Making the Grade, which will run through the 2018 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could make an impact on the Triple Crown races. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey) and pedigree.
A visually impressive victory in the Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes stamped Blended Citizen a major player for the June 9 Belmont Stakes after the bay colt missed the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve because of insufficient points. Blended Citizen was a bit of a mystery horse after his Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks win on March 17 on the synthetic surface at Turfway Park, but after the Peter Pan the picture is much clearer.
Ability: There was cause for concern after Blended Citizen won the Jeff Ruby Steaks that he was simply not a dirt horse. His success at that point was limited to grass or synthetic surfaces and, while he was on paper very fast, three unplaced finishes on dirt in his first three starts stuck out like a stop sign on his past performances.
He ran reasonably well in his next start after the Jeff Ruby, finishing fifth behind champion Good Magic in the Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 7, a dirt race in which he was beaten by 4 ¾ lengths.
The Blue Grass no doubt generated some optimism that Blended Citizen could be effective on dirt, but his 97 Equibase Speed Figure was 15 points below the career-best 112 he earned for his maiden win on grass and 12 points off the 109 he recorded when winning the Jeff Ruby.
In four races from Nov. 24, 2017, through March 17, 2018, Blended Citizen posted Equibase Speed Figures between 106 and 112 in two starts on grass and two on synthetic surfaces. Those figures indicated very clearly that he was graded stakes quality, but until he reached that level on dirt there was reasonable doubt that he belonged in a Triple Crown race.
Blended Citizen erased those doubts in the Peter Pan when he closed from fifth to take command in deep stretch before pulling away to a 1 ½-length win in the 1 1/8-mile dirt race. Not only did Blended Citizen add a victory in a dirt race to his résumé, he won a graded stakes on the track that would host the Belmont Stakes four weeks later while recording a 110 Equibase Speed Figure that was on par with his best races on grass or synthetic surfaces.
If Blended Citizen can duplicate that effort in the Belmont Stakes, he should be competitive with Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and Preakness Stakes winner Justify, who earned a career-best 110 Equibase Speed Figure for the Derby and a 109 for the Preakness.
Other speed figures from the Peter Pan were not quite as promising. Blended Citizen earned a 90 Beyer Speed Figure from Daily Racing Form, a 98 from Brisnet, and a 122 TimeformUS Speed Figure.
Justify earned 103 and 97 Beyer Speed Figures for the Derby and Preakness, respectively, and a career-best 107 on a fast dirt track in the Santa Anita Derby. Timeform had Justify at 132-127-128 for the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, and Preakness. Like Daily Racing Form, Brisnet shows Justify trending down from a 114 for the Santa Anita Derby to a 102 for the Kentucky Derby and a 98 in the Preakness.
It probably comes down to this: If Justify can run close to his best in the Belmont, the rest of the field is running for second. But if the grind of a taxing Triple Crown season leads to a regression from Justify, the race become wide open and Blended Citizen has as good a shot as any of the other probable contenders to win.
Running style: Blended Citizen has rallied from off the pace in all 10 of his races to date. He profiles as a closer, but one significant positive from the Peter Pan was that Blended Citizen raced nearer to the pace than he ever had in nine previous starts, tracking within two lengths through an opening quarter-mile in :23.92 and a half-mile in :47.07.
This could be critical in the Belmont Stakes. With nearly all of the expected contenders (not named Justify) preferring to come from well back, it’s possible that Justify could get an easy lead or stalk a pacesetter from alone in second. If Blended Citizen can stay within a few lengths of Justify, he might at least have a shot to catch him in the stretch.
Connections: Bloodstock agent Brooke Hubbard, the racing manager for SAYJAY Racing, purchased Blended Citizen for $85,000 out of the OBS March sale of 2-year-olds in training on behalf of co-owners Greg Hall and SAYJAY Racing.
Hall and Steve Young of SAYJAY Racing met in California, discovered they shared a passion for horse racing, and have frequently partnered to purchase racehorses.
A University of Kentucky graduate, Hall is a Tompkinsville, Ky., native who developed a fondness early for horse racing.
Young is the founder and chairman of the family-run Allan Company, a recycling company based in Baldwin Park, Calif. He races as SAYJAY along with his wife, Heather, and his son, Jason.
Blended Citizen is trained by Doug O’Neill, who swept the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2012 with I’ll Have Another and added a second Kentucky Derby win in 2016 with Nyquist, the 2015 champion 2-year-old male. O’Neill made a name for himself in Southern California when he turned Lava Man, a horse he claimed for $50,000, into a seven-time Grade 1 winner. O’Neill, who has won more than 2,200 races in his career, has never won the Belmont Stakes.
Kyle Frey has been the regular rider for Blended Citizen for his last four starts. Frey took out his jockey’s license in 2010 and won the Eclipse Award as outstanding apprentice in 2011. Frey earned his first stakes win aboard Jake N Elwood in the 2012 Danzig Stakes at Penn National and scored his first graded stakes win with Zakaroff in the 2017 El Camino Real Derby. Blended Citizen would be his first Belmont Stakes starter.
Pedigree: Blended Citizen is by Grade 2 winner Proud Citizen, who died in June 2016 due to complications from laminitis. His top runners to date include 2008 Kentucky Oaks winner and champion 3-year-old filly Proud Spell and 2012 Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can. Proud Citizen finished second in the 2002 Kentucky Derby, and his best runners have excelled at longer distances.
Four-time stakes winner Langara Lass, by Langfuhr, is the dam (mother) of Blended Citizen as well as his half-brother (same dam, different sire [father]) Lookin At Lee, the runner-up in last year’s Kentucky Derby. Langara Lass was a multiple stakes winner at 1 1/16 miles and graded stakes-placed at 1 1/8 miles. She also produced stakes winner Battlefield Angel, who ran third as a 2-year-old in the Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades Stakes in 2013.
Blended Citizen’s grandam (maternal grandmother), Capilano, by Demons Begone, also won multiple stakes races at 1 1/16 miles. She produced four stakes winners, including the aforementioned Langara Lass and graded stakes winner Madeira Park.
Blended Citizen’s connections have said the longer the better for this colt, but 1 ½ miles at Belmont Park is a true stamina test for every 3-year-old.
Blended Citizen seems to like the main track at Belmont, he is one of the faster colts of this class, and he’s headed in the right direction entering the Belmont Stakes. If it’s not Justify’s day on June 9, Blended Citizen has real chance to earn a classic victory, and I think you’d be foolish to leave him out of any exacta and trifecta tickets.