It has become commonplace to see Todd Pletcher's name leading the trainer standings at Gulfstream Park, having captured an unprecedented 14 straight Championship Meet titles since his first in 2004.
But when winter turned to spring, Pletcher's name was still there. The winner of a record seven Eclipse Awards who celebrated his 50th birthday Monday will finish Gulfstream's spring meet as its leading trainer with 27 wins heading into its Thursday program, when he has his final two horses entered.
Gulfstream kicks off its summer schedule Saturday, July 1 with the $1 million Summit of Speed, a spectacular 14-race program in which Pletcher will have runners in six of the days seven stakes – Kinsley Kisses in the $250,000 Princess Rooney (G2), Benefactor and Blind Ambition in the $150,000 Carry Back (G3), Dial One in the $100,000 Kiss a Native, Classy Dancer in the $100,000 Brave Raj and Firefoot in the $75,000 Azalea.
Rounding out Saturday's Summit of Speed stakes is the $75,000 Bob Umphrey Turf Sprint. First race post time is 11:55 a.m.
“We kind of wanted to experiment by staying a little longer and seeing how our horses adapted to that,” Pletcher said. “It's gone very well. I think it probably leads us to leaving horses there year-round, starting in September.
“To be honest with you, we weren't really looking at it in terms of being leading trainer,” he added. “We were just hoping to leave the right horses there. The main focus was really getting some 2-year-olds going. We had the arrival of more 2-year-olds a little earlier this year than we have in the past so the strength of [Gulfstream's] 2-year-old program and the number of opportunities I felt led us to leaving more there, and it's worked out well.”
Based at Palm Beach Downs in Delray Beach, Fla., Pletcher enjoyed five multi-win days during the spring meet highlighted by a three-win afternoon May 6 that included a pair of stakes – the English Channel with Bronson and the Honey Ryder with Adorable Miss.
Pletcher also won the Game Face Stakes with My Miss Tapit April 22. Overall he had 19 maiden winners during the meet, six of them with 2-year-olds including Dial One and Classy Dancer. Nineteen of his 27 wins came with 3-year-olds, and two came with 4-year-olds.
“We wanted to stretch it out a little bit and see how the racing went, see how the weather went and those sort of things. I think it's worked out very well,” Pletcher said. “It's worked out great for the 2-year-olds and all the horses seem to be performing well so hopefully it's something we can build on for next year.
“It's a lot of logistics to do that before you commit to it with your entire staff, and not only our staff but your farriers and veterinarians and all those things,” he added. “That's something you need to plan well in advance. We wanted to extend it a little bit this year and see how it went and so far, so good. We hope to build on it for next year.”
Pletcher said he will consolidate his stable up north during the approaching Saratoga Race Course meet but will have horses back in South Florida after that meets ends on Labor Day, Sept. 4.
“Last year when we brought in quite a few 2-year-olds early to Palm Beach Downs, we had a lot of success with those. We were able to win the Astoria and the Tremont and the Schuylerville and the Adirondack and the Spinaway and, those were all with horses that came into Palm Beach Downs early,” Pletcher said. “We felt like based on how well that worked out last year we had a few more clients that were interested in bringing them in a little earlier. We ended up with a few more early arrivals this year than we did the year before.”
Benefiting from Pletcher's extended presence, jockey Tyler Gaffalione cruised to the spring meet title with 95 wins entering Thursday's card, 25 more than runner-up Edgard Zayas. Gaffalione, the 2015 Eclipse Award-winning apprentice, was also tops with purse earnings of $2.28 million.
Gaffalione won 15 times for Pletcher during the spring meet. His stakes wins came in the Miami Mile (G3) with War Correspondent, the Christmas Past with Susie Bee, the Big Drama with Quijote and the Jeblar with Royal Squeeze.
On Saturday's Summit of Speed card, Gaffalione rides Dial One in the Kiss a Native, Partly Mocha in the Umphrey Turf Sprint, Firefoot in the Azalea, Blind Ambition in the Carry Back, Kinsley Kisses in the Princess Rooney, and defending champion Delta Bluesman in the Smile Sprint.
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