03/11/2007 11:00PM

Logjam sweet spot for Pletcher

Email

As problems go, these are nice ones to have. By virtue of victories last weekend with Circular Quay in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds, Cowtown Cat in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, and the filly Rags to Riches in the Santa Anita Oaks, trainer Todd Pletcher enhanced his already powerful hand for the May 5 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. But with so many horses now funneling into a finite number of final preps, Pletcher has to decide who goes where, which of his horses might have to run against one another, and - here's a really tricky part - who will ride them.

The jockey situation is particularly fluid, no more so than on April 7. Garrett Gomez, for instance, is committed to ride Ravel that day in the Santa Anita Derby. So, if Rags to Riches runs that day against fillies in the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, she will need a new jockey. Pletcher's go-to guy, John Velazquez, will be at Aqueduct that day to ride Circular Quay in the Wood Memorial. Pletcher is running Sam P. in the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne that day, and has no idea who will ride. The Apple Blossom and Oaklawn Handicap are run that day, too, making for a sensory-overload Saturday for trainers, jockey agents, and fans.

"That is a very, very tricky day for riders," Pletcher said Monday after checking in on the runners he has based at Hollywood Park, including Rags to Riches.

Pletcher has done a tremendous job keeping his Derby prospects apart this spring, but they have done so well that it is now inevitable some will clash. Cowtown Cat just won a two-turn race at Aqueduct, and if he runs in the Wood, he would have to face Circular Quay. The Blue Grass Stakes a week later at Keeneland might prove tempting, but that is on the itinerary for Any Given Saturday, who, like Cowtown Cat, is owned by the WinStar Farm of Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt. And if Cowtown Cat heads to the Arkansas Derby on April 14, he would likely have to face Pletcher-trained Deadly Dealer.

"I've got a couple of days to digest my options," Pletcher said.

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Circular Quay got a Beyer Speed Figure of 102 for his victory in the Louisiana Derby, which made amends for the nightmarish trip he had in the Risen Star Stakes four weeks earlier. Circular Quay had been training on the Cushion Track surface at Hollywood Park this winter with assistant Michael McCarthy, but he joined Pletcher's A team at the Palm Beach Downs training center in Florida after the race.

"I liked his race a lot," Pletcher said. "He'll most likely go to go the Wood."

Ketchikan, the Louisiana Derby runner-up, will come back April 14 in the Blue Grass or the Arkansas Derby, trainer Al Stall Jr. said Monday. Zanjero, who was third, will go to the Blue Grass, trainer Steve Asmussen said. Imawildandcrazyguy, who was fourth, is under consideration for the Wood, according to trainer Bill Kaplan. Birdbirdistheword, who was fifth, will run next in the Florida Derby on March 31 at Gulfstream Park, trainer Ken McPeek said. Liquidity, who was sixth as the second choice in the race, is returning to California for the Santa Anita Derby, according to trainer Doug O'Neill, who blamed the loss on "trainer error."

"I got too cocky and cute with him," O'Neill said. "I didn't train him as hard as I should have. He's better than that. He had a little belly on him, and he was a jerk to be saddled. He was way too fresh."

Rags to Riches got a Beyer Figure of 96 in the Santa Anita Oaks. Pletcher said "everything is under consideration" for her next start, and for the weekend of May 4, the day of the Kentucky Oaks, and May 5. "She's done enough that our minds are open to anything," Pletcher said.

"She won so easily she will have another race before May 4 and 5," Pletcher said. "The Ashland is the most logical race, but it is on Polytrack."

Rags to Riches has never raced on a synthetic surface.

There is another factor. Rags to Riches is owned by Michael Tabor, who owns all or part of the colts Circular Quay, Ravel, and Scat Daddy, and both Pletcher and Tabor want to keep her away from them - for now.

Cowtown Cat got a Beyer of 88 in the Gotham. His next race likely won't be determined until after stablemate Any Given Saturday runs Saturday in the Tampa Bay Derby.

Wafi City, who was second in the Gotham, is going to stick to one-turn races for now and make his next start in the one-mile Withers Stakes on Aqueduct's main track April 28, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said.

Summer Doldrums, third as the favorite in the Gotham, "had a bunch of crud in his lungs, enough to affect his performance," trainer Rick Violette Jr. said.

Violette said Summer Doldrums would come back in the Wood. "As long as I can clear up his lungs I think we're sitting on a big race in four weeks," Violette said.

Bwana Bull also got an 88 for his win in the El Camino Real Derby on Saturday at Bay Meadows. His trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, said after the race that Bwana Bull most likely would make his next start in the Santa Anita Derby.

In other Derby developments Monday:

* Pletcher finalized a couple of rider situations. He got Richard Migliore for King of the Roxy in the Santa Anita Derby, and Edgar Prado for Scat Daddy in the Florida Derby. Scat Daddy needed a rider because Velazquez, who rode Scat Daddy to victory in the Fountain of Youth, will be in Dubai that day.

* With Prado moving to Scat Daddy, Cornelio Velasquez will replace him on Adore the Gold for the Florida Derby.

* Velasquez is the regular rider for Nobiz Like Shobiz, and while the Wood is still the likeliest spot for his next race, trainer Barclay Tagg said the Florida Derby remains an option. If Nobiz Like Shobiz does go in the Florida Derby, Adore the Gold would need a rider.

* Eclipse Award winner Street Sense did not enter an allowance race for Thursday at Gulfstream, and the race didn't get sufficient entries anyway, so it's all systems go for his return on Saturday in the Tampa Bay Derby.

* Gomez has jumped to Air Commander for the San Felipe Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita, abandoning Cobalt Blue. So, O'Neill said Victor Espinoza would ride Cobalt Blue, who is expected to be the favorite.

- additional reporting

by Chuck Dybdal, David Grening, and Mike Welsch