Todd A. Pletcher Racing Stables, Inc.

Making the Grade: Destin

Making the Grade: DestinMaking the Grade, which will run through the 2016 Belmont Stakes (gr. I), focuses on the winners of the big races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the next Triple Crown. We'll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey) and pedigree.

This week we take a closer look at Destin, winner of the $350,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III) on March 12 at Tampa Bay Downs.

Gray or Roan Colt
Sire: Giant's Causeway  
Dam: Dream of Summer, by Siberian Summer
Owner: Twin Creeks Racing Stables
Breeder: James C. Weigel and Taylor Made Stallions Inc. (Ky.)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Road to the Kentucky Derby Points: 51 (Ranked No. 2)

While Destin's win in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) marked a breakthrough, his clear victory in the Tampa Bay Derby solidified his status as a true Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) hopeful. It was fair to question the quality of competition he faced in the Sam F. Davis, but he beat some quality 3-year-olds in the Tampa Bay Derby and looked very good going so. At the very least, Destin is an intriguing 3-year-old on the rise. More importantly, what is his ceiling? Let's explore ...

Ability: On paper, there was virtually nothing that to suggest Destin was on the verge of a career-best effort prior to the Sam F. Davis Stakes. Sure, he looked good winning his career debut by a length atBelmont Park in October, when he earned an 89 Equibase Speed Figure. But in two subsequent races he finished second as the overwhelming favorite in a one-mile allowance/optional claiming race and fourth, beaten by five lengths, in the grade III Lecomte Stakes. Destin looked like a different horse in the Sam F. Davis when winning by 2 1/4 lengths and finishing with a 110 Equibase Speed Figure. Trainer Todd Pletcher adjusted Destin's blinkers to those with little peeps that allowed him to look around and see other horses, so he wouldn't slow down and wait for his opponents. The result was a career-best performance that demonstrated improved maturity.

In the Tampa Bay Derby, Destin looked even more professional while powering past stablemate Outwork to prevail by a length in a track-record time of 1:42.82 for the 1 1/16 miles.

A $400,000 purchase by owner Twin Creeks Racing Stables at the 2014 Keeneland September yearling sale, Destin is beginning to look like a heck of a bargain.

While he has yet to win a significant race away from Tampa Bay Downs, which can be a quirky main track, Destin looks like a legitimate Kentucky Derby hopeful heading in the right direction at an ideal time.

"He seems to be getting more and more professional and is learning how to finish his races," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who added that the Wood Memorial Stakes (April 9), Blue Grass Stakes (April 9) and Arkansas Derby (April 16)—all grade I—could be the next step for Destin. "I felt he would improve with more experience and that is proving to be true."

Running style: Only once has Destin been more than three lengths back in a race, and that came in the Lecomte Stakes when he was a well beaten fourth. He's finished first or second in each of his other four races—ranging from about a length to three lengths off the pace—and that looks like his sweet spot.

In the Tampa Bay Derby, Destin was a half-length back after an opening half-mile in a tepid :47.88. He has had no trouble staying within striking range of relatively easy fractions; I'm interested to see if he can keep pace with a brisk early tempo and still finish strongly. That usually is the key to winning the Kentucky Derby for horses with tactical speed.

Connections: Trainer Todd Pletcher has three wins in Triple Crown races on his résumé. He won the Kentucky Derby in 2010 with Super Saver   and the Belmont Stakes with Rags to Riches in 2007 andPalace Malice   in 2013. A seven-time Eclipse Award winner as outstanding trainer, Pletcher served as an assistant to Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas before going out on his own in 1996.

The all-time leader among North American trainers by purse earnings with $311,267,210 through March 16, Pletcher's career-best season total of $28,116,097 came in 2007. He led all North American trainers by purse earnings from 2010 through 2015.

Pletcher has nine victories in the Breeders' Cup World Championships.

Javier Castellano won his third consecutive Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey in 2015, when he exceeded his own previous single-season earnings record with $28,120,767 in purse earnings, exceeding his previous mark of $26,219,907 set in 2013. He also won 17 Grade 1 races and ranked first by number of wins in 2015 with 344. Castellano's lone victory in a Triple Crown race came with Bernardini   in the 2006 Preakness Stakes (gr. I). He has twice finished second in the Belmont Stakes (Comissioner, 2014; Stay Thirsty  , 2011) and finished third with Divining Rod in the 2015 Preakness Stakes. From nine Kentucky Derby mounts, his best finish was fourth aboard Normandy Invasion   in 2013.

Established in 2007, Twin Creeks Racing Stables is a racing partnership managed by Randy Gullatt and Steve Davison. They've successfully raced horses such as grade I winner Graydar   and multiple graded stakes winner Red Rifle, and bred in partnership grade I winner To Honor and Serve  . Multiple graded stakes winner Mission Impazible   was Twin Creeks' first Kentucky Derby starter, finishing ninth in 2010, and the operation raced in partnership Vinceremos, who finished 17th in the 2014 Derby.

Pedigree: By three-time leading sire Giant's Causeway out of grade I winner Dream of Summer, Destin certainly has the pedigree to excel in elite races going a route of ground. He's a full brother to grade I winnerCreative Cause  , who finished second in the 2012 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), third in that year's Preakness, and fifth in the Kentucky Derby. Creative Cause also finished third in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) in 2011.

Giant's Causeway led the general sire list in 2009, 2010 and 2012. A spectacular racehorse who won nine times and finished second four times in 13 races, Giant's Causeway earned $3,078,989, won five group I races and was named European Horse of the Year in 2000. He is perhaps best remembered in the U.S. for his thrilling stretch duel withTiznow   in the 2000 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), in which he came up a neck short.

As good as he was as a racehorse, Giant's Causeway has been equally powerful as a sire with 99 group or graded stakes winners and eight champions to his credit.

Dream of Summer was a four-time graded stakes winner who earned $1,191,150 on the racetrack. She was a multiple graded stakes-winner sprinting whose career-defining victory came in the grade I Apple Blossom Handicap at 1 1/16 miles in 2005. Destin is her fourth winner from five starters to date.

Destin's grandam, Mary's Dream, by Skywalker, was unraced. However, his third dam (maternal great-grandmother), Proper Mary, won three stakes races and his fourth dam (maternal great-great-grandmother), My Mary, was a stakes winner who also produced three stakes winners, including grade II winner Somethingmerry.

From a pedigree standpoint, Destin should boast plenty of class and stamina to be a major threat in the Triple Crown races. For a horse who looks like he's just beginning to mature and learn his job, Destin's combination of ability and pedigree could prove an especially potent combo.

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