LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It's easy to figure out where Todd Pletcher got the idea to enter five horses in this year's Kentucky Derby. He used to work for D. Wayne Lukas.
For the longest time, Lukas was the biggest star in the sport, the guy in the white hat with an army of thoroughbreds stashed coast-to-coast, winning every big race in sight.
In 1996, Lukas won his third Derby with Grindstone, a horse he considered the weakest of his five entries. It took him decades to admit as much, but he can do that now. At 77, Lukas has 13 Triple Crown wins, including four in the Derby, and is the sport's elder statesman. He already is in the Hall of Fame.
Pletcher tried overwhelming the Derby the same way. He daringly took aim with four horses his first time, in 2000, and then tried a record-tying five in 2007. It wasn't until he saddled four in 2010 that long shot Super Saver delivered his first whiff of red roses in the winner's circle.
Lukas long ago had advised him, "You can win all these stakes, but you've got to get this one on your resumé."
Other than another Derby win or two - he has been to a dozen with only the one win - Pletcher's resumé couldn't get much better. He has won Breeders' Cup races, led the nation in money winnings, and commands the best and biggest racing operation in the country.
He learned well from the master.
These days, though, they're a marked contrast of each other - one is loose and takes all questions; the other is a little uptight.
With a fancy cowboy boot propped on a white sawhorse, Lukas holds court until the last visitor is satisfied.
"Can you believe we get paid for this?" he marvels.
Pletcher can barely stand being quizzed. He is as buttoned-down as Lukas is casual.
The 45-year-old son of a trainer, Pletcher goes to work in a perfectly pressed white shirt tucked into belted jeans, and his gray hair is cut short. Neatness is something he learned from Lukas' spit-shined example during seven years as an apprentice.
Not surprising, Lukas and Pletcher hold down the top two spots among trainers for the most Derby starters. Lukas is extending his record with Nos. 46 and 47 this year; Pletcher's current five give him 36.
"Now," Lukas said, showing some of the candor that comes with well-worn success, "35 of those I didn't want to run."
Pletcher might have had seven horses in the starting gate at Churchill Downs if not for health issues with Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Shanghai Bobby and Violence. "He knows what to do," Lukas said Thursday. "It's such a difficult race to win."
Lukas' legacy was cemented long ago. If he adds a fifth Derby on Saturday, he could become the oldest winning trainer in race history. He is throwing two long shots into the 20-horse mix: Oxbow and Will Take Charge.
Of Pletcher's five horses, undefeated Verrazano is the early 4-1 second choice. Revolutionary, Overanalyze, Palace Malice, and Charming Kitten are listed at double-digit odds.
Lukas, a former Wisconsin high school basketball coach, clearly knows he is closer to the end of an enviable run. "I'm only going to do this until I'm 95," he said with a laugh.
Pletcher is answering to five owners at the Derby. They range from 85-year-old Cot Campbell, a refined son of the South, to 44-year-old Mike Repole, a brash entrepreneur from Queens, to Kentucky native Ken Ramsay, who comes down with a yearly case of Derby fever.
"It's gone pretty well so far," Pletcher said. "We'll see after Saturday."
Horse-racing handicapper Andrew Beyer analyzes Saturday's Kentucky Derby field, including each horse's best Beyer Speed Figure. Churchill Downs, Post Time: 6:24 p.m., NBC10.
- Special to the Washington Post.
