Fittingly, the last of the major Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) preps ended with another win by a Todd Pletcher-trained 3-year-old, as 19-1 Exhi went wire-to-wire at speed-favoring Keeneland to score the $300,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO) April 17.
Pletcher, who could take as many as six starters into the May 1 Derby including expected favorite Eskendereya, profiled another one of his star sophomores in Exhi, who entered off a victory in the March 27 Rushaway Stakes at Turfway Park. Pletcher won the Lexington for the third consecutive season and for the fourth time in the last six years.
Exhi earned $180,000 with his first graded stakes victory, which likely will leave him short of the needed graded earnings to get into the Derby, though Pletcher has not ruled out the classic if he were to draw in. Either way, the son of Maria's Mon certainly looks to have a bright future ahead of him.
"We weren't really thinking (about the Derby) going into the day, but he ran well," said Pletcher. "He'll go to Churchill and we won't rule anything out. We'll enjoy this for the moment and see how things shake out."
Breaking from post 8 under Robby Albarado, Exhi outfought Krypton into the first turn to take the lead, clicking off an opening quarter-mile in :23.63. The bay colt continued his easy lead through a half-mile in :46.99, while Krypton and Lonesome Street stalked the ambitious pace.
Bushwhacked, saving ground the whole way under Rajiv Maragh, advanced as they made their way into the final turn, but he had a lot of ground to make up on Exhi (six furlongs in 1:11.59), who cut the corner in command and took a two-length lead into the stretch. Despite his brisk early pace, Exhi had plenty in the tank for the final furlong, holding off Bushwacked by one length.
The final time for 1 1/16 miles on Polytrack was 1:44.38. Bushwhacked was a half-length in front of third-place Uptowncharlybrown, who was the sentimental favorite while racing less than a week after his trainer, Alan Seewald, passed away. Chief Counsel was fourth in a field of 12.
"I talked to Todd earlier this morning. He said don't goose him leaving (the gate) because he's going to be for it, forwardly placed, within himself," said Albarado, who left immediately after the race to catch a flight for West Virginia so he could ride Gone Astray in the $1 million Charles Town Classic. "On the backside, he was putting on some pretty good splits there, clipping right along. But it seemed like he was doing it within himself. I decided to be a quiet passenger on him and hopefully finish. And he did."
Exhi is a homebred of Wertheimer and Frere, who also have the Pletcher-trained Interactif on the Derby trail. The winner was bred in Kentucky and is out of the Polish Numbers mare Soldera.
Exhi was sixth in his only prior graded stakes start, which came on the turf last October at Keeneland in the Bourbon (gr. IIIT), a race won by Interactif. Prior to his one-length Rushaway win, he was a distant runner-up to Odysseus in an allowance race at Tampa Bay Downs Feb. 17 in his 3-year-old debut.
Pletcher, who also sent out West Ocean for Wertheimer and Frere to score the listed Giant's Causeway Stakes one race prior, won the previous two runnings of the Lexington with Behindatthebar in 2008 and Advice in 2009.
Sent off as the 10th choice, Exhi paid $41.80, $16.80, and $8.60. The exacta (8-4) returned $296.40 and the trifecta (8-4-2) was $1,896.40.
Prince Will I Am was fifth, followed by Kettle River, Distorted Dave, Heavenville, Krypton, Connemara, Call Shot, and Lonesome Street.
After the race, Pletcher also confirmed that he will make a decision on Interactif's status for the Derby after his next work. The son of Broken Vow has plenty of earnings to make the starting gate, but is coming off a disappointing fourth in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I).
"He's going to breeze next Saturday or Sunday at Churchill and we're going to wait and see how that goes before we make any decisions," Pletcher said of Interactif.
Uptowncharlybrown, who was making his first start on synthetics, was saddled by Linda White, Seewald's former assistant. Seewald, a veteran New Jersey-based trainer for many years, was laid to rest only two days before the Lexington.
"Our stable is in upheavel right now," said White. "I'm just so happy we were able to do well today for him."