03/30/2007 12:00AM

Cowtown Cat likely to run in Illinois Derby


Cowtown Cat, winner of the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, appears headed to Hawthorne Race Course for the $500,000 Illinois Derby this coming Saturday, where he is expected to face Cobalt Blue, Bold Start, and at least five or six other prominent 3-year-olds.

Elliott Walden, vice president of racing and bloodstock services for WinStar Farm, which owns Cowtown Cat in partnership with Gulf Coast Farms, said Friday that the Illinois Derby is "probably the best" race for the colt, with the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, also Saturday, being a secondary and less likely option. Provided the colt breezed well at Belmont Park on Saturday and comes out of the work in good condition, he will fly to Kentucky and van to Chicago, Walden said.

Walden said Fernando Jara would have the mount in the Illinois Derby.

Even off the strength of his Gotham victory, a race Cowtown Cat won by 2 1/2 lengths in his first start around two turns, the Todd Pletcher-trained Cowtown Cat is unlikely to start as the public choice in the Illinois Derby, a 1 1/8-mile dirt race.

Cobalt Blue, winner of the Grade 2 San Felipe at Santa Anita March 17, looms the likely favorite, and Bold Start, the runner-up in the Grade 2 Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream March 3, should also attract wagering support.

Cobalt Blue and Bold Start tuned up for the Illinois Derby on Friday. Cobalt Blue breezed six furlongs over the Cushion Track surface at Hollywood Park in 1:13.80, and Bold Start completed five furlongs in 1:00.40 at Palm Meadows Training Center in south Florida.

Two other Illinois Derby probables worked Friday. Family Talk, who like Cobalt Blue hails from the barn of trainer Doug O'Neill, breezed six furlongs at Hollywood in 1:14.20, and Love Dubai covered six furlongs from the gate at Churchill Downs Trackside in 1:15.80.

Love Dubai, purchased privately by Ron Peltz of Equirace.com following three straight victories over Polytrack in England, had been pointed toward last week's Lane's End Stakes but was not entered when his flight from Europe was delayed. Mike Maker trains him.

Other probable starters include Freesgood, Quiet Acceptable, and Catman Running, said Debby Lindsay, stakes coordinator for Hawthorne. Summer Doldrums, Reporting for Duty, For You Reppo, and Slew's Tizzy are considered possibilities.

The Illinois Derby, which will be run for the 50th time Saturday, most notably was won by 2002 Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem when it was contested at Sportsman's Park. Sweetnorthernsaint won the race last year, and became the surprise favorite in the Kentucky Derby. He finished a troubled seventh and later ran second to Bernardini in the Preakness.