PN Horse Jockey Trainer Odds
1. Black Onyx Joe Bravo Kelly Breen 50-1
He won the synthetic-track Spiral Stakes, the race that launched Animal Kingdom to the Derby win in 2011, but this colt is no Animal Kingdom. Best Beyer Speed Figure: 90
2. Oxbow Gary Stevens D. Wayne Lukas 30-1
Plenty of experience on the team. Stevens, 50, a three-time Derby winner, rides for 77-year-old Lukas, a four-time Derby winner. Beyer: 95
3. Revolutionary Calvin Borel Todd Pletcher 10-1
Strong finisher's chances are boosted by Borel, winner of three Derbies in six years. Pletcher and Borel teamed to score with Super Saver in 2010. Beyer: 102
4. Golden Soul Robby Albarado Dallas Stewart 50-1
Soundly beaten in three stakes races this year, he squeezed into the field after the defection of others. Beyer: 89
5. Normandy Invasion Javier Castellano Chad Brown 12-1
Strong stretch-runner has been compromised by difficult trips in his two starts as a 3-year-old, but he is a bona-fide contender. Owned by former Wilmington resident Rick Porter. Beyer: 99
6. Mylute Rosie Napravnik Tom Amoss 15-1
Napravnik would be first female jockey to win the Derby. Her mount finished second in the Louisiana Derby. Beyer: 93
7. Giant Finish Jose Espinoza Tony Dutrow 50-1
Owners Sunrise Stables and partners decided Tuesday that they want to run. "I am so surprised at all of this," said Parx-based Dutrow. Beyer: 86
8. Goldencents Kevin Krigger Doug O'Neill 5-1
A lot of story lines surround this top contender. University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino is part-owner of the colt. O'Neill tries to win Derbies back-to-back. Krigger could become the first black jockey to win the Derby since 1902. Beyer: 105
9. Overanalyze Rafael Bejarano Todd Pletcher 15-1
A leading 2-year-old last season, he won the Arkansas Derby in his last start by nearly five lengths, but the race was too slow to make him look like a serious contender. Beyer: 99
10. Palace Malice Mike Smith Todd Pletcher 20-1
Winner of only a maiden race, he eked his way into the Derby field by finishing second in a slow Blue Grass Stakes. Beyer: 93
11. Lines of Battle Ryan Moore Aidan O'Brien 30-1
Running in the United Emirates Derby is a tried-and-true path to Kentucky Derby oblivion. No Beyer available.
12. Itsmyluckyday Elvis Trujillo Eddie Plesa Jr. 15-1
This talented colt disappointed in the Florida Derby, but Plesa said he wasn't cranked up for his best effort. "He'll be 110 percent in this one," Plesa promises. Beyer: 104
13. Falling Sky Luis Saez John Terranova II 50-1
He might be the pacesetter, but regularly fades in the stretch. Owned by Jim Covello, who grew up in Philly. Beyer: 92
14. Verrazano John Velazquez Todd Pletcher 4-1
Undefeated in four starts, managed by the nation's top trainer, he may be the favorite. Yet his final prep race, in the Wood Memorial Stakes, was underwhelming. Beyer: 105
15. Charming Kitten Edgar Prado Todd Pletcher 20-1
Kentucky-based owner Ken Ramsey wants to be part of the Derby, and Pletcher assents, but Kitten has been strictly a turf and synthetic-track runner. Beyer: 88
16. Orb Joel Rosario Claude McGaughey 7-2
McGaughey isn't infected with Derby fever; he's had one starter since Easy Goer finished second in 1989. The steadily improving Orb has brought him to Churchill Downs with four straight wins. Beyer: 97
17. Will Take Charge Jon Court D. Wayne Lukas 20-1
Lukas bids to become the second-winningest trainer in Derby history. This colt is a long shot, but two of Lukas' four victories have come at odds of 33-1 and 24-1. Beyer: 95
18. Frac Daddy Victor Lebron Kenny McPeek 50-1
The gray colt hasn't had a win since a maiden race in November, and he won't win here. Beyer: 91
19. Java's War Julien Leparoux Kenny McPeek 15-1
He rallied from 14th place to win the Blue Grass Stakes. A fast early pace would help the stretch-runner's chances. Beyer: 96
20. Vyjack Garrett Gomez Rudy Rodriguez 15-1
Kentucky officials gave Rodriguez a license, but mandated 24-hour surveillance of the horse because of the trainer's history of medication violations. Beyer: 93
AE (also eligible): Fear the Kitten (Alan Garcia, Mike Maker). He will get into the field only if another horse is scratched before 9 a.m. Friday.