Cowboy Cal tests turf in Cup prep

Updated: October 9, 2009, 2:18 PM ET
By Brad Free | Daily Racing Form



ARCADIA, Calf. -- Cowboy Cal runs a mile on turf Saturday in the Grade 2 Oak Tree Mile, followed by a Breeders' Cup race on a surface yet to be determined.

"We know he handles Pro-Ride, we want to see if he likes the Santa Anita turf," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "This would clarify whether it is the turf Mile or the so-called Dirt Mile."

Cowboy Cal can do both, and it is a testament to his versatility and durability that eight months after winning the Strub Stakes on the Santa Anita main track, he is favored to win a grass race over stakes winners Monterey Jazz, Whatsthescript, and Global Hunter.

The Oak Tree Mile is a Win and You're In race for the BC Mile, to be run at Santa Anita on Nov. 7.

Ten entered the $150,000 Oak Tree Mile, race 6, and if the race unfolds like Pletcher hopes, Cowboy Cal could fall into a great trip behind Monterey Jazz.

"We need to sit second," Pletcher said, adding that Cowboy Cal "settles better when he gets behind a horse and gets a little bit of cover."

The plan will work only if Cowboy Cal follows instructions of his new jockey. Garrett Gomez's hands will be full. Pletcher said Cowboy Cal "is not an easy horse to ride, he's a little headstrong."

He also is a bulldog in the stretch. He fought back last time and finished second behind streaking Justenuffhumor, gave Einstein fits in May, and led gate to wire winning the Grade 2 San Pasqual by a nose on the Santa Anita main track in January.

Cowboy Cal has won six races and $911,810 from 16 starts. Pletcher and owners Robert and Janice McNair will decide after Saturday whether Cowboy Cal stays on grass or is redirected to the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.

The same dilemma applies to Monterey Jazz, who is still ticking 18 months after winning the 2008 Strub Stakes. The difference is while Cowboy Cal is in top form, Monterey Jazz enters the Oak Tree Mile off two disappointing summer efforts.

"He didn't have a good time at Del Mar," trainer Craig Dollase said, referring to fifth- and seventh-place finishes while heavily favored in the Grade 1 Eddie Read and Grade 2 Del Mar Mile.

Monterey Jazz runs best when he shakes loose.

"He kind of got into a duel," Dollase said referring to his last start and speculating the fast pace (1:09.57 for six furlongs) contributed to his defeat. The longshot that Monterey Jazz dueled with, Knockout Artist, finished last.

Monterey Jazz has raced three times on the Santa Anita turf, winning one.

"It would nice if it was Hollywood," Dollase said.

Monterey Jazz is 3 for 3 on the Hollywood grass. At least the conditions Saturday at Santa Anita are favorable.

"It should be fast and firm, which he likes," Dollase said.

Mike Smith takes over on Monterey Jazz, who has won eight races and $677,880 from 21 starts.

One horse not seeking a Breeders' Cup berth is Global Hunter, whose ambitious summer campaign included three Del Mar Grade 1's -- an upset win in the Eddie Read on grass, a third in the Bing Crosby, and an off-the-board finish in Pacific Classic at 1 1/4 miles.

Trainer A.C. Avila ruled out the Breeders' Cup for Global Hunter and talked about possibly returning him to dirt this fall in a race such as the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct or the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs.