Race Track Industry Program alumnus Todd Pletcher (center) with current RTIP Students. (Photo courtesy of Denise Pharris)
One of the best parts of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program (RTIP) is that we have amazing networking opportunities. Besides the multitude of guest speakers within the racing industry who speak to our classes each semester, we also have the chance to meet racing professionals from around the world at our yearly Global Symposium on Racing and Gaming which is held each December. However, we recently had the opportunity to meet one of the most recognizable faces in horse racing, and this occasion easily makes the short list of my favorite moments in the RTIP thus far.
Like with any academic program, RTIP students receive emails that alert us to current events in the program and guest speakers who are visiting. In one of our recent emails, there was a sentence at the bottom that stated that there would be a “very special guest” visiting the RTIP office on Tuesday, Feb. 16 from 2-3 p.m. I tried to pry the name of the guest out of faculty, but they would not budge, so I settled on two possibilities. Our guest could have been Bob Baffert, but I thought that to be unlikely since he had come to our symposium in December. My other guess was Todd Pletcher.
Pletcher is a 1989 graduate of the Race Track Industry Program. Among his accomplishments since taking out his training license in 1996 are a victory in the 2010 Kentucky Derby, victories in the 2007 and 2013 Belmont Stakes, and nine Breeders’ Cup wins. His successes have resulted in seven Eclipse Awards for outstanding trainer. To say that he is a big deal in Thoroughbred racing is a bit of an understatement. I especially like Todd because he trained the great Ashado, one of my all-time favorite horses.
SUPER SAVER WINS THE 2010 KENTUCKY DERBY
Photo by Eclipse Sportswire
On the appointed afternoon, I jetted out of class at 1:45 and headed over to the RTIP office. My friends and I had no idea if Todd was coming, but we were hopeful. We anxiously shifted in the office couches as we waited for the special guest to arrive. Then, almost exactly as the clock struck 2 p.m., the one and only Todd Pletcher strolled into the office with his wife and three kids! He and his family introduced themselves to us immediately, and we all sat down in a conference room to chat.
The Pletcher family was in town for a college tour, for Todd’s oldest son is considering applying to the Race Track Industry Program. We RTIP students initially spent some time fielding questions from the Pletchers about the University of Arizona and our program. It was a bit surreal for Todd to be talking to us casually as an inquisitive parent!
After a few minutes, the conversation shifted to horse racing. We were with Todd Pletcher- how could it not?! We asked him about the logistics of running his massive stable of people and employees. In the summer, his operation peaks at more than 200 horses and more than 130 employees! Todd also discussed the difficulties of juggling the opinions of owners (he trains for about 50!) with what is in the best interests of the horses in his care. With so many horses, it is inevitable that more than one horse will be a competitive fit for the same race. This past weekend, Todd had four of the seven entrants in the Gulfstream Park Handicap. He won with Blofeld, but he still had three other owners who did not win!
During the hour, I asked Todd who his favorite horses were and what had been his best moment as a trainer so far. While I could not get him to pick a favorite horse-he equated it to choosing a favorite child- Todd did say that he had a special appreciation for Caixa Eletronica, a former claimer who went on to be a multiple graded stakes winner. I was surprised to hear that his highest moment in racing was not his 2010 Kentucky Derby win, but rather his first victory in a Triple Crown race with Rags to Riches in the 2007 Belmont.
Photo by Eclipse Sportswire
Three weeks after Todd’s visit, I am still on a high. The Pletcher family was appreciative of us for answering their questions, but we RTIP students are so appreciative of Todd and his family for taking time out of a personal vacation to spend an hour with us. Their visit may have only lasted an hour, but it was an experience made possible by the Race Track Industry Program that we will remember forever.
For more information about the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program, visit the program’s website at www.ua-rtip.org and visit its Facebook, Twitter (@UA_RTIP), and Instagram (@UA_RTIP) pages. You can also contact the program’s director Doug Reed at firstname.lastname@example.org and 520-621-5660.