Todd Pletcher knew there were rumors. When you're one of the winningest trainers in the game who just happens to condition a fifth of the Kentucky Derby field, there are going to be rumors about your horses.
He hadn't heard specifics, like the one about Verrazano, the 4-1 second choice on the morning line, not eating this week.
But he refuted it Thursday during a measured session with reporters outside of his barn.
"All my horses are fine," he said. "People saw them train. I'm not sure what else I can do but bring them out there."
Pletcher's five entries did take to the track with thousands of fans watching, with both Verrazano and Revolutionary creating a stir for those along the rail. To an untrained eye, they look healthy.
When reporters were not attempting to goad Pletcher into delivering answers in sentences longer than 23 words, they tried to get the trainers to handicap the field.
There were few answers of any substance. Pletcher wouldn't single out any of his horses; after all, they have different owners. Nor did he want to pick another horse for fear of alienating friends at other barns.
Eddie Plesa Jr., the Florida-based trainer making his second start in the Derby, said the field is so wide open it could run six times and have six different winners.
D. Wayne Lukas has run more horses in the Kentucky Derby than any trainer in history. Whether that makes him wise or just repeatedly naïve could be up for debate.
Whatever the case, he knows of what he speaks. He thinks more than half the field has a good shot to win the first leg of the Triple Crown, but he’s also worried about the unseen forces that seem always at play in big horse races.
Orb, the 7-2 favorite, is trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey. He’s owned by Stuart Janney and Dinny Phipps, the latest in a prominent breeding and racing family with more than 100 years of history.
The Kentucky Derby has alluded them all that time, but Lukas said the Derby, in particular, has a way of giving back to those who've invested money and soul into the sport.
“I’m more worried about the karma from those three men than I am the damn horse," he said.
Around the barns
There was only one incident of note during the training session reserved for Kentucky Derby and Oaks horses.
Normandy Invasion, who at 12-1 is the fifth choice on the morning line, ran off at the end of what was supposed to be an easy gallop. He was in full stride before being corralled, but trainer Chad Brown said the colt would be fine.
Giant Finish, the late entrant from Tony Dutrow, arrived Thursday morning after a 12-hour overnight van ride from the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland. He rolled around in his stall after getting settled. Dutrow, who has said he is running the colt at the behest of his owners, is not expected to arrive until Saturday.
Trainer Kelly Breen drew the dreaded No. 1 post. He downplayed the notion that it would make the ride especially difficult for his colt, Black Onyx, one of five horses given 50-1 odds on the morning line.
"It's like in NASCAR," he said. "You just have to draft. Might not be an ideal post, but I think we have a good game plan. Everything is going well, horse is doing well. Horses have won from the one post before. It’s happened. It doesn’t concern me as much as you would think."