Photo Credit: Penelope Miller
After the retirement of long-time USA-based Shadwell trainer Kiaran McLaughlin (conditioner of such icons as Invasor, Frosted and Tamarkuz) in April, a fellow previous disciple to the great D. Wayne Lukas, seven-time champion trainer Todd Pletcher, was appropriately ‘tapped’ as his successor. The 52-year-old native of Dallas and 11-time Breeders’ Cup winner has inherited a promising group of horses, especially in his 3-year-old ranks.
“It’s a tremendous-looking group of horses and a real tribute to the programme,” Pletcher said. “They’re not only well-bred, but conformationally very good-looking individuals. The ones that we got in from Kiaran were in excellent condition. We’re starting to get a few in from South Carolina and those are looking well. We’re excited about the opportunity and are very enthused about training for Sheikh Hamdan and Shadwell.”
A quartet of sophomore colts whose names all happen start with ‘A’ highlight the roster, including recent maiden-placed Ajhar and Ashiham, as well as unraced new arrival Ashaab and Grade 2-placed Ajaaweed, who is scheduled to return in the fall after a freshening.
Ajhar, an $800,000 Keeneland September 2018 purchase and son of Tapit and G2 winner Jojo Warrior, was an unlucky third, hitting the gate at the start on May 2 over 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream Park. Meanwhile, Ashiham also an $800,000 son of Tapit (and a grandson of Horse of the Year Azeri), was an eye-catching second on April 25 over seven furlongs. Ashaab is by Tapit and a homebred out of stakes-winning Danzig mare Wasseema. Ajaaweed is by Curlin and was second in the Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct in December before returning with a respectable third in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs in February.
“Ajaaweed is back at Shadwell (Farm in Kentucky) getting a little break after a minor setback, so hopefully we see him in the fall of the year,” Pletcher reported. “With Ajhar, I’m honestly a little disappointed that we didn’t get the job done, as he’s trained really well, but he missed the break a touch and our strategy from the one-hole in a mile and sixteenth race was to try to be prominent. He ran a respectable third, but there’s more there.
Ashiham (pictured, far left) closed really well going one turn and he’s a horse who should enjoy going two turns and improve a lot from that run. We also have Ashaab, who they thought highly of; a beautiful horse and one we will have high expectations for.”
A third $800,000 purchase by Tapit now in the barn is filly Prairie Wings, who continues to work well toward her next start. In her second outing on April 12, she was a quick-closing second in one-mile dirt maiden company at Gulfstream. She has a pedigree—being out of a Sadler’s Wells half-sister to Giant’s Causeway—to run well on virtually any surface.
“Prairie Wings breezed well this week and is a quality filly,” Pletcher continued. “She got into some traffic in her last start and she should be in good shape for her next start. I am hoping to stretch her out around two turns. It doesn’t look like I’ll have that opportunity at Gulfstream, so hopefully she can draw into a race at Churchill. We may be forced to run her one more time going a one-turn mile at Gulfstream and with an appropriate trip, she should be able to get that done. (The grass) is in the back of our minds, but from the way she has run, I think she is very capable on the dirt.”
Meanwhile, the winner of $390 million in prize money, 4,912 races and 158 G1s remains focused on making the most of this phenomenal opportunity, especially as a handful of well-bred six- and seven-figure Shadwell 2-year-olds have started to arrive in his care.
“We want to perform well for everyone and it’s a welcome amount of pressure,” Pletcher concluded. “I know from seeing the horses they’ve purchased at the sales and the quality of the breeding program, that these are horses we rightfully should have high expectations for and we’re hoping to meet those goals.”