CICERO, Ill. - Cowtown Cat pulled away to edge Reporting For Duty and Bold Start in the Illinois Derby yesterday, while favorite Cobalt Blue finished seventh in the nine-horse field in the Kentucky Derby prep.
Fernando Jara rode the Todd Pletcher-trained Cowtown Cat in the $500,000 Grade II stakes a week after riding Invasor to victory in the Dubai World Cup. The Panamanian teenager put Cowtown Cat out front at the first turn en route to a 21/2-length victory.
"He was very relaxed all the way," Jara said. "And when I asked him to do anything, it was done."
Cowtown Cat is headed to the Kentucky Derby with Jara confident the horse is capable of stretching out to the 11/4-mile distance.
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"I think it's going to be better for him," Jara said. "He was still strong after the wire."
Pletcher also won the Illinois Derby in 2001 with Distilled and 2004 with Pollard's Vision.
Cowtown Cat also was entered in the Wood Memorial, but Pletcher sent stablemate Any Given Saturday to Aqueduct instead. Cowtown Cat has four wins in seven career starts, including a Derby prep victory in the Grade III Gotham on March 10 at Aqueduct.
The winner ran 11/8 miles in 1:51.21. Reporting for Duty, at 25-1 odds, was second and Bold Start was third.
The Merv Griffin-owned Cobalt Blue, the even-money favorite, never challenged.
"He made a run and I got excited a little bit," said Chris Emigh, who rode Reporting for Duty. "I was surprised they let them go that slow. He tried, but we couldn't get by (Cowtown Cat)."
The Hawthorne track was fast and firm, but the weather wasn't ideal, with a temperature of 31 degrees and sustained wind of 17 mph at race time.
The Illinois Derby has been a prep race for the Kentucky Derby since 2001.
In 2002, War Emblem won the Illinois Derby before winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Last year's winner, Sweetnorthernsaint, went off as the Kentucky Derby favorite.