by Richard Rosenblatt
From Louisiana to New Mexico, in a span of just over 24 hours, a pair of Todd Pletcher-trained 3-year-olds made it perfectly clear that one of the nation’s top conditioners is heating up for another run at the Kentucky Derby (GI).
On Saturday at Fair Grounds, lightly raced Spinoff finished an encouraging second to 22-1 long shot By My Standards in the $1 million Louisiana Derby (GII), leading in the stretch before being passed and losing by three-quarters of a length.
The runner-up finish was worth 40 points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby point series, placing the chestnut son of Hard Spun ninth on the leaderboard and virtually assuring him a spot in the 20-horse Derby field on May 4.
On Sunday at Sunland Park, Cutting Humor one-upped Spinoff by winning the $800,000 Sunland Derby (GIII) in track record time, holding off Anothertwistafate by a neck. Bob Baffert-trained favorite Mucho Gusto was third.
Cutting Humor, owned by Jack Wolf’s Starlight Racing, earned 50 points for his win and currently ranks fifth on the Derby leaderboard, giving the two-time Derby winning trainer a second contender in the Run for the Roses.
Before the weekend, there was some chatter that Pletcher’s streak of saddling at least one Derby starter for a 16th consecutive year might be in jeopardy.
Not so fast. For now, Pletcher says Spinoff will likely train up to the Derby back at Palm Beach Downs, while Cutting Humor also returns to Palm Beach, with his future plans not yet firmed up.
Pletcher could have a bunch more Derby qualifiers by the time prep season concludes over the next three weekends, as seven more preps — six with a points scale of 100-40-20-10 — are still on tap.
Outshine is among them. Owned by Let’s Go Stable and Richard D. Schibell, the colt ran second in the Tampa Bay Derby (GII) in his last start and takes 20 points into the $750,000 Wood Memorial (GII) at Aqueduct on April 6. A top-3 finish would likely send Outshine to the Derby.
Pletcher, off to Dubai later in the week, says Overdeliver could also be headed to the Wood if he’s not entered in Saturday’s $1 million Florida Derby (GI) at Gulfstream Park. He added that Current and So Alive are being pointed to the $1 million Blue Grass (GII) at Keeneland on April 6. Current ran third in the Dania Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 3; So Alive was third in the Sam Davis (GIII) at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 9.
Spinoff, owned by Wertheimer et Frere, returned to the races in February after a six-month layoff due to what Pletcher said were “some two-year-old issues” following a second-place finish in the Saratoga Special (GII) on Aug. 12. In his return on Feb. 22 at Tampa Bay Downs, he cruised to victory by 11 lengths in a one mile, 70-yard optional claimer.
In New Orleans, against a field that included leading Derby contender and favorite War of Will, Spinoff showed his mettle by taking the lead in the stretch before giving way in the final yards. War of Will finished ninth.
Spinoff, ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez, is 2-1-1 in four starts with earnings of $260,000.
Johnny V made the trip to Sunland to climb aboard Cutting Humor, and had the colt under an all-out drive to the wire in edging the late-running Anothertwistafate.
“The pace of the race was so fast,” Velazquez said. “The way he held on there at the end was good experience.”
The winning time of 1:46.94 for the 1 1/8 miles set a course record. A son of First Samurai, Cutting Humor improved to 2-2-1 in six starts with earnings of $516,967.
Pletcher is now on track to add to his record total of 52 Derby starters, and would be looking to add to his Derby wins — in 2010 with Super Saver, the sire of So Alive, and in 2017 with Always Dreaming.
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.