02/07/2009 1:00AM

Cowboy Cal adds Strub to stakes triumphs


ARCADIA, Calif. - The second act of Cowboy Cal's career is getting more intriguing by the month.

Since being given a five-month break following a ninth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby last year, Cowboy Cal has won three stakes in four starts since October. He won his second consecutive stakes of the current Santa Anita meeting in Saturday's $250,000 Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds.

The victory confirmed Cowboy Cal's status as a contender for the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 7.

Cowboy Cal ($8.60) displayed a hard-fought effort to win the Grade 2 Strub, finishing 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.22 under jockey John Velazquez. Blue Exit, a 19-1 longshot, closed from ninth at the eighth pole to finish second. Victory Pete, a 31-1 outsider who stalked the pace throughout, held third.

Of the 13 runners, eight were within two lengths of Cowboy Cal at the finish.

Velazquez was impressed by Cowboy Cal's determination to catch pacesetter Wishful Tomcat, who led to the eighth pole.

"Once I got after him, he slowly passed that horse in front of him," Velazquez said. "He had to dig in again because those other horses were coming on the outside."

Trained by Todd Pletcher for Robert and Janice McNair, Cowboy Cal has won 6 of 11 starts and $747,708.

By Giant's Causeway, Cowboy Cal has won five stakes. Since the Kentucky Derby, he was promoted from second to first in the Grade 3 Bryan Station Stakes at Keeeneland in October, ran a game second in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby in November, and won the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap here on Jan. 10 in his debut against older horses.

Cowboy Cal won stakes at Laurel and Calder earlier in his career.

Thunder Road: Matto Mondo able to rate

It turns out that Matto Mondo is more versatile than trainer Richard Mandella expected.

Mandella approached the $100,000 Thunder Road Handicap thinking Matto Mondo needed to lead throughout to be effective. When Monterey Jazz tore off to an early lead, Matto Mondo was rated in second, with an ideal trip.

Ridden by Mike Smith, Matto Mondo ($14.20) stalked the pace to the final turn, took the lead in early stretch, and pulled away to win the one-mile race by 3 1/4 lengths in 1:34.61. The time was the fastest of 34 one-mile races on the main track at the meeting. The race was switched from turf to the synthetic Pro-Ride surface because of overnight rain.

Global Hunter, the winner of the restricted Lure Stakes here in October, finished second, a length in front of Monba, the winner of the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes in 2008. The Thunder Road was Monba's first start since a 20th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby last May. Monterey Jazz, the 2-1 favorite, faded to finish sixth in the field of eight older horses.

Matto Mondo, a Chilean-bred owned by Yatse Stables, won his first stakes in the U.S. in the Thunder Road. He won the Chilean 2000 Guineas in 2007 in his second-to-last start in that country. Matto Mondo has won 6 of 11 starts and $178,816.