NEW YORK — Todd Pletcher’s approach to the Kentucky Derby is simple: keep his best 3-year-olds from facing each other, win a bunch of big races around the country and then let them meet up in the starting gate at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May,
The nation’s leading trainer is set to send out at least four of the 20 Derby starters on May 4 – that’s 20 percent of the field – and likely will have the favorite in undefeated Verrazano, winner of the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on March 30.
His other starters will be Louisiana Derby winner Revolutionary, Arkansas Derby winner Overanalyze and Blue Grass runner-up Palace Malice. Plus, there’s an outside chance Charming Kitten can make the field if a few horses with more Derby qualifying points drop out.
And to think he could have had two other Derby starters if not for health issues with 2-year-old champion Shanghai Bobby and Violence.
Pletcher ended an 0-for-24 streak by winning his first Derby with Super Saver in 2010. A year ago, he had two chances, and back in 2007 he equaled the record for most starters in a single Derby with five.
So here we go again, and this time Pletcher’s really loaded.
In the AP’s latest Run to the Roses’ Top 10 list of Derby contenders, Verrazano is first, Revolutionary third, Overanalyze fifth and Palace Malice eighth.
A pair of weekend preps, the Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass – put three new horses in the top 10 in Overanalyze, Blue Grass winner Java’s War and runner-up Palace Malice.
Overanalyze came through with a big effort in the stretch and won at Oaklawn Park by 4¼ lengths over Frac Daddy. At Keeneland, Java’s War went from last to first to edge Palace Malice by a neck.
“We were hoping for an improved performance in his second start off the layoff,” Pletcher said of Overanalyze.
who ran fifth in the Gotham on March 2 after winning the Remsen last November. “We were hoping for a big effort, but he actually exceeded our expectations.”
The weekend also was big for Kenny McPeek, who trains Java’s War and Frac Daddy.
“The day was excellent. It makes all of the hard work you put in worth it,” McPeek said of results that gives him two Derby starters.
Dropping out of the top 10 are Vyjack, Govenor Charlie and Oxbow, who finished fifth in Arkansas.
While Pletcher was adding to his strong lineup, three-time Derby winner Bob Baffert was going the other way. Currently, Sunland Derby winner Govenor Charlie will be Baffert’s lone Derby horse. Among his others who won’t make the cut are War Academy, Den’s Legacy, Flashback and Super Ninety Nine.
“Only one can win it,” Baffert noted.
Four-time Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas will have two chances to make it No. 5 with Rebel Stakes winner Will Take Charge and Oxbow.
The 20 starters for the Derby will be determined for the first time by a points system set up by Churchill Downs. Currently, Verrazano and Orb lead with 150 points apiece, with Falling Sky 20th with 20 points.
This week, the point values drop dramatically for the Lexington Stakes (20-8-4-2). The final race to earn points is the Derby Trial on April 27.
Here’s our Top 10:
1. Verrazano (Todd Pletcher, trainer; John Velazquez, jockey): Taking the EZ Pass lane to Louisville and is expected to be the Derby favorite. ... Wood winner is unbeaten in all four starts. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, May 4. ... Final Derby future wager odds: 7-1.
2. Orb (Shug McGaughey, Joel Rosario): Worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.81 Sunday at Payson Park. ... Rosario back on Orb after Johnny V declared for Verrazano. ... Won Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby to give trainer second Derby starter since 1989. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby. ... Odds: 13-1.
3. Revolutionary (Pletcher, Calvin Borel): Louisiana Derby winner owned by WinStar Farm LLC, owners of 2010 Derby winner Super Saver. ... 2-for-2 this year after winning one of four as a 2-year-old. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby. ... Odds: 12-1.
4. Goldencents (Doug O’Neill, Kevin Krigger): With Rick Pitino a co-owner, O’Neill’s Derby barn will have lots of visitors. ... Won Santa Anita Derby with impressive effort to give trainer a shot at winning second straight Derby. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby. ... Odds: 49-1.
5. Overanalyze (Pletcher, Rafael Bejarano): Won Arkansas Derby by 4 1/4 lengths with huge stretch run. ... Owner Mike Repole has himself another legit Derby contender. ... Colt arrived Sunday at Churchill Downs. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby. ... Odds: 49-1.
6. Normandy Invasion (Chad Brown, Javier Castellano): Looks to be the ‘now’ horse following strong second-place finish in Wood. ... Castellano must like his chances since he gave up ride on Revolutionary. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby. ... Odds: 18-1.
7. Java’s War (Kenny McPeek, Julien Leparoux): Slow start, fast finish to win Blue Grass on big day for McPeek. ... Trainer added a second Derby horse when Frac Daddy ran second in Arkansas Derby. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby. ... Odds: 31-1.
8. Palace Malice (Pletcher, Mike Smith): Second by a neck in Blue Grass, but good enough to move into Derby field. ... Has only a maiden win in six starts. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby. ... Odds: 42-1.
9. Itsmyluckyday (Eddie Plesa Jr., Elvis Trujillo): Worked 5 furlongs last week at Calder in 1:01.00. ... Won Gulfstream Park Derby and Holy Bull before running second in Florida Derby. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby. ... Odds: 10-1.
10. Will Take Charge (D. Wayne Lukas, Jon Court): Rebel winner will go into Derby off seven-week break. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby. ... Odds: 19-1.
Keep an eye on: Black Onyx, Frac Daddy, Govenor Charlie, Mylute, Vyjack.
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