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Pletcher ships in as late as possible
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Trainer Todd Pletcher arrived fashionably late to this year's Kentucky Derby, shipping his two horses, Monba and Cowboy Cal, to Churchill Downs following their training at Keeneland on Wednesday morning.
So why did he wait so long?
"They wouldn't let me come in any later," said Pletcher, sounding more like Barclay Tagg, who until this year had usually been the last to arrive. "You had to be here today. I would have come Friday or Saturday if they'd let me."
Pletcher, who is winless with 19 starters in the Derby, has nothing against Churchill Downs. It's just that his horses seemed to be thriving at Keeneland, where they have been training the last several weeks. It was also at Keeneland where Monba and Cowboy Cal ran one-two in the Blue Grass Stakes.
"Both horses were doing real well at Keeneland,'' said Pletcher, who arrived aboard the same van that brought his horses. "They seemed to like training over Polytrack and they were eating well, settled in a good routine. It's quieter over there."
This year's pre-Derby hype has been much quieter for Pletcher than last year, when he started a record-tying five runners in the race. His best result was Circular Quay, who finished sixth. His other runners finished eighth, ninth, 18th, and 20th.
This year, Pletcher's pair will most likely be double-digit odds. The Blue Grass represented a reversal of fortune for Monba, who had finished last as the favorite in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream in February.
Monba came out of the Fountain of Youth with a few cuts and also underwent a throat operation known as a myectomy following the race.
"From Edgar [Prado's] description he thought he displaced," Pletcher said.
Pletcher said he didn't notice a significant change in Monba's training following the myectomy "but it certainly didn't hurt things any."
Cowboy Cal set the pace in the Blue Grass only to be run down late by Monba. Running back in three weeks represents the least amount of time between races for Cowboy Cal.
Pletcher said he doesn't feel any more or any less pressure entering this year's Derby than he did last year, when he ran 25 percent of the field.
"Just because you have five it doesn't give you that much better of a chance to win," Pletcher said. "It's all about having the one right horse on the one right day."
Dutrow not the least bit timid
There is an unwritten code in horse racing never to get too high on yourself or your horse, part of the sport's culture of never rocking the boat, lest it sink. To those used to the ways of other professional sports, where stated confidence in yourself or your team is part of the mix, racing might seem a bit conservative and dull.
That is until trainer Rick Dutrow gets to town. His comments the past week, both before and after he arrived at Churchill Downs, have elicited the usual snickers from rival trainers, who can't understand why anyone would want to be so bold with his comments regarding his Kentucky Derby starter, Big Brown. But Dutrow is not some blowhard braggart; he's actually more of a flake without a filter.
"If someone asks me a question I'm going to answer as truthfully as I can, and I'm only this way because Big Brown gives me that confidence," Dutrow said.
That truth serum has been exhibited in other Dutrow comments this week. To wit:
On the suspensions he has received over the years: "Half of them I deserved. Half I didn't. I don't think I'm a person you look for for guidance - don't do this, don't do that. The only thing I need is to be around my horses. On suspension I try to break in in the middle of the night and see my horses. I never should leave the barn. When I leave the barn, trouble starts."
On backing his words with money Saturday, while hinting not all of it will be through the parimutuel system: "I'm going to bet as much as I can, as much as my friends will let me. I can't get in trouble if I lose because I'll pay off in time, and if I win they'll pay off in time."
On waiting for Big Brown's quarter cracks to heal late last year and earlier this year: "It may be like you look at a pretty girl, you want to be with her, but you can't get there."
Dutrow admitted, though, he will probably be a nervous wreck on Saturday.
"I'm sure I'm going to be in a complete screw-up zone the day of the Derby," he said.
McPeek pair possibly bound for Ascot
Kenny McPeek will be gearing up for a trip to England, since both My Baby Baby and Nistle's Crunch will be using races on Friday's Churchill card as possible springboards to bigger things at Royal Ascot.
My Baby Baby goes in the 1 1/16-mile Edgewood Stakes as a possible prep for the Ascot's 1 1/2-mile Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes on June 19, while Nistle's Crunch runs in the 1 1/16-mile Crown Royal American Turf as a possible prelude to the 1 1/2-mile Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes on June 20.
McPeek, who engineered Hard Buck's second-place finish in the 2004 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot, has installed a two-mile right-handed training track at his Lexington training center. He has also nominated recent Elkhorn winner Drilling for Oil for the 2 1/2-mile Ascot Gold Cup on June 19.
"We are trying to emulate the conditions of racing in Europe to give them the best chance when they go over," McPeek said. "Nistle's Crunch will need to run well on Friday and then we will seriously consider him for the King Edward VII. We will make a final decision on My Baby Baby after the Edgewood. If she runs well I would love to bring her over to Royal Ascot."
Charismatic's win announcer's personal favorite
Luke Kruytbosch became the race-caller at Churchill Downs in 1999, so this will be the 10th time he has called the Derby for the ontrack crowd. Kruytbosch, 45, said his first Derby, which Charismatic won by a diminishing neck over Menifee, remains the most memorable.
"It was overwhelming," he recalled with a chuckle. "I'm calling the finish, and Chris Antley is holding his finger up, and Menifee is coming at him - Chris made it more exciting than I wanted it to be."
While the Churchill crowd of about 150,000 hears Kruytbosch's call, Tom Durkin calls the race for millions of viewers on NBC Sports. Kruytbosch also will call the Derby for ESPN Radio for the second year in a row, while Paul Rogers calls the race locally for WHAS Radio.
* Trainer Tom Amoss won the 2,000th race of his career when Cat Splendor won the fourth race Tuesday here. Amoss, a native of New Orleans, wasted little time getting starting on his third thousand by winning the sixth race with The Last Wave. Both winners were ridden by Calvin Borel.
- additional reporting by Marty McGee, Jay Privman, and Alan Shuback