Tomorrow is the final major prep day for the Kentucky Derby. Granted, the Lexington (hi Charismatic) and the Derby Trial (hi Cannonade) remain. One of those preps is the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. Street Sense ran 3rd here before winning the 2007 Derby. Strike the Gold was the last Blue Grass winner to also win the Derby, though this race has historically produced a handful of winners of both.
Here are some picks that may or may not be accurate, depending on how much Wheatley luck or lack thereof factors in to the Blue Grass at Keeneland. During the era of the dirt, this race was usually the one my dad didn't win and we found some buried talents on Derby Day such as 1995 Thunder Gulch after his 4th against the bias. On synthetic, this has been a much happier race. Especially in 2008, when my dad and I hit the late pick four because I nagged him to include Monba in the ticket.
Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland:
1. Dynamic Sky, J-Joel Rosario, T-Mark Casse, M/L: 10
The good: Finished 2nd in last year's Breeders' Futurity in a solid race chasing down loose speed in Joha. Outfinished probable favorite Java's War in said race. He comes out of the Tampa Bay Derby, which had Verrazano gut out a win in the Wood Memorial off of his Tampa win. Rosario is on fire so far this Keeneland meet, though that's been helped by riding for trainers Wesley Ward and Michael Maker, who seem to win everything in Lexington. Should be able to sit a midpack trip and not be put into trouble by a rider that knows the racetrack. For pedigree, Sky Mesa won the Breeders' Futurity when he was 2, but that was on the dirt.
The bad: Both of his wins are in sprints. He had the infamous keep position, lose ground running line at Tampa last out. Verrazano and Java's War certainly aren't slouches, but more could have been expected from him the third start of the year. Yesterday's track looked like wide trips were favored by horses that didn't pop out front to the lead. Having the 1 hole in a 14 horse field boded much better at Keeneland on dirt than it has most of the time on synthetic.
2. My Name Is Michael, J-Shaun Bridgmohan, T-Bill Mott, M/L: 15
The good: Bridghmohan and Mott are 4/18 together since the start of 2012. His Spiral had excuses his second start of the year. His mother is related to Spoken Fur, a 1 1/2 winner in the CCA Oaks. Macho Uno and Vindication had good 2-turn form as well, each winning Breeders' Cup Juveniles. Vindication's was at 1 1/8 miles, the distance of this race. Bill Mott is not known for running horses for the Derby just for taking a trip to Louisville and little else. If the pace is hot, he could figure to pick up the pieces late.
The bad: Still eligible for entry-level allowance races. Has burned money in his 3-year-old starts so far to no avail. He seems to be a horse that picks up checks without winning the big check, as he has 4 top 5s aside from his lone victory at 2 sprinting at Woodbine.
3. Undrafted, J-Corey Nakatani, T-Wesley Ward, M/L: 10
The good: He won at Keeneland at 2, albeit in a baby race where Ward tends to dominate. That race did produce Joha, the Breeders' Futurity winner, so it appears that race might be productive in the long run, unlike most 2-year-old 4 1/2 races have on the Poly. He comes from Gulfstream Park, a track where horses tend to carry their form well to Keeneland. Purim was a 2-turn turf horse that I remember. His siblings were sprinters, as was his dam. Figures to get the lead or be close to the pace early. Though he is winless in 2013, his starts in the Swale and Hutcheson showed signs that he doesn't need to lead at every call to run well.
The bad: For a speed horse, he tends to run 3rd quite a bit. Four of six, in fact. Wesley's top horses usually peter out beyond the sprint distances. Also skeptical of inside speed in the Blue Grass since the synthetic switch. Cowboy Cal and Hansen ran honorable seconds out front early, but they had established 2-turn stakes form by then. Undrafted just won a slow paced mile turf race at Gulfstream.
4. Java's War, J-Julien Leparoux, T-Ken McPeek, M/L: 4
The good: He ran a good second to Verrazano at Tampa Bay and a better than it looked 3rd in last year's Breeders' Futurity. Gets Julien Leparoux, or as I call him, French Pat Day. Down to the parts where he often wins Keeneland meets and beats horses I need to win bets. He was a top 2 year old turfer last year, winning 2 1 mile races on grass. Grass horses tend to favor Keeneland's poly quite well. Should figure to close into a fast pace should that develop. Considering 14 are in the gate, I'd expect some burn out speed.
The bad: Hasn't won since around Labor Day of last year. Both wins were on grass. He tends to find trouble, as many closers do, even in the races that he has won. Julien is more up to the task at Keeneland than in Triple Crown races on the resume, though he's known for not having horses break terribly fast (Dialed In 2011, Union Rags 2012). A similar bad break on a track that favors stalkers or speed could hurt him Saturday. War Pass ran lights out at 2, but didn't develop as much at 3.
