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

encouraging.

“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,”

Maker said.

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

wire.

“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

moment.”

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

Dude.

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.

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