Updated on 09/17/2011 11:02AM

Pletcher mulls his options


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Todd Pletcher has a lot of important decisions to make in the next 10 days regarding several of his most prominent horses.

In Lion Tamer, Indy Dancer, and Aristocat, Pletcher has a trio of legitimate Kentucky Derby prospects. Initially, his plan was to run Indy Dancer in the $1 million Florida Derby on March 15, Aristocat in the $250,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 16, and Lion Tamer in Turfway Park's $500,000 Lane's End Stakes on March 22.

The recent spell of bad weather in northern Kentucky, where Turfway Park is located, has become a cause of concern for Pletcher. Since Feb. 12, Turfway has conducted only three full cards of racing. While maintenance crews have worked on the racing surface, Pletcher remains somewhat leery.

That is why he is now considering running Lion Tamer in the Florida Derby, which poses another dilemma for Pletcher. He only wants to run Lion Tamer once between now and the Kentucky Derby on May 3 and he fears the seven weeks between the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby could be too much time.

"The positives regarding the Florida Derby are it's here, he's run well over the track twice, and it's a million dollars, Grade 1,' Pletcher said regarding Lion Tamer, who won the Grade 2 Hutcheson Stakes here by six lengths and an allowance race by seven. "The biggest negative is I would like to only run the horse once between now and the Kentucky Derby, and when you're talking seven weeks, you're flirting with the idea of too much time between the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby.'

Pletcher views Lion Tamer as a "lightly made horse' who needs significant time between races. Pletcher worries that if he were to run Lion Tamer twice between now and May 3, Lion Tamer could be over the top on Derby Day.

"The perfect scenario for me would be March 29, but the only one that day is the UAE Derby [in Dubai] and we're not going to go there,' Pletcher said.

If Pletcher runs Lion Tamer in the Florida Derby, that might force him to do something else with Indy Dancer, though what that would be is uncertain. Pletcher did say that he is 90 percent certain Aristocat would run in the Tampa Bay Derby.

Those confirmed for the Florida Derby include Trust N Luck, Supah Blitz, Midway Cat, Empire Maker, and Senor Swinger.

Pletcher wavering on Dubai trip

Pletcher is fretting about where next to run Harlan's Holiday, the Donn Handicap winner. Pletcher and owner Jack Wolf have been considering the $6 million Dubai World Cup, but with the U.S. on the brink of war with Iraq, they are no longer sure they want to run in the Middle East.

Another factor affecting the decision to run is the presence of Medaglia d'Oro in the race. Pletcher and Wolf must make a decision by March 15, the day horses from North America are due to ship to Dubai.

"It's a tough call,' Pletcher said. "If Medaglia d'Oro and Congaree weren't going then we were going to go. From what I know about the race, Medaglia d'Oro is 3-5, so at best we're second choice. We're waiting to firm up all the plans and we'll monitor the situation.'

Pletcher said that if Harlan's Holiday skips Dubai then he would run next in the Gulfstream Park Handicap here on March 29.

Mediocre work by Midway Cat

Midway Cat worked five furlongs in 1:02.40 here Wednesday in preparation for the Florida Derby. The work was not exactly what trainer Rick Hiles had in mind.

"Things didn't come together right this morning," said Hiles. "The rider [Jorge Chavez] was late getting to the barn so he went out later than we had planned when it was hot and humid and the track was pretty cut up. And he pretty much just lollygagged around there. But I'm not concerned. He's not much of a work horse especially when by himself.

"Jorge said he kept the same pace right along, which is good if he'll do that in his race. That would be an ideal performance."

Midway Cat rallied from just off the pace to register a 6 1/4-length entry-level allowance victory while wearing blinkers for the first time on Jan. 18. He raced rankly into the first turn and took a couple of runs at Trust N Luck in the Fountain of Youth.

"The problem with the Florida Derby is that it looks like there's no speed to run with Trust N Luck again," said Hiles. "I don't want to send my horse up there to run with him. Although I can tell you one thing: If he drags himself up there like he did in the Fountain of Youth we're not going to take him back this time."

Supah Blitz, who rallied along the rail to easily outfinish Midway Cat for second in the Fountain of Youth, also worked Wednesday, breezing five furlongs in 1:02 over his home base at Calder.

"He worked good," said trainer Manny Tortora. "We got just about what we wanted. Everything is a go for the Florida Derby."

Region of Merit pointed to Tampa

Region of Merit, a winner of first- and second-level allowance races at Gulfstream, will most likely make his next start in the Tampa Bay Derby, trainer Christophe Clement said Wednesday.

Region of Merit breezed four furlongs in 51.40 seconds Wednesday at Payson Park. Clement timed him galloping out in 1:04.

Clement said he ruled out the Gotham at Aqueduct because of the uncertainty whether the race would be run around one turn on the main track or two turns on the inner track.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Clement did pay the $3,000 nomination fee to keep Region of Merit eligible for the Florida Derby. However, he made it clear that Tampa is his first choice.

"My horse has never run in a stakes,' Clement said. "Why go in a Grade 1, million-dollar race for a first stakes try? We'll go one step at a time. The Tampa Bay Derby on paper is an easier race than the Florida Derby."

Gygistar to skip Richter Scale

Gygistar will not run in Saturday's $200,000 Richter Scale Breeders' Cup Handicap and instead will run next in the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen on March 29 at Nad Al Sheba, trainer Mark Hennig said.

After Gygistar finished fifth in the Deputy Minister Handicap - his 4-year-old debut - Hennig thought about using the Richter Scale as a prep for the Golden Shaheen, but decided against it "I don't see how he would be at his best in Dubai if he runs three weeks out, has a 30-hour ship, and has to acclimate and everything else,' Hennig said.

Though Gygistar is probably better at seven furlongs than six, Hennig believes Gygistar will appreciate the fact that the Golden Shaheen is run at six furlongs on a straightaway.

"I think he'll like the straight run because he's not a shifty turn-runner like a lot of sprinters,' Hennig said.

The Richter Scale is shaping up with a seven-horse field. Trainer Mark Shuman confirmed Wednesday that Native Heir, who equaled a track record when he won the Deputy Minister Handicap, would run along with Highway Prospector. Burning Roma, Tour of the Cat, Binthebest, Smooth Jazz, and Fire and Glory are also expected.

Offlee Wild back on track

Offlee Wild, the Holy Bull Stakes winner, jogged a mile Wednesday morning, his first day on the track in nearly two weeks. Offlee Wild, who finished fourth in the Fountain of Youth, was diagnosed with a bacterial infection on Feb. 28.

"We've been taking blood counts every other day and they've been awfully good the last four or five days,' said his trainer, T.V. Smith said.

Smith said he had no definite plans for Offlee Wild, but said he felt the colt could make the Kentucky Derby with just one more race in between.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch