'Todd Squad' Takes Aim at Breeders' Cup

Saturday, November 4th 2006, 6:02 am
By: News On 6

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ Todd Pletcher has had plenty of busy days before. None of them have been as potentially lucrative as the Breeders' Cup, though. The 39-year-old trainer had a record 17 starters in seven of Saturday's eight races worth $20 million at Churchill Downs.

``When you run more horses like this, it's almost easier. The most nerve-racking time is when you run one,'' he said. ``We'll be going all day and there's no time to sit around and worry.''

Pletcher's day was to begin at 4:30 a.m., when he and his ``small army'' of help got all of his horses out of their stalls for a once-over to make sure they looked and felt good on racing's biggest day.

Ever the diplomat, he wouldn't name a favorite, saying, ``I love them all the same.''

On his hectic Saturday, Pletcher sat out only the Mile. The so-called ``Todd Squad'' of horses represented 13 different owners and eight jockeys. He had the morning-line favorites in the $2 million Juvenile (Circular Quay) and the $2 million Distaff (Fleet Indian), and had three horses each in two races.

``I'm going to have a loser in every race I run in,'' he said.

Pletcher was 2-for-24 in previous Breeders' Cup races, with both wins in 2004.

The day's richest race was the $5 million Classic, with Pletcher saddling Flower Alley and Lawyer Ron.

But those colts were bit players in the much-hyped confrontation between Bernardini, the even-money early favorite, and Lava Man, the 6-1 third choice.

Toss in Invasor, the 5-1 second choice, along with European stars George Washington and David Junior, and 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo.

``This is the strongest Classic we've seen in a number of years,'' Pletcher said. ``It's a loaded gun.''

Bernardini had never faced stiffer competition.

``This is going to be the most difficult task for him,'' trainer Tom Albertrani said. ``But I still believe they are going to have to step up to beat him.''

At stake for Bernardini was possible Horse of the Year honors.

``If he was to win, he would certainly get national attention and be voted Horse of the Year,'' Albertrani said. ``I would definitely think he'll go down in the history books as one of the all-time greats.''

East Coast-based Bernardini, winner of six in a row, is regally bred and owned by Dubai crown prince Sheik Mohammed's Darley Stable.

Humbly bred Lava Man was 7-for-7 this year going into the Classic. However, racing's richest claiming horse with $3.8 million in earnings hadn't won outside California.

``He's a real warrior,'' trainer Doug O'Neill said.

Invasor had one loss in nine races going in. The 4-year-old colt is owned by Sheik Mohammed's brother, Dubai's minister of finance Sheik Hamdan.

Another race with future implications was the Juvenile. The winner is typically tagged as the winter favorite for the Kentucky Derby _ a jinx to be sure.

In 22 editions of the Breeders' Cup, no Juvenile winner has gone on to win the Derby.

Pletcher took three chances with Circular Quay, Scat Daddy and King of the Roxy in the full field of 14.

A trio of Derby-winning trainers were in the running, too.

Bob Baffert sent out Malt Magic; D. Wayne Lukas had Pegasus Wind; and Nick Zito saddled C P West.

While not on Pletcher's scale, the Maktoum family of Dubai had six entries.

Besides Bernardini and Invasor, Sheik Rashid had early favorite Henny Hughes in the $2 million Sprint. Sheik Mohammed had Balletto in the Distaff, and Echo of Light and Librettist in the $2 million Mile.

Europe was well represented, too.

England's Ouija Board was the favorite to win her second Filly & Mare Turf. Ireland's Hurricane Run was the top choice in the Turf.

Irishman Aidan O'Brien, who trains for the powerful Coolmore operation, sent out George Washington in the Classic, Ad Valorem and Aussie Rules in the Mile and Scorpion in the Turf.

Post time for the first Breeders' Cup race _ the $2 million Juvenile Fillies _ was 12:30 p.m. EST. The Classic was scheduled to go off at 5:20 p.m.