Secretariat

Baffert vs Pletcher: A Tale of the Tape

With activity on the Derby trail starting to pick up, the one constant is that Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher are going to be loaded once again. But who are these two powerhouse trainers who dominate the road to Louisville every year? Let’s take a close look at them and what makes them so successful. ~ Steve Haskin

Baffert vs Pletcher: A Tale of the Tape

By Steve Haskin

 

As we are about to embark on another Kentucky Derby trail and our 21st Kentucky Derby Rankings, we will once again be discussing the leading contenders in great detail. But before we begin on Jan. 18, let’s focus first on the two trainers who are at the epicenter of the Derby trail every year and always seem to be on a collision course with their mighty equine armies who again are lining up and preparing for battle.

This is horse racing’s version of Robert E. Lee and George Meade at Gettysburg; Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo; George Washington and Sir Henry Clinton at Monmouth. General Bob Baffert as usual has already assembled a formidable force that has decimated its opponents in skirmishes on the slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains. General Todd Pletcher has begun his annual assault on the Florida coast, but on a lesser scale, as his main forces are just about ready to overrun their foes at Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs as they do most every winter, as well as an occasional foray to New York. 

The Baffert and Pletcher armies are so vast and so formidable, both generals no doubt will again divide them and possibly collide in Louisiana and especially Arkansas. Several, as always, will fall sick or wounded along the way but those who survive the preliminary battles will usually meet for supremacy on the final battlefield at Churchill Downs.

This is beginning to look like the era of the “Derby Dominators” that existed from 1988 to 2002, when in those 14 years, Nick Zito, Wayne Lukas, and Bob Baffert won an incredible nine Kentucky Derbys.

Only Baffert is left as a major force, and his main antagonist now is a graduate from the Lukas Academy who will surely join his old boss and Baffert in the Hall of Fame this year. 

Watching the multitude of Baffert and Pletcher pups frolicking about on the Derby trail each year, one could call it racing’s version of “One Hundred and One Dalmatians,” as they seem to be everywhere, just running around and having a grand old time.

But there is a third army forming that could start to change the balance of power. That army is commanded by Brad Cox, who is rapidly climbing the ladder of success and could very well dominate the Louisiana-Arkansas circuit this year. Although we are still a couple of weeks away from the first Derby Rankings, it is very possible that Baffert, Pletcher and Cox will have at least eight of the top 15 horses, which could mark the beginning of another three-trainer “Derby Dominators.” But Cox still is shooting for No. 1, so we will still focus our attention on Baffert and Pletcher, who have eight Derby victories between them, with Baffert in full control with six. But his Derby dynasty has mirrored the dynasty of the New England Patriots, who won three Super Bowls right off the bat, then a long drought, and then three more in the past six years. So keeping everything in the present, it is Baffert 3 and Pletcher 2 since 2010, with Baffert nailing down two Triple Crowns.

What makes this Baffert-Pletcher domination so intriguing and fascinating is that both generals have totally different personalities and totally different philosophies about training and combat strategy.

Baffert takes a more aggressive approach to training, with the emphasis on speed, while Pletcher rarely works his horses fast. This no doubt is reflective of Baffert’s early days in Quarter Horse racing. Like the trainers of the past, Baffert believes in training his horses hard and those that can handle it are the ones who move forward on the Derby trail. By the time the Derby is run, whichever ones make the race are toughened and honed for speed, which now seems to be the main attribute in winning on the first Saturday in May. Five of his six Derby winners were horses who raced on or just off the pace. 

Baffert has also proven that you don’t need a lot of races to be ready for the Derby as evidenced by Justify’s victory in 2018 off only three lifetime starts. He believes that is due to the fact that his horses are battled-tested in the morning, often working fast times going six, seven, and eight furlongs and running hard past the wire. 

Unlike Baffert, who will often work his Derby horses by having them break off several lengths behind a lesser known pacesetter, Pletcher will often work his Derby horses together, having them go head to head from the start and finish on the wire together. When they don’t work together they will often work alongside an older stakes horse. So whereas Baffert likes to see his big horses run off from their workmates in the final sixteenth and leave them far behind past the wire, Pletcher likes to keep his horses together the whole way around. His works usually are only four or five furlongs, and like his old boss Lukas, they never work as fast as the Baffert horses. It’s all about being competitive with good horses alongside and galloping out strong. Pletcher also believes in extensive gate work, which is why his young horses usually break quickly and are almost always in contention early.

On the racing end, Pletcher is far more conservative than Baffert in that he likes to give his horses time between races, often as long as five and six seeks. If one of his horses runs in the Derby and gets beat he will not run him back in two weeks in the Preakness and instead will wait for the Belmont Stakes. His two Derby winners who did run back in the Preakness both ran poorly. Except for last year when the Derby was run on the first Saturday in September and the Preakness a month later, every one of Baffert’s Derby winners came back and won the Preakness.

The way Baffert and Pletcher train and run their horses is reflective of their personalities. Baffert is far more outgoing and gregarious and loves interacting with the media, often cracking jokes, while Pletcher is more laid back and keeps things closer to the vest. His humor is demonstrated away from the microphone and in close circles and is rarely seen by the public. The one attribute they have in common is their uncanny ability to read their horses and determine their strengths and weaknesses and in which races they belong. Pletcher is a master at reading the condition book and often plans his strategy in advance, while Baffert is prone to calling audibles at the last minute and going by gut feeling. So his horses can pop up in a race at the last minute or defect from a race and head elsewhere.

