Pletcher and company can only hope the 3-year-old Distorted Humor colt can emulate the 2002 Illinois Derby winner, War Emblem, who rode a front-running victory at the Cicero oval to the 2002 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner's circle.
Ridden by Fernando Jara for the first time -- a week after the Panamanian teenager won the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) aboard Invasor -- Cowtown Cat milked an easy pace -- :24 4/5, :49 2/5 and 1:13 2/5 -- and was breathing fire in the stretch as the runner-up Reporting to Duty vainly tried to mount a challenge for Chris Emigh. Reporting for Duty held second while Bold Start, ridden by Larry Melancon, ran evenly for third, three-quarters of a length behind the runner-up. The winning time was 1:51 1/5.
"He was very relaxed all the way," Jara said. "And when I asked him to do anything, it was done."
Cowtown Cat is headed to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) on May 5 at Churchill Downs, with Jara confident the horse is capable of stretching out to the 1 1/4-mile distance.
"I think it's going to be better for him," Jara said. "He was still strong after the wire."
Disappointing was the Merv Griffin-owned Cobalt Blue, who raced wide and faltered in the stretch under Victor Espinoza. The even-money hope struggled home seventh.
Pletcher previously won the Illinois Derby in 2001 with Distilled and 2004 with Pollard's Vision.
Cowtown Cat also was entered in the Wood Memorial (gr. I), but Pletcher sent stablemate Any Given Saturday to Aqueduct instead. Cowtown Cat has four wins in seven career starts, including a victory in the Gotham (gr. III) in his last start on March 10 at Aqueduct. He has earned $488,463.
Gulf Coast Farms Bloodstock bred Cowtown Cat in Kentucky. Out of the Storm Catmare Tom's Cat, Cowtown Cat was a $1.5 million buy at Barretts as a 2-year-old.
Sent off as the second choice in the field of nine, Cowtown Cat paid $9, $5.20 $4.60. Reporting for Duty, at 25-1 odds, returned $16.20 and $7.40, and Bold Start paid $4.50 to show.
"He made a run and I got excited a little bit," said Emigh of the runner-up Reporting for Duty. "I was surprised they let them go that slow. He tried, but we couldn't get by (Cowtown Cat)."
Sacrifice Bunt ran fourth, followed by Catman Running, Quite Acceptable, Cobalt Blue, Family Talk and Love Dubai.
The Hawthorne track was fast and firm, but the weather wasn't ideal, with a temperature of 31 degrees and sustained wind of 17 mph at race time.