05/12/2008 12:00AM

Texas Wildcatter set to rebound


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - When Samba Rooster raced at Keeneland April 19 in the Lexington Stakes, it was a performance that seemingly no one missed. In a nationally televised race, he set insane fractions of 45.21 seconds and 1:09.48 in the 1 1/16-mile race over Polytrack, and held on gamely to finish second to Behindatthebar, a colt that is Preakness bound.

As well as he performed, I'll take a stand against him in Saturday's Lone Star Derby - reasoning that he will get pounded by those who witnessed that effort and who will anticipate an improved performance if he can better harness his early speed.

Instead, I'll take a horse whose best effort virtually no one saw. That would be Texas Wildcatter, who two starts ago finished second in the Gotham in fog so thick that Equibase could not list the running positions of the horses at any call other than the finish.

For those interested in betting the Lone Star Derby, his Gotham race merits watching on Racereplays.com, or on another replay service. Although there were stages of the races that were out of view, it was apparent that he stalked the leaders, a few lengths off the pace, and performed well to lose by a nose to Visionaire after losing ground with a three-wide trip.

His time was also fast. Beaten a whisker in a 1 1/16-mile race timed in 1:44.60 under sloppy, tiring conditions, he posted a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 98, and earned even better relative figures on Thorograph and the Ragozin sheets, which take into account ground loss.

That effort made him one of the favorites in the Wood Memorial, a race in which he ran dreadfully after a half-mile. Fourth early, he came under a drive on the backstretch and faded to eighth, beaten 33 3/4 lengths by the eventual Kentucky Derby fourth-place finisher, Tale of Ekati.

Aside from being pinned down on the rail and eating dirt for much of the race, he was without much of an excuse.

Judging from a 48.20-second half-mile workout at Churchill Downs May 2 for trainer Todd Pletcher, Texas Wildcatter seems poised for a return to peak form. The move ranked as the second-best of 34 at the distance that day, and was the fastest of the five Pletcher-trained horses that worked that same distance at Churchill on May 2.

Texas Wildcatter's stalking style should work to his benefit in a Lone Star Derby loaded with pace, and unlike in the Wood, he is drawn in the middle of the track. So he seems unlikely to get pinned on the rail, if indeed that is a position he dislikes.

As for El Gato Malo, one of the other Lone Star Derby favorites, his form merits respect, but I am reluctant to back him at a short price in his first dirt start after previously racing over synthetic surfaces.

Peter Pan: Deputyville can step up

Saturday's Peter Pan at Belmont Park does not appear to be as strong of a race, but it, too, offers the opportunity to back a legitimate contender at a price.

My play is Deputyville, who was purchased privately by the Winning Move Stable after a deceptively good fifth-place finish in the WinStar Derby in March. He comes off a respectable third finish in the Federico Tesio Stakes, and should move forward in his second start for trainer Gary Contessa.

Being a New Mexico-bred with humble roots, he seems unlikely to draw the attention of the betting public.

He is not as fast on paper as Golden Spikes, the Illinois Derby runner-up, but his numbers compared favorably with much of the rest of the field.

Churchill Downs: Filly poised for a win

Lastly, there is no stakes race at Churchill Downs Saturday, but a favorable wagering opportunity exists in race nine, a straight maiden race.

Chit Chat Cat, sixth in her debut at Keeneland April 20, appears poised to take a large step forward in her second start. Off last in her debut, she launched a bold rally to reach contention in midstretch, before flattening out slightly late.

Her works for trainer Ken McPeek preceding her debut suggested talent, and her May 5 breeze at Churchill further hinted as much, when she covered five furlongs in 1:00.80, the fourth best of 16 at the distance.

That time was equivalent to the five-furlong time posted by another McPeek-trained runner, a 3-year-old colt named Hard Strike that won a maiden race last fall at Churchill Downs with a Beyer Figure of 85.