To get back and forth from his barns to the clockers stand on the Oklahoma training track, Chad Brown uses a shortcut between Todd Pletcher’s barns.
Maybe Brown would have a better shot at taking a run at the Pletcher machine for the Saratoga Race Course training title if he was willing to cut some corners in the condition book, but that’s not going to happen.
As satisfying as winning the Allen Jerkens Award would be for the Mechanicville native, Brown said he isn’t about to disrupt his program and load up for Saratoga just to have a better shot of winning it.
That means that when the 146th meet begins on Friday, barring a total meltdown of the machine, virtually no one has a shot to prevent Pletcher from winning his fifth straight and record 11th overall.
Brown can live with that, as long his barn keeps humming along the way it has for the last four years.
“If, someday, a Saratoga title comes off all of that, that’d be great, I’m not going to tell you it’s not something we haven’t thought about,” he said on Saturday morning. “But it’s really not the top priority around here.”
Brown has finished second to Pletcher the last three years after finishing third in 2010.
The closest he’s been was within seven winners, in 2012.
Pletcher won five straight titles from 2002 to 2006, then went three years without one before winning the last four.
His numbers have been scary-consistent and dominant over that stretch — 36, 38, 36, 36 — with a winning percentage in a range from 24.1 to 27.5 for an average of 26.0 percent from 2010 to 2013.
Brown hasn’t kept up in wins, but has had a better percentage than Pletcher in each of those four years, topping 30 percent in 2010 and 2012 for a cumulative percentage of 29.4.
He’s not shooting for those numbers, they’re merely a byproduct of a program that meticulously and patiently spots horses in the right races and is loath to swing for the fences just to see what sticks.
“It’s these individual horses and individual planning for every horse and every client,” Brown said. “If Saratoga fits for that situation, we’re going for it. If it doesn’t, then maybe a win at Saratoga isn’t in the cards. I’m not going to misplace the horses for some personal goal.”
Brown’s clients include some of the biggest names in the business, such as Ken Ramsey, who boasted that he was going to pull out all the stops and gun for the owners title last year, and got it.
Among the Ramsey horses trained by Brown that won at the 2013 meet was Big Blue Kitten, who took the Grade I Sword Dancer on the same day that Real Solution won the Arlington Million by disqualification for Ramsey and Brown.
Real Solution, who won the Grade I Manhattan at Belmont Park last time out, is training at Saratoga, but will run in the Arlington Million again.
Brown is well-stocked with other good turf runners, though, such as Minorette, who won the inaugural Belmont Oaks on Stars and Stripes Day and could be in line for the two grass stakes for 3-year-old fillies, and Alterite, who hasn’t raced since a third to Dank in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf.
The Grade I Garden City winner is coming off a seven-month layoff because of a small ankle chip that had to be removed, but will breeze today in preparation for what likely will be her 2014 debut in the Grade I Diana at Saratoga next Sunday.
“We’re on a little bit of a time crunch with that horse,” Brown said. “She got started later than I would’ve liked, but she is training well. Tall task, coming back off that long layoff into a Grade I, but she’s a Grade I horse.”
Brown also has a Woodward horse, Zivo, who hasn’t been 100 percent ruled out for the Whitney, but most likely will wait for the end of the meet after winning the Suburban at Belmont, his graded stakes debut.
The New York-bred has never been off the board in 15 starts and has won six straight.
“He showed he belongs in open company, and we’ll take another step up the ladder,” Brown said. “That horse, every time we’ve given him the opportunity to step up, he has, so we’ll continue to do that.”
This is horse racing, and the season hasn’t been totally without bumps for Brown, who had Normandy Invasion moved by owner Rick Porter to Delaware Park-based Larry Jones.
In a Facebook post, Porter said he and Brown are still friends, but needed to try something new with the injury-plagued horse. Brown said, “I have no comment on any of that.”
He has 135 horses in training, split about equally between Saratoga and Belmont.
Among those are about 60 2-year-olds, many of whom will get a shot at Saratoga.
That’s Pletcher’s province, though, and a big reason he has dominated. Of Pletcher’s 36 victories in 2012, 23 came in juvenile races.
It’s not inconceivable that one of these years, someone will take a real run at Pletcher, but patience is a fundamental aspect of Brown’s program.
“I need to figure out best surface, best distance, what class level, and the sooner I figure that out, I prevent a lot of losses with that horse because I’m not entering in the wrong spots trying to learn about him as I go along,” Brown said.
“I can’t always do it, but I hit at a pretty good rate. We’re learning. It’s not easy. Horses will fool me and my staff. But the more we do it, that’s really the key to what we try to do.”