disposition comes from growing up entrenched in the fickle racing game. His
father, Jake, was a quarter-horse and thoroughbred trainer who worked at tracks
in the West, Midwest and South. Todd was born in Dallas and lived in El Paso
and Arcadia, Calif., and, after his parents divorced, in Bossier City, La., and
San Antonio, where he graduated from James Madison High and met his future
wife. Every summer was spent on the circuit with his father, in locales as
quaint as the now-defunct Ak-Sar-Ben in Omaha and as stately as Del Mar, north
of San Diego.
He would spend all
morning at the barn and all afternoon in the track kitchen, hunched over a
video-game console. "He'd work with me in the morning," says Jake,
"but back then most places didn't allow kids at the track during the races,
so Todd would be in the kitchen playing Pac-Man. He got real good at
That, and at
planning his life. "I was following my dad around at sales when I was 10
years old, checking out horses," Todd says. "I knew pretty early on
that this is what I was going to be doing."
At his parents'
insistence Pletcher enrolled in Arizona's racetrack-management program and also
pursued a degree in animal science. "He did well," says Jake,
"although he probably knew more than most of his teachers."
At the Pike House,
Pletcher's frat brothers teased him endlessly about his major. "We called
him a hillbilly," says Chris Halligan, who lived with Pletcher for three
years. "He'd give it right back. 'Hey, good luck with that English
major.'" The boys in the house loved the times when Pletcher dragged them
to a simulcasting at Rillito Park Race Track in Tucson and fattened their
wallets by pointing out a sure thing, and they admired his diligence at heaving
up errant three-pointers in intramural basketball games.
one summer for Lukas in Chicago and the following one for the legendary Charlie
Whittingham in California. One night he and Halligan lay awake in their frat
house loft. Halligan asked Pletcher, "Do you think you'll ever have a horse
run in the Kentucky Derby?"
said, "I better."
On a cold, drizzly
April morning at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky., Pletcher is deep into
his routine by 6:40 a.m. Two sets of six horses have already worked out, with
four more to go. He has nearly 200 horses in training every morning at four
locations, yet he can identify each in startling detail--age, breeding, health,
upcoming works and race. "Anything you ask him about any horse, he has it
on the tip of his tongue," says Demi O'Byrne, 63, who is the bloodstock
adviser to some of the most powerful owners in the horse business.
equally adept at keeping his owners happy. "That's the toughest part of his
job: managing owners," says Baffert. "Owners have big egos."
Pletcher handles his clientele with honesty and preparation. "You start to
ask him a question, and he's two steps ahead of you," says Jim Scatuorchio,
the retired Wall Street millionaire who owns half of Scat Daddy and has been
with Pletcher since 1998. "He gives you good news quickly and bad news
quickly." Almost as impressively, Pletcher keeps his best horses--and his
best owners--from running against each other (until a race like the Kentucky
Derby, of course).
much from his father, from Whittingham and from Lukas--for whom he went to work
two weeks after graduating from Arizona in 1989 and remained with until late
'95--but he kept his natural demeanor when he went out on his own. In his prime
Lukas was bold and outspoken; Pletcher is as cool and conservative as a pressed
blue suit, a quality admired by his owners. "He is a straightforward,
no-nonsense, correct individual," says Michael Tabor, the British
billionaire who owns Circular Quay and the other half of Scat Daddy. Former
jockey Angel Cordero Jr., 64, who works for Pletcher as an exercise rider and
assistant trainer (and represents Pletcher's favorite big-race jockey, John
Velazquez), says, "He doesn't yell--ever."