Just when it looked as if Todd Pletcher would be sitting out this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), his two best Derby hopes from day one – Monba and Cowboy Cal – came through for him with a first and second in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I).
Pletcher still has a third shot if the owners of Coolmore Lexington (gr. II) winner Behindatthebar elect to run in the Derby instead of waiting for the Preakness, which was the original plan, according to Pletcher’s comments after the race.
“They’re interested in keeping an eye on it,” Pletcher said of the Derby “We need to see him train before making a decision.”
As for the prospects just two weeks ago of not having a Derby starter after saddling five horses last year, Pletcher said, “I thought life would go on whether anything showed up or not. But we’re grateful we have a couple of opportunities. I’d love to win the Kentucky Derby, but I don’t base our stable’s success just on that. I feel confident if we show up with the right horse we can get it done. If it happens great, and if it doesn’t we’ll continue to try. Our main object is to keep trying to bring a better horse. We’ve shown up and had horses run very well, while others simply were not good enough. I think we’ve done a good job preparing them, we just haven’t been fortunate enough to have won one yet.”
Blue Grass winner Monba appears to be Pletcher’s best shot, but Cowboy Cal, who finished a neck behind his stablemate, has excellent credentials as well
“With Monba, one of the concerns was that he got too far back in the CashCall Futurity (gr. I) last December,” Pletcher said. “We’ve been a little more focused getting him into bridle the early part of the race. He’s adaptable to any pace scenario, so not worried about him. Cowboy Cal is a light-mouthed horse and you have to be more careful with him. He’s probably not fast enough to be in the first group, but he’ll be in contention.
“They’re two extremely fit horses, so I’m not concerned at all about fitness. If they’re good enough they have enough foundation to compete in Derby.
Cowboy Cal is a stoutly bred horse who suggests he’ll get mile and a quarter. The key is the kind of trip he’ll be able to work out and how he takes to the Churchill Downs surface. He’s trained well on dirt his whole life.”
When Edgar Prado, who rode Monba in the Blue Grass, elected to take off the colt to ride Adriano in the Derby, Pletcher went to Ramon Domingquez, who has ridden Pletcher horses in the last two Kentucky Derbys, including a second-place finish to Barbaro in 2006 aboard Bluegrass Cat.
“I have a tremendous amount of confidence in Ramon, and we’ve had a lot of success together,” Pletcher said. “He gave Bluegrass Cat a great ride, and last year, Sam P. had a great trip. He’s not as well known yet on a national level as he should be, but he wins a lot of races, and he’s a smart rider who usually is in right place at right time.”