In this May 3, 2012, file photo, Trainer Todd Pletcher watches the morning workouts at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Pletcher has plethora of
In this May 3, 2012, file photo, Trainer Todd Pletcher watches the morning workouts at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Pletcher has plethora of contenders for the Kentucky Derby, including Verrazano and Revolutionary (By Charlie Riedel, Associated Press)

Next Saturday's 139th running of the Kentucky Derby has just been renamed the Todd Pletcher Invitational. Depending on circumstances, the trainer and his entourage may saddle as many as six horses in the two Churchill Downs' starting gates which will house 20 three-year-old thoroughbreds.

Based on the new points system to qualify for the Run for the Roses, these are Pletcher's current contenders, with their numerical rating in parentheses: Verrazano (2), Overanalyze (5), Revolutionary (6), Palace Malice (13), Charming Kitten (19), and Winning Cause (20).

If all run, how in the world will they be saddled, and what will Pletcher say regarding riding instructions to the respective jockeys, which will include Raphael Bejarano (Overanalyze), Mike Smith (Palace Malice), Calvin Borel (Revolutionary) and John Velazquez (Verrazano)? Riders have yet to be named for Charming Kitten and Winning Cause, should they enter the May 4th Classic.

Smith, Borel, and Velazquez have all previously won America's most famous race, and you know each of them would bargain riches for the chance to win again. Velazquez, in particular, had a most difficult decision recently, as he was also the rider for Shug McGaughey's Orb, one of the top contenders and the winner of the Florida Derby. McGaughey never points a young colt for the Derby, so this one must be special.


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Did Velazquez choose Verrazano, the Wood Memorial winner, because he is the better of the two colts or out of loyalty to Pletcher, who he rides first call for in New York? That's one of the interesting conundrums regarding this Derby. Joel Rosario, no slouch himself, will ride Orb in the Derby.

By the way, McGaughey absolutely loves the way Orb has trained at Payson Park in Florida since his Florida Derby win and insists the colt continues to mature and put on weight. Payson Park is a deeper, more tiring racing surface than most training tracks and tends to increase overall fitness and stamina. This surface has also served Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott well in the past. Dismiss Orb at your own risk.

Pletcher said on Wednesday that he is still sorting out plans on how to work as many as six Derby contenders on Sunday, six days out from the race. Most of the contenders will work between Saturday and Monday and then gallop up to the race on Saturday.

"I haven't decided yet exactly how we're going to do it," Pletcher said. "We'll be watching the weather and it looks like there is potential for more rain on Saturday and Sunday. We'll monitor that and see. We might have to shuffle some days around, but assuming they all breeze on Sunday, I would say a couple would go earlier and most would go during the 15-minute break."

Speaking of workouts, pay close attention to the contenders' morning works and gallops in the next week. They will be great predictors of success on May 4. Are horses regressing or are they moving forward towards a peak performance? Some horses thrive over the deeper, looser Churchill surface, while others just want to go back to the barn.

Skip Away and Hansel come to mind as two colts who hated the Louisville track and went on to greater glory in other Classic races.

When analyzing this weekend's works, don't just look at the final time. Faster is not always better. Ask yourself some of the following questions: How did he finish his work? Did he start slow and finish with energy? Did he gallop out well after the finish before being pulled up? Was he in company with another horse, simulating a race? Was he learning a lesson, such as Calvin Borel taking Revolutionary to the inside in his gallop the other morning, teaching him to save ground and get through a tight spot? You know, from past experience, how Borel loves the rail at Churchill.

Many of the above answers can be gleaned from the morning works' programs, found through the Daily Racing Form website with clocker Mike Welsch, formerly of Suffolk Downs, or on cable outlets such as TVG. The information could solidify your opinions. Stay tuned for more information next week, through my blogs and videos on The Sun's website,lowellsun.com.