LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Winning Cause won the $200,000 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on Saturday to give trainer Todd Pletcher perhaps another Kentucky Derby qualifier.
Pletcher's next move is deciding whether the 3-year-old will join top contender Verrazano and several other of the trainer's horses in the Derby on May 4.
The Derby is limited to 20 horses. Winning Cause is behind Pletcher's Charming Kitten at 21st after earning 20 points and $120,000 in non-restricted earnings with his victory in the Grade 3 race. He has $137,250 in earnings.
Winning Cause has now won three times over Keeneland's synthetic surface. Breaking from the No. 1 post with Julien Leparoux aboard, Winning Cause covered 1-1/16 miles in 1:43.93 and paid $15.60, $8.20 and $6.00.
General Election was second and returned $29.60 and $17.80. Pick of the Litter paid $8.20 to show.
No matter how things shake out with Winning Cause, Pletcher will be busy at Churchill Downs.
Besides Verrazano, tied with Orb atop the Kentucky Derby standings at 150 points, Pletcher trains fifth-place Overanalyze and No. 6 Revolutionary (110 points each), No. 13 Palace Malice (50) and Charming Kitten. The final field could change with 24 horses having Derby points, leaving the door open for Winning Cause to possibly make the field.
"We'll take him back to Churchill tonight and see how he comes out and go from there," Pletcher said. "We weren't thinking of it as a Derby prep. He's got 20 points now, so we won't rule anything out. But we weren't really thinking of it as a Derby prep...
"We'll play it by ear and see how it comes out."
What's clear is that Winning Cause loves Keeneland, evidenced by another strong run in the first of two Derby wild-card races. The second is next weekend's Derby Trial at Churchill Downs.
Bumped at the start, Winning Cause moved up to create a four-wide run at the second turn and challenged with a furlong left before pulling away down the stretch to win by a head.
"From the first turn, I was kind of getting him a little bit outside in the clear," Leparoux said, "and the more you ask of him, the more he's gonna go. It was great. From the beginning, everything good happened."
Cerro, another contender, led at the stretch but finished fourth.
While Derby points was the Lexington's main prize, filly Pure Fun was the feature race's focal point. Making her first start against males in the 10-horse field, she was looking to tune up for the Grade I Kentucky Oaks on May 3.
Pure Fun's hope of capitalizing as the early 7-2 favorite descended into pure frustration. Starting outside from the No. 10 post, she got hemmed in the middle and couldn't make a charge, finishing seventh.