (31 4/5 seconds) to three furlongs, he would have put forth a 38 2/5 split. That's over a full second slower than his final three-eighths in the Sunland Derby!

Did Tempted to Tapit improve by five or six lengths in a little over a month or did the track carry what looked like a tired horse through the stretch?

Another example comes from the first race winner, Lemon Custard. This $25,000 claimer ran a mile in 1:35 1/5 - just three ticks off the track record! Her three prior eight-furlong times at Sunland were 1:41 1/5, 1:38, and 1:36 1/5.

There's no doubt Endorsement is coming into his own at the right time but he might not be a great Kentucky Derby bet since he'll surely be an underlay based on this tremendous performance.

THE NEW JEFF FRANK TOP 12

1) Eskendereya; 2) Lookin At Lucky; 3) Alphie's Bet; 4) Noble's Promise; 5) Endorsement; 6) Dublin; 7) Awesome Act; 8) Super Saver; 9) Make Music for Me; 10) Ice Box; 11) Odysseus; 12) Backtalk.

HORSE TO WATCH

Two weeks ago, I mentioned a four-year-old by the name of Danzing Tribal, who made his debut for trainer Craig Lewis at Santa Anita. Unfortunately, the son of Tribal Rule broke out of the gate a full second behind the rest of the field before making a huge middle move around the turn. However, he failed to sustain his bid through the stretch finishing fourth.

Lewis brought him back on the turf this past Saturday and the results were nothing short of outstanding. Danzing Tribal broke better this time and sat just two lengths off the lead in a 44-second first half-mile. From there it was lights out as the gelding ran his final 2 1/2-furlongs in an amazing 28 1/5 seconds to win by 5 1/4 lengths.

He's definitely one to watch throughout the spring.



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