LOUISVILLE — It was one of the more complex decisions trainer Todd Pletcher and owner John Greathouse had to ponder. But, when the time came to make the final call, the rationale behind it was quite simple.
For 135 years, the Kentucky Derby has been about showcasing the best 3-year-old runners.
And Pletcher and Greathouse have always considered Grade I winner Devil May Care, regardless of her gender, to be just that.
When Devil May Care's name was absent from the entries drawn Tuesday for Friday's Kentucky Oaks, it was the final confirmation that her presence in this year's Kentucky Derby field was about to become official.
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Instead of opting to cross-enter Devil May Care in both races as had been discussed, it is now Derby or bust for the filly who will attempt to become just the fourth distaffer to wear the roses.
"She's an exceptional filly; we've always felt that way," Pletcher said. "She deserves a chance."
The topic of females racing males is much-debated in the industry, but the issue gets even more attention whenever a filly is signed up for the Derby.
Because the death of Eight Belles after her runner-up finish in the 2008 Derby is still fresh in people's minds, Pletcher and Greathouse anticipated that it would be one of the first things referenced when they opted to send their bay filly into Saturday's 11/4-mile race.
However, if the last 12 months have shown the racing industry anything, it's that a top female runner is more than capable of winning the sport's most coveted events.
Reigning Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra defeated males in the Preakness Stakes, Haskell Invitational and Woodward Stakes last year, and undefeated champion Zenyatta crushed her male rivals in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic. So there is hope that Devil May Care's participation in the Derby will draw attention strictly because of her ample ability.
"I think so (that attitudes have changed)," said former trainer Hal Wiggins, who conditioned Rachel Alexandra through her first 10 starts, including her 201/4-length win in the 2009 Kentucky Oaks. "I think, with the year Zenyatta and Rachel had with them outrunning the boys ... maybe they put the footwork down, and we might see it more and more than we previously have."
The main thing Pletcher and Greathouse have seen in Devil May Care is a striking physical specimen with beyond-her-years talent.
Purchased for $110,000 by Greathouse at the 2008 Keeneland September yearling sale, Devil May Care was scheduled to be resold as a juvenile. But she failed to meet her reserve despite bringing a bid of $400,000 at the 2009 Fasig-Tipton March 2-year-olds-in-training auction.
By that point, Greathouse was all too happy to keep and race the half-sister to Regal Ransom — who ran eighth in the 2009 Kentucky Derby.
"(Consignor) Ciaran Dunne had told me this was a pretty nice filly, and I think that Todd saw some things once she got further along with him that he liked," Greathouse said. "She didn't have that raw runaway 2-year-old speed, it's just a high cruising deal. She can just gallop along, keep going and keep going. That's the kind of racehorse she is."
In her second start, Devil May Care stumbled at the break but got her legs going in time to win the Grade I Frizette Stakes by a head at Belmont Park last October.
She finished 11th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies last November and fifth in the Grade III Silverbulletday Stakes during her 3-year-old debut. But she was back on form when she won the Grade II Bonnie Miss by 23/4 lengths at Gulfstream Park on March 20 despite ducking in sharply near the sixteenth-pole.
And her time of 1:49.06 for the 11⁄8 miles was faster than the 1:49.19 fellow Derby contender Ice Box posted in winning the Florida Derby on the same card.
"I think she fits very well (in the Kentucky Derby field)," said Pletcher, whose lone Triple Crown win came when he saddled Rags to Riches in the 2007 Belmont Stakes. "I think she's shown her races are competitive with the colts. We've trained her a lot with colts, and she's always done very well."
Though she is still a bit green mentally, Devil May Care has looked as strong in her pre-Derby training as any of her potential foes, skimming over what has been a muddy surface this week with apparent ease.
Her presence in the Kentucky Derby entry box will undoubtedly spark much chatter — Pletcher hopes for all the right reasons.
"There have been so many fillies run against colts since (Eight Belles), and I think the two fillies in general, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, have kind of squashed any theories about that," he said. "To me it's a moot point."