Derby hopefuls put in works at Palm Meadows
"I thought both horses worked well," Pletcher said. "They galloped out strongly. They looked good."
Intense Holiday finished third behind victorious Cairo Prince in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream on January 25 before shipping to Fair Grounds to win the Risen Star and finishing second in the Louisiana Derby. We Miss Artie finished second in the Kitten's Joy Stakes on turf at Gulfstream Park on January 19 before finishing eighth on the main track in the Fountain of Youth on February 22 and earning his ticket to Louisville with a victory on Polytrack in the Spiral Stakes at Turfway.
"All three of those horses, if the weather cooperates, will breeze back here next Sunday and go to Churchill on the 22nd and have their final breeze at Churchill," the six-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer said.
On Saturday, Pletcher pulled off a stunner in the Arkansas Derby with Danza, who scored a decisive 4 3/4-length victory at 41-1 odds. The lightly raced son of Street Boss, who was ridden by Joe Bravo, previously made his 2014 debut after a six-month layoff at Gulfstream on March 1, finishing third behind highly regarded stablemate Anchor Down.
"We're pretty excited. We were stepping out a bit. The horse always ran well and trained well. We felt we had one shot to put ourselves possibly in a position to get to Churchill. We were quietly expecting a good race, but, without a doubt, that exceeded everyone's hopes and expectations," said Pletcher, who couldn't remember pulling off such a high-priced upset in a major stakes.
"I'm sure right after the race most people did what I would have done if I were on the outside looking in -- grabbed the past performances and said, 'Look at this horse!'" Pletcher added. "When you look at it now, you see a horse that won his maiden impressively first time out at Belmont, just missed in a flying finish in the Saratoga Special and ran a better-than-it-looked third in an allowance race at Gulfstream."
Pletcher, whose Arkansas Derby winner was scheduled to ship from Oaklawn to Churchill Downs later in the day, reported that firm plans have yet to be made regarding riders on his four horses that qualified for the first leg of the Triple Crown.
"We have Javier (Castellano) on Constitution and we're in the process of firming everything else up," Pletcher said. "I'll talk to Aron Wellman from Eclipse (Thoroughbred Partners), but I imagine they'll ride Joe Bravo back (on Danza)."
Pletcher recently captured his 11th straight training title at Gulfstream's Champions Meet.
"We had an excellent winter. The Gulfstream meet was good to us and we were able to ship out to win the Risen Star, Spiral and Arkansas Derby. We had Palace Malice come back and run a big race. I'd say all in all, I'd have to say it was a successful winter," he said. "Like always, there are a few you wished would have gone better. We had a few who are on holiday. Anchor Down comes to mind. He's two-for-two and won the allowance race that Danza was in. But they'll all be back this summer."
Cairo Prince captured the Holy Bull by 5 3/4 lengths, establishing himself as top-rated three-year-old on the East Coast. After bypassing the Fountain of Youth, Cairo Prince's status for the first Saturday in May suddenly was put in jeopardy by his dull showing in the Florida Derby.
"Maybe it was the layoff. I'll take the responsibility that maybe he needed to run," McLaughlin said. "He got caught wide. Wicked Strong went to New York after the same thing and won the Wood. But it doesn't really matter now."
Now able to concentrate on the Triple Crown, McLaughlin is happy with his original plan for Cairo Prince.
"Now we have a chance to win the Kentucky Derby, not just run in it," McLaughlin said.
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