Java's War, trained by Kenny McPeek, closed strongly in the stretch to grab the win over Palace Malice in the Grade 1, $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky. Before a crowd of 37,161, the second highest attendance on Blue Grass Day, Java's War and jockey Julien Leparoux gave the crowd the thrilling duel at the finish line fans love.
At the top of the stretch, Gary Contessa's Rydilluc had the lead and appeared to have had the race won, but as the field moved further into the stretch, Palace Malice had overtaken the colt. Closing in on Todd Pletcher's Palace Malice was Leparoux and Java's War, who had moved from last to first and grabbed victory by a neck. Also moving sharply at the end along with Java's War was Pletcher's Charming Kitten, who finished a neck behind Palace Malice. Rydilluc finished fourth, 1 1/4 lengths behind the leaders.
"We didn't know coming into his three-year-old year whether he was a turf horse or a Polytrack horse, but obviously he's running over about anything we put him on," said McPeek. "That race at Tampa (second to Verrazano in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby Mar. 9) gave us the idea that, okay, we really do fit. Today's race was huge."
Leparoux, who's won the last five riding titles at Keeneland, picked up his first Toyota Blue Grass victory. When asked what winning this race meant to him Leparoux said, "It means a lot. I love this track. I love Kentucky. This is big for me. Every time you get one in the Kentucky Derby, it's definitely a lot of fun."
Contessa said of post-time favorite Rydilluc's fourth place finish, "He ran good. That shows us we're keeping him on the turf. He came back really blowing and hard. That's a sign he didn't handle the track. I thought we were home free, but he really ran great."
Java's War earned 100 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby which replaced graded earnings as the determiner of Kentucky Derby entry. This brings his total points to 122 and puts him in the fourth position on the leaderboard behind Orb, Verrazano, and Goldencents. Palace Malice added 40 points to his 10 which guarantees him a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. Charming Kitten earned 20 points for third and lands a spot on the leaderboard at 20. Rydilluc earned 10 points which will not be enough to get Contessa to his first Kentucky Derby.
Java's War returned $11.20, $5.60, and $4.00. Palace Malice paid $6.00 and $4.60 and completed the $2 exacta for $61.40. Charming Kitten paid $11.20 and completed the $2 trifecta for $1,002.60. Rydilluc completed the $2 superfecta for $5,370.00. The final time for the 1 1/8 mile race over the Polytrack was 1:50:27.
Photo: Keeneland Photo