Billy Reed: Pletcher -- aka 'D. Wayne Baffert' -- will keep the - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Billy Reed: Pletcher -- aka 'D. Wayne Baffert' -- will keep the facial hair for now

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The winner of the Kentucky Derby was standing in stall 34 of Barn 40 on the Churchill Downs backside, and a few yards away his trainer was in a stall of another kind.

Glancing at the media horde gathered outside, Todd Pletcher's body language said he would rather have a root canal than be grilled by the representatives of the Fourth Estate, all of whom were toting cameras, tape recorders or notebooks.

Finally, he could delay no longer. He took a few steps into the sunlight and said, 

"What am I supposed to do?" His answer was a stampede to get as close to him as possible, all the better to capture his pearls of wisdom.

For about a half-hour he stood there, answering every question in that clipped, stoic way of his. Pletcher is a pleasant enough fellow. It's just that he pales in comparison with D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert, the loquacious trainers who have dominated the Triple Crown for the last 20 years or so.

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A fellow finally got a smile out of Pletcher by asking about his newly grown mustache and goatee. If Gillette or Harry's Razors came calling with a commercial endorsement, would he shave?

"Not until after the Preakness, at least," said Pletcher.

In other words, the whiskers may be gone if Always Dreaming fails to add the Preakness, the second jewel in racing's Triple Crown, to the Derby he won so convincingly on Saturday.

But if Always Dreaming takes the Preakness, then Pletcher probably will keep the facial hair until after the Belmont Stakes on June 11. Then, win or lose, Fletcher will return to the clean-shaven, no-nonsense businessman his clients know and love.

It's not that Pletcher doesn't have a sense of humor. His wife insists he's a lot of fun when he's relaxed and out of the public eye. His decision to grow the mustache and beard provides a hint of his inner Jimmy Fallon.

As Pletcher tells it, he was approached by a woman at an airport who asked if he was a horse trainer. When Pletcher said yes, the woman said, "Wait, don't tell me, you're D. Wayne Baffert."

So Pletcher decided he needed a more distinctive look. Lukas has his cowboy's hat and tinted glasses, Baffert his tinted glasses and mane of thick white hair. But Pletcher looks and talks like your insurance man or your accountant.

The facial hair changed his look, indeed, but it didn't change his demeanor. He's a private man who understands and fulfills his obligations to the media. But he answers questions more like a POW than a late-night comic.

The only news to come out of The Day After was that Always Dreaming came out of the race fine, cleaned up his feed tub, and will be shipped from Churchill to Pimlico in Baltimore at a time yet to be determined.

There also were a lot of questions about the changes Pletcher made after the headstrong colt had a rather stunning workout the week before the Derby. He was so full of himself that Pletcher knew he had to find a way to calm and control him in the days leading up to the Derby.

So two days later, Pletcher put a stronger exercise rider on him and equipped him with a special bit that he can't remember ever using on one of his other major stakes winners.

The changes apparently worked because Always Dreaming was perfectly calm on the walk to the paddock and while being saddled. And his Derby race was a textbook example of a superior horse using his tactical speed to get perfectly positioned in the 20-horse field.

Of course, jockey John Velasquez had a lot to do with the colt's dominating three-length victory over the longshot Lookin At Lee. Velasquez took the piece of art that Pletcher gave him and added just the right touches to make a masterpiece.

His best move may have come as the field moved out of the first turn. He carefully eased Always Dreaming off the rail and just outside the pace-setting State of Honor. From there, he sat chilly and waited until it was time to go to work.

Although Always Dreaming was easily the best in the Derby, those trainers who felt their horses didn't like the sloppy Churchill track probably will try him again in the Preakness, their horses' health permitting. There also will be some "new shooters" who bypassed the Derby to train for the Preakness.

Despite all the cameras waiting to get footage of the Derby winner, Pletcher declined to take Always Dreaming out of his stall, a stark contrast to the Sunday after American Pharoah won two years ago.

Pharoah was a calm horse who loved the attention. If he was a reflection of his trainer Baffert, so is Always Dreaming a sort of reflection of Pletcher. He seemed perfectly content standing in his stall and staring at the wall.

A few times, he poked out his head to see what the fuss was about, but quickly retreated to his solitude. The headstrong colt finally was tired and relaxed, his place in immortality secure.

Billy Reed is a longtime sportswriter who contributes regular sports columns to WAVE3.com.

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