LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Count trainer Todd Pletcher in for the Kentucky Derby.
Down to perhaps his last chance to return to the Derby, Pletcher is headed to Churchill Downs after Monba won the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on Saturday, and stablemate Cowboy Cal finished second.
The results give Pletcher two 3-year-olds on the rise and with enough prize money to run in the Derby in three weeks if more than 20 3-year-olds are entered.
Cowboy Cal and Monba ran 1-2 around the far turn over the synthetic surface Polytrack. Monba, ridden by Edgar Prado, took the lead in the stretch and won by a neck. Kentucky Bear, a 27-1 long shot was third.
Pyro, the even-money favorite, finished 10th in the 12-horse field -- the largest in 25 years.
Monba covered the 1 1-8 miles in 1:49.71 on a cloudy and unseasonably cool day, although 26,000 fans showed up.
A year ago, Pletcher sent out a record-equaling five horses in the Derby, with his best finish a sixth place by Circular Quay. Pletcher is 0-for-19 in the Derby, but won his first Triple Crown race last year when the filly Rags to Riches captured the Belmont Stakes,
The Blue Grass was a dash for cash -- and Monba and Cowboy Cal hit the jackpot for Pletcher. If more than 20 are entered in the Derby, preference is given to horses with the highest graded stakes earnings.
Monba came in ranked 41st and Cowboy Cal 39th. Monba earned $465,000 to move into the top 10, while Cowboy Cal collected $150,000 to move into the top 20 at $207,600.
"Both horses showed they can go on to the highest level," Pletcher, who led all trainers with 31 Triple Crown nominations, plus had three others sent to his barn. "And their pedigree shows they can run 1¼ miles."
Pyro, the top Derby contender off victories in the Risen Star and the Louisiana Derby, was about 10 lengths off the lead around the far turn, and never produced his patented finishing kick under jockey Shaun Bridgmohan.
However, the colt is still headed to the Derby but likely lost his top billing to Big Brown, the undefeated winner of the Florida Derby last month.
Stevil finished fourth, followed by Visionaire, Miner's Claim, Halo Najib, Medjool, Cool Coal Man, Pyro, Big Truck and Stone Bird.
Monba paid $19.60, $8.60 and $6.60. Cowboy Cal, ridden by John Velazquez, returned $8.80 and $6.60, and Kentucky Bear paid $8.20 to show.
Visionaire's fourth-place finish was worth $22,500 and boosted the colt's graded stakes earnings to $202,500 -- good enough to stay in the top 20. But trainer Michael Matz, who conditioned 2006 Derby winner Barbaro, said he will reassess Visionaire's Derby status.
Cool Coal Man, trained by Nick Zito, also is headed for the Derby with more than enough earnings from his win in the Fountain of Youth.
Big Truck, trained by Barclay Tagg. came into the race ranked 18th on the list, and likely will be on the bubble after all the preps have been run.