Keeneland – Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G1) – $750,000 – 1 1/8 miles – All Weather
1. Heavy Breathing (KY) – Corey Lanerie – 123 – Todd Pletcher
2. Gung Ho (PA) – Edgar Prado – 123 – Michael Maker
3. Prospective (KY) – Luis Contreras – 123 – Mark Casse
4. Hansen (KY) – Ramon Dominguez – 123 – Michael Maker
5. Russian Greek (KY) – Miguel Mena – 123 – Gennadi Dorochenko
6. Dullahan (KY) – Kent Desormeaux – 123 – Dale Romans
7. Politicallycorrect (KY) – Elvis Trujillo – 123 – Wesley Ward
8. Midnight Crooner (KY) – Garrett Gomez – 123 – Bob Baffert
9. Holy Candy (KY) – Joel Rosario – 123 – John Sadler
10. Howe Great (KY) – Javier Castellano – 123 – Graham Motion
11. Ever So Lucky (KY) – Julien Leparoux – 123 – Justin Sheppard
12. Hero of Order (KY) – Eddie Martin, Jr. – 123 – Gennadi Dorochenko
13. Scatman (KY) – Shaun Bridgmohan – 123 – Michael Lauer
This is an interesting bunch to say the least. The field includes the reigning two year old male champion, multiple graded stakes winners, a horse coming off a 109 to 1 win, a four time race winner coming back to dirt after three brilliant performances on turf, a couple of cross country invaders and several others who have just missed in recent graded attempts.
Of course we have to start with Hansen. The 2011 champion comes into the race defeated just once in five tries and that came in the sloppy conditions during the Holy Bull Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park on January 29. He came back extremely well to take the Gotham Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct on March 3. In his previous four starts, he had gone to the lead and many felt that he had to have the lead in order to contend. That was not the case in the Gotham. He sat off the leaders in 3rd until they started to turn for home. He moved past the leaders with ease and was hand ridden to a 3 lengths win. The only knock about the race is the field was not strong. Not one horse from that field has won a graded stakes race nor done well in other graded stakes races since. This race is full of horses that have won decent races and have the capability to win. It will be the toughest test since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile where he held off the late challenge of Union Rags. Keep in mind, that was 6 months ago.
Howe Great is Howe Great? Ok that’s cheesy, but you get the point. This Team Valor owned and Graham Motion trained colt is running off turf for the first time since breaking his maiden last October at Parx Racing. Since then, he has won three more races all on turf. He won an Allowance race, The Kitten’s Joy Stakes and most recently the Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes all at Gulfstream. He has shown the ability to get the lead and keep it, and in the Palm Beach he sat off the lead, took it over down the stretch and held off a late challenge by Dullahan. The Palm Beach was 1 1/8 miles, so he has the experience at this distance. That will certainly give him an edge come Saturday. The only negative against him is that he has yet to race on the all weather surface. It didn’t seems to affect Animal Kingdom last year (owned and trained by same group), as Animal Kingdom won the Spiral Stakes on the all weather surface, then won the Kentucky Derby on dirt. If it was going to be a challenge for this colt, they wouldn’t bother running him here.
Speaking of Dullahan, this colt has performed very well in seven races, only missing the top three twice. His only win was oddly enough the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (G1) on the all weather at Keeneland last October. He’s only raced twice since and both were solid efforts. He finished 4th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, then the 2d to Howe Great in the Palm Beach Stakes. As I mentioned, he was closing fast against Howe Great. A couple of more jumps and I believe Dullahan wins that race. There should be enough speed in this race for Dullahan to make his late charge.
Two time graded stakes winner and three time overall stakes winner Prospective comes into the Blue Grass on a high note. Sitting back early and possessing a serious move down the middle of the stretch allowed him to win the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby in a formidable 1 1/16 miles time of 1:43.35. He has only been worse than 2nd once out of seven races and that came in a 13rd place finish in the BC Juvenile. He never seemed into the race. Doesn’t make sense for a horse who has been so competitive in every other race he has raced in. I expect to see the horse who has won the Tampa Derby, Grey Stakes (G3) at Woodbine and Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.
What do we make of a $3,500 purchase that took 9 tries to break his maiden, finishes 5th in the LeComte Stakes (G3) at 57/1 odds, 4th in the Risen Star Stakes (G2) at 79/1, 4th in the Black Gold Stakes after being DQ’d from 2nd, then goes and pulls off the biggest upset in Louisiana Derby at odds of 109/1. Hero of Order has already raced 14 times in Illinois, Kentucky and Louisiana. Was his win in the Louisiana Derby an anomaly or is he actually a horse to be reckoned with? I have to think that with all the speed in this race, he will not be able to take the lead, remain there and have enough to put away this field late. In my opinion, he returns to missing the board. It was nice while it lasted.
The Jonathan Sheppard trained Ever So Lucky might be the most intriguing horse in this race. Lightly raced Indian Charlie colt broke his maiden first time out on November 11 at Churchill Downs. His follow up was a runner-up effort against Gemologist in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) just 15 days later. That might have pushed it too much as he was put on the shelf for a couple of months without training. He popped up again in early February and raced on March 3 in the Swale Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream. He finished a distant 3rd to Trinniberg going seven furlongs on the dirt. Most believe he better suited for middle distance but I believe he could go 1 1/8 miles. However, he would need to be on the front end without getting into a speed duel. This might not be the best race to get what he wants.
Scatman has put forth back to back strong performance with a 2nd in the Southwest Stakes (G3) on February 20 and 3rd in the Rebel Stakes (G3) on March 17. This is going to be a tough spot for him as well since this race provides a lot of potential speed. The question is, which of the speed horses decides to sit back instead of getting into an early challenge? Three races back he did come from off the lead to win an Allowance Optional Claiming $50,000. With that same tactic work against a good field like this? It’s not out of the question, but it’s better to go that route rather than get trapped on the front end with a few other horses.
It’s amazing to head into a big race like this and talk about a Todd Pletcher or Bob Baffert trained horse at the end. It doesn’t mean their respective horses don’t have a chance, it’s because we don’t have much to go on aside from lesser race performances. Heavy Breathing does come in off a 3rd place finish in the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (G3) a couple of weeks back. He too likes getting the lead but he relinquished it on that day to eventual winner Went the Day Well. Prior to that he won an Allowance Optional Claiming $75,000 and his maiden. Midnight Crooning broke his maiden on his third try at Golden Gate Fields (all weather) after two tries at Santa Anita on dirt. His last race was a 3rd in the non-graded Pasadena Stakes on turf. Baffert wouldn’t bring this colt across the country if he didn’t think he had a chance for an upset. He will certainly go off at decent odds if you are looking to play exotic wagers.
This is a bad race for any of the speed horses. There are far more that want to be on the lead than those who come from behind. I believe yet another derby favorite (Hansen) gets beat, but there won’t be any huge upsets on this day. My selection is Dullahan to come from behind to take it. I like Prospective and Howe Great to be there as well with Hansen sticking around to complete the board.