Todd Pletcher has 26 early Triple Crown nominees this year and two are scheduled to make their seasonal debuts at Oaklawn, where the future Hall of Fame trainer has enjoyed immense success since starting his first horse in Hot Springs more than 20 years ago.
Alpha Sixty Six and Chase Tracker were flown Tuesday to Arkansas after previously being based in South Florida. Pletcher said Alpha Sixty Six will run in a first-level allowance race Saturday, with Chase Tracker ticketed for the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Monday. Both races are 1 1/16 miles.
Chase Tracker and Alpha Sixty Six haven’t started since finishing third and sixth, respectively, in the $250,000 Remsen Stakes (G2) Dec. 7 at Aqueduct. Pletcher said Chase Tracker received the green light for the Southwest following a 5-furlong workout in 1:01.19 Sunday at Palm Beach Downs. The son of multiple Grade 1 winner and millionaire Verrazano, who began his racing career with Pletcher, won his Sept. 21 debut at Parx before running third in the $150,000 Nashua Stakes (G3) Nov. 3 at Aqueduct and third in the Remsen (he was beaten 4 ¼ lengths in the 1 1/8-mile race).
“He was good enough to break his maiden first time out, ran a respectable race in the Nashua and a good solid third in the Remsen,” Pletcher said Tuesday morning. “He has been training steadily. We didn’t really have a firm plan in mind, but thought he worked very well here this past weekend, so we decided the timing for the Southwest was good.”
Pletcher said Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will ride Chase Tracker for the first time in the Southwest, Oaklawn’s second of four Kentucky Derby points races. The series continues with the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) March 14 and the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 11. Post positions for the Southwest will be drawn Friday.
The Southwest will offer 17 points – 10-4-2-1 to the top four finishers, respectively – toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby.
Alpha Sixty Six, from the first crop of Liam’s Map, won his Sept. 7 career debut at Belmont Park before finishing fifth behind Tiz the Law in the $500,000 Champagne Stakes (G1) Oct. 5 at Belmont Park. Alpha Sixty Six, who has been ridden by Velazquez in all three career starts, was beaten 17 ½ lengths in the Remsen as the betting favorite.
“Just trying to get back on track with him,” Pletcher said. “His last race was a bit of a disappointment. He’s been training steadily. Just looking for an opportunity to get a start into him, and if he were to run well it could hopefully put him in position to possibly come back for the Rebel or something like that. We’ll see if he can step forward for us.”
Pletcher and Velazquez teamed to win the 2017 Southwest with One Liner. Pletcher has won the Arkansas Derby a record five times (Graeme Hall in 2000, Balto Star in 2001, Overanalyze in 2013, Danza in 2014 and Magnum Moon in 2018) and the Rebel twice (Malagacy in 2017 and Magnum Moon in 2018).
Pletcher ran his first horse at Oaklawn in 1999, won 28 percent of his starts in Hot Springs (24 of 85) and 21 stakes.
“Oaklawn’s been great to us over the years,” said Pletcher, who has won a record seven Eclipse Awards as the country’s outstanding trainer. “I have fond memories as a teenager going there when my dad was racing there, so it’s always been a cool place. They’ve really got a great product going on there at the moment. There are some very lucrative races, including a great series of 3-year-old preps, so we’re excited to have somebody back there and hopefully can continue some of the success we’ve had.”
Pletcher’s father, retired trainer J.J. Pletcher, was an Oaklawn regular in 1979-1986 and won the $150,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) in 1980 with Uncool.
Back to Work
A year ago, Long Range Toddy was among the most prominent 3-year-olds on the grounds after winning the $400,000 Springboard Mile at 2 and finishing second in the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes, Oaklawn’s first of four Kentucky Derby points races.
Long Range Toddy is back at Oaklawn with a new trainer and on the comeback trail after recording his first workout of the season Sunday morning. Long Range Toddy went 3 furlongs in :38.40 for breeder/owner Willis Horton of Marshall, Ark., and Dallas Stewart, the Fair Grounds-based trainer who was in Hot Springs last week to check on his Oaklawn division.
Long Range Toddy, previously with Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, hasn’t started since finishing seventh in the $400,000 Oklahoma Derby (G3) Sept. 29 at Remington Park. There’s no target date for Long Range Toddy’s comeback race, Stewart said Sunday afternoon.
“I’ve got to do my job and see what happens,” Stewart said. “Take our time with him and we’ll see.”
Long Range Toddy recorded his biggest career victory to date in the first division of the $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) last March at Oaklawn. He also ran sixth in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn and 16th in the Kentucky Derby.
Stewart said he reunited with Horton approximately a month ago. They teamed to win the Kentucky Oaks (G1) – the nation’s biggest race for 3-year-old fillies – in 2006 with Lemons Forever. Their first starter at the 2020 Oaklawn meeting, Awe Emma, ran fifth in her allowance comeback race last Friday.
“I’m all for it,” Stewart said of training again for Horton.
Awe Emma had also previously been with Asmussen. Horton, in partnership, has raced horses at the meeting with the perennial Oaklawn training champion, including Bankit, runner-up in the second division of the $100,000 Fifth Season Stakes Jan. 25.
Unbeaten Taraz (3 for 3) returned to the work tab Tuesday morning, covering a half-mile in :47.80 over a good track for trainer Brad Cox and breeder/owner Juddmonte Farms. Taraz has been based at Oaklawn since Jan. 28 and won the $150,000 Martha Washington Stakes for 3-year-old fillies Feb. 1 in her 2020 and two-turn debut. She is pointing for the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles March 7. … Post positions were to be drawn Wednesday for Saturday’s $125,000 Dixie Belle Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters. … Nominations close Thursday for the $125,000 Downthedustyroad Breeders’ Stakes for Arkansas-bred female sprinters Feb. 22. … Dazzling 2019 Oaklawn debut winner Intrepid Heart “is doing well” and “probably a month away from being ready to go,” trainer Todd Pletcher said Tuesday morning. Intrepid Heart broke his maiden by 7 ¾ lengths at a mile last February before finishing eighth in the Belmont Stakes – the final leg of racing’s Triple Crown – and fifth in his last start, the $100,000 Curlin Stakes July 26 at Saratoga. The son of Tapit has seven published works at Palm Beach Downs in south Florida since Dec. 20. “Don’t really have a race picked out for him yet, but he’s come back in good order,” Pletcher said.