06/19/2008 12:00AM

2007 Derby caboose tries softer


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Todd Pletcher has done incredibly well since opening a public stable in 1996. He has been voted the Eclipse Award for top trainer in each of the last four years, and horses trained by him have won nearly 2,100 races and earned nearly $150 million in what is surely a Hall of Fame career.

The high points outweigh the low points by far, but some of the latter do exist. To wit: Pletcher has not only compiled an 0-for-21 record in the Kentucky Derby, but also has saddled the last-place Derby finisher in five of the last nine years, including each of the last three. The five last-place Derby finishers are Graeme Hall (2000), Wild Horses (2002), Keyed Entry (2006), Cowtown Cat (2007), and Monba (2008).

One of them, Cowtown Cat, entered the Derby off back-to-back victories in the Gotham Stakes and Illinois Derby. More than a year later, the Distorted Humor colt is still trying to get that flashy form back, and Pletcher's assistant at Churchill Downs, Michael McCarthy, believes a drop into the allowance ranks just might do it.

Cowtown Cat, with Miguel Mena to ride, is one of seven entered in the Saturday feature at Churchill, a $50,400 allowance governed primarily by a "four-other-than" restriction. It will be the first time in more than 17 months that Cowtown Cat isn't running in a stakes.

"The horse is training very well," said McCarthy. "If he wants to do it, he should be right there."

Cowtown Cat has had two races since an eight-month layoff, finishing third in a May 3 overnight stakes on Polytrack at Arlington Park, then sixth in the Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap.

"His first race back was better than it looked, I thought, and then he got extremely hot before the Lone Star race," said McCarthy. "We're just hoping this race Saturday, being in his backyard and with the weather being as nice as it is, he'll get back on form."

Cowtown Cat figures as a serious pace factor in the one-mile race. His top challengers appear to be Carnacks Choice, I Believe in Me, and Save Big Money.

Two other allowances also are on Saturday's card. The sixth is an entry-level turf sprint, and the 10th is a third-level allowance for fillies and mares at a mile.