In the beginning, Baffert referred to his good horses as ham sandwiches, meaning they were inexpensive purchases with very average pedigrees. Now that his owners are more upscale that doesn’t apply as much. Pletcher probably has trained more million-dollar purchases than anyone, but he also has proven he can win with horses that are not as royally bred as those he trains for his powerhouse owners.

So the battle lines are drawn again and the skirmishes have begun, with Baffert and Pletcher already having won stakes on the Derby trail, and Pletcher armed and ready to dominate the maiden races in Florida, unleashing a steady stream of first- and second-time starters. Although Baffert’s top Derby hopefuls are more advanced at this point with several horses having already made their mark in graded Derby preps, including Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity winner Spielberg, the exciting undefeated Life is Good, winner of the Sham Stakes, and Sham runner-up Medina Spirit, he no doubt has plenty of ammunition left in his arsenal that we haven’t seen yet. 

The Pletcher machine is just starting to roll, notching a victory in the Jan. 2 Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct with Mutasaabeq, and he has two exciting maiden winners to watch in Prime Factor and Amount, who looked awesome in their debuts. He also has the undefeated minor stakes winner Never Surprised and Known Agenda third the Remsen Stakes as well as impressive maiden winner Likeable, who got caught up in a torrid pace in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, as did Baffert’s speedy Classier both of whom are much better than they showed in the race. Pletcher, who also has a solid late closer in Overtook, loaded up this past Saturday, running five horses in three maiden races at Gulfstream.

By the end of January and middle of February we will have a better idea of Baffert’s and Pletcher’s fire power as they start taking over the winner’s circles at racetracks around the country. But this year, with the powerful forces of Brad Cox, which includes 2-year-old champion Essential Quality and three promising colts in Caddo River, Mandaloun, and Prate, waiting for them at Fair Grounds and Oaklawn Park, they likely will have quite a battle on their hands.

Welcome to the 2021 Derby trail. See you on Jan. 18.

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67 Responses to “Baffert vs Pletcher: A Tale of the Tape”

  1. Coldfacts says:

    I just reviewed the PPs for the Lecomte. Being a KD prep no points are allocated to horses who run with Lasix. Consequently, no entrant is listed with the RDM.

    How will the limited and/or zero usage of the diuretic impact the 2021 KF Preps?
    Will the usual dominant barns on the Derby Trail retain their dominance?
    Is the playing field a bit more level with the new development?

    Six of the 11 entrants in the Lecomte never had Lasix administer in any of their starts. The remaining 5 had Lasix administered in their respective last out efforts.

    How will racing without Lasix impact those who raced last out with the diuretic?

    Mendelssohn won the UAE Derby by a city block without Lasix. He was administered Lasix for the KD and the colt finished last. I remain puzzled as to why a horse that won so impressively without Lasix was was administered the drug. Mendelssohn contested 5 additional races in the US with Lasix and never recorded a victory.

    Can American Racing be ever weaned off Race Day Medications?

  2. Matthew W says:

    It’s hard to find anyone who can compare to the White Haired Wizard, and his last year–taking Maximum Security off whatever he was on and winning a Gr 1, a Gr2, and a 2nd in another Gr1…winning the Kentucky Derby with an 8-1 longshot and then the Classic with the same horse…three straight Gr 1’s and a 2nd in the Classic with Improbable…Bast…Gamine’s amazing races…Charlatan, and Nadal—both whom were never defeated—The Wizard is coming off a great year….Pletcher gets top talent, he has won two Derbies but with horses–Super Saver and Always Dreaming–that really didn’t do much else after the Derby—O’Neill has done pretty well, and he has a couple of really nice colts this year—but they all chase Bob—and they are not close.

    • Coldfacts says:

      No opposition to your overview.

      As big fan of Maxfield it would have been interesting to see how he would have competed against Authentic, Charlatan and Nadal. Maxfield is such an imposing colt with the talent to match. His win in the Keeneland Breeder Futurity still reverberates.

      Would BB have won the KD and BCC with a fit and well Maxfield around? Would Barbara have won the KD if Bernardini had the graded earning to a make the cut? There is no easy way to answer these questions. However, we can attempt to extrapolate answers using available cold facts.

      Shar Humor stretch Barbaro to the limit in the FL Derby. Bluegrass Cat emerged as Barbaro’s best opponent in the KD. No 3YO ever got close to Bernardini after his debut win. He defeated Bluegrass Cat by a street in the Travers whilst finishing in hand. Sharp Humor probably shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence with Bernardini.

      Honor A P and New York Traffic cannot be considered to be as good as Maxfield. One colt defeated Authentic in the SA Derby and the Other failed by 1/2L to defeat him in the Haskell. Mr. Big News is no Maxfield. he was beaten by Authentic by < 4L in the KD. Given Maxfield explosive turn of foot and share power. I contend Authentic wouldn't be able to repel same.

      California Chrome emerge the top colt in the 2014 TC series. He even won two HOTY titles. He was not as goods as Shared Belief. This was revealed in the 2015 San Antonio Stakes when he defeated CC whilst finishing in hand.

      BB's achievements should be acknowledge. But he shouldn't be viewed as separate and apart form other top trainers. He is not some invincible trainer. If many were in receipt of the material he gets regularly, they would do just as well. Many have done the same with a lot less.

