Stately Victor wins a shocker at Blue Grass Stakes
The Blue Grass Stakes looked like way too tough a field to enter
an underachiever like Stately Victor. When owner Tom Conway went
ahead and did it anyway, son Jack’s response was far from
“Really?” Jack Conway recalled asking his father.
Good call, Dad.
The 40-1 long shot stunned the field Saturday at the $750,000
Blue Grass Stakes, surging to the front in the stretch under jockey
Alan Garcia and pulling away to beat Paddy O’Prado by 4 1/4
lengths. Better still, the win earned Stately Victor an unlikely
spot in next month’s Kentucky Derby.
Yet no one was more surprised than Jack Conway, who in addition
to being co-owner of the horse, also happens to be Kentucky’s
attorney general and a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate.
“I was not in on that decision,” he said laughing.
Stately Victor had won just once in seven career starts and
looked outclassed running against quality competition. The colt,
named for a childhood friend of Jack Conway’s who was killed in a
car accident in 1992, was the longest shot in the nine-horse field
filled with Derby hopefuls.
But he didn’t race like an underdog, recovering from a rocky
start to win the 1 1-8 mile race over Polytrack at Keeneland and
collect the $450,000 winner’s check.
“I’ve been walking on pillows here for the last 30 minutes,”
Jack Conway said.
He wasn’t alone. Stately Victor paid $82.20, $30.40 and $12.80,
the largest payoff in the 86 editions of the Blue Grass.
Paddy O’Prado and jockey Kent Desormeaux appeared to have things
under control in the stretch before fading late and paying $6 and
$4.40. First Dude, with Ramon Dominguez up, paid $6.40 to show,
just ahead of pre-race favorite Interactif.
The race was supposed to be the last shot for Derby prospects
like Interactif, Tampa Bay Derby winner Odysseus and Pleasant
Prince to earn enough money to assure themselves a spot in the Run
for the Roses.
The Derby field is limited to 20 starters. If more are entered,
the field is determined by graded stakes earnings.
While Interactif is almost guaranteed a spot with earnings over
$300,000, it now looks like Odysseus and Pleasant Prince –
seemingly locks a few weeks ago – will need a few defections to
race under the twin spires on May 1.
Not Stately Victor, whose only previous finish in a graded
stakes race came at Keeneland last fall when he finished a distant
sixth in the Breeders’ Futurity.
Yet the Conways remained high on him even as the disappointing
finishes piled up. So did trainer Mike Maker.
“He was one of those horses you made excuses for every time,”
For once, Stately Victor left the alibis to the rest of the
field. His trip began by smacking into First Dude at the start, but
Garcia and Stately Victor stayed patient, slogging their way
through the opening half-mile. The colt was sixth at the quarter
pole before finding a gear he’d never shown before.
Paddy O’Prado, who overtook front-running Odysseus at the turn,
appeared to have nothing but clear sailing between himself and the
“When Kent put (Odysseus) away, I thought we were gone,”
trainer Dale Romans said.
Stately Victor had other ideas.
“I wanted to be patient with him,” Garcia said. “I was very
comfortable with this horse.”
Stately Victor apparently felt the same. He covered the distance
in 1:48.69 and gave Kentucky a decidedly homegrown favorite to root
for in the Derby.
The Conways have been horse fans and players going back a long
way. Tom Conway tried to imbue a sense of history about the sport
by making his son memorize the names of all the Derby-winning
horses and their jockeys.
“Derby week just got a heck of a lot busier,” Conway said.
“If I miss a chicken dinner on Tuesday or Thursday night of Derby
week, I hope they understand I’m with my dad at a very special
Paddy O’Prado’s second-place finish probably earned him a spot
in the Derby field, too. He began the day 34th in earnings with
$100,950 but took home $150,000 by holding off a game First
He’ll be joined there by Stately Victor, who knocked Dust
Commander’s upset in the 1970 Blue Grass out of the record books.
Dust Commander paid $72.80 to win 36 years ago, a sure thing
compared to the odds Stately Victor faced on Saturday.