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    Before a crowd of 26,357, Carpe Diem secured his place in the Kentucky Derby starting gate with a three-length win over a field of eight in Keeneland’s Grade 1 $1 million Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky. Additionally, he picked up 100 points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby points system*. Carpe Diem now sits in third place with 164 points on the leaderboard.

    “The horse had trained really, really well," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "We were excited coming into (the race) and happy to see him deliver."

    Sent off as the 2-5 favorite, Pletcher’s Carpe Diem bided his time comfortably in second behind leader Ocho Ocho Ocho through much of the 1 1/8 mile route. As the field made its way around the final turn, jockey John Velazquez gave his mount the nod and Carpe Diem responded, powering through the stretch and holding back a late charge from Mark Casse’s Danzig Moon to win the Blue Grass by three lengths. The front-running Ocho Ocho Ocho faded in the stretch and finished another 2 ½ lengths back in third. Nick Zito’s Frammento closed from near last, but could do no better than rounding out the superfecta, 1 ¼ lengths further back in fourth. Classy Class, third in the betting pool, made a brief move from mid-pack early, but weakened and could only get up for fifth.

    "We kind of anticipated (Ocho Ocho Ocho) might be the pacesetter," Pletcher said. "He set a :24 (first quarter-mile) and :48 (half-mile) and you don’t expect to put a horse away easily with those kind of fractions. But I liked what I saw (from my horse) the last eighth of a mile.”

    Carpe Diem, a son of Giant's Causeway, was anxious in the paddock before the race. So much so that he was led off the main walking path for saddling. He later gave a kick with his back legs as he was exiting the paddock and heading toward the track. The fractious nature of the colt may seem worrisome, but it's typical for him and, as the race confirmed, was no factor in his performance.

    “It was awesome," said Barbara Banke of Stonestreet Stables who owns Carpe Diem with Winstar Farm. "We knew we had a great horse. Todd (Pletcher) had him in great shape. I was happy to see that he loaded into the gate nicely. He broke well. And then, it was just a matter of Johnny (Velazquez) telling him to go at the right time and he went. It was really nice race."

    “Like some of the other great horses I have had, he is a fighter and a contender,” continued Banke.

    Carpe Diem returned $2.80, $2.40, and $2.10. Danzig Moon paid $7.80 and $5.00 and completed the $2 exacta for $18. Ocho Ocho Ocho paid $3.20 and completed the $2 trifecta for $62. Frammento completed the $2 superfecta for $283.80. The final time for the 1 1/8 mile race over the fast dirt was 1:49.77.

    * The Kentucky Derby points system replaced the graded stakes earnings system as the determiner of Kentucky Derby entrants. In the first phase, the Kentucky Derby Prep Season that concludes February 16, the top four finishers in the pre-determined races are awarded points of 10-4-2-1, respectively. In the first leg of phase two, the Championship Series, the top four finishers in 8 pre-determined races are awarded points of 50-20-10-5, respectively. In the second leg of the Championship Series, the top four finishers in the 7 pre-determined races receive points of 100-40-20-10, respectively. The Apr. 11 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland is a wildcard race and offers points of 10-4-2-1, respectively.

    Photo: Glenn Hirsch

    Jessie Oswald's picture

    About Jessie Oswald

    I'm a lifetime Louisville resident with a passion for horse racing. When I'm not working as a paralegal or taking care of my family, I follow Thoroughbred racing and love to share the excitement and beauty of the sport with anyone willing to learn!

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