Updated on 09/17/2011 11:25PM

No reason to knock Bluegrass Cat


NEW YORK - There isn't much to dislike about Bluegrass Cat. He is beautifully bred, being by Storm Cat, from an A.P. Indy mare. He is in expert hands, as he is trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by John Velazquez, who were voted the last two Eclipse Awards in their respective fields of endeavor.

Bluegrass Cat likes to win. His victory in Saturday's Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs was his third straight stakes win and fourth straight victory in a career of only five starts.

He is versatile. He has been equally effective on the front end, or stalking from close range. And in a Kentucky Derby context, Bluegrass Cat is in line to receive three prep races this year, which is an ideal amount. Fewer preps have resulted in Derby success only twice since 1947, and not at all since 1983.

If there is one thing about Bluegrass Cat that gives cause for pause, however, it is that he has not crushed his stakes opposition. As decisive a winner as he has been in his stakes scores, he won each of them by less than two lengths.

This particular aspect of Bluegrass Cat's profile can rub two ways. Bluegrass Cat seems to be doing only as much as he has to do to win, a sentiment expressed by his connections after he won the Remsen Stakes in his final start at 2. This suggests that there is even more talent there than he has already demonstrated. On the other hand, Bluegrass Cat's future races are going to get progressively tougher. That means his margin for error will shrink, and he cannot afford to mess around or be lazy.

Last Saturday, Bluegrass Cat's relatively modest win margin in the Sam Davis of 1 1/4 lengths over the 63-1 outsider Deputy Glitters (it was more than four lengths back to the third finisher) can be attributed to several other factors beyond his apparent reluctance to run off and hide. This was Bluegrass Cat's first start in more than three months, and he was competing over a Tampa Bay track that many prominent shippers have found tricky, if not downright difficult to handle. He bobbled a bit coming out of the gate, was eased back from between horses entering the first turn, and had to go three wide around the far turn when he made his move.

But more than anything else, the furthest thing from anyone's mind was for Bluegrass Cat to lay it all out on the line Saturday. The 1 1/16-mile Sam Davis was designed merely to have Bluegrass Cat a little sharper for the Tampa Bay Derby on March 18, which is meant to move him another step forward for one of the final Kentucky Derby preps on April 8 (the Wood Memorial being the far most likely of the three on that day) or April 15 (either the Blue Grass or Arkansas Derby). That path is intended to have him at his peak on Derby Day.

It is interesting that with Bluegrass Cat, his best Kentucky Derby prospect, Pletcher eschewed the 3-year-old program in south Florida, where he is based, for the one at Tampa Bay Downs. Certainly the structure of the 3-year-old stakes program at Gulfstream Park can be improved. But Gulfstream's inability as of last year to run 1 1/16-mile races on dirt, which seems to be an issue with some horsemen who lament the lack of opportunity in south Florida to start a Derby aspirant's campaign at this distance, is not the compromising problem many think it to be.

Of the last 25 winners of the Kentucky Derby, nine (Funny Cide, Charismatic, Real Quiet, Thunder Gulch, Go for Gin, Sea Hero, Alysheba, Gato Del Sol, and Pleasant Colony) began their 3-year-old campaigns in races at 1 1/16 miles. Interestingly, only two of them won. In any event, 9 out of 25 sounds pretty good until you find that 8 of the last 25 Kentucky Derby winners began their 3-year-old campaigns in races at seven furlongs or less. Four others began their Derby-winning seasons in races at one mile. With its one-mile chute, Gulfstream has the ability to run races at all distances up to one mile. So even if Gulfstream can no longer run 1 1/16-mile races on dirt, it still most definitely has the physical capability to launch a Derby-winning campaign.

In fact, Aqueduct, like Gulfstream now, is a nine-furlong track with a one-mile chute. And it wasn't that long ago that Aqueduct had an excellent series of races designed to bring a 3-year-old up to the Kentucky Derby. Aqueduct's series, unfortunately defunct now, officially began with the six-furlong Swift Stakes, but it really got going with the seven-furlong Bay Shore, which led into the one-mile Gotham, which was a prelude to the 1 1/8-mile Wood Memorial.

Hey, the Bay Shore-Gotham-Wood Memorial route to the Kentucky Derby was good enough for Secretariat.