Todd Pletcher may be saving his best for last.
The four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer, who has already dominated 3-year-old stakes action in 2010, has waited nearly two and a half months to unleash another one of his top guns. WinStar Farm’s Super Saver, romping winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) in his 2-year-old finale, will make his much-anticipated season debut in the $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III) March 13. The son of Maria's Mon will face six rivals in the key 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) prep. Post time is slated for 5:30 p.m. EST.
After going wire-to-wire to win by five lengths in the Nov. 28 Kentucky Jockey Club, Super Saver was sent back to WinStar for some time off before shipping down to South Florida to begin training for his 3-year-old campaign. He has been working steadily at Palm Meadows for his return, including a final tune-up March 7 in which he went a smooth five furlongs in 1:00.60 while working in company with stablemate Munnings.
“I thought he worked as good as he ever has,” Pletcher said.
In both of Super Saver’s wins (he broke his maiden by seven lengths Sept. 11 in the slop at Belmont), the bay colt has done it while on the lead. Pletcher had talked previously about having the horse settle into stalking position in his comeback race, but March 10 said it is not imperative to have him run that style. Instead, he will leave it up to top rider Ramon Dominguez, who replaces Calvin Borel. Borel will be aboard Rachel Alexandra in her 4-year-old debut the same day at Fair Grounds.
“We’ll play it by ear and see how it breaks,” Pletcher said. “I’m not as concerned as everyone else seems to be about having my horses on the lead (a couple of Pletcher’s other 3-year-old stars, Rule and Discreetly Mine, recently won preps in wire-to-wire fashion). It’s not like they are rank or run-off horses. They just have more natural speed. So we’ll see how it breaks and leave it up to Ramon. We don’t necessarily need the lead, but if nobody else wants it we aren’t going to fight with him.”
Super Saver, whose other stakes effort came when finishing fourth by two lengths in the Champagne (gr. I) in October, will break from post 6 while carrying 122 pounds. Pletcher said a decision has not been made on where Super Saver will go after this race, but he said the April 3 Arkansas Derby (gr. I) is a good possibility if all goes well.
“I think he’s in a similar type of situation as Rule was in his first start back,” Pletcher said. “We’d like to see him perform well here, but hopefully not peak. We’d like to see him build and improve on this race and then put him in a grade I after that.”
In talking about Super Saver’s biggest threats in the Tampa Bay Derby, Pletcher mentioned how impressed he was with Odysseus, a son of Malibu Moon who opened eyes with a tremendous 15-length victory in a two-turn allowance race at Tampa Bay Downs Feb. 17. Owned by Satish Sanan’s Padua Stables and trained by Tom Albertrani, Odysseus will be making his stakes debut. In his first start of 2010, the chestnut colt broke his maiden at Gulfstream Park.
Sanan, who purchased Odysseus for $250,000 as a 2-year-old, said they have been high on the colt from the beginning.
“We’ve always thought highly of him,” said Sanan, who along with his son, Sasha, and bloodstock advisor David Ingordo, picked him out of the Ocala Breeders' Sale Co.'s select sale of 2-year-olds in 2008. “We had the choice of going to the Sam Davis Stakes with him (Feb. 13), but decided to let him prove himself at two turns first. He did that.
“We haven’t asked too much of him so far, but he’s a genuine horse. He’s done well and has been very impressive visually and time-wise, but now he needs to prove himself again. Super Saver is a terrific horse. We’re excited to see what happens.”
Sanan said if Odysseus wins they will have to make a decision whether to race him or train him up to the Kentucky Derby. If he doesn’t win, they will probably send him to the Wood Memorial (gr. I) at Aqueduct April 3.
Rajiv Maragh, who has ridden Odysseus in all three of his previous races, will be in the irons once again. They will break from post 7.
Other local contenders are Schoolyard Dreams and Uptowncharlybrown, the second- and third-place finishers of the Sam Davis, respectively. Schoolyard Dreams, trained by Derek Ryan, had an allowance optional claiming win at Tampa Bay in January and turned in a bullet move over the track March 7, going four furlongs in an impressive :47.60. Uptowncharlybrown has recorded both of wins at Tampa Bay, including a six-length score in the Pasco Stakes Jan. 16.
Also carrying 122 pounds wil be Anthony Reinstedler trainee Gleam of Hope, who won River Downs' Budweiser Select Cradle Stakes last year and was runner-up in a one-mile race on the Tampa Bay turf course in his season debut last month. Gleam of Hope, by City Zip , was eighth in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.
Reinstedler's second entry is Slammy Boy, who ran fourth in a local allowance race Feb. 7 on the turf.
Rounding out the field is Tuvia's Force, who makes his stakes debut for Nick Zito. The Mineshaft colt was a distant runner-up to Super Saver in that Sept. 11 maiden race at Belmont.