Even with two definite contenders going into the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), trainer Todd Pletcher remained calm and collected May 3, giving out instructions to exercise riders from his pony in the final countdown to the big day.
In the midst of the frenzy of tourists and commotion on the backstretch, as usual, the Eclipse Award-winning trainer's expression was stoic.
"I wish I could tell you I had a special feeling about this Derby, but I just don't know," he said while sitting in his barn office after a paddock and gate schooling session of Keyed Entry and Bluegrass Cat. "We just need to get lucky."
A third Derby hopeful for Pletcher was Sunriver, who is currently ranked 21st on the list of contenders of which only 20 will make it to the race. Though the son of Saint Ballado, owned by Aaron and Marie Jones, may miss the Run for the Roses, Pletcher said he is training well and will be most likely run in the Peter Pan (gr. II) or Sir Barton Stakes instead.
Turning in a bullet workout April 23 of six furlongs in 1:14.1, Pletcher said Sunriver liked the Churchill track. "We already schooled him a couple times last week and he did well," he added.
Bluegrass Cat's last win came in the Sam F. Davis Stakes Feb. 18 at Tampa Bay Downs, and though he has missed in his last two starts, his earnings of $275,480 are enough to rank him safely in 10th position on the list of Derby contenders. The WinStar Farm homebred goes into the race off a fourth-place effort in the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), before which he ran second in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III).
Of how Bluegrass Cat will react to the 20-horse field on Derby Day, Pletcher said, "I don't think it will bother him if it gets too crowded. He likes to get in there and bang around a little bit."
Starlight Stable's Keyed Entry will also enter the Derby having lost his last two starts, though he was in the money in both races. After taking the Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II) by 1 1/4 lengths Feb. 6 at Gulfstream Park, the son of Honour and Glory
missed the Gotham (gr. III) at Aqueduct by a neck and ran third in the Wood Memorial. Currently ranked 12th on the list of Derby starters, he has earned $205,000.
Pletcher predicted Keyed Entry's approach to the Derby would be to pull clear from the field after the first eighth of a mile.
Even with the positive responses of both colts to the consistency of Churchill's dirt, Pletcher noted he had lightened their training regimes in the sloppy conditions May 2.
Now back to regular conditioning, Pletcher said, "(Keyed Enter and Bluegrass Cat) already went through their schooling today and it was good. There were no problems getting out of the gate. I think they're both doing great here--they're well-seasoned horses."