LOUISVILLE, KY.— — Is it possible that a man could win the Eclipse Award for Top Trainer seven times and still be underrated?
Colleagues say that might be the case for Todd Pletcher.
With three starters in Saturday's Kentucky Derby, Pletcher will tie his mentor, D. Wayne Lukas, for the most in Derby history. And he's only 49.
As is his wont, Pletcher has downplayed the achievement, saying it would only be meaningful if he had as many Derby victories as Lukas' four.
Instead, Pletcher has one win — Super Saver in 2010 — and that's the bit of data critics use to pick at his legacy.
"The record is what it is," he said. "The Derby is the goal for many of our young horses. It will continue to be the goal. It's like a shooter in basketball. Just because they're not going in all the time, you don't stop shooting. The only way you're going to make a basket is to shoot."
Other trainers, however, say casual fans have no idea how difficult it is for Pletcher to steer multiple horses, many of them good but not great, to the Derby year after year. In both 2007 and 2013, he saddled five horses for the race. Many trainers spend whole careers dreaming of just one Derby entry.
"I know people talk a lot about his record in the Derby, but Todd does a really good job," said fellow trainer Graham Motion. "It's only a matter of time before he wins another one."
Pletcher often runs his 3-year-olds sparingly, but he's as good as anyone at putting them in the right races at the right times to qualify for the Derby.
He has one of the favorites in this year's race, Florida Derby champion Always Dreaming. He has Tapwrit, who was regarded as another strong contender before a disappointing effort in the Blue Grass Stakes. And he has fan favorite Patch, who lost his left eye last July after experiencing sudden swelling.
Pletcher being Pletcher, this isn't his first Derby horse who's blind in one eye. He also had Pollard's Vision in 2004.