'Cowboy' Back to Turf for Pletcher
Photo: Jim Lisa
Cowboy Cal capturing the Tropical Park Derby (gr. IIIT).

Some have found it interesting that leading trainer Todd Pletcher has chosen another turf race for Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) contender Cowboy Cal, the morning line favorite in the $100,000 Hallandale Beach Stakes Feb. 16 at Gulfstream.

But Pletcher says there is a method to his madness.

“I think this is right path for him,” Pletcher said. “He is sort of a lightly-made colt and so I think running on the grass is the easiest way to go. The path that we’re looking at is this race and then the (Toyota) Blue Grass (gr. I, April 12 at Keeneland). I like the spacing of it.”

Cowboy Cal is one of three Derby-nominated horses trained by Pletcher that have been entered in the Hallandale Beach, a 1 1/16-mile test for 3-year-olds. Why Tonto, who was second to Cowboy Cal in the Jan. 1 Tropical Park Derby (gr. IIIT), and Chitoz, looking for his first stakes victory, are the others. A full field of 12 are slated to run.

A Stonerside Stable homebred, Cowboy Cal has won three of his four lifetime starts, all of them coming on turf. His lone dirt effort was in his racing debut, a seventh-place finish at Saratoga in August.

In the 1 1/8-mile Tropical Park, the Giant's Causeway  colt stalked the pace, took over coming out of the far turn, and drew clear to win by two lengths. It was his third consecutive triumph at one mile or more, but even Pletcher agrees that, until he runs on dirt, the verdict will be out as far as his Derby chances.

“He’s been very good on turf, and I don’t know that he needs to improve any more to prove he is one of the best 3-year-olds on that surface. But the question will be if he can make the transition to dirt with the same success. We’ll find out eventually, but he certainly trains well on (dirt).”

John Velazquez gets the return call on Cowboy Cal, who is out of the Seeking the Goldmare Texas Tammy.

Stralight Stables and partners' Why Tonto has been second in each of his last two stakes starts, finishing strongly in both. Prior to the Tropical Park, the Indian Charliecolt was caught nine-wide in the Nov. 24 Grand Canyon Handicap at Churchill Downs but rallied from seventh after a half-mile to grab the place position.

Why Tonto, who is 2-2-0 from five turf starts, captured his lone stakes victory Sept. 28 in the World Appeal on the Meadowlands grass.

Werthmeier & Frere homebred Chitoz has been all over the place in five lifetime starts, running at four different racetracks and on three different surfaces. His best showings were Sept. 29 in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile (gr. III) on the Turfway Park Polytrack, where he lost by a neck, and last out, when he won by a neck in a 1 1/16-mile allowance event Nov. 15 on the Churchill turf.

“Both of them are nice horses,” Pletcher said. “They were both entered back in an allowance on Sunday, but I don’t think the race will go. I like the form that each of them has shown so far.”

The other starter with high Derby aspirations is Ken and Sarah Ramseys’ New York homebred Cannonball, who was third in both the Tropical Park and the Oct. 26 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Monmouth Park. Trained by Wesley Ward, Cannonball broke his maiden Sept. 21 on the turf at Belmont and went back there one month later to capture the one-mile King Cugat Stakes by a nose. The gelding, by Catienus  , is 2-0-2 from six starts, but both starts on dirt have been unsuccessful.

Completing the field for the Hallandale Beach are Ol Memorial Stable and C.E. Glasscock’s Run Sully Run, Dennis Punches’ Closing Number, J D Farm’s Dulansky, Patricia Generazio’s Gibber’s Gold, Gerald Crawford’s Caberneigh, Sabine Stable’s Victory Café, J. Philip Mote’s Horse Doctor, and North Shore Racing’s Moral Compass.

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