Pletcher Heats Up with Two Derby Qualifiers; More on the Way?

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

March 26th, 2019

Trainer Todd Pletcher has won two Kentucky Derbies, has saddled more Derby starters (52) than any other trainer in history, and has sent out at least one Derby starter every year since 2004.

Yet until recently, there appeared to be a chance that Pletcher would be without a Kentucky Derby starter for 2019. His best three-year-olds just weren’t making headlines, and you had to go all the way back to July 21, 2018 to find the last time Pletcher won a graded stakes race with a member of the 2016 foal crop.

But over the weekend of March 23-24, Pletcher’s training acumen and patience finally paid dividends. Spinoff, making his second start off an injury-induced layoff, battled to a game runner-up effort in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) at Fair Grounds, and one day later Cutting Humor rebounded from a disappointing effort in the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) to win the Sunland Derby (gr. III) at Sunland Park.

Now Pletcher is back in the Derby picture with two probable qualifiers, and it’s possible that more could be on the way. First and foremost is Outshine, who made a steady bid to finish second in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) earlier this month. With 20 Kentucky Derby qualification points under his belt, Outshine is currently ranked on the outside looking in for qualifying purposes, but a top-three finish in one of the final Derby prep races—perhaps the April 6 Wood Memorial (gr. II) at Aqueduct—should secure him a spot in the Derby starting gate.

Then there’s Overdeliver, a debut winner at Gulfstream who finished second in the Pasco Stakes in January. The son of Overanalyze has never run two turns, but is considered a possible starter for the March 30 Florida Derby (gr. I) at Gulfstream, where a top-two finish could launch him into the Kentucky Derby picture.

So Alive, who earned two Kentucky Derby qualification points when rallying mildly for third place in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III), is another worth watching this spring. Bred by John D. Gunther, best known as the breeder of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, So Alive is a son of Pletcher’s 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver out of a mare by Dubai World Cup winner Street Cry, so stamina shouldn’t be an issue for So Alive.

Meanwhile, Last Judgment, a winner of two straight races at Gulfstream and Oaklawn, and Intrepid Heart, a debut winner at Oaklawn, both appear to be talented up-and-comers with a chance to factor in major prep races during the next three weeks. It’s also possible that Pletcher could give Current another try on dirt; the son of Curlin won the Bourbon Stakes (gr. III) on turf last fall and placed seventh in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II), his lone run to date on dirt.

Whether these colts will step up the way Spinoff and Cutting Humor did remains to be seen, but one thing is certain—the results of the Louisiana Derby and Sunland Derby have shown once again that you can never count out Todd Pletcher on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.