Pleasant Prince early favorite for Blue Grass

Winning the Blue Grass Stakes is on Ken Ramsey’s “bucket

list,” just a notch or two below capturing the Kentucky Derby.

The highly successful horse owner, a Kentucky native, just

didn’t anticipate the chance to scratch one of the last major the

Derby prep races off his list this year.

Economics gave him no choice.

A second-place finish in the Florida Derby three weeks ago left

Ramsey’s 3-year-old colt Pleasant Prince with $162,500 in graded

stakes earnings. Most years, that’s more than good enough for a

spot in the Derby.

Not in 2010.

The elevation of the $800,000 Sunland Derby – won last year by

Kentucky Derby victor Mine That Bird – to graded status means it’ll

take more to secure a spot in the starting gate at Churchill Downs

on May 1. The Derby bases its 20 entries on graded stakes

earnings.

By Ramsey’s math, Pleasant Prince needs to at least hit the

board in the $750,000 Blue Grass to join stablemate Dean’s Kitten –

a winner in the Lane’s End Stakes two weeks ago – in the Run for

the Roses.

Don’t get Ramsey wrong. A native of Artemus, Ky., about two

hours south of Lexington, Ramsey has long adored the Blue Grass.

He’d just rather have skipped it this year, even if oddsmakers made

Pleasant Prince the 3-1 favorite among the field for the 1 1-8 mile

race over Polytrack.

“If he had won the Florida Derby, I’ll be honest, we wouldn’t

be here,” Ramsey said.

Frankly, Ramsey still isn’t convinced that Ice Box nipped

Pleasant Prince and jockey Julien Leparoux by a nose at the wire at

Gulfstream Park. Pleasant Prince stalked early, then dueled Ice Box

to the finish.

Ramsey thought his horse had won, and he wasn’t the only one.

Retired Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, covering the race on

television, actually told Ramsey to head to the Winner’s Circle

before Ice Box’s number popped up atop the tote board.

“We lost by a thumbnail,” Ramsey said with a laugh.

That thumbnail, however, means Pleasant Price will make his

fifth start of the year – a pretty hefty number in an age when

talented contenders are often lightly raced before the Derby.

“We need the earnings,” Ramsey said. “I’d rather not do it,

but we need the money.”

If anything, another race might allow Pleasant Prince to take

another step forward. His speed figures have improved with each

start and Ramsey isn’t concerned about running over the synthetic

surface at Keeneland, where Pleasant Prince finished third last

fall in his only race off the dirt.

Pleasant Prince has put together two solid workouts in recent

weeks, including five furlongs in 58 seconds at Keeneland last

Sunday. Ramsey saw no reason to send his horse to Oaklawn Park for

the Arkansas Derby instead, fearing the travel demands would

outweigh any benefit his horse would glean from running on the

dirt.

Besides, even Ramsey admits the Blue Grass might be the easier

route to Churchill Downs, saying the Arkansas Derby “looks like

it’s a tougher race.”

He may be right. The Blue Grass field has just three horses –

Interactif, Odysseus and Paddy O’Prado – with wins in graded stakes

races. Both of Interactif’s victories came on turf.

Odysseus edged Schoolyard Dreams by a nose to take the Tampa Bay

Derby on March 13 and will start on the rail as the 7-2 second

choice. Interactif and stablemate Aikenite will start alongside

each other on the outside and will go off at 4-1 as they try to

give trainer Todd Pletcher two more shots at winning his elusive

first Derby.

“It’s really not a tough race, but a Grade 1 is a Grade 1, so

it’s a step up,” said assistant trainer Ginny DiPasquale.

The Blue Grass has long been one of the top Derby preps, but

success at Keeneland doesn’t always translate under the twin

spires.

No horse has pulled off the Blue Grass-Derby double since Strike

the Gold in 1991, and only one of the last 10 Blue Grass winners

has managed a top-three finish at the Derby.

Keeneland’s switch from dirt to Polytrack in the fall of 2006

has done little to help the Blue Grass winner’s Derby prospects.

The three horses to win the Blue Grass since the switch –

Dominican, Monba and General Quarters – have finished 10th or

worse.

Not that it matters to Ramsey. He and his wife Sarah have become

one of the top owners and breeders in the country, but they’ve been

unable to find a 3-year-old capable of competing in the Derby.

Their only Derby starter – Ten Cents A Shine – finished eighth in

2003.

Ramsey is hoping to breakthrough this year and has no problem if

he happens to win the Blue Grass along the way, whether he

initially wanted to be here or not.

“To me, the reward is better than the risk,” he said.

FOX Fantasy Auto Form a Racing Team, Compete for Prizes
Play Now!