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Features - RACING

Havana (gray colt, inside) held off Honor Code to win the Champagne Stakes on Oct. 5 at Belmont Park. (Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire)

By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing

ARCADIA, Calif. – Todd Pletcher knows what it takes to train brilliant 2-year-olds.

Uncle Mo, unveiling a dazzling turn of foot, tore through a 3-for-3 campaign that he capped with an overwhelming victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in 2010.

Shanghai Bobby, while not overpowering in the Juvenile, was all heart as he went 5-for-5 last year, digging deep to pull out a Breeders’ Cup win.

Now, Pletcher may be eyeballing his third undefeated 2-year-old in four seasons if Havana proves to be as good as he suspects he is when the $2 million Juvenile is run on Saturday as part of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park.

Pletcher did not hesitate to compare Havana to Uncle Mo when he met with reporters outside his barn Tuesday morning, and that says a lot in itself.

“They both have some brilliance about them,” he said. “He’s put himself in position to be talked about in the same area code.”

HAVANA CRUISED TO VICTORY IN CHAMPAGNE

Havana Inside

Photo by Eclipse Sportswire

Havana, a winner of his first two starts, may have to tower above his class if he is to bring home the Juvenile. He will start from post 13 for jockey John Velazquez in a field of 14.

“It’s a lot to ask and an unlucky draw probably doesn’t help things,” the trainer said. “But he’s a good gate horse and he’s got tactical speed.”

The son of Dunkirk can be almost freakishly fast. Pletcher noted that he breezed one furlong in an eye-popping 9 3/5 seconds before he sold for an equally eye-popping $575,000 to Michael Tabor, John Magnier and Derrick Smith at the Barretts March sale of selected 2-year-olds in training. He continued to impress since then.

“The first time we breezed him at Saratoga it was ‘Wow!’ ” Pletcher said. “The first gate work prior to his running at Saratoga was as good as we’ve ever had.”

Velazquez was merely a passenger, needing only to flash his whip late to keep the colt’s mind on business, when Havana led every step in a 2 ¾-length victory in his 5 ½-furlong debut on Aug. 23 at Saratoga as he ran to his workouts as an overwhelming favorite.

Pletcher outlined the same demanding course for Havana as he did for Uncle Mo, the only slight difference being that Uncle Mo debuted at six furlongs before moving on to the one-mile Champagne, a Grade 1 race held this year on Oct. 5 at Belmont Park. Havana again shot to the lead but held on by only a desperate neck against surging Honor Code. Honor Code is skipping the demanding Juvenile for veteran trainer Shug McGaughey as he already dreams of another Kentucky Derby following his breakthrough triumph with Orb this year.

Despite his misfortune at the draw, Havana is rated the 5-to-2 favorite with Tap It Rich and Strong Mandate following in the early odds at 6-to-1.

Tap It Rich coasted by 4 ¼ lengths for trainer Bob Baffert in his lone start on Oct. 12 at Santa Anita. Strong Mandate, from the barn of former Pletcher mentor D. Wayne Lukas, erupted by 9 ¾ lengths in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes before faltering when seventh in the Champagne.

If Havana adds the Juvenile, an outcome that would not surprise his connections, he will stamp himself as the early favorite for next year’s Kentucky Derby.

“Some horses are meant to be special 2-year-olds,” Pletcher said, “and I think he’s one of them.”

$2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile

Saturday, Race 8, 5:43 p.m. ET

2-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles (dirt)

PP

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

1

Smarty's Echo

E.T. Baird

Anne Smith

2

Dance With Fate

Rafael Bejarano

Peter Eurton

3

Mexikoma

Alan Garcia

Richard Mettee

4

New Year’s Day

Martin Garcia

Bob Baffert

5

Bond Holder

Mario Gutierrez

Doug O’Neill

6

Tap It Rich

Mike Smith

Bob Baffert

7

Cleburne

Corey Nakatani

Dale Romans

8

Conquest Titan

Eurico Da Silva

Mark Casse

9

Rum Point

Edwin Maldonado

Doug O’Neill

10

We Miss Artie

Javier Castellano

Todd Pletcher

11

Medal Count

Robby Albarado

Dale Romans

12

Diamond Bachelor

Julien Leparoux

Patrick Biancone

13

Havana

John Velazquez

Todd Pletcher

14

Strong Mandate

Joel Rosario

D. Wayne Lukas

DON'T MISS THIS SLIDESHOW OF THE MORNING ACTION BREEDERS' CUP WEEK

Courtesy of Adam Mooshian

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