Pletcher Looking For Breakthrough In Kentucky Derby

AP Racing Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Last to show up, first to finish.

Trainer Barclay Tagg used the strategy five years ago and won the Kentucky Derby with a New York-bred gelding named Funny Cide.

Perhaps Todd Pletcher is thinking along the same lines. He will be the last of the Derby trainers to arrive at Churchill Downs, scheduled to touch down Wednesday before the post position draw.

And when an expected full field of 20 3-year-olds are entered, Pletcher will be sending out Monba and Cowboy Cal - the 1-2 finishers in the Blue Grass Stakes - to try to end his 0-for-19 Derby record.

Lexington Stakes winner Behindatthebar would have given him a third chance, but the colt is skipping the Derby and running next in the Preakness.

No matter when Pletcher and his colts settle in at barn 34 at Churchill Downs, the trainer will be peppered with questions about his Derby drought, now in its eighth year.

"We've shown up and had some horses run very well," Pletcher said recently. "We've also probably brought horses that just simply weren't good enough. We've done a good job of preparing them. We just haven't been fortunate enough to win one yet."

Twice his horses finished second - Invisible Ink in 2001 and Bluegrass Cat in 2006. There's a third with Impeachment in 2000 and fourths with More Than Ready in 2000 and Limehouse in 2004. But there's also last year, when the best his record-tying five horses could do was a sixth-place finish by Circular Quay.

Pletcher isn't dismayed. He truly believes he'll one day make that coveted trip to the winner's circle under the famed Twins Spires.

"I would love to win the Kentucky Derby," he said. "But as I've said many, many times before, I don't base our stable success just on the Kentucky Derby."

Pletcher, the nation's top trainer the past four years, broke through with his first win in a Triple Crown race in 2007. And it came with a sensational finish in the Belmont Stakes, when his filly Rags to Riches edged Preakness winner Curlin by a neck.

"It was our first Classic win and in some ways got that monkey off our back," Pletcher said. "To do it with a filly in the dramatic fashion that it was done and to beat a horse of the quality of Curlin, it couldn't have been any more exciting. I thought it was a huge win."

Nothing could be larger than winning the Derby, but Pletcher's operation is based on winning 365 days a year, not just on one day.

Winning the Belmont was great, he said, but "the way our business works is ... that was on a Saturday, the next day you got to try to win something else."

"We're not resting on those laurels," he said. "We're hoping to add some more to it. And we're thankful for that opportunity."

In Monba, Pletcher has a 3-year-old colt he thought was among his best earlier this season. But Monba was injured while struggling home 12th and last in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream in Hallandale Beach, Fla., on Feb. 24. Healthy again he won the Blue Grass at Keeneland on April 12 in a driving finish with Edgar Prado aboard, edging Cowboy Cal by a neck.

Prado is riding Lane's End Stakes winner Adriano in the Derby, so Ramon Dominguez gets the call on Monba. Cowboy Cal, whose three wins in six starts have been on the turf, will be ridden by John Velazquez.

Pletcher said both colts have been training well over Keeneland's Polytrack, and will be vanned the 70 miles from Lexington on Wednesday.

Monba and Cowboy Cal were late Derby qualifiers, needing to finish exactly where they did in the Blue Grass to earn enough money to make the field if more than 20 horses are entered.

If that didn't happen, Pletcher wasn't too concerned about missing a chance to end his streak.

"I thought life would go on whether something showed up or not," he said. "Obviously, we're pleased with the developments the last couple of weeks and we're grateful we have a couple of opportunities here."

With Behindatthebar out of Derby consideration, Denis of Cork moves into the field at No. 20 on the graded stakes earnings list.

Big Brown, the undefeated Florida Derby winner, arrived at Churchill Down late Monday, accompanied by trainer Rick Dutrow Jr.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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