      I consider Mott and Shug better trainers than BB. Baffert is yet to train and condition a horse like the incomparable Cigar. Given BB's High Tech Program he couldn't keep one winning 16 straight. Mott ha two entrants in the 2019 KD that finished ahead of Bob's 3. Mott rarely has KD entrants. Shug last to KD entrants finished 1st & 3rd. No BB entrant finished ahead on the two. The wo trainer do not have many KD starters but if they did Bb wouldn't have 6 wins in the stakes.

      In the 2017 Breeders Cup Classic, Bob had 3 entrants including Arrogate. They were put to the sword by Gun Runner. How much better is BB than Asmussen?

      Chad Brown is the current king of turf. How does BB rank with CB on the surface?

      • Matthew W says:

        No argument about your list of trainers—I was saying Bob is king of the Triple Crown, but you are correct–practically zero turf horses, and a lot of his horses retire early to the breeding shed…

        • Coldfacts says:

          NOTED!

          After winning 3 KD in the 6 a years period from 1997 to 2002. BB went 12 years without winning the KD. If particular trainer is so superiors to all others. Surely there wouldn’t have been a span of 12YRS between KD wins. He saddled the beaten favorite in the KD in 4 of the 12YRS he had a starter.

          Bob is on another run in the TC series. It is one that is unequaled. However, this run should not elevate him to superior to all others. Brilliance can be measure in various forms.

          Bob has what can be considered an abysmal record on turf. Three are many trainers that have won races at the highest levels on both dirt and turf. But Bob has no equal.

          The Graham Motion trained Animal Kingdom won the lowly ranked Spiral as a KD prep. In his dirt debut in the KD, he unleashed a powerful stretch run to mow down all en-route to victory. If not for traffic problem Mr Motion would have used the same Derby prep to win with Wentthedaywell. Trainer Motion doesn’t have many KD starters. The one he used to win the KD was as historic as unlikely.

          Many will not recall that Mine That Bird and Poineerofthe Nile met in the 2008 Breeder Cup Juvenile. POTN finished 5th and MTB last. PONT was transferred from Mott to BB. Mine That Bird ended up in New Mexico with unknown Chip Woolley. PONT recoded several Derby prep wins en-route to being the favorite for the KD. MTB didn’t win a KD prep. He backed into the KD and ran by PONT as if he was glued to the ground. whilst recording the most shocking KD win in the modern era.

          Animal Kingdom just missed defeating turf great Wise Dan in the BC Turf Mile with one race in 10 months. He left the turf surface in the USA for the synthetic surface in the Dubai WC and won pulling a bus. A performer at the highest level on 3 surfaces. Bob has two TC winner. Does any compare to Animal Kingdom?

          Neither Mr. Motion nor Mr. Woolley will ever be compared to BB in the TC series. But both recorded their respective win against all odds. One with his only entrant. Whilst both their wins have been erased from the memories of most. History has them as being far more memorable then any BB has ever recorded.

  3. Coldfacts says:

    One would have to be in a coma not acknowledge that in the modern era Bob Baffert has distinguish himself in the KD and TC series. He is undoubtedly the MAN in Triple Crown series.

    Many are of the opinion that his superior training and conditioning technique is largely responsible for his success. Is Mr. Baffert’s training technique significantly different from those of fellow trainers? I contend no. What about his nutrition and conditioning program? I contend it is likewise not significantly different from fellow trainers.

    Bob’s recent KD winner was easily defeated by Honor A P in the SA Derby. He won the Haskell by a diminishing 1/2L. Consecutive races that made Authentic an unlikely KD winner. But in the KD the colt’s winning time was amongst the fastest recorded for the stakes.

    Trainer Barclay Tagg stated ahead of the Travers that BB could turn up with a skinny mule and win the Travers. I committed the veteran trainer’s comment to memory. Why would he make such an extreme statement. Baffert entry in the Travers was Uncle Chuck. He finished off the board, whilst Mr. Tagg’s Tiz The Law won whilst pulling a bus.

    Does Mr. Baffert’s current run of successes warrants him being elevated to genius and/or magician? BB should be respected but not feared.

    Bob Baffert is an excellent trainer but he is neither a genius nor a magician at his chosen craft. He has been very fortunate to be in receipt of some talents horses which he has developed into champions. Not many in his field are as good at same. But there fellow trainers quite cable of similar feat, if in possession of talented youngsters..

    Bill Mott finished 2nd in the KD with Country House who finished ahead of BB’s three entrants. The colt’s one win ahead of the KD was in MSW. He was also comprehensively beaten by eventual KD post time favorite Improbable. Mine That Bird backed into the KD due to defection. In the final furlong he ran by the BB trained Pioneerofthe Nile as if he was glued to the ground whilst silencing Churchill Downs. None of BB’s KD winners have delivers anything performance near to that of Mune That Bird who was trained by Chip Woolley an unknown.

    The CA super trainer is on a good run. Three wins in the last 6 renewals of the KD is an amazing feat. Add to the fact that BB has been the closest to winning 3 consecutive KDs. If not for Grindstone, one of 4 entrants from the barn of Wayne Lukas. Cavonnier (1996) would have preceded Silver Charm (1997) and Real Quiet (1998).

    In the 6 years span (1997 – 2002) BB won three KD. A similar feat has been achieved in another 6 year span (2015 – 2020) After BB’s firsr three KD win in 6 years. Twelve years would elapse before his next KD winner. This drought is not reflective of that of a genius and/or magician. Many of his defeated KD entrant during this period, were the post time favorites. Could 2021 be the year in which BB’s second KD drought begins?