5. Palace Malice, J-Garrett Gomez, T-Todd Pletcher, M/L: 8
The good: The Louisiana Derby has been a good indicator of Derby contenders, as Nehro and Mucho Macho Man placed in that race before placing in the 2011 Derby. His trip that day was brutal. Not many horses can say their sire won HOY twice. A little surprised he's not at Oaklawn instead, considering this is his first foray into Polytrack. Gomez and Pletcher know how to win, especially together. Gomez is also a jockey that likes to give his horses a clean trip, especially at Keeneland. If the track remains favorable to the overland route, look for him to fire well.
The bad: Can still run in n1x allowance races. A bit deflating that he lost to a 100-1 shot in the Risen Star. His win was at Saratoga in a 2 year old sprint race when speed was winning most of the races that day. In another 14 horse field, trouble could bother his chances once again. I also doubt any Pletcher horse will go off at 8-1 odds. 5-1 or 6-1 is probably more realistic. I feel he can get a placing, but not my pick to click.
6. Channel Isle, J-Joe Rocco, Jr., T-D Wayne Lukas, M/L: 30
The good: Coach has a history unlike most in 3 year old races. Shouldn't be bothered if the pace is fast, as he likely will be double digits behind the first half mile or so. English Channel won the Breeders' Cup Turf at 3, so distance shouldn't be a problem either. I've seen stranger winners of this race do it before, such as Stately Victor a few years back.
The bad: The name "Deranged Lukas" comes to mind the last 10 years or so with running 3 year olds out of their element. Optimizer, a stablemate of his, comes to mind. Should have stuck with grass with him, though he ran in all 3 TC races last year anyway. He had excuses losing the Southwest at Oaklawn, and unlike many, has a win this year. But his Spiral was a headscratcher. Might leave himself too much to do down the lane.
7. Uncaptured, J-Miguel Mena, T-Mark Casse, M/L: 7/2 favorite
The good: Apart from his trouble trip Grey race, which had Mine That Bird in 2008 before his '09 Derby win, his record has been mostly solid. Six wins is impressive at this stage of his career. Most of those were on polytrack at Woodbine, a track that tends to have good overlap with Keeneland. He needed his last start and should run better 2nd start back for the year. Lion Heart ran 2nd in the '04 Derby and Arch won the '98 Fayette at 1 3/16 miles, so distance shouldn't faze him. Arch also sired Blame, the lone vanquisher of Zenyatta.
The bad: He had things his own way in the Spiral and still lost to Black Onyx. The Kentucky Jockey Club did see Super Saver pull a JC-Derby double in 09-10, but the form of that race hasn't held up all that well in 2013. He's only 1/3 in 2-turn stakes races. May not offer value compared to others, though that is more of a positive to his current record than a deterrent for being overrated. Might sneak a better price because he lost his last start.
8. Charming Kitten, J-Joe Bravo, T-Todd Pletcher, M/L: 10
The good: Gulfstream Park turf and Keeneland polytrack crossover form very well. If you like Rydilluc, using him in conjunction with the #13 makes sense, as they have the same last race. The Ramseys like to win at Keeneland, especially since the advent of the Polytrack era. Can either sit close to the pace or come from well behind late. The fact that Bravo is aboard suggests that he'll be closer than normal. Pletcher is 5/14 going Turf/Synth according to DRF with a higher ROI than you'd think from Todd ($3.61 ROI).
The bad: As a Ramsey, it will be underlaid, in all likelihood. Though it got in a lot of trouble in the Breeders' Futurity at 2, the fact that it was 9th was not great. Many of the runners in here have beaten him before head-to-head; can he beat the 4 that have beat him head to head in this?
9. Tesseron, J-Alan Garcia, T-Josie Carroll, M/L: 50
The good: Gulfstream Turf has a good record at Keeneland, though this horse getting a piece would be a stretch on its current body of work. Tapit did win the Wood Memorial at 3, and a hot pace would help this horse as well. One win and one second on Poly merits consideration, though its last two races were a bit flat. No shame in losing to Uncaptured and Black Onyx, though. Has a 6 furlong workout on the track, while slow, shows it should be fit to run. Carroll is not a burner in the AM workouts.
The bad: Has a trainer with 2 wins all year, none of which are with Tesseron. Though the 1st and 3rd horses won Turfway stakes next out from its last start, I wonder why it's making this its 2nd start of the year. He can handle the distance and certainly shouldn't be 50-1, but I haven't seen impressive numbers just yet.
10. Footbridge, J-Corey Lanerie, T-Eoin Harty, M/L: 20
The good: His breeding is as good as it gets for most. His sire and grandsire both impressively won their respective Dubai World Cups (02 for Street Cry, 00 for Dubai Millennium). Governor Charlie beat him 2 back, so look at his race to gauge 'Charlie' later on. Hasn't raced on Lasix, which suggests he can run without medication well. 4 in the money starts of 4 shows consistency and he figures to be outside speed that can sit a good trip.
