03/25/2008 12:00AM

Why Tonto will miss Florida Derby


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The prospective starting lineup for Saturday's $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park lost another member when Why Tonto sustained a minor injury that will sideline him indefinitely.

Make Me Zach, who also was expected to run in the Florida Derby, was withdrawn last week.

Why Tonto, who upset stablemate Cowboy Cal to capture the Hallandale Beach Stakes on the grass here on Feb. 16, wrenched his left front ankle last week, according to trainer Todd Pletcher.

"We stopped on him and sent him to the farm in Ocala for 30 days to give him a little rest," Pletcher explained. "It's nothing serious. X-rays were negative. It was just bad timing."

The loss of Why Tonto leaves Pletcher with just one Florida Derby hopeful, Face the Cat, who will make his first start in the Grade 1 race since being purchased privately by owner Satish Sanan earlier this winter. Face the Cat is perfect in two starts locally, having won his maiden and a one-mile allowance while in the barn of trainer Helen Pitts.

Pletcher said Face the Cat was scheduled to have his final Florida Derby work on Sunday morning and that John Velazquez will have the mount. Pletcher won the 2007 Florida Derby with Scat Daddy.

Pletcher said he originally planned to run Face the Cat in the Rebel at Oaklawn Park on March 15, "but then decided he needed a little more time."

"If he runs well in the Florida Derby, one start will be enough to get him to the [Kentucky] Derby," he said.

Pletcher also said Cowboy Cal will bypass Saturday's Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes and await the Grade 1 Blue Grass at Keeneland two weeks later. Cowboy Cal worked a half-mile in 49 seconds at Palm Beach Downs on Saturday. Pletcher also intends to run Monba in the Blue Grass.

The Pletcher barn will also be conspicuous by its absence in Saturday's Grade 2 Bonnie Miss Stakes, because Game Face has been given some time off following her second-place finish as the odds-on favorite earlier this month in the Grade 2 Davona Dale.

"She wasn't quite on her game last time, didn't run the type of race we expected, so we'll back off on her a little, put some weight on her and point for the La Troienne at Churchill Downs with an eye on the Acorn after that.," he said.

The Grade 3 La Troienne will be run on the Kentucky Derby Day card on May 3. The Grade 1 Acorn is part of the Belmont Stakes program on June 7.

Lezcano gets familiar with Hey Byrn

Hey Byrn, who figures to vie for favoritism with Big Brown and Elysium Fields in the Florida Derby, worked five furlongs in 1:01.80 at Calder on Saturday with jockey Jose Lezcano aboard.

Lezcano will replace regular rider Edgar Prado, who will be in Dubai on Saturday to handle several assignments on the Dubai World Cup card.

"He did just what I wanted and Jose got a feel for him," said Eddie Plesa Jr., who trains Hey Byrn for Bea Oxenberg.

Another Florida Derby contender, Nistle's Crunch, also worked Saturday, going five furlongs in 1:00.40 at Gulfstream. Nistle's Crunch has registered both career victories at the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Florida Derby, including a two-length win in a first-level allowance here on March 1.

"I think off his last race he definitely deserves a chance in the Florida Derby," trainer Ken McPeek said.

Backseat Rhythm likely for Bonnie Miss

The Bonnie Miss lured only eight nominees, topped by Backseat Rhythm, a troubled third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, and Highest Class, who finished third behind Indian Blessing and Proud Spell in the Grade 3 Silverbulletday on Feb. 9 at Fair Grounds. Both fillies are expected to start.

Plesa will be represented in the Bonnie Miss by Halo Hollie, who like Hey Byrn is perfect in two starts here this winter.