The surprise came when Cowboy Cal was outrun in the stretch by his stablemate, Why Tonto, who — under a ground-saving trip by Edgar Prado — took the 1 1/16-mile turf event by a length-and-a half.
Cannonball, the second betting choice, was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third, while Closing Number finished fourth. Pletcher’s third horse, Chitoz, was scratched.
Why Tonto, off at odds of 5-1, entered off consecutive second-place efforts on the grass, including his 3-year-old debut in the Tropical Park Derby (gr. IIIT), where he was two lengths back of Cowboy Cal. The Indian Charlie colt had won twice in seven starts for Starlight Stables and partners.
In the Hallandale, Cowboy Cal, with Garrett Gomez aboard, raced aggressively to the front, setting a quick first quarter in :22.85. Why Tonto was a half-length back in second, followed by Cannonball, Caberneigh, and Closing Number.
By the time they reached the half-mile pole, Why Tonto had come up the hedge to challenge Cowboy Cal, who posted four furlongs in a still speedy :46.12. He continued to stalk the leader around the final turn and, by the time they reached the top of the stretch (1:09.66), Why Tonto had drawn even with Cowboy Cal.
With urging from Prado, Why Tonto inched away in upper stretch and continued to extend his lead to the wire. The final time was 1:40.20.
“When Cowboy Cal pulled away (to the lead), I tucked inside to save ground," Prado said. "I knew that I had Cowboy Cal coming down the lane. My horse was trying very hard, and he had something left in the tank.
"He was much quicker today than when he ran in the Tropical Park Derby at Calder. He was lazy last time out. He was push- button today. I hope to keep the mount on him because there are some good races coming up, and he has a very good future.”
Out of the Northern Baby mare Why So Much, Why Tonto was bred in Kentucky by T.F and L.B VanMeter. He was a $160,000 purchase at the Keeneland 2006 September yearling sale.
“Why Tonto ran an improved race today while Cowboy Cal was a little rank and didn’t handle the first turn too well, although he still ran a good race to be second after those (fast) fractions," Pletcher said. "I think there are things he (Cowboy Cal) can improve on from here. We’ll see how they come back and see where we go from there. Nothing today would necessarily change any plans (possible start in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland) for Cowboy Cal.”
Why Tonto paid $13.40, $4.20, and $2.80. The exacta (3-1) was worth $24.80, while the trifecta (3-1-4) returned $49.60.
Gibber's Gold was fifth, followed by Victory Cafe, Horse Doctor, Dulansky, and Caberneigh.