Pluck, the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile winning son of SA-bred mare Secret Heart, wbegan his 3-year-old season in a modest allowance race with a $27,000 purse at Tampa Bay Downs, passing the $150,000, Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes the same afternoon at nearby Gulfstream Park. Pluck has drawn the advantageous number 2 post position in a full field of 10 sophomores, with the most serious challenger on the rail.
Pluck finished his 2-year-old season in a rally, reeling off consecutive victories in the Grade 2 Summer Stakes going a mile on soft turf at Woodbine. He came back to win the $1-million, Grade 2 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in a performance that was voted in a Thoroughbred Daily News on-line poll as the most nightmarish trip for a winner in 2011.
The first major goal for Pluck, who is now owned in partnership by The Vinery after Team Valor International sold a substantial interest last season, is the May 15 French Two Thousand Guineas equivalent. Motion has designated two prep races: tomorrow’s Tampa allowance followed by the Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes on April 8, which is opening day at Keeneland.
“I am sure that this will look funny to some people,” Motion said. “Here we are, the favorite for a Grade 3 at Gulfstream, running instead in a lowly allowance race at Tampa, but I think this is the right race for Pluck to start off in.
“He should prefer the more lush Tampa turf over the harder surface at Gulfstream Park and he definitely will enjoy the mile rather than the mile and an eighth. I think he is ready to run well. Animal Kingdom, the colt he’s been working well with, ran a cracker first time out for us at Gulfstream, so I feel that Pluck should be fit enough for a mile race.”
The one to beat tomorrow is Lil Bit O’ Fun, a Langfuhr gelding that has 2 wins in 5 starts, including earning a 13 on the Ragozin Sheets when breaking his maiden at Churchill Downs in the fall. In a pair of subsequent starts at 3, he ran off and stopped badly as the 8 to 5 choice for the Dania Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park and returned in a spot identical to tomorrow’s race when he came from off the pace to finish strongly for third beaten a length with an 11 Ragozin topper.
Pluck paired up 11s on The Sheets when third in the Continental Mile and winning the Summer, then spiked an 8 ½ in his troubled but successful victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
Pluck fourth in season debut, French classic still target
Trainer Graham Motion acknowledged that Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Pluck “lost the battle” when he finished a fast-closing fourth in a one-mile allowance race on Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs, but the trainer thinks the race put the More Than Ready colt in a better position to “win the war.”
Owned by a partnership of Team Valor International and Vinery Stables, Pluck’s connections are pointing the colt to the Poule d’Essai des Poulains (Fr-G1) (French Two Thousand Guineas) on May 15 at Longchamp. Pluck will receive his final prep for the classic in the Transylvania Stakes (G3) on April 8 at Keeneland Race Course.
“He just wasn’t race ready enough to come home in 21 [seconds],” Motion said. The winner [Lil Bit O’Fun] had a couple races under his belt this year, and that may have made the difference. I’m glad we got this race in. The plan is still to go to Europe.”
Marco’s Fling entered the allowance on Tampa Bay Derby (G2) day off the also-eligible list and set a dawdling pace of 1:15.59 for six furlongs before finishing a nonthreatening second, 11⁄2 lengths behind Lil Bit O’Fun. The winner came home in about :22.80, which track observers called extremely quick.
“The pace wasn’t ideal, but it was good to see [Pluck] fly home,” Motion said. “With the short stretch, I figured there was no way we were going to make up the ground necessary.”
The middle of May will be a busy period for the Motion stable’s Breeders’ Cup winners, as the trainer noted that he plans to start Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf (G1) winner Shared Account in the Gallorette Handicap (G3) on the Preakness Stakes (G1) undercard May 22 at Pimlico Race Course.