LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - After watching Big Truck zoom by seemingly invincible War Pass at the Tampa Bay Derby last month, trainer Barclay Tagg isn't worried about his colt getting an eyeful of leading Kentucky Derby contender Pyro during Saturday's Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.
"He never gets intimidated, I don't think," said Tagg, who trained 2003 Derby winner Funny Cide. "He's a pretty crafty horse. He keeps getting better and better all the time."
A solid finish by Big Truck in the $750,000 Blue Grass would give Tagg his second Derby entrant. Tale of Ekati wrapped up a Derby spot by winning the Wood Memorial last weekend.
Getting Big Truck to Churchill Downs the first Saturday in May wasn't in Tagg's original plans, but things changed when jockey Eibar Coa helped Tagg's horse hold off Atoned by a neck while War Pass faded to last in Tampa Bay.
"How could you beat one of the best horses around the other day
and have him run good before that and not be interested in the Derby?" Tagg said. "It might be a stretch. It might be a long reach. But he's certainly maturing in the right direction."
Big Truck will start from the sixth post in the crowded 12-horse field, the largest for the Blue Grass since 1982. Pyro, coming off a victory in the Louisiana Derby, will start next to Big Truck in the seventh spot and is the early even-money favorite.
The 1 1-8-mile race will be the final Derby warmup for Pyro, whose Derby place is already secure. The same can't be said for most of the other horses in the field, many of whom need a solid finish over the Polytrack to solidify their place in the Top 20 in graded stakes earnings and gain a spot in the Run for the Roses.
Well-rested Cool Coal Man, trained by Nick Zito, is the second choice at 4-1 and will start on the rail. He had little trouble winning from an inside post during the Fountain of Youth Stakes in his last start on Feb. 24, stalking the pace before surging to a half-length win over Elysium Fields.
The Blue Grass will be the largest race so far for most of the horses, and how they handle the traffic could give an indication on how they'd fare in the traffic jam that is the Kentucky Derby.
"You're going to have to endure that," said Scott Blasi, assistant trainer for Pyro. "That's what's going to happen in the Derby because you're looking at a 20-horse field. He needs to be prepared for that."
Visionaire, trained by Michael Matz, who guided Barbaro to glory during the 2006 Derby, is the co-third choice along with Big Truck at 6-1. The colt, who won the Gotham Stakes last month, will start from the outside post. Matz said the Visionaire's Derby plans rest less on where he finishes in the race than on how he handles the added distance in preparation for the 1 1-4 mile Derby.
"We're basically looking for a race where he can make a little
bit step forward," Matz said.
It's a step Tagg hopes Big Truck can make with ease. Tagg has never had two horses in the Derby before, but doesn't see why he should limit himself if Big Truck proves he can run with the elite.
"It's not like if this horse runs I'm going to have to carry him over there on my back," Tagg said. "I try not to be stupid about it, but as long as he's sound and healthy and happy, I'll do it. If I have to glue a leg on him or something, I'm not going to do it."
Four-time Eclipse Award winning trainer Todd Pletcher could miss the Derby entirely if he doesn't get a solid effort from Cowboy Cal or Monba. Cowboy Cal will start from the third spot while Monba will start from the 10th post position. Both horses are listed at 15-1.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)