Trainer Todd Pletcher's Known Agenda bursts onto Derby radar

Trainer Todd Pletcher's Known Agenda bursts onto Derby radar

HALLANDALE, FLORIDA - MARCH 27: Known Agenda #5, ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., wins the 69th running of the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on March 27, 2021 in Hallandale, Florida.
HALLANDALE, FLORIDA - MARCH 27: Known Agenda #5, ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., wins the 69th running of the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on March 27, 2021 in Hallandale, Florida.Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

It was just a matter of time before trainer Todd Pletcher made his way into the Kentucky Derby picture.

And why not? If it seems like the 53-year-old Pletcher has a horse in the Run for the Roses every year, it’s only because he has.

Since 2000, no one has saddled more horses for the Derby than Pletcher. For the record, he has started 55 horses in America’s greatest thoroughbred race. During that time, there has been just one year – 2003 – when the Derby was run Pletcher-less.

On the first Saturday in May – which is only four weeks away – Pletcher will be represented by Known Agenda, who punched his ticket to Louisville last weekend when he won the Florida Derby by 2 3/4 lengths.

Derby Dozen

Rank  (Prev.)     Horse                          Trainer                         Jockey                     Comment    Horse    Trainer    Jockey    Comment
1 (1).     Essential Quality    Brad Cox    Luis Saez    Undefeated in four career starts, including Breeders' Cup Juvenile last year, will widen his lead here if able to win Blue Grass at Keeneland on Saturday.
2 (3).    Concert Tour    Bob Baffert    Joel Rosario    Has become the top seed for Baffert with Life Is Good off the trail, impressive Rebel winner will be back at Oaklawn for Arkansas Derby on April 10.
3 (4).    Risk Taking    Chad Brown    Irad Ortiz Jr.     Has been in New York all winter, Withers winner will run in Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on Saturday, blinkers have been a game-changer for him.
4 (5).     Medina Spirit    Bob Baffert    John Velazquez    Will be Baffert's main player in Saturday's Santa Anita Derby now that Life Is Good is out, was a distant second behind him in San Felipe.
5 (NR).    Known Agenda    Todd Pletcher    Irad Ortiz Jr.     Jumped into picture when he won last weekend's Florida Derby, Pletcher back on the Derby trail for the 20th time in the past 21 years.
6 (6).     Hot Rod Charlie    Doug O’Neill    Joel Rosario    Jumped into the pool with a front-running score in Louisiana Derby, maybe the California horses are better than everyone else.
7 (2).     Greatest Honour    Shug McGaughey    Jose Ortiz    Some of his shine faded when he ran a non-threatening third in Florida Derby, can be a factor in Louisville with late-running style.
8 (7).     Midnight Bourbon    Steve Asmussen    Joe Talamo    Best of the rest when second in Louisiana Derby, son of Tiznow now in the hunt for the roses.
9 (9).    Hozier    Bob Baffert    Martin Garcia    Solid second to stablemate Concert Tour in Rebel, yet another from the fat Baffert barn, Arkansas Derby up next.
10 (11).     Helium    Mark Casse    Undecided     Didn’t beat a lot in Tampa Bay Derby, it was his first start on dirt and going long, unbeaten in three starts, will head straight to Kentucky Derby.
11 (NR)    Soup and Sandwich    Mark Casse    John Velazquez    Passed his first big test when he ran second in Florida Derby at 12-1, is by Into Mischief, the same sire as Authentic, last year's winner of Run for Roses.
12 (NR)    Highly Motivated    Chad Brown    Javier Castellano    Will answer questions when he makes his two-turn debut in Blue Grass, was third in one-mile Gotham on March 6 in first start of year.
Dropped out: Life Is Good (1), Mandaloun (6), Spielberg (8), Caddo River (10), Collaborate (12)

And, if anyone is keeping score about Pletcher’s Florida Derby success, that was the sixth time he has won that race.

With the win, Known Agenda gobbled up 100 Derby qualifying points to put him easily in the Churchill Downs starting gate.

That win also put him in our Derby Dozen for the first time. So impressive was Known Agenda, he went from not being ranked last week to fifth on the list.

Ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., Known Agenda won his second straight race after flopping as the favorite in the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 6.

Ortiz was on board for an 11-length allowance win at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 26. That was Ortiz’s first try on board the son of Curlin and it was also the first time Known Agenda was equipped with blinkers. He had them on when he blitzed the other 10 runners in the Florida Derby.

Included in that bunch was the Shug McGaughey-trained Greatest Honour, who could only manage a third as the 4-5 favorite. He skids down our list from second to seventh but still is heading to Kentucky.

For now, the buzz from Florida is on Pletcher and Known Agenda.

“He has made a lot of progress in his last two starts,” Pletcher said. “I think the addition of blinkers has been a part of it, and part of it he’s getting more experienced and more comfortable in those scenarios when he’s behind horses and inside horses and taking some dirt.”

During Pletcher’s annual run to the Kentucky Derby, he has found the winner’s circle twice, with Super Saver in 2010 and Always Dreaming in 2017. He has also finished second twice and fourth three times.

No doubt, this would be a special year for Pletcher to win the Run for the Roses. He is also on the ballot for the first time for induction into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs. He seems to be a shoo-in to get the call; it will be announced in early May.

This weekend is one of the biggest of the Derby prep season with a trio of races being held across the country. The top horse on our list, Essential Quality, will make his final pre-Derby start when he runs in the Grade II, $800,000 Blue Grass at Keeneland; the Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby will be run in California and will feature Hall of Famer Bob Baffert’s Medina Spirit; and the Grade II, $750,000 Wood Memorial will be run at Aqueduct and will feature the Chad Brown-trained Risk Taking.

All three of those races will have 170 Kentucky Derby qualifying points on the line (100 to the winner, 40 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth). @tjwilkin