05/30/2007 11:00PM

Three with excuses in Ohio Derby

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With $7.41 million in stable earnings this year, Steve Asmussen's horses have won more money than any trainer in the country save Todd Pletcher. And it is the Pletcher-trained Cowtown Cat that Asmussen's two horses, Forty Grams and Reporting for Duty, might have to get past to win the Grade 2, $300,000 Ohio Derby on Saturday at Thistledown.

Among five others in the 1 1/8-mile race, Moyer's Pond, Officer Rocket, and Starbase look on paper like contenders.

Cowtown Cat earned some support in the Kentucky Derby after winning the Gotham Stakes and the Illinois Derby while demonstrating the ability to rate and finish. But at Churchill Downs, he raced surprisingly close to a sub-23-second opening quarter-mile, faded badly on the far turn, and wound up last of 20 horses.

"He got a little bit worked up in the paddock, got a little hot, got excited on the day," Pletcher said. "He was a little bit closer to the pace than we'd hoped, and he basically was empty, but he came out of the race well enough."

Pletcher suspects Cowtown Cat displaced his soft palate, which can cause a horse to lose its air and stop. In any case, all went wrong on the day, and a rebound to his previous form would make Cowtown Cat a formidable presence.

Reporting for Duty, second to Cowtown Cat in the Illinois Derby, would have started in the Kentucky Derby had he not been excluded from an oversubscribed field. Instead, he wound up in the May 12 Lone Star Derby, where he broke a string of second-place finishes by checking in a troubled fifth.

"He was trapped down inside with no place to go, and I don't think he had any shot of running his race," Asmussen said.

Forty Grams finished third at Lone Star despite getting a "brutal trip," according to the short comment in this past performances. A front-runner earlier in the year, Forty Grams has begun coming from off the pace.

"I think him being more manageable opens up some nice possibilities," said Asmussen.

Moyer's Pond finished second to Slew's Tizzy at Lone Star, and has done little wrong in a four-race career that only began in February. Officer Rocket's high-water marks this year were second-place finishes in the Rebel and the Southwest. Starbase, the potential pacesetter, comes off a second in the Lexington Stakes on Keeneland's Polytrack.