Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch: Pletcher saddles three winners

January 15th, 2024

Two-time Kentucky Derby (G1)-winning trainer Todd Pletcher sent out a trio of possible 2024 Kentucky Derby contenders to break their maidens during the second week of January.

The most impressive was Tuscan Sky, a son of Pletcher’s champion and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Vino Rosso. Debuting in a six-furlong maiden special weight on Saturday at Aqueduct, Tuscan Sky ran an unusual race. He dueled for the early lead, dropped 3 1/2 lengths off the pace at the quarter pole, and then unleashed a powerful finish to dominate by 5 1/4 lengths.

Tuscan Sky completed the race in 1:10.51 over a muddy track and ran his final furlong in a strong :12.06 off early fractions of :22.45 and :45.88. If Tuscan Sky takes after Vino Rosso, he’ll improve with distance and maturity, so keep an eye on this promising gray colt.

Less than 2 1/2 hours after Tuscan Sky visited the winner’s circle, Pletcher’s Turn Up the Trees emerged victorious from a six-furlong maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park. After vying for command through fractions of 22.54 and :46.18, the son of Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) winner Liam’s Map stayed on gamely down the lane to prevail by half a length in 1:12.20.

Rounding out the Pletcher brigade was Tireless. Second, fifth, and second in a trio of starts running long on turf and dirt last year, Tireless made his sophomore debut a winning one on Sunday at Tampa Bay Downs. The son of Not This Time started as the 1-2 favorite in a one-mile and 40-yard maiden special weight and rallied from midfield behind splits of :24.24, :49.64, and 1:14.15 to win by three-quarters of a length in 1:41.80.

Pletcher wasn’t the only Kentucky Derby-winning trainer to send out a notable three-year-old maiden winner last week. Hall of Fame conditioner Shug McGaughey picked up a win courtesy of Conquest Warrior, a son of Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile hero City of Light.

Third in his debut sprinting seven furlongs over a speed-favoring track at Aqueduct last month, Conquest Warrior found a one-mile maiden special weight on Saturday at Gulfstream more suitable to his stretch-running style. After a troubled start left him in ninth place early on, Conquest Warrior advanced steadily from behind fractions of :24.00, :46.84, and 1:12.17 to overcome traffic trouble and score by half a length in 1:38.57.

We’ll also mention the maiden victory of Common Defense, a Kenny McPeek trainee. Runner-up in his debut racing 1 1/16 miles at Oaklawn Park last month, Common Defense moved forward nicely in a one-mile maiden special weight on Saturday at Oaklawn, closing from midfield against splits of :23.25, :47.44, and 1:12.80 to dominate by 3 1/2 lengths in 1:39.53. The son of Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) winner Karakontie is progressing in the right direction.