    • Matthew W says:

      Yes Bob has been fortunate to receive talent—but he also was responsible in picking out that talent, he’s not the only guy at those sales, and while I wouldn’t be as aggressive as him in training methods (his works are sometimes like races)…I also wouldn’t be winning Kentucky Derbies—and if I WERE fortunate enough to get a horse into the big dance—I certainly WOULD fear that dude!

  4. Coldfacts says:

    I am of the opinion that the “Baffert vs Pletcher: A Tale of the Tape” leads to an obvious question. Why compare the two? Particularly as it relates to the KD.

    One trainer has 6 wins and 3 runner-ups. The other has 2 wins and 2 runner-ups. With such a wide gap. There doesn’t appear to be fierce competition between the two champion trainers. Certainly not the kind that warrants a A Tale of the Tape.

    I am aware that in a boxing match, despite the achievements and dominance of the champion. There is a A Tale of the Tape featuring pertinent details of the challenger. But that’s boxing.

    TP has won 2 KDs. So too has Dough O’Neil. In none of Todd Pletcher’s wins did his entrant closed relentlessly to tag a resolute speedball leader from the BB barn. The Dough O’Neil trained I’ll Have Another did just that in both the KD & Preakness. Dough O’Neil repeat in the KD was with the undefeated Nyquist ..

    Nyquist was a champion 2YO who became the 2nd winner of the BCJ to return and win the KD. Only 2 trainers have achieved this feat. Todd Pletcher had Champion 2YOs in the from of Uncle Mo ( undefeated) and Shanghai Bobby (undefeated). Neither made the KD. One trainer’s champion 2YO returned to win the KD. The other trainer’s champion 2YOs never made the field.

    Why highlight Doug O’Neil?

    In the last 10 renewals of the KD, only BB have won more renewals. One of O’Neil’s winners also won the Preakness defeating the same BB entrant he defeated in the KD.. The Preakness is owned by Bob Baffert. It is the leg of the TC that has been dominated by his runners.

    In the recently contested BCJ. The Doug O’Neil trained Hot Rod Charlie finished 2nd at 99/1. The colt was a last out MSW winner. It took the colt 4 starts to break its maiden. If not for Essential Quality, the colt would have created the bigger upset in BCJ history. Impressive MSW winners Classier and Likeable from the barn of BB & TP were put to the sword by Hot Rod Charlie.

    Doug O’Neil is second in number of wins in the last to renewals of the KD. During the period, he lowered the colors of the very fast Bodemeister trained by BB. He used a 99/1 last out MSW winner to almost silence Keeneland whilst beating the entrant from the BB & TP barn. Given the aforementioned and in relation to the KD. Doug O’Neil is certainly, more worthy A Tale of the Tape match with Bob Baffert.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      As I mentioned to you in an earlier comment, you are missing the entire premise of the column. It has nothing to do with their record in the Derby. The story clearly says this is about their domination of the Derby TRAIL, which they do every year by sheer numbers. We are starting the Derby rankings again and once again both trainers are loaded with potential Derby horses.

  5. Davids says:

    Yes, Steve, you may well be right. Brad Cox has been extremely impressive in his meteoric rise to the top echelon of US horse trainers. Cox now has some very influential patrons who are able to ensure a stable of top runners. Mind you, Steve Asmussen, Mark Casse, Bill Mott, Richard Mandella et al will also mark things hard for Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher to maintain a stranglehold on the race to the Roses.

    At the Fair Grounds this Saturday there are a host of 3 year old races, beside the Lecomte Stakes, that may presage positive, and not so positive, indications for some very promising colts. With the way things are at the moment, racing makes for a perfect escape to a wonderful world of dreams.

    Another year of the Derby preps with Steve Haskin at the helm – bliss.

    • Coldfacts says:

      Come on David!

      Whilst BB appears to have a stranglehold on the KD based on his 3 win in the last 6 renewals. The same conclusion cannot be attributed to TP.

      There is a difference between the races leading up to the run for the roses and the one that exist for the actual run for the Roses. Todd Pletcher’s record doesn’t reflect he has a stranglehold on the race for the Roses. Consequently it shouldn’t even be inferred.

      He has recorded two win to date. The majority of knowledgeable KD fans have attributed his 2 wins to luck as opposed to the brilliance of his KD runners.

      Super Saver was no part of Luckin At Lucky. If you recall LAL was awarded the Eclipse for champion 2YO & 3YO. It was misfortune that resulted in his 6th place finish in the KD. He and Ice Box had to endure more stops than which occurs on the Main Street in any town. With a clean trip in the Preakness LAL won and Super Saver stumbled in 8th. The two colts would again meet in the Haskell. LAL won and SS could only manage 4th.

      Always Dreaming was not better than Champion 2YO Classic Empire. This was revealed in the Preakness. Classic Empire was wiped out at the start of the KD and that put an end to his winning chance. In the Preakness he ran by Always Dreaming as if he was glued to the ground. Just like Super Saver, Always Dreaming faded to 8th.

      I do not want to appear annoying as I have provided these cold facts before. Can you objectively state, that given the above, TP has stranglehold on the KD?

      • Davids says:

        Coldfacts, I was referring to Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher having a ‘stranglehold’ in winning preps ‘on the race to the Roses.’ As both stables, inevitably, enjoy a vast array of well bred, talented colts to choose from it is not surprising that both stables dominate the prep races coast to coast.

        Steve Haskin, below, has responded to you in kind with a similar response. This discussion is about the Derby Trail not so much about winning the Derby. Be assured, seeing new faces dominating the preps and eventually winning the Roses would be refreshing for all.

