By Dick Downey
Photo by Keeneland
Todd Pletcher has five Kentucky Derby prospects, and although he's not considered Winning Cause to be a Derby horse, it was possible he has six at the conclusion of the Grade III Coolmore Lexington Stakes.
By winning the Lexington, Winning Cause picked up 20 Kentucky Derby points and $120,000 in winnings. The son of Giant's Causeway now ranks number 21 on the Kentucky Derby points list.
There are now four horses considered probable or possible for the Derby that hold 20 points. The tie-breaker is non-restricted stakes earnings. Charming Kitten is at number 21 with $206,000 in non-restricted stakes earnings, Winning Cause has $137,250, Code West has $90,000, and Tiz a Minister has $81,000.
Julien Leparoux, aboard Winning Cause today, is now the king of 3-year-old stakes at Keeneland this Spring after winning the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes last Saturday on Java's War.
Pletcher trains Charming Kitten, the runner-up in the Blue Grass; Verrazano, winner of the Grade I Wood Memorial, Overanalyze, winner of the Grade I Arkansas Derby; Revolutionary, winner of the Grade I Louisiana Derby; and Palace Malice, third in the Blue Grass. All are pointing to the Kentucky Derby.
Timed in 1:43.93 in the 1 1/16-mile Lexington, Winning Cause came from mid-pack after running behind honest fractions of ;23.76, :47.66 and 1:12.45 set by River Rocks, who was attended by Cerro. Winning Cause took command in upper stretch, outgaming Cerro (IRE) at that point, and held off 34-1 longshot General Election and Pick of the Litter at the wire, prevailing by a length.
Cerro was fourth, beaten 1 1/2 length, followed by Sunbean, Wings of Fortune, Pure Fun, River Rocks, Examen and Hip Four Sixtynine. Where's Dominic was scratched.
The two betting favorites were never in contention. Sunbean, recently transferred to Mike Maker and supplemented to the Lexington for $15,000, was the 5-2 post-time favorite and ran sixth or seventh at the initial calls. The Kentucky Oaks-bound filly Pure Fun, 7-2 at post time, was behind Sunbean every step of the way.
Winning Cause is owned by Gil Moutray’s Alto Racing LLC. He was bred in Kentucky by Galleria Bloodstock and is out of the the Kingmambo mare Raffishing Look.
Today's win was the third in seven starts for Winning Cause, and all of them have come at Keeneland -- the most recent one coming two weeks ago. He'd been victorious in two seven-furlong races there. After less than stellar efforts going two turns on turf in his first two starts, Winning Cause was cut back to sprint distances. The Lexington was the first time back at two turns. It was Pletcher's fifth win of the Lexington.
While it's unlikely Winning Cause will be pointed to the Kentucky Derby in two weeks, Pletcher didn't rule it out in comments made immediately after the race and said he'd talk to Moutray.
Three trainers, including Pletcher (2007), have saddled a record five starters in a single Kentucky Derby. The other two were D. Wayne Lukas (1996) and Nick Zito (2005). No one has saddled six.
Pletcher and his horses have collected 527 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Bob Baffert is second with 209.
Todd Pletcher (winning trainer of Winning Cause): “To be honest, we weren’t sure (how he'd run). We were stretching him out and stepping up into a graded stakes off two weeks’ rest. The main reason is he’s two for two at Keeneland going into this. We know he likes the surface and thought it was worth taking a shot.
“I guess you can never have too many (Kentucky Derby horses), but we never really talked about that with this colt. We’ll see how he comes out of it and see. We’re just happy to have this one.”
Julien Leparoux (rider of Winning Cause): “From the one hole, I couldn’t ask for a better trip. In the first turn, he put me in a good spot and I got room to get him out there, and he just cruised around there and finished strong. He’s the kind of horse that fights back. The more you ask him the more he goes. I kind of know him from last time, and I knew I was going to get there.”
Kellyn Gorder (trainer of General Election): “I wish it had been a little farther today. I'll talk to Elliott (Walden of owner WinStar Farm). We weren't thinking Derby with him. Maybe the Preakness.”
Joe Rocco Jr. (rider of General Election): “He ran a really great race. I thought we'd be a little closer. He didn’t like the kickback in his face that much, but on the second turn I was able to drop in and save a little ground. On the second turn, I thought, ‘Wow, I still have some horse.’ I found some room outside to pitch out and he came running nice. He ran a great race. If it was a little farther, he might have gotten it.”
Jesus Castanon (rider of Pick of the Litter): “We're happy with the way he ran. He gave me everything he had, and I had a good break out of the gate. I put myself in a good spot where he likes to be. The best thing about him is he’s going forward. When I asked him to pick it up, he went ahead and did his best. And I know down the road he'll be even better.”
Gary Stevens (rider of Sunbean): “My trip was good. He started trying to lean out with me a little bit around the final turn. He was going great when he was up against it, cruising with the winner. I had my eye on the winner and I was getting a great trip. When I started to ask him a little bit, he got timid. I am not sure he handled the Polytrack real well. I was very happy where I was early on; they weren't going that fast but he was well within himself. I was right off the eventual winner early on and very happy where I was.”
Ken McPeek (trainer of Pure Fun): “I am still optimistic about going to the Oaks. She was blowing pretty hard coming back. She got a lot out of the race. The last two races have been tough in that she didn’t finish as well as we would have liked. I still believe we needed a race, and I wanted to race her as opposed to working her. I think she will get more out of this. Rosie (Napravnik) said she had a clean trip but she just didn't punch much late. She was blowing pretty good.”