Todd Pletcher told a national teleconference this week that he has seven, possibly eight, Kentucky Derby starters in his stable. But perhaps the best of all, Fountain of Youth Stakes winner Eskendereya, is only 28th on the list of graded stakes earnings for 3-year-olds.
The field for the Kentucky Derby is limited to 20 starters, with preference given to horses with the highest career earnings in graded stakes races in the event that more than 20 owners want to run.
“I think we have seven still in the hunt,” Pletcher said. “You can even throw Devil May Care, the filly, in there. It’s not impossible that we would consider running her.”
Devil May Care is No. 10 on the list with $364,000 in graded earnings. She’s safe. But Eskendereya, who won the Fountain of Youth by 8 1/2 lengths on Feb. 20 at Gulfstream Park, needs to finish in the top three in Saturday’s $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in order to secure a spot in the Derby.
Pletcher said if Eskendereya fails to finish in the money in the Wood, something probably will have gone wrong and he won’t be a candidate for the Derby anyway. He’s not too worried about it because the Giant’s Causeway colt has won three of five with one second for graded earnings of $150,000 — about $38,000 behind the No. 20 horse on the earnings list, Uh Oh Bango.
The only time Eskendereya finished up the track was a ninth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita on Nov. 7 when he was essentially taken out of the race early.
“He lost any chance going into the first turn in the Breeders’ Cup,” Pletcher said. “He didn’t get away real cleanly, he went to the first turn and he was sandwiched in between horses. He just got annihilated from both sides. Since we never had an opportunity after that, I didn’t even get a good enough line on it to know whether or not he handled the synthetic track.”
Pletcher, who’s 0 for 24 in the Derby, ranks his colt right up there with 2009 2-year-old champ Lookin At Lucky. Both are 1-2 on most Kentucky Derby lists.
“I think (Eskendereya) belongs at the top of the list,” he said. “To me, you have to rank Lookin At Lucky number one. I mean, he’s the champion 2-year-old and came back with a big effort his first time (Rebel Stakes) on the dirt. He got into some trouble and was able to overcome it. I think until someone dethrones him, he’s number one. That being said, I think the most impressive performance this year was Eskendereya’s Fountain of Youth.”
Said Lookin At Lucky’s trainer, Bob Baffert, when told of Pletcher’s comments: “Everybody wants to throw the challenge on the other guy, but I wouldn’t trade places with him. I feel good about my horse.”
The list of graded stakes earnings heading into this weekend’s $750,000 Santa Anita Derby, the Wood and the $500,000 Illinois Derby:
1. Lookin At Lucky, $1,390,000
2. Blind Luck, $861,150
3. Noble’s Promise, $708,000
4. Rule, $645,000
5. Mission Impazible, $473,434
6. Ice Box, $457,500
7. D ‘Funnybone, $420,000
8. Endorsement, $400,000
9. Conveyance, $386,000
10. Devil May Care, $364,000
11. Discreetly Mine, $340,000
12. Dean’s Kitten, $326,475
13. Dublin, $273,208
14. Interactif, $270,450
15. Homeboykris, $250,500
16. Aikenite, $218,000
17. Make Music for Me, $215,000
18. Awesome Act, $210,000
19. Mendip, $200,000
20. Uh Oh Bango, $187,952
That means it’s a big weekend for 3-year-olds the likes of Eskendereya, Sidney’s Candy (Santa Anita Derby), Caracortado (Santa Anita Derby), Alphie’s Bet (Santa Anita Derby), American Lion (Illinois Derby), Jackson Bend (Wood), Setsuko (Santa Anita Derby) and Dave in Dixie (Illinois Derby). They all need more earnings to move up in the event the Derby field is too full. Jackson Bend needs to win or finish second and Setsuko and Dave in Dixie most likely need to win Saturday to crack the Derby field.