        • Coldfacts says:

          Noted.

          How many Derby Preps did TP win in 2019

          Holy Bull – Harvey Wallbanger
          FOY – Code Of Honor
          FL Derby – Maximum Security
          Sam Davis – Well Defined
          Tampa Bay Derby – Tacitus
          Withers – Tax
          Gotham – Haikal
          Jerome – Mind Control
          Wood – Tacitus
          Le Comte – War Of Will
          Risen Star – War Of Will
          LA Derby – By My Standard
          Smarty Jones – Grey Attempt
          Southwest – Super Steed
          Rebel – Long Range Toddy
          AK Derby – Omaha Beach

          How many Derby Preps did TP win in 2020?

          Holy Bull – Tiz The law
          FOY – Ete Indian
          FL Derby – Tiz The Law
          Sam Davis – Sole Velante
          Tampa Bay Derby – King Guillermo
          Gotham – Mischevious Alex
          Withers – Max Player
          Jerome – Independence Hall
          Wood – NR
          Le Comte – Enforceable
          Risen Star – Modernist
          LA Derby – Wells Bayou
          Smarty Jones – Gold Street
          Southwest – Silver Prospector
          Rebel – Nadal
          AK Derby – Nadal/Charlatan

          Listed above are the Derby Preps previously dominated by Todd Pletcher. In two consecutive years no entrants from his barn were able to win any. Do you consider Todd Pletcher as still having as stranglehold on the above Derby Preps? He is no longer a dominant force

          • Steve Haskin says:

            Being you spent so much time compiling that, two years is not a trend. Go back 10 years and then there is a trend. And it’s not about winning all of them it is about his wns in maiden and allowance races and placings in stakes as well and in general the number of horses he has participiating in the preps

          • Davids says:

            I see Steve has already responded, his article and discussion here is referring to a longitudinal review of all the years both Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher have had runners competing in the Kentucky Derby.

            Moreover, in Nelson’s post below, which you have already responded to, he has provided the data which shows the dominance of both trainers. All is good.

      • Steve Haskin says:

        Always Dreaming was suffering from bad ulcers and never was the same horse after the Derby.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      I am particularly interestd in the Cox-tained Manadaloun, who I have ranked pretty high right now. We’ll see where he is after the race. But there are several others in there who could earn a spot on the Rankings

  6. Nelson Maan says:

    This Saturday’s Lecomte Stakes features two horses representing two prominent personalities who are sadly no longer with us. Mandaloun for the late Prince Khalid bin Abdullah and Beep Beep for Marylou Whitney.

    I will be passionately rooting all the way for these two promising runners and for Arabian Prince of course…

    • Davids says:

      Nelson, Racing Post has a wonderful tribute to Prince Khalid bin Abdullah.

      • Nelson Maan says:

        Many Thanks for the tip Davids… it was a great read. Nice work by James Thomas in capturing James Delahooke’s views about the iconic horseman.

        There are three other inserted links in the article that are very interesting as well…!

    • Kram Remlap says:

      A rather interesting renewal of the LeComte. Several undefeated entrants. Of the undefeated I like the following:

      Manor House –

      It’s not very often American 2YOs debut over 8F. This colt showed tactical speed and pulled off by 12 1/2L’. He was as straight as an arrow the entire length of the stretch and reflected no wasted motion with powerful stride repetition. With 4 weeks between starts. if this colt mover forward from his debut effort he will be tough. he in not a sprinter but his tactical speed should allow him him to stay close to the speedsters.

      Regular Guy –

      He shouldn’t be in consideration given he took 4 starts to break his maiden. However his first two dismal efforts were followed by two that saw his speed figure jumped significantly.

      He finished last on debut beaten 21 1/2L. In his 2nd start he finished a little closer with a 6th place finish by12 1/2L. Both distances appeared to have been too short. He returned to the races 9 weeks later over 8F. He surprisingly pressed the pace and went down by 1 1/2L in an good time of 1:35+ for the 1turn mile. His Equibase figure jumped almost 30 points. He won next out over 81/2F at FG.

      His win was not overly impressive (1/2L) but he seems to be improving. A Bernardini colt who could surprise in what appears to be an open race.

      • Davids says:

        Couldn’t agree more, with regards to the Lecomte Stakes. Some may defer to lesser races on the card but even so it’s a cracking good race this early.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      This looks like a very interesting race with several potential Derby horses.

  7. Mike Sekulic says:

    In the horse racing world, Baffert is The Man.

  8. Amy Hurley says:

    Good article on my 2 favorite trainers. One important aspect of their background that was not mentioned, however, is that both are graduates of the University of Arizona’s Racetrack Management Program. Both have cited this program as contributing to their success. Bear Down! Looking forward to the debut of the Derby Trail rankings, whatever they will be called now.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Good point, Amy. Thank you.

    • Coldfacts says:

      Amy,

      Bob Baffert has been the Derby Man of the modern era. I can fully understand BB being on of your favorites. However, Todd Pletcher being the other is a bit surprising.

      TP had his first KD starter in 2000. In the 20 years that have elapsed he has saddled almost 60 starters and has secured what can be considered 2 lucky winners.

      • Steve Haskin says:

        Super Saver certainly was lucky, but Always Dreaming was a legitimate . All in all, I believe Todd has unerachieved when it comes to the Derby considering the vast number of prospects he has every year.

