By: Frank Angst
While Todd Pletcher often gives his horses more rest between starts than the three weeks afforded his Arkansas Derby (gr. I) winner Danza before this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), the trainer believes the Street Boss colt can deliver another top effort May 3 at Churchill Downs.
In the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby April 12 atOaklawn Park, Danza and jockey Joe Bravo slipped through along the rail to seize the lead in the stretch before drawing off to a 4 3/4-length score. While on paper the effort looks like a potentially taxing big leap forward off a third-place finish – 7 3/4 lengths back – in a March 1 allowance-optional claiming race at Gulfstream Park, Pletcher believes it’s closer to steady improvement.
Pletcher said the race at Gulfstream, the 3-year-old debut for Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ Danza who enters the Derby off just four career starts, was better than it looked on paper as Danza got caught chasing the pace four wide. Pletcher said because of a speed-favoring track at Gulfstream, Danza was placed close to the pace early in that race and he struggled.
The Arkansas Derby marked the colt’s first try at two turns and Danza excelled after rating in fourth early.
“I don’t think that race took much out of him,” Pletcher noted. “It wasn’t like he had to battle through the stretch or anything.”
Pletcher, who last year saddled Street Boss 3-year-old Capo Bastone to a victory in the Foxwoods King’s Bishop Stakes (gr. I), said it feels like Danza is peaking at the right time. The six-time Eclipse Award winner said Danza progressed in four strong workouts at Palm Meadows between his 3-year-old debut and the Arkansas Derby.
Still the Derby will mark the quickest turnaround to date for Danza, who last year had about a month off between his two juvenile starts. The final 2013 start for Danza, who was bred in Kentucky by Liberation Farm and Brandywine Farm, came in August in a third-place effort in the Saratoga Special (gr. II). His March 1 race at Gulfstream was his first race at 3. Danza then was given six weeks rest before the Arkansas Derby.
Danza certainly looked the part on Friday, April 25, at Churchill Downs as he appeared to enjoy the Churchill surface during a gallop with stablemates being pointed to the Derby in Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) winner Intense Holiday, Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes (gr. III) winner We Miss Artie, and Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) winner Vinceremos.
Of those four, Danza and Vinceremos will have the quickest Derby turnarounds, both off three weeks rest. Intense Holiday will have had five weeks off, while We Miss Artie will receive six weeks rest. All four are scheduled to breeze on Sunday, April 27, at Churchill.
If all four 3-year-olds make it to the starting gate, it will mark the fifth time Pletcher has sent out at least four Derby starters in a race.
While he has been the top U.S.-based trainer of the 21st century and has sent out the second-most Derby starters of any trainer in history, 36, Pletcher has just one Derby victory. But that one win did come from Super Saver, who in 2010 prepped three weeks out with a close second in the Arkansas Derby.