The Morning Line: Blue Grass Stakes

On To Kentucky 

Tom Keyser

ML Favorite Hansen

When the Kentucky Derby trail reaches Lexington, KY is when you know that the Kentucky Derby is right around the corner. Since the G1 $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes was restored at Keeneland in 1937, the race has remained one of the most successful steps along the road to Louisville. In 2012 the Blue Grass Stakes has drawn the attention of 13 horses, the most since 1974 when 14 starters entered. Attracting even more interest is the morning line favorite Hansen, the first Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion to race in the Bluegrass Stakes since eventual Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense in 2007. But the underlying story that is gaining speed is the overwhelming drive for graded stakes earnings. The field for the 138th Kentucky Derby is not yet done taking shape and is one long shot win away from being reshuffled.

Similar to the Arkansas Derby there is a limited amount of horses that have already punched their tickets to the big show. What that means is that if an unlikely winner emerges then they will be rewarded with a spot in the starting gate after claiming their $450,000 portion of the purse. What it also means is that since no entries are currently ranked on the bubble, the $150,000 2nd place prize will not be enough to qualify. So for the Kentucky Derby to receive another entry from the Blue Grass Stakes it will have to be a winner outside of the big 3. 

The three horses that have already qualified and will be using the Blue Grass as their final tune up for the derby are Hansen, Prospective and Dullahan. The big similarity between them is that they are very familiar with racing on synthetics and each of them raced on it in their final prep before the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs. So it’s a repeat, synthetics again before moving on to Louisville. The final thing that remains the same for all of these contenders is that their regular riders will be back in the saddle on Saturday.

Maybe it is because he’s a beautiful colt or maybe it is only because I have him ranked as the top Kentucky Derby Contender. Either way we’ll begin with Hansen. By Tapit and Stormy Sunday and trained by Mike Maker, Hansen quickly returned to his winning ways after suffering the only loss of his career in the G3 Holy Bull Stakes on 1/29. The rebound came in G3 the Gotham Stakes, a win that proved to be just too easy. So the Juvenile Champ was back which brings him here to Keeneland with 5 wins and 1 2nd in a total of 6 career races.

His previous success on synthetics probably played a big part in Makers decision to use the Blue Grass as the final stop. In fact, that’s where his racing career began. After breaking his maiden at Turfway Park, Hansen returned to win again in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile Stakes before the Breeders’ Cup. So as you can see this horse is versatile and it should not play into his chances of winning the Kentucky Derby.

One thing that a lot of us are interested in is if he’ll repeat the racing style he showed for the first time last time out. Going into the Gotham Hansen was known for winning all of his races from the front. He went wire to wire in his first three races before he was finally caught in the stretch by Algorithms in the Holy Bull. But in the Gotham he showed that he can win from somewhere else – close to the front. Stalking in 3rd and 2nd for the better part of the race allowed him to learn it can be done another way. Unless the pace is dragging I would expect a very similar strategy in the Blue Grass.

Prospective and Dullahan are also here because of their previous Graded Stakes wins on synthetic tracks. Actually, Dullahan’s win was here during Keeneland’s Fall Meet. It was his first ever win in the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity that catapulted him into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile – 4th place. In an unorthodox route to the Derby, trainer Dale Romans kept Dullahan on a layoff after the Breeders’ Cup until last month when he returned for the G3 Palm Beach Stakes at Gulfstream. The 2nd place finish or layoff wasn’t the rare occurrence, it was the fact that the race was on the turf. But multiple surface racing is slowly becoming less rare than it once was so consider this horse ready for the Derby if all goes well in the Blue Grass.

Prospective on the other hand is on the same path as Hansen. This will be his first race over a non-dirt surface since he left the track where he got his start. For this colt, trained by Mark Casse, it was the synthetic track at Woodbine that led him to the Breeders’ Cup. The key to that journey was his win in the G3 Grey Stakes. Maybe he wasn’t ready for the dirt but it only took one race and a 13th place finish for him to rebound at Tampa Bay Downs. Opening the season with a win in the Pasco Stakes kept him in Tampa and he cleaned up. A 2nd place in the Sam F. Davis followed by a win in the Tampa Bay Derby has Prospective right on track to make some noise in the Blue Grass Stakes.

These three headliners are going to make it very tough for a derby hopeful to score a ticket but there’s always a chance if you enter the starting gate. Another horse that will get action at the betting window is Howe Great, trained by Graham Motion, ridden by John Velazquez and owned by Team Valor, the connections of last year’s Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom. The reason more so than his connections is because this colt is on a tear, 4 wins in his last 4 races. Though he started his career with back to back MSW races on the dirt at Parx – 2nd and 1st – his last 3 wins were on the turf at Gulfstream. Last time out was his biggest score, his first ever Graded Stakes start and win over Dullahan in the Palm Beach Stakes.

Next up is Scatman and Ever So Lucky. Scatman raced here at Keeneland last fall and is Graded Stakes tested so he is ready for the Blue Grass. He moves in from Oaklawn where he finished 2nd in the Southwest and 3rd in the Rebel. Ever So Lucky however is making his synthetic surface debut. He enters after finishing 2nd to Gemologist in last year’s Jockey Club Stakes and 3rd in the G3 Swale. Unfortunately for both horses their prize money in both efforts will still not be enough if combined with the $150,000 second place prize. So they’re close but only a win will get them through the door.

Final side note is that Louisiana Derby stunner and 109-1 winner Hero of Order is entering after only a 12 day layoff. While it would be wild to see him win again, it still will not have any affect on the likely hood that he will enter the Kentucky Derby. He is still not nominated for the Triple Crown and his connections will probably not move to nominate him this late and after another short lay off.

G1 $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes | 1 1/8 Mile | All Weather Track | Race 11, Post Time 6:18

PP Horse Jockey Trainer ODDS
1 Heavy Breathing (KY) C. Lanerie T. Pletcher 12-1
2 Gung Ho (PA) E. Prado M. Maker 30-1
3 Prospective (KY) L. Contreras M. Casse 10-1
4 Hansen (KY) R. Dominguez M. Maker 6-5
5 Russian Greek (KY) M. Mena G. Dorochenko 50-1
6 Dullahan (KY) K. Desormeaux D. Romans 6-1
7 Politicallycorrect (KY) E. Trujillo W. Ward 30-1
8 Midnight Crooner (KY) G. Gomez B. Baffert 15-1
9 Holy Candy (KY) J. Rosario J. Sadler 30-1
10 Howe Great (KY) J. Castellano G. Motion 6-1
11 Ever So Lucky (KY) J. Leparoux J. Sheppard 12-1
12 Hero of Order (KY) E. Martin Jr. G. Dorochenko 12-1
13 Scatman (KY) S. Bridgmohan M. Laue 12-1

Good Luck to all of our Blue Grass Stake entries and their connections. We hope for a good introduction to Kentucky Racing and hope to see as many horses as possible return again at Churchill Downs for the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby.

Written by: Little Brink

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