        • Ethan says:

          Super Saver won my one and only Derby in person so far. Still shocked he did it but Calvin was a beast at the time. Never forget that day because it was so amazing. Due to the experience Super Saver will always be close to my heart. Then watched Floyd Mayweather v Sugar Shane Mosley that night so it was just a great sports day.

          Funny because in 2015 I had a chance to possibly go to the Derby again but work didn’t allow it. Instead, 200 people watched American Pharoah win from my ranch in Texas as they waited to see Mayweather v Pacquiao at the house that night. To this day I still can’t believe so many people came over for that fight. Fight didn’t live up to the hype but American Pharoah won a lot of them to horse racing after his exhilarating win that day and then finishing off the Triple Crown a month later. Awesome day but still doesn’t compare to being at The Derby in person!

      • Amy Hurley says:

        I’m not basing it just on Derby success, by any means. I just like both of them. I really was first attracted to Baffert because he seems to enjoy the game so much – putting the Derby trophy on his head and dancing around with it, adopting Usain Bolt’s “shooting an arrow” pose, having Bode and Jill with him at every major race, etc. As Steve’s article points out, Pletcher is much more buttoned-up, but I admire the way he is on top of every little detail, knows his horses intimately, places them in positions to win, and, in his own way, also seems to thoroughly enjoy himself and horse racing. Yes, his Derby record leaves something to be desired, but there’s so much more that deserves recognition and praise.

  9. Karen Estis says:

    These two definitely lead the pack, but they are not guaranteed anything. There have been several exciting prospects breaking their maidens in the last few weeks. I’m hoping for more this year than just “which Baffert horse is going to win”.

    • Coldfacts says:

      “which Baffert horse is going to win”

      I have few comments on your statement cite above. No offence is meant and I hope none will be taken.

      BB is on an excellent run in the KD at the moment. However, his record doesn’t warrant any statement like the above.

      In 2019 BB has three entrants in the KD i.e., Game Winner, Improbable and Roadster. They were amongst the top 5 in the wagering None of the 3 hit the board in the original order of finish. Improbable the post time favorite.

      The above clearly indicates, that despite what a many fans of BB have concluded. The KD is not BB’s world and other exist in same at his pleasure.

      Further, no trainer has saddled back to back winner of the KD. The Into Mischief colt Like Is Good iis highly regarded. In fact, many are of the opinion he has a good chance of being BB’s next KD winner. No stallion has been responsible for a back to back winner of the KD.

      The likes of Lookin AT Lucky, Point Given, Pioneerofthe Nile and Bodemiester were top class KD entrants from BBs barn. Three of the 4 were the post time favorite. All were beaten with 2 finishing off the board like his 2019 post time favorite Improbable.

      The temptation to conclude that the KD flows through the barn of BB, should be resisted. The colt facts indicate otherwise.

    • Coldfacts says:

      which Baffert horse is going to win”

      I have a few comments on your statement cited above. No offence is meant and I hope none will be taken.

      BB is on an excellent run in the KD at the moment. However, his record doesn’t warrant any statement like the above.

      In 2019 BB had three entrants in the KD i.e., Game Winner, Improbable and Roadster. They were amongst the top 5 in the wagering None of the 3 hit the board in the original order of finish. Improbable the post time favorite.

      The above clearly indicates that despite what many fans of BB have concluded. The KD is not BB’s world and other exist in same at his pleasure.

      Further, no trainer has saddled back to back winner of the KD. The Into Mischief colt Like Is Good is highly regarded. In fact, many are of the opinion he has a good chance of being BB’s next KD winner. No stallion has been responsible for a back to back winner of the KD. Assuming this bit of history is correct . This has not been factored into the assessment of BB’s chance being connected the the 2021 KD winner.

      The likes of Lookin AT Lucky, Point Given, Pioneerofthe Nile and Bodemiester were top class KD entrants from BBs barn. Three of the 4 were the post time favorite. All were beaten with 2 finishing off the board.

      The temptation to conclude that the KD flows through the barn of BB, should be resisted. The colt facts indicate otherwise.

  10. Paula Higgins says:

    This is spot on about the way they train and their personalities. I did see an interview with Chad Pletcher a while back and he is funny. A dry sense of humor. Baffert has more high profile mega horses but Pletcher seems to win more races overall. Just my impressions of them. Baffert is more engaging and media aware, which has been good for his career and the sport when there are no controversies, God willing and the creek don’t rise as they say in the south.

    • Coldfacts says:

      Should TP and BB be mentioned in the same category. BB has 6 KD winners and TP has 2. BB’s 6 wins were achieved with about 50% less starters than TP.

      Dough O’Neil has two KD winners with significantly less starter than TP. It cannot be claim the Mr. O’Neil win were by virtue of luck. I’ll Have Another left the pack an tagged Bodemiester. Nyquist was the best 2YO and best 3YO up to the KD.

      Super Saver was fortunate to win as Lookin At Lucky was involve in a demolition derby within the KD. Ice Box had to recover from 3 stops en-route to 2nd. The fact that Super Saver never won another race indicates he was lucky on the day but by no means the best.

      Always Dreaming was not the best colt in the race. That distinction belongs to Classic Empire who was wiped out at the start. He was covered with so much mud his coat was not visible.

      If TP’s KD record is objectively assed, He would be viewed as excellent in winning KD Preps. But abysmal in the big race.

      • Steve Haskin says:

        Just a reminder that this column is not about BB and TP’s record in the Derby, it is about their domination of the Derby TRAIL, which they do dominate with sheer numbers every year.

