LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Todd Pletcher knew there were rumors. He even figured some of them impugned his horses.
When you're one of the winningest trainers in the game who just happens to condition a quarter of the Kentucky Derby field, that, he said, "is part of the deal."
Upon hearing the specific rumor concerning Verrazano, the 4-1 second choice on the morning line for Saturday's race, the man worrying about five Derby horses — plus four in the ultra-competitive Kentucky Oaks field Friday — found a reason to smile.
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Churchill Downs, Louisville, KY, USA
Word is, Verrazano had stopped eating.
"Have you seen him lately?" Pletcher said.
It's true. Verrazano is a heaping bay colt.
"Honestly, everyone saw all our horses train this morning," he said. "I don't know what else I can do. Bring 'em out and show them how well they are doing."
Pletcher's five entries did take to the track with thousands of fans watching, with both Verrazano and Revolutionary creating a stir for those along the rail. To an untrained eye, they look plenty healthy.
Having one horse during Derby week can be difficult enough. Fans are allowed to roam the backstretch to watch workouts, and bands of reporters rove from barn to barn. Owners are especially engaged, because for most of them this will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Pletcher, whose business-like approach allows him to run a massive stable spread across the country, has felt the pressure five-fold. Asked if he thought one of his horses was ahead of the others, he said quickly: "Yes, but I would never answer that question."
At least one of his owners thinks he's handled it fine.
"All the other owners will tell you, they want their horse to win over the other four horses," said Overanalyze owner Mike Repole, whose Uncle Mo was a Derby favorite in 2011 but scratched before the race. "But if they can't win, they want Todd Pletcher to win. I mean, he's a friend. Everyone respects how hard he works, his work ethic."
Repole also owns Unlimited Budget, a 7-2 co-second choice in the Kentucky Oaks, which gathers the top 3-year-old fillies. Pletcher's undefeated Dreaming of Julie is the favorite at 3-1.
Rain on the way?
Forecasts for Saturday's race, scheduled to go off at 6:24, show a strong possibility of rain — the National Weather Service put the chance at 90 percent Thursday night — and highs in the upper 50s.
Many trainers said Thursday they don't have a good feel for how their horses would deal with rain.
"Well, he never raced on an off track, so you can't be sure about that," said third-favorite Goldencents' trainer Doug O'Neill. "He's a sure-footed horse and nothing seems to bother him."
None of Pletcher's horses have raced on an off track, but he did say Revolutionary, the 10-1 fourth choice, seems best suited to handle rain. A number of trainers also mentioned the unpredictable weather patterns in Louisville, where last year an approaching thunderstorm forced the clearing of the infield but never produced significant rainfall.
Rick Porter, owner of Normandy Invasion, has invited four World War II veterans with connections to Normandy to watch the Kentucky Derby.
"I just want to shake their hands, give them a Normandy Invasion hat and make them feel welcome," Porter said.
Porter owned Eight Belles, the filly who finished second to Big Brown in the 2008 Derby but collapsed after the finish line and was euthenized. The Delaware native also owned Havre de Grace, who was named American Horse of the Year in 2011 and sold for $10 million to start her breeding career.
Normandy Invasion, who at 12-1 is the fifth choice on the morning line, ran off at the end of what was supposed to be an easy gallop Thursday. He was in full stride before being corralled, but trainer Chad Brown said the colt would be fine.
Around the barns
Long-time trainer D. Wayne Lukas said the Derby has a penchant for rewarding those who deserve it, and that the connections of favorite Orb deserve it. "[Trainer] Shug [McGaughey], the Phipps family and Stuart Janney, that karma worries me more than the damn horse, quite frankly," Lukas said. "Because those are three wonderful people that could get the experience." … Churchill Downs began heightened monitoring of horses Thursday in an effort to show that the sport is clean. The growing emphasis on drugs in horse racing continued this week as two federal lawmakers announced a plan to have the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency montior the sport. … Lukas said he believes there may be as many as 14 horses with a chance to win Saturday. Eddie Plesa Jr., who will saddle Itsmyluckyday, said "you could run the race six times and get six different winners." … Trainer Kelly Breen drew the dreaded No. 1 post on Wednesday. He downplayed the notion that it would make the ride especially difficult for his colt Black Onyx, one of five horses given 50-1 odds on the morning line. "It's like in NASCAR," he said. "You just have to draft. Might not be an ideal post, but I think we have a good game plan. Everything is going well, horse is doing well. Horses have won from the one post before. It's happened. It doesn't concern me as much as you would think."