Blue Grass Stakes shapes up as a wide-open battle
The 90th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on Saturday (FS 1, 4:00 p.m. EDT) brings together a field of 14 three-year-olds as one of the last two major preps for the Kentucky Derby three weeks from now. Four horses in the group have won at the Grade 3 level, none at the Grade 2 level, so saying this is a wide-open edition of the race might not be doing it justice.
Bobby’s Kitten, who enters the Blue Grass off a victory in his first start of the year, has raced exclusively on turf in his career, winning three times in five races including the Grade 3 Pilgrim Stakes in October. Gala Award has also raced exclusive on grass, winning his last two races including the Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes. Medal Count won the Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes eight days ago at Keeneland and has a local experience edge over many of the others. Vinceremos won the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes in February before a runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby last month and is another proven capable in stakes races. Other stakes winners include: Asserting Bear (Coronation Futurity), Extrasexyhippzster (Miracle Wood Stakes), Harry’s Holiday (96 Rock Stakes), So Lonesome (Virgo Libra Stakes) and Coastline (Street Sense Stakes).
How the race may be run: As Bobby’s Kitten led from start to finish in his first start of the year last month and has been first at the half-mile point in all four races since his debut, he is likely to want the front once more. However, Harry’s Holiday demonstrated he wanted to battle for the lead in his most recent race and pressed the pacesetter in his only other two-turn race. Coltimus Prime earned his only win leading from start to finish and battled for the lead from the start to the finish before settling for second by a head last fall in his first two turn race. Others, because of their post positions, may need to run fast early to get a good, middle-of-the-pack spot in the field before the first turn so as not to lose ground and they too could add pressure to the pacesetters. Under such a scenario, many of the horses that are unhurried in the early stages may be coming on strongly in the stretch.
Main Contenders: Asserting Bear was one of the few horses closing late last month in the Spiral Stakes. Rallying from eighth with a quarter mile to go, he dove to the rail and finished fourth of 12, beaten two lengths at the end. Improving from a 90 Equibase Speed Figure in his 3-year-old debut previously to a career-best 97 figure with that effort, Asserting Bear gets the ground saving rail so he won’t have to run as far or as wide around the track as many of the others will. In November as a 2-year-old, Asserting Bear won the Coronation Futurity in Canada, making him one of two horses (Gala Award the other) to have won at the 1 1/8-mile distance of this race and the only one to have done so on a synthetic surface like the one at Keeneland. With improving to do in his third start off a layoff and with a recent workout over the track signaling he likes the surface, Asserting Bear has potential to post the upset win in this year’s Toyota Blue Grass Stakes.
Medal Count is trying to win the Blue Grass on just seven days rest because on opening day of the spring Keeneland meeting (April 4) Medal Count won the Transylvania Stakes, a race originally scheduled for turf but moved to the main track because the course was too wet. Rallying from next-to-last in a field of eight, Medal Count won rather easily to earn a career best 103 figure. If Medal Count can secure a decent mid-pack position in the early stages from his far outside draw without going too wide or expending too much energy, he could win his second graded stakes in a little over a week.
Gala Award has improved in each of his three career starts to date, running faster each time while facing tougher competition. Earning a career-best 103 figure when victorious in the Palm Beach Stakes last month, Gala Award may be trying a surface other than grass for the first time but should have no issues with it given his breeding and the fact one of his half-brothers (same dam [mother], different sire [father]), multiple stakes winner Stormello, won a Grade 1 stakes on a synthetic surface. However, like Medal Count, Gala Award gets an extreme outside post, one that will require jockey John Velazquez to utilize all his skills to find a good position going into the first turn that hopefully will not compromise the colt’s chances late in the race.
Dance With Fate, like Asserting Bear, might be finishing fast in the stretch if the pace is contested and the early fractions are faster than average. Over a similar all-weather surface last summer, Dance With Fate finished second in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity then in his first two-turn race finished second again in top company in the Grade 1 Front Runner Stakes. In his three-year-old debut in January, Dance With Fate closed nicely to win going away then improved to a career-best 96 figure when second, beaten a half-length in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby on the synthetic, run at the same 1 1/8-mile distance of the Blue Grass.
Note about some of the others:
Harry’s Holiday added blinkers three races back and the results were a big improvement in form to win by eight lengths in the 96 Rock Stakes. Two races later, he battled head and head down the stretch in the Spiral Stakes at the distance of the Blue Grass, missing by a nose at the finish line with a 97 figure that might be competitive if repeated. The main issue concerning whether the effort can be repeated is there could be a lot more early speed in this field, courtesy of Bobby’s Kitten and Coltimus Prime, with others expected to press the pacesetters as well. Bobby’s Kitten led from start to finish when winning in his 3-year-old debut last month. When winning the Pilgrim Stakes last fall he started in front then sat in second before retaking the lead. With a strong 104 figure earned in that last race, if he can take the pace pressure in the early stages and find something late, Bobby’s Kitten could still be in contention at the finish. Divine Oath is the lone also-eligible in the field, able to run only if one of the other 14 entrants withdraws. If he does draw into the race there should not be too much concern about his outside post as he closed from far back to win his most recent race and jockey Julien Leparoux can drop him back to last before the turn and then wait until an opening appears or try to go around the field in the stretch. Considering he improved from a 93 figure in his debut to 102 in his second start, which puts the effort on par with the main contenders here, Divine Oath is another to be considered a contender in a very wide-open running of the Blue Grass Stakes.
The rest of the field (with best representative Equibase Speed Figures): Big Bazinga (102), Casiguapo (99), Coastline (99), Coltimus Prime (96), Extrasexyhippzster (103), Pablo Del Monte (99), So Lonesome (92), Vinceremos (96).