The bad: Just broke his maiden March 17th. The west coast horses, Super Ninety Nine and the top West horse--Goldencents--aside, have yet to flatter on a wide scale this year. Gomez opted for Palace Malice mostly for Pletcher, but these two both only have a maiden score to their credit. If speed and/or outside trips look decent, worth a shot.
11. Balance the Books, J-Javier Castellano, T-Chad Brown, M/L: 15
The good: Has a top jockey/trainer combo worth 29% for wins since 2012. Ran well in all 4 grass races last year. Daddy won the 1999 Belmont more known for Charismatic's untimely injury. Needed his last race, though running 11th at any point isn't encouraging. Even his trouble trip from Breeders' Cup Weekend last year resulted in a 3rd place finish. However, he was under the weather around the time of the Spiral, so he could bounce back. Doubt he'll be 15-1, as he won at Keeneland last year and beat the Breeders' Futurity winner at 2.
The bad: Excuse or not, 11th the last start is an eye opener for the wrong reasons. Good form at Turfway tends to carry over for good horses. Hard Spun ran 2nd in the Derby after a Spiral win in 2007, Animal Kingdom won both in 2011, and Went the Day Well ran 4th in the Derby after the Spiral in 2012. Even Hold Me Back had good races in the Spiral and Blue Grass. His bad form there may not bode well for form at Keeneland. If he's under 10-1 or 12-1, I'll let him beat me.
12. West Hills Giant, J-Jose Espinoza, T-John Terranova, M/L: 20
The good: He ran well against Vyjack last out, and might make the lead. His numbers have picked up from 2 to 3, and Frost Giant ran well at 2 turns in his career. He has made most of his money off of State Breds in New York, though. Worth a look if speed is firing.
The bad: He won't be alone up front in this race. Hasn't won since Finger Lakes in late September. His other win was on grass, which might bode well for this, but he should be one of the two longest shots in here, unless 15 draws into the field. Trainer is only 1/8 on synthetics, and that winner went off 7-5 [since 2012].
13. Rydilluc, J-Edgar Prado, T-Gary Contessa, M/L: 4
The good: Appears to be speed and has similar form to Brilliant Speed, a past Blue Grass synth winner. He is 3/3 on the lawn and with Prado, his pilot in this race. The fact that he passed a horse in his last two to win shows he doesn't need to lead at every call to win. Inclusion of a few 2 year old stakes horses from Keeneland's Fall Meet might make him an overlay. Prado and Contessa are 3/9 together, the 3 being thanks to Rydilluc.
The bad: Kind of a wise-guy play, and might get burned up front if the pace is in the 1:10 range with competition. That being said, if he goes in the 1:10 3/5-1:11 4/5 range alone, the race is his to lose. String out speed has a better chance of winning at Keeneland (see: Carriage Trail's Spinster win) than going slow early to leave a cavalry charge finish (see: Dominican winning the '07 Blue Grass). He's my pick to click, though probably not a straight win bet if he's below 9-2.
14. Fear the Kitten, J-Rosie Napravnik, T-Michael Maker, M/L: 30
The good: Has a jockey/trainer combination that wins quite a bit (25%) and at the meet. Originally a Ramsey horse before it got lost in the claim box in its maiden score at Keeneland. He also won his next start off the turf at Churchill, but hasn't since then. Looked a little flat in the Spiral, and his lengths behind looks bad at first glance, though Super Ninety Nine and Oxbow romped by 11+ in their preps. Could take advantage of a wide closers' trip if the track bias holds from the start of the week.
The bad: 14 hole on the dirt usually meant SCRATCH NOW, but on the polytrack still isn't great. No wins since November isn't the best thing, either. However, 9--including Fear the Kitten--horses are winless in 2013 in here. Check the tote to see if this horse is 20-1 or above before considering for a win. 30-1 won't happen, but 20-1 might. Might put underneath the 13 and 1.
AE15. Divine Ambition, J-James Graham, T-Darrin Miller, M/L: 50
The good: Same owner/trainer of Dominican, the 2007 winner. Crop Report looked pretty good in the Rushaway; he ran 2nd to him that day. Unlike 4 of the others, he has multiple wins. Figures to control the pace from the extreme outside if he runs. May be more likely to run in Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn instead, as that is a race he's in the field for should he run.
The bad: That is REALLY wide for outside speed. Both his wins were at sprints and he's lost the head to head to all the horses he's up against today that contend. While Dominican did it in 2007, they won't go that slow early tomorrow. Daddy won the Met Mile, and Chester House and Skip Away both ran well at 10 panels (his grandsires), but this would be a stretch.
My top 5 for the race: 13-1-11-7-14.