It’s into the final Kentucky Derby preps with the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. and the Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark. These are the last two prep races offering the winner 100 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. Keeneland is less than a 90-minute drive from Louisville and offers the perfect chance to get a glimpse of some Kentucky Derby hopefuls in person.
The 1 1/8 mile Toyota Blue Grass offers a purse of $750,000 and a total of 170 points to the top four finishers in Churchill Downs’ Road to the Kentucky Derby points system, with 100 of those points going to the winner. There are several contenders in the race that need to finish first or second to pick up enough points to clinch a spot in the limited Kentucky Derby field.
Under the Kentucky Derby points system, the top four finishers in the 19-race “Kentucky Derby Prep Season” schedule of races are awarded 10-4-2-1 points, respectively. This “prep” portion of the schedule began in late September and concluded with the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes on Feb. 18. The two-leg Kentucky Derby Championship Series began Feb. 23 and awards the top four finishers in the listed races 50-20-10-5 points, respectively for the first leg of eight races and 100-40-20-10 points accordingly for the second leg of seven races. A wild card, which includes the Grade 3 Coolmore Lexington at Keeneland (Apr. 20) and the Grade 3 Derby Trial at Churchill Downs (Apr. 27) awards points of 20-8-4-2, respectively.
The Toyota Blue Grass Stakes drew an overflow field of 14 and one also-eligible. Although Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Bobby’s Kitten has been installed as the favorite at odds of 3-1, the race is loaded with talent and proven ability over the Polytrack surface.
Bobby’s Kitten is a homebred for the Ramseys by their top stallion Kitten’s Joy. He’s said to be the best 3-year-old in the Ramsey bullpen and boasts a career record of three wins in five starts, all starts on the turf. Since Keeneland’s Polytrack tends to equate well to turf and the Kitten’s Joy progeny show an affinity for the surface, Bobby’s Kitten is an easy horse to land on after a quick glance at the race program. However, his best race game over five months ago when he finished third, beaten 1 ¾ lengths by more experienced European runners in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). In his last start, an allowance race at Tampa Bay Downs Mar. 8, he won as expected over a much weaker field of six. With zero points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby points system, he will have to deliver on the hype Saturday if hopes to make the Kentucky Derby starting gate. Jockey Javier Castellano will have the mount for trainer Chad Brown.
A horse that’s already proven himself at Keeneland is trainer Dale Roman’s Medal Count. This son of the late Dynaformer won the Transylvania (G3) at Keeneland on opening day in a race scheduled for the turf, but moved to the main track due to rain. Yes, Keeneland just opened its meet one week ago. Romans has touted this horse since last fall and announced in post-race interviews after last week’s win that if the owners allowed him, he would run the colt in the Blue Grass. Often times people look at trainers that do this sort of thing as a little silly, but frequently it works out and the horse hits the board. Medal Count seems to be improving and seems to prefer the turf or Polytrack, so he might be one to put in your exacta. He’s the second choice on the morning-line at odds of 9-2 and retains jockey Robby Albarado.
Two of the top three finishers in the Spiral Stakes (G3) have come back to the Polytrack for another go and have to be considered equally. Harry’s Holiday finished a nose behind Spiral winner We Miss Artie and a head in front of third-place finisher and Blue Grass contender, Coastline. Both colts showed great perseverance in the stretch and a willingness to fight for the win. While Harry’s Holiday has never raced at Keeneland, Coastline broke his maiden here last October. Jockey Rosie Napravnik will be aboard Harry’s Holiday for trainer Mike Maker and Elliott Stewart rides Coastline for trainer Mark Casse.
Todd Pletcher has a squadron of three in the race and Pletcher’s runners must always be considered. Divine Oath is the also-eligible looking to move up to the big leagues from the ranks of optional claimers and will attempt the route distance for the first time. Pletcher’s more likely runners with great potential are Sam Davis (G3) winner Vinceremos and Palm Beach (G3) winner Gala Award.
Vinceremos lost the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) to Ring Weekend last out. Having already secured a spot in the Kentucky Derby gate, Ring Weekend came back in an allowance race last week and was beaten in a surprising upset. Not sure what that says about Vinceremos ability, losing to Ring Weekend by three lengths in the Tampa Bay Derby. Still, he’s never finished worse than second and boasts Brisnet speed figures in the 90s. Edgar Prado has the mount aboard Vinceremos.
Gala Award’s three lifetime starts have come on the turf and at the longer distances of 1 1/16 and 1 1/8 miles. Although he lacks experience, it would seem he’s suited for the track and the Blue Grass’s 1 1/8 mile distance. He also gets jockey John Velazquez in the irons.
The longshot play in the race is Wesley Ward’s Pablo Del Monte at odds of 12-1. Although this will be the first time this Giant’s Causeway colt has attempted to race farther than a mile, he has two wins in two starts at Keeneland and finished third to Wildcat Red in the Hutcheson (G3) last time out. Although he’s coming off a two-month layoff, he’s been working at Keeneland the past month and has registered some sharp works. It would be surprising for him to win this race, but with so many other more recognizable runners, he’ll offer a good price and could boost the payoff on a superfecta.
Special note to all the UK fans: Longshot Casiguapo was bred through the University of Kentucky’s Equine Research Unit and helped students learn about breeding, foaling, and getting horses ready for the sales. Casiguapo was sold in the Fasig-Tipton sales as a yearling for $4,700.
The field from the rail out, with odds, is: Asserting Bear 15-1, Extrasexyhippzster 15-1, Pablo Del Monte 12-1, Harry’s Holiday 10-1, Bobby’s Kitten 3-1, Coltimus Prime 20-1, Casiguapo 30-1, Dance With Fate 12-1, Big Bazinga 20-1, So Lonesome 50-1, Coastline 8-1, Vinceremos 8-1, Medal Count 9-2, Gala Award 5-1, Divine Oath 12-1.
The Toyota Blue Grass Stakes is the 11th race on Keeneland’s stakes-filled Saturday card with a scheduled post time of 5:45 p.m. EST. It can be seen on Fox Sports One (programming begins at 4:30 p.m and includes the Arkansas Derby), HRTV, and TVG. Free PPs  provided by Brisnet.
Photo: Courtesy Keeneland