Alto Racing's Winning Cause got up in the final strides of the $200,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. III) April 20 at Keeneland, earning 20 points on the road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) (VIDEO).
Trainer Todd Pletcher listed odds of the 3-year-old son of Giant's Causeway wheeling back to the Derby as 80% unlikely, although many owners have been known to get a touch of Derby fever. Winning Cause is 21st on the list to make the field for the Derby with his eleventh-hour points registered in the "Wild Card" event under Churchill Downs' new qualifying system. The Lexington was his first stakes victory.
The chestnut colt is now 3-for-3 over the Keeneland Polytrack, having taken an April 6 allowance event going seven furlongs by three-quarters of a length. He broke his maiden at the Lexington oval last fall at the seven-furlong distance as well.
"To be honest, we weren't sure (what to expect)," said Pletcher, who won the Coolmore Lexington for the fifth time. "We were stretching him out and stepping up into a graded stakes off two weeks' rest. The main reason (he was entered in the race) is he's two-for-two at Keeneland going into this. We know he likes the surface and thought it was worth taking a shot."
Jockey Julien Leparoux, who rode on April 6, was once again in the irons. After bumping slightly at the break with Pick of the Litter, the duo found the perfect trip from the rail. They tracked fifth as River Rocks set opening fractions of :23.76 and :47.66 with light pressure from Cerro, and were sixth when the field of 10 went three-quarters in 1:12.45.
Moving up four wide on the second turn, Winning Cause challenged with a furlong to go and, after a mile in 1:37.61, edged off to a one-length victory in 1:43.93. General Election closed strongly after racing at the back of the pack but could not get up in time. Pick of the Litter was a neck back of General Election in third.
"From the 1 hole, I couldn't ask for a better trip," the jockey said. "In the first turn, he put me in a good spot and I got room to get him out there (toward the middle of the track). He just cruised around there and finished strong. He's the kind of horse that fights back. The more you ask him the more he goes. I kind of know him from last time, and I knew I was going to get there."
Off at odds of 6-1, Winning Cause returned $15.60, $8.20, and $6. General Election brought $29.60 and $17.80, while Pick of the Litter paid $8.20. Following those were Cerro, 5-2 favorite Sunbean, Wings of Fortune, the filly Pure Fun, River Rocks, Examen, and Hip Four Sixtynine. Where's Dominic was an early scratch.
Winning Cause, bred in Kentucky by Galleria Bloodstock out of the Kingmambo mare Raffishing Look, now has three wins and a second from seven starts, with earnings of $206,140. He was a $200,000 purchase from the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale of 2-year-olds in training when selected by agent Steve Young out of the de Meric Sales consignment.
"I am still optimistic about going to the Oaks," he said. "She was blowing pretty hard coming back. She got a lot out of the race. The last two races have been tough in that she didn't finish as well as we would have liked. I still believe we needed a race and I wanted to race her as opposed to working her. I think she will get more out of this."