07/18/2007 11:00PM

Pleasant Strike figures to keep rolling in derby

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Two trainers, Bill Mott and Dermot Weld, have recently dominated the American Derby, each having won the race twice in the last four years. Weld and Mott both have a starter this year, too, but the likely favorite Saturday at Arlington, Pleasant Strike, comes from the trainer dominating stakes racing across the eastern half of the country right now - Todd Pletcher.

Pleasant Strike was one of nine 3-year-olds entered in the Grade 2, $250,000 American Derby, the second leg of Arlington's Mid-America Triple, and one of three graded turf stakes on Million Preview Day. The American Derby goes as race 8, followed by the Arlington Handicap, which will have Cosmonaut as a strong favorite, and a wide-open running of the Modesty, the last leg of a $50,000-guaranteed pick four.

Pleasant Strike has won three times and finished worse than third only once in his eight starts, but his breakout performance came three weeks ago, when he won the Arlington Classic by almost four lengths. Pleasant Strike, Pletcher said, has displayed serious talent in his training all along, but before the Arlington Classic, raw ability had not yet been translated into performance. There, sitting a perfect trip under Rene Douglas, Pleasant Strike stalked a quick pace, made his move coming off the far turn, and had control of the race by midstretch. Douglas, speaking the week after, said Pleasant Strike finally had figured everything out and was over the hump.

Pleasant Strike cannot afford to regress, since Saturday's race is a more challenging spot. Perfect Casting, Weld's Irish shipper, has won consecutive races preparing for his U.S. trip and is meant to start in the Grade 1 Secretariat if all goes well, according to Jeff Byrne, who traveled with Perfect Casting. Byrne calls Perfect Casting "a tough colt" and said he can be placed anywhere during his races.

In that case, Perfect Casting may wind up near the front Saturday, since the American Derby lacks pace. A false pace in the June 16 Jefferson Cup led to a fourth-place finish for Mott's entry, lightly raced Lattice. Inca King went his opening half-mile in just under 50 seconds that day, leaving closers like Lattice with no hope.

Another contender is Going Ballistic, a Lite the Fuse colt who cost $4,000 at auction, but has won three turf races and more than $308,000.