11/28/2005 12:00AM

Bluegrass Cat's future bright

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Bluegrass Cat, with John Velazquez riding, wins the Remsen - giving trainer Todd Pletcher hope of winning the 2006 Kentucky Derby.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - The last time Todd Pletcher was involved with a horse who won the Remsen, it was 1994, when he was working as the New York-based assistant for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. The horse was Thunder Gulch, who would go on the following year to win the Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, and Travers, and be named champion 3-year-old.

Eleven years later, Pletcher has a winner to call his own in Bluegrass Cat and a horse he hopes could give him his first Kentucky Derby winner next May.

A lot needs to go right between now and May 6, but Pletcher and his owners, the WinStar Farm, certainly head to south Florida this winter feeling like they have a legitimate Derby horse.

Bluegrass Cat, a son of Storm Cat, has won three consecutive races and is just the sixth horse - and third consecutive - to win both the Nashua and Remsen. Four of the others won at least one major race in their 3-year-old seasons, including Instrument Landing (1979 Wood Memorial), Pine Bluff (1992 Preakness), Coronado's Quest (1998 Travers), and Read the Footnotes (2004 Fountain of Youth). Rockport Harbor, who won the 2004 Nashua and Remsen, made only two starts at 3 before being sidelined by injury.

In winning the Remsen in gate-to-wire fashion, Bluegrass Cat overcame a stumbling start, the magnitude of which Pletcher couldn't appreciate until he reviewed the head-on replay.

"That makes it more impressive, that he was able to overcome that, recover quickly, and get himself into position," Pletcher said. "Johnny [Velazquez] thinks that he's the kind of horse that kind of waits on his competition a little bit. He felt like he had a lot of horse left."

Pletcher said that Bluegrass Cat would head to Palm Meadows, a training center in Boynton Beach, Fla., later this week. Pletcher now must figure out which races would best prepare Bluegrass Cat for the Derby. Pletcher has targeted Feb. 4 as the earliest he would want Bluegrass Cat to run again. Gulfstream Park hosts the Hutcheson at 7 1/2 furlongs and the Holy Bull at 1 1/8 miles that day.

Pletcher said he would have no qualms starting out Bluegrass Cat at one turn and then running in the Fountain of Youth (March 4) and Florida Derby (April 1) before the Kentucky Derby.

"That's certainly a possibility," said Pletcher. "You get your horses down there, see how they train. Obviously, a lot of things can happen between now and then that dictate where you go and where you don't."

Bluegrass Cat ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:52.20 and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 95.

Flashy Bull, the Remsen runner-up, is also headed to Palm Meadows this week, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said.

Contessa eyes another big winter

Gary Contessa was among the happiest trainers to hear that the New York Racing Association has relaxed its stance this winter on the number of horses a trainer can keep in New York. Contessa was considering opening a division at Turfway Park or Gulfstream, or both.

Now that management has enabled trainers to keep an unlimited number of horses in New York, Contessa is hoping for a big winter meet. In 2002-03, Contessa led the inner track standings with 29 winners from 200 starters. Last year, he won 29 races from 177 starters.

Contessa could have as many as 60 head spread out between Aqueduct and Belmont. He will be particularly strong in the 3-year-old New York-bred divisions. Contessa said he is now free to cultivate more owners and possibly claim more horses.

"I don't want to have to spend one day in a stall [with a horse] that's not running," Contessa said. "If I have a lay-up, I can send it to a farm. This gives me the opportunity to have a lot more active runners in house and to have a much more productive winter."

Contessa said he and his clients bought about 42 2-year-olds this year, and many that needed time off are getting ready to run. One of the young horses he's particularly high on is Harborage, who finished fifth in his debut. By Monarchos, Harborage is out of the dam Get Lucky, making him a half-brother to stakes winners Accelerator and Daydreaming. Get Lucky is a half-sister to She's a Winner, the dam of Bluegrass Cat.

Unraced horses that Contessa is looking forward to getting started are Lake Champagne, a daughter of Greenwood Lake, and Daytime Promise, a daughter of Five Star Day.

Business down on Cigar Mile Day

Despite favorable weather conditions, only 4,484 fans came out to watch Saturday's Cigar Mile program, the last significant day of racing on the New York calendar. The nine-race card featured three stakes, including the Grade 1 Cigar Mile, the Remsen, and the Demoiselle.

The attendance figure was down 17.8 percent from last year's 5,459. Handle was also down, though there were 10 races run last year compared to nine on Saturday.

Ontrack handle was down 22 percent to $1,223,876. Total handle was down 8 percent to $12,078,147.

* Purge earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 111 for his victory in the Cigar Mile. He was expected to leave on Wednesday for The Vinery, where he will stand at stud.

* Value Plus, who finished fourth in that race, will likely leave for Stonewall Farm later this week, Pletcher said. Host, the ninth-place finisher, was sent to owner Eugene Melnyk's Farm in Ocala, Fla. He will likely be pointed to the Godolphin Mile next March at Nad Al Sheba in Dubai.

* Trainer Rick Schosberg said Attila's Storm came out of his victory in Thursday's Fall Highweight Handicap in good order and would most likely leave for Southern California in a week to 10 days to prepare for the Grade 1 Malibu.

Schosberg said that Patrick Valenzuela, who rode Attila's Storm to a fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, will ride him back in the Malibu.