Pletcher Resurgent at Kentucky Downs
By Dick Downey
Connections quotes by Jennie Rees
Photo by Reed Palmer Photography
Not to be outdone by a former assistant trainer, Todd Pletcher sent out Channel Cat to victory in the 1 5/16-mile, $400,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs on Wednesday.
Just one race earlier, Jonathan Thomas, who's been on his own for about a year and a half after working for Pletcher, made his training debut at Kentucky Downs and won the Fifth Third Insurance Dueling Grounds Oaks with Osare. The Derby is for 3-year-olds, and the Oaks is for 3-year-old fillies.
Although each man has one win at the meet, you might say Thomas is one-up on Pletcher. Channel Cat was timed in 2:15.51, about a half-second slower than Osare's time in the Dueling Grounds Oaks.
Over the years, Pletcher, a seven-time Eclipse Award winner, has had off-and-on contact with the Franklin, Ky. track. He won the 2009 training title at Kentucky Downs with five wins from eight starts when purses were significantly smaller than they are today; went one-for three in 2010, was away for three years; and won once from three starts in 2014. After another three-year hiatus, Pletcher was victorious in today's Dueling Grounds Derby with his fourth starter of the meet.
Channel Cat, the 5-2 second choice ridden by Luis Saez, beat Cullum Road by a head after a scintillating stretch duel. Those two finished 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Captivating Moon, who was 1 1/4 length ahead of favored Bandua at the finish line. Jailhouse Kitten, early pacesetter Fred'stwirlincandy, Zero Gravity, Reride, Morning Stride and Zanesville rounded out the order of finish.
Channel Cat is a son of English Channel, a Breeders' Cup Turf winner and 2007 Eclipse Award Champion Grass Horse. English Channel was also trained by Pletcher and later purchased as a stallion prospect by Simpson County native Brad Kelley's Calumet Farm. Kelley bred English Channel to his mare Carnival Kitten, who is by another Champion, Kitten's Joy, the 2004 Eclipse Award Champion Grass Horse.
It was Channel Cat's third win from 11 starts with two pair of seconds and thirds. Although the Dueling Grounds Derby was his first stakes win, Channel Cat has seen deep competition recently, finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby in July, third in the Grade 3 Pennine Ridge in June and sixth in the Grade 2 American Turf at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day.
With winnings of $235,600 from today's victory, Channel Cat has pocketed $431,792 in his career.
Winning trainer Todd Pletcher (who watched race at Keeneland sale and told it’s been eight years since he’d won a race at Ky Downs): “Is that all it’s been? I’d seen the race before and that filly (Osare) went wire to wire. So I was happy to see him in a good tactical position early. It’s a little bit hard to gauge exactly where you are watching races at Kentucky Downs on TV. But it looked like he was always traveling pretty well and handling the course. The fact that he was involved gave me confidence that he was handling it. So that part was good. Then it looked like the Three Diamonds horse (Cullum Road) had some momentum, but he fought back and was very game.”
(On pedigree): “That’s why I ran him against older horses last time. I’d been trying to get him stretched out. There are very limited opportunities for 3-year-olds going anything beyond a mile and an eighth on grass. He ran a very respectable fourth in the Belmont Derby and we always felt that he’s the kind who will get better when he gets older. When I saw this race on the calendar, I was like, ‘Yeah, this is perfect for this horse.’”
(On winning for Calumet): “It’s great, and actually I was at Calumet today and saw English Channel this morning, so it was kind of cool.”
(How he felt coming into race): “I felt like he was training very well. I thought his last couple of breezes leading into it indicated to us that he was sitting on a good race. So we were very optimistic that he’d run well. Your biggest concern is just that some horses seem to maybe appreciate that undulating ground. But he seemed to be traveling well throughout.”
Pletcher assistant trainer Amelia Green: “I knew he was a gutsy horse anyway. So I thought in my mind that he’d hold on, but it was good to see that he did.”
Winning jockey Luis Saez (riding at Ky Downs for the first time): “He’s a come-from-behind horse, likes to be covered up, like fourth or fifth. But he broke so sharp and the pace was slow. He was in the clear and was pulling a lot. So I just tried to wait for the moment to let him run, and he just took me there. He’s a really fighting horse. So when I saw the other horse came up along side, I came close to him and he did the rest.”
On riding at Kentucky Downs: “It’s great. I like it. A lot of turns, but it’s good. I really like it here. Other jockeys told me. But when I got here, I walked the course and checked it out.”
Tyler Gaffalione, second on Cullum Road: “He ran a good race. I just got beat.”
Mike Maker, trainer of second place Cullum Road: “Tough beat. Not much else to say.”