If he pored over the statistics long enough and analyzed would-be scenarios in his head, trainer Wesley Ward knew, he and the other owners of Pablo Del Monte would talk themselves into the once-in-a-lifetime chance that presented itself about a week and a half ago.
The withdrawal of graded stakes winner Hoppertunity two days before the Kentucky Derby opened the door for Pablo Del Monte to start in the race that many fans consider the Holy Grail of Thoroughbred racing.
There were moments, Ward said, when he was on the verge of saddling what would have been his first Derby starter. Then the pros-and-cons list ultimately ruled in favor of his gut.
"When we got lucky enough to get a scratch to get into the race, I started getting that Derby fever myself," Ward said during a national teleconference. "If you own any horse, you're reading the (Daily Racing) Form, and you'll find if you have an interest in the horse, you find a way to win the race when I look at it on paper.
"When you back up and look at all the variables, ... it certainly would've been a lot to overcome."
The timing, distance and strategy of the Preakness Stakes all shaped up as more ideal fits for the colt Ward bred and raised. So it will be over Pimlico Race Course that Pablo Del Monte will get his crack at a classic win, as one of Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome's new challengers in the 13⁄16-mile race.
Had Pablo Del Monte gone in the Derby, he would have had to break from the outside post No. 20 post by virtue of his drawing in off the also-eligible list. And the odds of the son of Giant's Causeway being able to navigate his way into a ground-saving position by the first turn were decidedly not in his favor.
Ward — who co-owns the chestnut runner with Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith — thus erred on the side of caution. With a potential field of just 10 runners under consideration for the Preakness, Pablo Del Monte's front-running speed — as he showed during his third-place effort in the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland — has a much better chance at being dangerous.
"The five weeks (from the Blue Grass to Preakness) is perfect for me, ... so, you know, he should run his best possible race," Ward said. "We're getting the best of the best, so that's one reason why he hasn't won (a stakes). But I think he's bringing it all together mentally, and the first time going two turns on the Polytrack, I think he really showed a lot of heart and determination to stick in there and to try really hard."
Winning over a dirt surface remains something Pablo Del Monte has yet to achieve; both of his victories from six career starts were over Keeneland's Polytrack. He is graded-stakes placed on the main track, though, finishing third to Wildcat Red in the Grade III Hutcheson Stakes, going 7 furlongs at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 1.
Distance also is a question, as Pablo Del Monte's dam, One Hot Wish, established a world record for 41/2 furlongs on the Keeneland track in April 2007. The influence of leading sire and champion Giant's Causeway is what Ward hopes will carry the colt once he arrives in Baltimore.
"If ever he's going to get this far, he's going to get that distance in the Preakness," said Ward, who also conditioned One Hot Wish. "I know that California Chrome, he's on his game right now. I certainly don't wish anyone any bad racing luck, but, that being said, five weeks against two weeks, you'd certainly want to be in the position I'm in as far as timing-wise."
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: Horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.