Photo Credit: Susie Raisher
Oaklawn Park News
Todd Pletcher has 26 early Triple Crown nominees this year and two are scheduled to make their seasonal debuts at Oaklawn, where the future Hall of Fame trainer has enjoyed immense success since starting his first horse in Hot Springs more than 20 years ago.
Alpha Sixty Six and Chase Tracker were flown Tuesday to Arkansas after previously being based in South Florida. Pletcher said Alpha Sixty Six will run in a first-level allowance race Saturday, with Chase Tracker ticketed for the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Monday. Both races are 1 1/16 miles.
Chase Tracker and Alpha Sixty Six haven’t started since finishing third and sixth, respectively, in the $250,000 Remsen Stakes (G2) Dec. 7 at Aqueduct. Pletcher said Chase Tracker received the green light for the Southwest following a 5-furlong workout in 1:01.19 Sunday at Palm Beach Downs. The son of multiple Grade 1 winner and millionaire Verrazano, who began his racing career with Pletcher, won his Sept. 21 debut at Parx before running third in the $150,000 Nashua Stakes (G3) Nov. 3 at Aqueduct and third in the Remsen (he was beaten 4 ¼ lengths in the 1 1/8-mile race).
“He was good enough to break his maiden first time out, ran a respectable race in the Nashua and a good solid third in the Remsen,” Pletcher said Tuesday morning. “He has been training steadily. We didn’t really have a firm plan in mind, but thought he worked very well here this past weekend, so we decided the timing for the Southwest was good.”
Pletcher said Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will ride Chase Tracker for the first time in the Southwest, Oaklawn’s second of four Kentucky Derby points races. The series continues with the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) March 14 and the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 11. Post positions for the Southwest will be drawn Friday.
The Southwest will offer 17 points – 10-4-2-1 to the top four finishers, respectively – toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby.
Alpha Sixty Six, from the first crop of Liam’s Map, won his Sept. 7 career debut at Belmont Park before finishing fifth behind Tiz the Law in the $500,000 Champagne Stakes (G1) Oct. 5 at Belmont Park. Alpha Sixty Six, who has been ridden by Velazquez in all three career starts, was beaten 17 ½ lengths in the Remsen as the betting favorite.
“Just trying to get back on track with him,” Pletcher said. “His last race was a bit of a disappointment. He’s been training steadily. Just looking for an opportunity to get a start into him, and if he were to run well it could hopefully put him in position to possibly come back for the Rebel or something like that. We’ll see if he can step forward for us.”
Pletcher and Velazquez teamed to win the 2017 Southwest with One Liner. Pletcher has won the Arkansas Derby a record five times (Graeme Hall in 2000, Balto Star in 2001, Overanalyze in 2013, Danza in 2014 and Magnum Moon in 2018) and the Rebel twice (Malagacy in 2017 and Magnum Moon in 2018).
Pletcher ran his first horse at Oaklawn in 1999, won 28 percent of his starts in Hot Springs (24 of 85) and 21 stakes.
“Oaklawn’s been great to us over the years,” said Pletcher, who has won a record seven Eclipse Awards as the country’s outstanding trainer. “I have fond memories as a teenager going there when my dad was racing there, so it’s always been a cool place. They’ve really got a great product going on there at the moment. There are some very lucrative races, including a great series of 3-year-old preps, so we’re excited to have somebody back there and hopefully can continue some of the success we’ve had.”
Pletcher’s father, retired trainer J.J. Pletcher, was an Oaklawn regular in 1979-1986 and won the $150,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) in 1980 with Uncool.