02/21/2011 1:00PM

Mont Pelato may travel from France for Kentucky Derby


NEW YORK – There is reason to believe that we may have our first foreign-trained horse in this year’s Kentucky Derby.

Mont Pelato, trained in Bordeaux, France by Christophe Ferland, is one of just seven foreign-trained horses nominated to the Triple Crown and under serious consideration for the Run for the Roses. A son of Carter Handicap winner Forest Danger out of an Unbridled’s Song mare, Mont Pelato began his career with two victories on the Deauville Fibresand course this winter. On Dec. 9, he whistled by two lengths in a 1 3/16-mile maiden. On Jan. 8, he took a conditions race at the same distance by three lengths.

Ferland will test Mont Pelato in the Prix Policeman, a 1 1/4-mile listed race on the Cagnes-sur-Mer Fibresand on Feb. 26.

“If he wins that day, the plan is to send him to Keeneland for the Blue Grass Stakes,” Ferland said on Friday. “I knew from the first day I had this horse that he had talent, and so I took my time with him and didn’t run him until December of his 2-year-old season.”

No horse trained in France has run in the Kentucky Derby since Francois Boutin saddled Arazi to an eighth-place finish as the 9-10 favorite in 1991. While Mont Pelato, who is owned by Frederic Sauque, still has much to prove, he has won twice at close to the Derby distance. And in running in the Blue Grass, he will be following in the footsteps of Bold Arrangement, who finished third in the 1986 running, albeit on dirt, before his second-place finish in the Derby.

The performance of Bold Arrangement led to a spate of foreign Derby interest, which has petered out of late. The Jeremy Noseda-trained Awesome Act trailed home last in last year’s Derby as the first foreign-trained horse in the Run for the Roses since 2002. Even Godolphin seems to have given up its hopes for the race as evidenced by the switch in Dubai from the Nad Al Sheba dirt track to the Meydan Tapeta.

Noseda has nominated three to the Triple Crown and is leaving open the possibility of any of them showing up at Churchill Downs on May 7. The best of them is the Johannesburg colt Peter Martins. Owned by balletomane Earle Mack and named for the artistic director of New York City Ballet, Peter Martins won a seven-furlong Newmarket allowance in his July 30 debut by five lengths before being sidelined by an injury during the run-up to Doncaster’s Group 2 Champagne Stakes. Noseda also has undefeated maiden winners Cassini Flight (by Bernardini) and Western Aristocrat (by Mr. Greeley) as Derby possibles.

“The first plan is to run Peter Martins in the Craven Stakes” at Newmarket on April 14, followed by the 2000 Guineas on April 30, Noseda said, “But that could change during the next month.”

While Godolphin is absent form the list of 364 Triple Crown nominees, Sheikh Mohammed did name nine through his Darley Stable operation. At this early stage he must be pinning his slim Derby hopes on Fort Hughes, a McLaughlin-trained Henny Hughes colt out of the Roar mare Forty Greeta, the winner of the Grade 1 Estrella Juvenile Fillies, Argentina’s equivalent of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Fort Hughes won the ungraded Jimmy Winkfield Stakes going six furlongs at Aqueduct on Jan. 17 but must be considered a huge longshot for the Derby at this stage.

Coolmore has two on the Triple Crown list, both of them trained by Aidan O’Brien. They are Master of Hounds, a Kingmambo colt who was sixth, beaten three lengths, behind the Irish 2000 Guineas-bound Pluck in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, and Alexander Pope, a son of Danehill Dancer who won a one-mile allowance by seven lengths on the Dundalk Polytrack on Dec. 8.

The problem O’Brien and all European trainers face is finding local races to prepare horses for the Derby. The Irish flat racing season doesn’t begin until March 20 at the Curragh. Flat racing returns to Paris on March 7 at Saint-Cloud after the winter meeting on turf and Fibresand at Cagnes-sur-Mer. The British turf season begins later than ever at lowly Catterick on March 30, although there are plenty of all-weather meetings throughout the winter at Lingfield, Kempton, Wolverhampton, and Southwell.

While Godolphin is not thinking Kentucky Derby, Steve Asmussen is contemplating a March 26 tilt at the 1 3/16-mile UAE Derby for Silver Medallion. A half-brother to Keeneland’s Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup winner Sweet Talker, Silver Medallion won the Grade 3 El Camino Real Stakes on Golden Gate’s Tapeta track on Feb. 13. Perhaps Asmussen figures it will be easier to beat a subpar group of UAE-trained 3-year-olds on the Meydan Tapeta than it would to beat the West Coast’s best on dirt in the Santa Anita Derby. Moreover, at $2 million the UAE Derby is twice as valuable as the Santa Anita Derby. But is it worth it to travel 8,230 miles to Dubai for the extra million, as opposed to rolling out of bed to run in the Santa Anita Derby?