There is no place like Keeneland. The air is crisp. The atmosphere is electric. The history is well represented. And the racing is outstanding. Since 1936, Keeneland has conducted live racing in April and October. And this Saturday, the race course will host one of the most prestigious Kentucky Derby preps the G.1 $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. I have never had the opportunity to attend Keeneland in the spring, but have made several memorable trips in the fall. I expect this weekend to add a little drama to the road to the derby with a very competitive race.
Although the Blue Grass is considered a key derby prep, no horse has won the Blue Grass and the Kentucky Derby since Spectacular Bid accomplished the task in 1979. However, it has produced two derby winners in recent years, Street Sense ran 2nd in 2007 and Thunder Gulch ran 4th in 1994. The race is filled with historic wins as well. Neighboring Calumet Farms has 6 wins. Bill Shoemaker had 6 in his legendary career. Ben A. Jones, Woody Stephens, and Nick Zito all have 3 wins in their impressive careers as award winning trainers.
With all eyes on New York, Florida, Arkansas, and California, Kentucky racing has taken a backseat until the first Saturday in May arrives. Horsemen pay close attention to the Blue Grass, but it seems to have lost its luster just a bit. Perhaps one reason falls on the decision to switch surfaces to a polytrack in 2006. Or with only three weeks to the derby, horsemen are looking for longer layoffs with more rest headed into the derby. Whatever the reason, the Blue Grass needs a signiture winner with a lively chance on derby day to vindicate the great state of Kentucky. This weekend, 12 horses will look to become that lively horse. The only thing standing in their way is 1 1/8 miles.
It’s essentially win and you’re in. With grades stakes earnings as the entry ticket to the derby, only one horse in the field can lose and still get in. That horse is Santiva. Trained by Eddie Kenneally, Santiva has over $250,000 in graded earnings and is currently the morning line favorite at odds of 3-1. In his last start, Santiva ran 2nd in the Risen Star to derby contender Mucho Macho Man. He has hit the board in all five of his career starts with only one win. He will be ridden by Julien Leparoux. That leaves 11 other horses looking for the big pay day and 3 trainers are sending multiple starters looking for a possible pay off and entry ticket to the big dance. Tom Albertrani sends King Congie and Brilliant Speed. Mike Maker sends Joes Blazing Aaron and Twinspired. And Todd Pletcher sends Sensational Slam, Praetereo, and Queen’splatekitten. Can one of these three successful trainers outmatch Santiva or can one of the other four starters steal the show?
$750,000 Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I, Race 10, 5:45 p.m.), 3YO, 1 1/8 Miles (Polytrack)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Newsdad (KY), J L Castanon, 123, W I Mott 20-1
2. King Congie (KY), R Maragh, 123, T Albertrani 5-1
3. Santiva (KY), J R Leparoux, 123, E Kenneally 3-1
4. Joes Blazing Aaron (KY), G K Gomez, 123, M J Maker 12-1
5. Brilliant Speed (FL), J Rosario, 123, T Albertrani 6-1
6. Sensational Slam (ON), J Lezcano, 123, T A Pletcher 10-1
7. Twinspired (KY), R Albarado, 123, M J Maker 12-1
8. Willcox Inn (KY), R Napravnik, 123, M Stidham 10-1
9. Wilkinson (KY), J Theriot, 123, N J Howard 6-1
10. Praetereo (KY), E S Prado, 123, T A Pletcher 15-1
11. Crimson China (KY), A Garcia, 123, H G Motion 10-1
12. Queen’splatekitten (ON), J R Velazquez, 123, T A Pletcher 12-1
You can make a case for any of these 12 starters. The field seems to be well balanced and could provide a great deal of excitement leading to the derby. However, I’m not personally a big fan of horses running on polytrack and then transitioning to dirt. But, on a day like Saturday you can’t look too far ahead. Santiva looks to be the class of the field, but I’m looking more at the Neil Howard trained Wilkinson. Howard is a well respected trainer and he has taken a different approach with this horse. If his intuitions are correct, he could run big this weekend. In his racing debut, Wilkinson lost by a head over the Keeneland track. Wilkinson won the G.3 Lecomte in January and two moths later ran 6th in the Louisiana Derby. With three week layoff and Jamie Theriot in the irons, he should be primed and ready to run.
Wilkinson – win and place Exotics – Tri box 3,5,9 and 7,9,11
Good luck to all the owners, trainers, jockeys, and horses this weekend. The time gap between now and May is narrowing as is the derby field. This weekend’s winner will almost certainly add their name to the starters for the derby and look to represent Kentucky with a great deal of pride. We hope all connections have a safe and exciting ride.
Written by Big Brink