  11. Laura Lanham says:

    Thanks for getting started on this. Hoping, praying we have a more “normal” year of racing this year. I like the comparison between Bob and Todd as Bob and Lukas both started with Quarter horses. So a bit of trivia for you. I do own a documentary about Seabiscuit and how oftern he raced and Bob was part of it. His comments were well in the past they raced them more often but today we train more. Any thoughts? It was a great thing to watch. They still had people on there that really knew Red, Woolfe and the Howards. One of my treasures but only as long as I have internet, on Amazon.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      I saw that documentary. It was very well done. Baffert is right about that. From a fan’s standpoint would you rather see a horse run or train? I’ll take racing the way it was. it is after all called racing.

      • Laura Lanham says:

        There was a lot to be said for the old ways. Look how many of them raced, came back in a week or even less and raced again. They were the true heroes. Look at the weights they carried. Nobody does that anymore and I consider that a loss for the sport. When it comes to modern US based horses going overseas like Dubai was Chrome the one that carried the most weight in the past 20 years? I honestly don’t know. I know Mr Riddle retired Man O War because of the weights they would have assigned him. Again not entirely sure but wasn’t he already up to around 140 lbs handicap when Riddle retired him? Might be the reason they just raced carrying those kinds of weights. Think I’ve spoken about this before but training on a track in the morning is not racing in the afternoon. Let them race and more often and quit retiring colts so young.

  12. Nelson Maan says:

    I really appreciate your insights about the relationship between the personalities and the training styles of these two leading trainers. This article is a fitting preamble to the Derby Rankings as Baffert and Pletcher have always established the Kentucky Derby and the first and foremost objective of their operations.

    Baffert started his Derby pursuits in 1996, four years before Pletcher presented his first Derby runners.
    Both Pletcher and Baffert have participated in 20 Derbies. Pletcher, as you have many times written, has mastered the means to take a good horse to the Derby. The East based trainer has had 55 horses reaching the run for the Roses while Baffert has done so with 32 horses so far.

    Pletcher numbers are as follows: 2 firsts, 2 seconds, 4 thirds and 2 fourth places.
    Baffert’s Derby Stats reads: 6 Firsts, 3 seconds, 3 thirds, 3 fourths.
    Clearly the White Wizard is Mr. Derby among all his peers…

    However, one Field completely ruled by Todd Pletcher is the development of good sires.
    You can easily check at least 130 sires who have arisen from Pletcher program. No one can deny the influence of such Stallions like More than Ready, Harlan’s Holiday, SCAT DADDY, SPEIGHTSTOWN, QUALITY ROAD, UNCLE MO, VIOLENCE, DAREDEVIL and CONSTITUTION.

    Fortunately we can count on trainers like Asmussen, Brown, Desormeaux, O’Neil, Mott, McGaughey, Casse, Dale, Shirreffs, Stidham, Maker, O’Brien and rising stars like Brad Cox, to not only try to dethrone the chief but to certainly add more color to the run for the Roses…

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Excellent post, Nelson. Great information. And you are so right about Pletcher and sires.

      • Nelson Maan says:

        Thank you Steve…really appreciate your words…!

        It would be great if we could edit original posts.

        *as the first and foremost objective of their operations

    • Coldfacts says:

      All the best for the NY.

      As usual I have a few comments.

      “Baffert and Pletcher have always established the Kentucky Derby and the first and foremost objective of their operations.”

      I am a bit confused with the above assessment. The KD is one race. It is a race with an esteem that marketing and widely held beliefs has afforded and bestowed it.. KD winners are not revered beyond the day they adorn the roses. They do not command the highest stud fees. Their progenies have an abysmal record in the Derby and TC series. Many are rejected by breeders if either their 1st or 2nd crops do not produce top class runners. Review the current status of undefeated KD winners Smarty Jones and Big brown

      If my assessment of the KD is a shared. Why would the central focus of two high profile operations one race i.e. the KD? Some horses will be effective over 10F amongst the best of their routing peers. Are said horse relegated to the secondary focus?

      It would be a more realistic to assert that an operation’s central focus is to effectively transform incoming raw material into a finished product that can generate an ROI for its owners/s. If the KD emerge as part of said ROI that’s a bonus.

      I haven’t seen any reports of this being the central objective of the 2 operations cited. Consequently, what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

      TP is pretty close to 60 starters in the KD. About 80% of his starters had no realistic change of winning and shouldn’t have been entered. They have finished in all but one positions in the 20 slot fields. TP was lucky to win the big race twice. None of his two winner ever won another race. Surely it was not the objective to win the KD and no race thereafter.

      Further, just about every barn with a talented 2YO/3YO has Derby Dreams. Dreaming is free. It’s always a matter of whether the youngster will stretch out effectively.

      It is widely regarded that the best stallions are top class milers and not KD winners.

    • Coldfacts says:

      All the best for the NY.

      As usual I have a few comments.

      “Baffert and Pletcher have always established the Kentucky Derby and the first and foremost objective of their operations.”

      I am a bit confused with the above assessment. The KD is one race. It is a race with an esteem that marketing and widely held beliefs has bestowed on it. KD winners are not revered beyond the day they adorn the roses. They do not command the highest stud fees. Their progenies have an abysmal record in the Derby and TC series. Many are rejected by breeders if either their 1st or 2nd crops do not produce top class runners. Review the current status of undefeated KD winners Smarty Jones and Big brown

      If my assessment of the KD is a shared. Why would the central focus of two high profile operations one race i.e. the KD? Some horses will not be effective over 10F amongst the best of their routing peers. Are said horse relegated to the secondary focus?

