Pletcher weighs in on Triple Crown spacing after Belmont win

Elmont,
N.Y.

If
there is one thing Todd Pletcher’s four Belmont Stakes winners have in common,
it was the time they had off after racing at Churchill Downs the first week of
May.

Mo Donegal was the latest to be advantaged by the five-week gap between races, leading
his female stablemate Nest to an exacta finish in Saturday’s renewal of the Belmont Stakes.

It
would seem, then, that Pletcher is just fine with the spacing of the Triple
Crown races. At least two of them.

“Look,
I think there’s arguments to be made both ways,” Pletcher told a media gaggle
outside his Belmont Park barn on a rainy Sunday morning. “I appreciate the historical
significance of having to win three races in five weeks to attain the Triple
Crown.”

But
he also knows his own history with horses who did not win the Kentucky Derby.
Palace Malice finished 12th in 2013, Tapwrit sixth in 2017 and Mo Donegal fifth
last month before they scored five weeks later in their 1 1/2-mile test. Rags
to Riches, Pletcher’s first Belmont winner, was a filly who had won the
Kentucky Oaks (G1) 36 days earlier.

His
Derby winners – Super Saver in 2010 and Always Dreaming in 2017 – went to the
Preakness and finished eighth coming off the short, two-week break.

Pletcher
might be diplomatic with his talk about maintaining the Triple Crown structure.
But his actions with non-winners of a previous classic show he is just fine
adhering to a normal break between races.

“If
you don’t win the Derby,” he said, “for us, this is our home track. The Belmont
has become sort of our main focus. We’ve had some good fortune doing it that
way, so I don’t mind it.”

Still
needing a Preakness victory to complete a personal career Triple Crown,
Pletcher said he did not necessarily buy into the belief that the achievement in
a single year would be watered down by spreading the races across three or four
more weeks.

“You
can also make the argument that it might be tougher to do if everybody showed
up and it was run over the course of a couple of months,” he said. “I’d be in
favor of whatever is best for horse racing.”

Rivalries
are good for the sport, and Pletcher knows he had a few participants on display
Saturday. 

Nest,
who was trying to follow in the footsteps of Rags to Riches, might have given
Mo Donegal a bigger challenge had she not lost three lengths to a bad start. Last
month she finished second to Secret Oath in the Oaks, and Nest could meet her again
as soon as the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) next month at Saratoga.

“She’s
a super filly,” Pletcher said of Secret Oath. “I think Nest showed yesterday
that she is, too. It could make for some exciting races at Saratoga. … We’ll target
the Alabama (G1, Aug. 20) and decide if we want to run in the Coaching Club before
that or not.”

The
3-year-old fillies also include Echo Zulu, the 2021 juvenile champion who was an
enigmatic, veterinarian scratch Saturday from the Acorn (G1), and Kathleen O., who
has been on a break since her fifth-place finish in the Oaks.

“That’s
what makes this such a deep, deep group,” Pletcher said. “But I think (Nest and
Secret Oath) have stepped up and shown they’re the two best. It’ll be
interesting when they match up again.”

Like
Pletcher’s other horses who ran Saturday, Malathaat was pronounced to be fit
after her second-place finish to Clairière in the Ogden Phipps (G1). It
signaled a possible changing of the guard in the older female division after
Letruska wilted to a torrid, early pace and finished fifth. Instead of Letruska
and Malathaat, maybe it will become Malathaat and Clairière.

“They’ve
run together quite a bit,” said Pletcher, who saw Malathaat defeated by Clairière
for the first time in five meetings. “Two really, really good fillies.”

Then
there are the 3-year-old males. For the fourth year in a row, three different
horses – Rich Strike, Early Voting and Mo Donegal – won the classics, so there
is no obvious leader. Throw in undefeated Jack Christopher’s 10-length runaway
Saturday in the Woody Stephens (G1), and the whole division is up for grabs.

“There’s
no need to rank anybody yet,” Pletcher said. “What happens in the summer and
fall always seems to carry a little more weight when it comes to divisional
championships. I think with (Mo Donegal’s) win in the Wood (G2) and the Belmont,
the fact that he beat the Preakness winner in the Wood puts him right at the
top of the list.”

Mo
Donegal will target the Travers (G1) on Aug. 27. Pletcher sounded like he might
run the Uncle Mo colt in the Jim Dandy (G2) on July 30 at Saratoga.

“Both
of our Travers winners (Flower Alley in 2005 and Stay Thirsty in 2011) went
through the Jim Dandy,” Pletcher said. “If he has a prep between now and the
Travers, that would probably make the most sense.”

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