The son of Proud Citizen was not among the early nominees to the 2018 Triple Crown series, but, after rallying up the rail to best Pony Up by a neck in the March Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks on March 17 at Turfway Park, the above payment figures to be sent on his behalf when the deadline for late nominations to the American Triple Crown races closes March 19.
While Turfway’s signature race on its synthetic main track has yielded more successful turf runners in recent years than significant contenders on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, Blended Citizen is expected to try and bust that trend.
Though his only win heading into Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile race was a maiden victory on the Del Mar turf going one mile on Nov. 24, Blended Citizen’s team indicated after his first graded stakes win that a trip to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve would be on the table if the colt can amass enough qualifying points.
“[Trainer] Doug O’Neill sent him here to win and get into the Kentucky Derby,” Octavio Vergara, assistant to O’Neill, said.
Owned by Greg Hall and Sayjay Racing, Blended Citizen is winless in three starts on the dirt. It is on synthetic tracks that the bay colt has shown his most promise, finishing third to the filly Paved in the Feb. 17 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields during his seasonal bow.
With the Jeff Ruby Steaks boasting a wide-open field of 12, the opportunity was there for the O’Neill trainee to use his late kick and secure the 20 Kentucky Derby qualifying points bestowed to the winner.
The stage was set when favorite Hazit stumbled out of the gate and never got involved, and 13-1 shot Mugaritz shot to the front and set fractions of :25.14 and :48.77 while Blended Citizen rated between horses in seventh.
Mugaritz did his best to steal the race when he opened up a six-length lead heading into the far turn, but the masses began to swallow him up heading into the stretch drive as his advantage dwindled to a length. With the pacesetter getting weary, jockey Kyle Frey drove Blended Citizen up the rail and held off Pony Up charging down the middle of the track to prevail.
“We broke a little quicker, and we were a lot closer than I expected, and I had to steady a bit because the outside horse closed in on us early in the race,” Frey said of his mount. “I wasn’t too worried about it. I pulled out of there and waited. About the half-mile pole, it seemed like the race just started to fall apart. As things opened up, I just let Jesus take the wheel. With the way he was moving, all I needed was an opening, and I got it.”
Added Vergara, “I knew he would run good. Last time out, he should have won the El Camino Real Derby, but he got stopped twice.”
Pony Up, who tracked in ninth down the backstretch, was a length clear of third-place finisher Arawak, with Zanesville and Mugaritz rounding out the top five. Hazit, the 3-1 favorite, was last.
Sent off at 6-1 odds, Blended Citizen improved to two wins from eight career starts with $167,054 in earnings. He was bred in Kentucky by Ray Hanson out of the Langfuhr mare Langara Lass and was purchased by Brooke Hubbard, agent for $85,000 out of the 2017 OBS March 2-year-olds in training sale.