A group of turf writers met with Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Todd Pletcher on Saturday in the paddock at Churchill Downs to quiz him about Super Saver, who’ll go for the second leg of the Triple Crown next Saturday in the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
The following is a transcript of the get-together, courtesy of the Churchill Downs publicity office:
Q: How does that long-awaited Kentucky Derby win feel a week later?
“It’s still sinking in. It’s been a great week but we’ve still got the Preakness to keep in mind. It’s still sinking in but it feels good.”
Q: How is Super Saver doing as he prepares for the Preakness?
“[Super Saver] has come out of the Derby really good. So far, he’s exceeded expectations in terms of the way he’s come out of it. His energy level has been great, his appetite has been really good, he’s been really enthusiastic and we really like the way he’s been training. So we’re real pleased. We’re going to give him a breeze on Monday; we’re not looking for much. . .he’ll ship to Pimlico on Wednesday. Calvin [Borel] will be up for the breeze and most likely he’ll go right after the [renovation] break at 8:30 a.m. Calvin is a very talented right and he’s worked a lot of horses and he’s very good at it. He worked him perfectly before the Derby. It’ll give him a little feel as to how the horse is doing. Any time you can get to know him a little better it might pay dividends in the race.”
Q: You’ll also be running Aikenite in the Preakness …
“Aikenite will breeze five-eighths [Sunday] and we’ll see how that goes. We like the way he’s been training since the Derby Trial. His Blue Grass was disappointing and we felt like we needed to get back on track. We think we did in the Derby Trial, which was a good performance. So maybe a fresh horse coming into the Preakness is a good thing.”
Q: Is there any chance that you might run Mission Impazible in the Preakness?
“We haven’t decided [on Mission Impazible]. We’re kind of seeing how he trains and he’s come out of it well, too. We’ll talk to the connections [Sunday] and we’ll see. There’s a possibility, I would say.”
Q: What are your thoughts on the retirement of Eskendereya. Just a couple of weeks ago he was the heavy favorite to win the Derby …
“[The decision to retire Eskendereya] was a tough one. Obviously after the Wood Memorial we had really, really high hopes for him. It shows you the ups and downs of the game. But we’re hoping his next career is a good one.”
Q: How has life been in the week since you won your first Kentucky Derby?
“I’ve had a couple of cool moments. We had a guy e-mail us from Afghanistan that had an American flag from his mission and he’s a huge Derby fan and was from Louisville. He e-mailed us and he’s sending us that flag which was flown on his mission on May 1. Also, University of Arizona basketball coach Lute Olson sent me a text to congratulate me . . . a lot of cool stuff like that. I’ve heard from a lot of people that I wouldn’t ordinarily hear from. When I flew back into Louisville from New York to Louisville, most of the Louisville people knew [who I was] and I signed some autographs on the plane. That’s the question that’s always asked: Have you won the Kentucky Derby? Now I look forward to answering it.
Q: What is Super Saver’s personality around the barn?
“Obviously he’s a very competitive colt, but around the barn he’s real easy to get along with. He’s always been very professional. He’s not an overly aggressive colt at the barn – he’s not difficult to walk or groom, or any of those things. So he’s the consummate professional really.”
Q: How about from a physical standpoint from 2 to 3 – how much did he develop?
“He’s made that nice progression you want to see. He’s not an overly big colt, but he’s very well balanced and a great mover with good mechanics. He’s made a good progression from 2 to 3″
Q: Is this horse good enough to win a Triple Crown? I know you’re biased …
“I think he’s got a big chance to win at Pimlico, so we’re going to tackle that assignment and then we’ve got three weeks ’til the next one. I think coming into the Derby it appeared to be a very wide open group and I think it’s still a little bit wide open. But I wouldn’t trade places with anyone, especially going to Pimlico and backing up a little bit of distance. I think he’s got a tactical edge because he’s not relying on the trip like many of the rest of them. If it’s a slow pace he’ll be there. If it’s a fast pace he can settle like he did the other day. Something that was overlooked in the Derby is that everyone made it out to be that this horse didn’t get a great trip and that horse didn’t get a good trip. Super Saver was able to get a great trip because he was able to put himself in all the right spots and every time Calvin needed him to do something, he did it.”
Q: Calvin said this morning he was limiting his interviews and special appearances because he feels he needs to be focused and shut out distractions – he wants to be totally focused on the Triple Crown. Does that give you even more confidence?
“I have total confidence in Calvin Borel. I think we all try to learn from things we’d do a little bit differently if we had a chance to do things again. So he’s making a few adjustments, which is a smart move.”
Q: Were you a believer that this colt could lay eight or 10 lengths off the lead after all the speed he’d shown in the early part of his career?
“I thought the Arkansas Derby was a big step in the right direction. I think Calvin learned a little something about him that day and we learned a little something about him that day. The one thing I always said was that if he had a legitimate pace to run at, he’d settle. We got a legitimate pace in the Arkansas Derby. I was a little surprised that he was able to tuck him almost all the way back to sixth around the first turn, so that turned out to be a big edge.”
Q: In your mind, how much of a different race is the Preakness?
“It’s a little bit different. Obviously we won’t have 20 horses, but I think it gets lost in the shuffle a little bit that it’s still a mile and three sixteenths. Everyone acts like it’s backing way up. We’re still running further than any of them had ever run before the Derby, so it’s still a mile and three sixteenths and you need the right kind of horse to do that.”
Q: How about post position in the Preakness? In your experience, how big a factor can that be?
“It can be a factor. I think that in Super Saver’s position, we don’t have to worry about it too much. He’s tactical enough. Without knowing the whole field yet, it doesn’t appear as though there’s quiet as much early speed in the race. With Conveyance not going and Line of David not going, you take a couple of the major pacesetters out of that. So I can see us laying a little closer at Pimlico.”