Kentucky Derby hopefuls? Pletcher updates on 8 top colts

Kentucky Derby hopefuls? Pletcher updates on 8 top colts

Delray Beach, Fla.

At his best, Fierceness is brilliant. At this worst, he is, well, much less than that.

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher finds himself pushing the reset button for the second time in the 2-year-old champion’s perplexing career as he eyes a rebound in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 30 at Gulfstream Park.

Pletcher said of Fierceness’s 3-year-old debut, a third-place finish in the Feb. 3 Holy Bull (G3) that fell well short of expectations, “I think it’s just a situation where we have to draw a line through the race.”

He and owner Mike Repole were forced to do the same after the bay son of City of Light followed his eye-opening debut at Saratoga, in which he demolished his competition by 11 1/4 lengths, with a seventh-place clunker in the Oct. 7 Champagne at Aqueduct.

The Champagne was so dismal that Pletcher and Repole thought long and hard about whether Fierceness belonged in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita. They decided to give it a shot after he trained forwardly and were richly rewarded. Fierceness evoked the brilliance of his debut in a 6 1/4-length romp in the Juvenile to secure the Eclipse Award as North America’s leading 2-year-old male.

Fierceness’s troubles in the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull began at the start. The chart noted that his head was turned when the starting gate snapped open. Jockey John Velazquez straightened him easily enough but could not keep his mount from quickly bumping Sea Streak. That collision ping-ponged him into Domestic Product, the eventual second-place finisher to Hades.

“He had a very rough start. I’ve watched it on replay several different times from several different angles,” Pletcher said during training hours at Palm Beach Downs. “He got sandwiched pretty hard on both sides and Johnny had to use him pretty hard to get the position we wanted. When a horse gets knocked around like that, it can take something out of them.”

It also can be said that great and very good horses find ways to overcome all kinds of adversity, making Fierceness quite the puzzle at this stage of his development. The good news for the connections is that the colt is training forwardly since the Holy Bull.

He returned to the work tab in style, firing a bullet four-furlong work in 48.54 seconds on Feb. 23, fastest of 27 at the distance that morning at Palm Beach Downs. He continues to show he is sharp, blazing four furlongs in 48.89 seconds on March 1. That drill ranked third of 26.

“We were disappointed in the outcome. I think he had a legitimate excuse,” Pletcher said of the Holy Bull. “We know he’s been able to come back from an off performance and come back with a good one. Based on the way he is training right now, that is what we would expect him to do.”

Pletcher provided Horse Racing Nation with a glimpse at other 3-year-olds of interest in his barn:

Agate Road. This Quality Road colt, out of the Gemologist mare Yellow Agate, represents one of the more intriguing sophomores in this high-powered operation. He made all four of his starts as a juvenile on grass for co-owners Repole Stable and St. Elias Stables. He closed that season with a fifth-place result in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. He was given a chance on dirt when he began training better on it and was a late-charging second to No More Time in the Feb. 10 Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs. He is likely to make his next start in the March 23 Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds. “We’re strongly considering the Louisiana Derby because of the mile-and-three-sixteenths distance and the long stretch there.” Pletcher said. “We think that would be to his liking.”

Bail Us Out.
Repole enjoys giving his horses big opportunities, and that is the plan with this youngster. He broke his maiden in his second try, going 1 1/16 miles Feb. 3 on Gulfstream Park’s all-weather surface. Based on that, this colt, by 2010 Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky, will be given a start in the March 9 Tampa Bay Derby (G3).

This Street Boss colt, a $55,000 purchase by St. Elias Stables at Keeneland’s September yearling sale, also will be asked to step up in the Tampa Bay Derby after breaking his maiden at fourth asking. He ran third and then second at Belmont at the Big A toward the end of a brief 2-year-old campaign. He then took third at Gulfstream Park before breaking through at Tampa Bay Downs in style, drawing off by 4 1/2 lengths on Feb. 10. Pletcher on Bail Us Out and Heartened: “We’re going to give them a shot in the Tampa Bay Derby to see where they fit. Both of them need to step up to be fully on the Derby trail.”

Time to regroup with him. Again. There was much to like about his 2-year-old campaign, which was highlighted by a victory in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland and a rallying third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He has yet to make his highly anticipated 3-year-old debut. He missed the Feb. 17 Risen Star (G2) with a fever and was scratched hours before Saturday’s Fountain of Youth (G2) when Pletcher was concerned about how he handled a gallop that morning. Stay tuned.

Pletcher wishes he could have seen this youngster compete on a fast track in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds. But what he saw during that ninth-place finish and in previous starts convinced him that the Kentucky Derby is not in this horse’s future. Beyond that, he’s looking to make a surface change. Moonlight is being pointed toward the March 23 Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) on Turfway Park’s all-weather surface, eyeing the $700,000 purse rather than Derby points. “It’s just a good opportunity. We need to regroup.”

Speak Easy.
That Pletcher was willing to send this Constitution colt into Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth after a victorious debut at seven furlongs on Jan. 27 speaks of his high opinion of him. Luck is certainly a factor in making the Derby, and bad luck struck when Speak Easy broke loose during the post parade, suffered lacerations after skimming the rail and had to be scratched. It might be hard for the sophomore to overcome missing a race that surely would have aided his development.

Tuscan Sky.
Pletcher trained the sire Vino Rosso to a Breeders’ Cup Classic victory in 2019. The son, a $200,000 purchase for Spendthrift Farm, looks to be precocious. He made a winning debut by 5 1/4 lengths on Jan. 13 at Aqueduct and followed that with an impressive 2-length decision against well-regarded Nash in a Feb. 17 optional-claiming allowance race at Fair Grounds. The March 23 Louisiana Derby and the April 6 Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct are under consideration for his next act. Pletcher: “He’s certainly performed well enough to jump into the deep end now.”

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