      The central focus of every barn is for their horses to have healthy and productive careers.

      It would be a more realistic to assert that an operation’s central focus is to effectively transform incoming raw material into a finished product that can generate an ROI for its owners/s. If the KD emerge as part of said ROI that’s a bonus.

      I haven’t seen any reports of this being the central objective of the 2 operations cited. Consequently, what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

      Just about every barn with a talented 2YO/3YO has Derby Dreams. Dreams are free. It’s always a matter of whether the youngster will stretch out effectively against the upper echelon of it peers.

      TP is pretty close to 60 starters in the KD. About 80% of his starters had no realistic change of winning and shouldn’t have been entered. They have finished in all but one positions in the 20 slot fields. TP was lucky to win the big race twice. None of his two winner ever won another race. Surely it was not the objective to win the KD and no race thereafter.

      It is widely regarded that the best stallions are top class milers, not KD winners.

      Reply

    • Davids says:

      Nelson, it will be interesting to see if Bob Baffert’s Derby runners numerically increase as Sires now that most have pedigrees that are in the purple.

  13. 1JoeP says:

    Hello Steve – Glad to hear your Derby Rankings will be arriving soon on Jan 18. This is good timing because KDFW2 runs from Jan 22-24. There are 3 horses now that I am considering and am anxious to see what you think of them. I have won in the past on KDFW with California Chrome at 30-1 and Always Dreaming at 42-1. Always looking for a diamond in the rough at a price. Keep up the good work Steve, your analysis and opinions are greatly appreciated.

  14. Deacon says:

    Obviously both trainers have been & still are the standard of racing. Maybe Baffert is more accomplished but both guys remain incredibly formidable after all these years.
    Pletcher has had his controversies as has Baffert.
    Failed drug test by Wait A While & the fiasco involving Life at Ten, who was a very nice filly.
    Baffert in 2020 had the Gamine & Charlatan issues as well.
    Nevertheless, very informative and educating read Steve. All your work is amazing, I always look forward to your blogs.

    Thank you for sharing………..

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thanks, Deacon. Thre have been similar issues with both trainers, which is not worth getting into. But regardless of what you think of them there is no denying both are great trainers

      • Deacon says:

        I agree……. I don’t care for them too much personally but as trainers they are great. I respect everything that they do & how hard there job is. Truth is I miss guys like Charlie Whittingham, Bobby Frankel, John Nerud , my favorite, and many of the great character trainers of the 1960’s & 1970’s.
        To me caring & missing certain jockeys, trainers & owners who were great personalities hurts the most. Of course, along with the horses. The big difference is horses usually run 2-3 seasons, owners, trainers & jockeys are around for 30-40 years or more.
        All I know is that I miss the old days and you are a key link to horse racing’s glory days.

  15. Diana says:

    Correction: Los Almamitos Futurity is a GII not a GI.

    I find myself interested in this year’s TC, but not as enthused. Just another year of watching horses make a very few races and then run off to the shed. I feel more excitement about the mares this year.

  16. Coldfacts says:

    Despite the fact that Brad Cox hasn’t won the KD as yet. The featuring of hot trainer is totally warranted. His recent run suggests he only needed material to be a serious threat to both BB and TP.

    In 2019 horses from the Mark Casse barn won the Preakness and Belmont (War Of Will/Sir Winston). His Enforceable finished 7th in the 2020 KD after less than ideal preparation for the race. I wouldn’t for a moments dismiss Mark Casse . He does have some well bred youngsters.

    Dough O’Niel has two KD winners. It took a powerful stretch run from Essential Quality to prevent his last out MSW winner, Hot Rod Charlie from creating a major upset at 99/1. His 99/1 shot finished ahead of Classier/ Likeable trained by BB & TP. When Hot Rod Charlie broke his maiden, Parnelli finished 2nd. Parnelli was expected to provide a decent challenge for the highly regarded Like Is Good in the Sham. He finished 3rd.

    Given Mr. O’Neil’s record and the fact the he lowered the colors of the BB trainer Bodemeister in both the KD & Preakness, he has to be in the mix as well.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Hot Rod Charlie is legit and he has Wipe the Slate for Reddam. I was very diappoined in Parnelli’s race. Had him pegged high but he showed nothing and was well beaten.

  17. Coldfacts says:

    Like many of your fans, I am looking forward to your overviews and analysis of the major Derby contenders. As usual my disagreements should never be viewed otherwise.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Your disagreements are always welcome

      • Paula Higgins says:

        This is spot on about the way they train and their personalities. I did see an interview with Chad Pletcher a while back and he is funny. A dry sense of humor. Baffert has more high profile mega horses but Pletcher seems to win more races overall. Just my impressions of them. Baffert is more engaging and media aware, which has been good for his career and the sport when there are no controversies, God willing and the creek don’t rise as they say in the south.

  18. arlingtonfan says:

    Hi Steve, I enjoyed your comparison/contrast of Baffert’s and Pletcher’s styles. Looking forward to the kickoff of your Derby rankings! (Doesn’t it seem strange this year to be pondering the Derby contenders only four months after the last Derby? That’s throwing my sense of time way off.)

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Most definitely. But in some ways its almost as if last year’s Triple Crown never happened. There was no continuity.

      • Matthew W says:

        5 or 6 months ago….maybe less….there was talk about Tiz the Law being a potential great horse—he is practically forgotten….