By RICHARD ROSENBLATT
AP Racing Writer
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Todd Pletcher, Kentucky Derby long shot.
A year after saddling a record-tying five horses in the Derby,
the nation's top trainer is likely down to his final two chances of
running any 3-year-olds in America's greatest race on May 3.
Pletcher's hopes rest with 15-1 outsiders Cowboy Cal and Monba
in the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on Saturday. Leading
Derby contender Pyro is the even-money favorite, with Cool Coal Man
the second choice in a tough 12-horse field also featuring Big
Truck and Visionaire.
The trainer's colts not only need to run well, they must finish
first or second to earn enough money to even qualify for the Derby
if more than 20 horses are entered. Currently, Cowboy Cal ranks
39th on the money list with $57,660 and Monba is 41st with $50,000.
Bob Black Jack is 20th at $180,000.
The Blue Grass winner earns $450,000; the runner-up $150,000.
"They have a ways to go, and that's why we're here to find
out," Pletcher said on a rainy Friday morning in his office at
Keeneland's barn 6. "If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, my
whole year doesn't revolve around the Kentucky Derby. Never won it
before, so it doesn't change my life at this point."
Pletcher is 0-for-19 in the Derby. So far, the Derby trail has
been dry even though Pletcher led all trainers with 31 nominees to
the Triple Crown races. A year after winning nearly every prep
race, the trainer hasn't won any.
Last week, he was shut out in the Wood Memorial, the Santa Anita
Derby and Illinois Derby. His best finish with four starters was
fourth by Atoned in the Illinois Derby. Atoned remains Pletcher's
highest-ranked prospect at No. 26 on the money list.
The difference, he says, is last year's 2-year-old crop has not
developed as quickly as his previous group.
"It's affected us in the early stages of the 3-year-old
season," Pletcher said. "So far, we haven't had anything I'd call
surprises. Even last year, when we were doing really well in
January and February, I said that doesn't always mean success in
May. It's all got to fall just right on one particular day."
Any Given Saturday, Circular Quay, Cowtown Cat and Scat Daddy
all won major preps for Pletcher last year. Sam P. ran second in
the Santa Anita Derby. But when the Derby came around, the best his
bunch could do was sixth by Circular Quay.
"Believe it or not, it's not going to bother me one bit if I
don't have a horse that has a chance to be competitive in the Derby
and I don't go," he said. "I'll still get to the races at
Aqueduct and Belmont."
All three of Cowboy Cal's wins have come on the turf, and
Pletcher figures the colt has a chance on Polytrack.
"It seemed like a natural transition, rather than going
straight from turf to dirt," Pletcher said. The Derby is run on
Monba broke his maiden at Keeneland, and hasn't run since
finishing last as the favorite in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at
Gulfstream Park on Feb. 24.
"He was jostled at the start and got in a lot of trouble in the
first turn," Pletcher said. "We're trying to turn things around
Pletcher could have one final shot at the Derby in the Lexington
Stakes on April 19 with Behindatthebar, winner of an allowance race
at Santa Anita on April 3.
Pyro and Cool Coal Man, meanwhile, simply need solid tuneups
before heading to the Derby. Both have more than enough graded
stakes earnings to get into the Derby.
Pyro is 2-for-2 this year with explosive wins in the Risen Star
and the Louisiana Derby. Cool Coal Man, the lesser known Derby
hopeful owned by Robert LaPenta and trained by Nick Zito (War Pass
is tops for now), has won four of five, including the Fountain of
"We just want a good effort and for Pyro to come back happy,"
said David Fiske, farmer manager for Pyro owner Winchell
In other prep races Saturday, Gayego and Z Fortune are the top
choices in the $1 million Arkansas Derby, which drew a full field
of 14, and Hey Byrn - fourth in the Florida Derby on March 29 -
runs in the $150,000 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
FINISH LINES: Z Fortune is 28th on the money list, with Hey Byrn
42nd and Gayego 44th. ... The Arkansas Derby breakdown is $600,000
for first, $200,000 for second, $100,000 for third and $50,000 for
fourth. ... The Holy Bull is worth $90,000 to the winner. ...
Probables for next Saturday's Lexington Stakes include Big Glen,
Salute the Sarge, Tomcito, Racecar Rhapsody and Samba Rooster.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)