Todd Pletcher's spot in the Hall of Fame is as close to an absolute lock as there is in racing. He's won seven Eclipse Awards, three U.S. classics, three Canadian classics, 10 North American earnings titles, nine Breeders' Cup races and 145 Grade 1 stakes. Yes, 145.
Pletcher, whose bio in the NYRA media guide takes up two pages because it lists his New York and Grade 1 stakes winners, has trained Hall of Famer Ashado and the likes of Super Saver, Rags To Riches, Liam's Map, Uncle Mo, Speightstown, English Channel, Left Bank, Princess of Sylmar, Stopchargingmaria and Wait A While.
Pletcher's won dozens of meet training titles, 4,133 races overall and racked up earnings of $323,392,334 through Sunday. He's put more top-level stallions in American stud barns than any of his peers by a wide margin. And he's not done yet, currently sitting second by a slim margin on the North American list of leading trainers by money won.
So who is the horse that stands above all for Pletcher? We caught up with Saratoga's 12-time leading trainer just before the 2016 meeting opened to find out.
"I've always said there's two horses that helped my career more than any of the others and that's Jersey Girl, our first Grade 1 win," Pletcher said, pointing to a large framed photo showing the filly's connections leading her to the winner's circle after the 1998 Acorn Stakes at Belmont. "And the other is More Than Ready."
Technically that's two, but we'll let it slide considering the subject for this week's Horse Who Changed Everything presented by EMBRACE THE RACE.
"They're the two that got us going at a level, competing at the highest level, in Grade 1 races," Pletcher said.
Jersey Girl was nearly Pletcher's first graded stakes winner - Rare Rock secured that distinction winning the Grade 3 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Sprint Championship Handicap in mid-March 1998, 15 days before Jersey Girl won the Grade 3 Cicada at Aqueduct. Jersey Girl won all seven of her starts as a 3-year-old in 1998, including the Acorn, Grade 1 Mother Goose and Grade 1 Test for the Ackerley Brothers Farm of Leland and Robert Ackerley.
Pletcher purchased Jersey Girl out of the 1997 Fasig-Tipton Calder sale of selected 2-year-olds in training for $220,000 on behalf of the Ackerleys, two of his biggest supporters in the early stages of his career.
More Than Ready, who along with Uncle Mo and Scat Daddy are proving to be exceptional stallions after being trained by Pletcher in their racing careers, also came out of a sale. The son of Southern Halo was purchased by Edward Rosen, agent, on behalf of James Scatuorchio for $187,000 at the 1998 Keeneland September yearling sale after being identified by Pletcher's father, Jake Pletcher.
More Than Ready won his first five starts, including a pair of graded stakes events, as a 2-year-old before showing his class in the early stages of his 3-year-old campaign. Seconds in the Louisiana Derby and Blue Grass earned him a trip to the Kentucky Derby in 2000, where he finished a game fourth behind Fusaichi Pegasus, Aptitude and Impeachment while turning for home with a share of the lead. More Than Ready later won the Grade 1 King's Bishop at Saratoga and currently stands at WinStar Farm. He sired 32 graded stakes winners, and 90 stakes winners overall, through Sunday.
"One thing that was big was the both came out of sales," Pletcher said. "I purchased her at a 2-year-olds in training sale and we purchased More Than Ready at Keeneland September. My dad found (More Than Ready) and said, 'you've got to come see this horse.' So not only from a perspective that you can train horses to do well but also we can find horses at sales and those two things helped generate more business."