03/29/2009 11:00PM

Pletcher enters three for Illinois Derby


STICKNEY, Ill. - The entries just kept coming for Saturday's Grade 2, $500,000 Illinois Derby, and when the race finally closed mid-Monday afternoon at Hawthorne, a surprisingly large field of 11 had been assembled.

Seven or thereabouts had been expected over the weekend, but several other horses materialized Monday, adding to the race's core of Musket Man, Giant Oak, and whatever trainer Todd Pletcher was sending.

Pletcher was said to have two horses for the race, but wound up putting in three. Al Khali is an interesting Peruvian import; Lord Justice won an entry-level, two-turn Aqueduct allowance race last month; and Il Postino is an improbable-looking $20,000 maiden-claiming winner. Pletcher didn't answer his phone late Monday afternoon, but told Hawthorne officials it was possible he would run all three.

Also in out of the blue was Nowhere to Hide, who was supplemented to the race and promptly awarded the rail, often a tough spot in a big field. Nowhere to Hide was most recently fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby.

Another surprise entrant was Pleasant Song. He has speed, a long-distance pedigree, 2 wins from 3 starts, and is trained by Mike Trombetta, who has sent several horses to Hawthorne stakes in recent years.

Locally based Knight Shot also was entered, but is uncertain to start, stakes coordinator Debbie Lindsay said. Free Country has twice disappointed after getting his name out with an early-meet Gulfstream allowance win. Toccet Rocket has minor stakes credentials, while His Greatness finished about 28 lengths behind Win Willy in the Rebel Stakes last out.

Musket Man has done the most among these 3-year-olds, his second stakes win of the Tampa Bay Downs meet coming in the Tampa Bay Derby. Leading Tampa rider Daniel Centeno is being replaced for the Illinois Derby by Eibar Coa. Potential player Giant Oak also has a new jockey, his fourth in four races, with Shaun Bridgmohan taking the reins for the first time.

Giant Oak has been somewhat unlucky in two losses this year. If the track comes up wet at Hawthorne, Giant Oak could scratch and ship to Keeneland for the Blue Grass Stakes the following Saturday, said trainer Chris Block. There is a chance of rain here Thursday, and then the forecast calls for dry conditions.