2019 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes Cheat Sheet

Racing
Keeneland’s Blue Grass Stakes, shown in its 2015 running, is a major Kentucky Derby prep race that annually draws thousands of fans to the Lexington track. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Saturday’s $1 million, Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland Race Course is one of three major prep races for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve scheduled for April 6. The 1 1/8-mile race is an annual rite of spring for thousands of horse racing fanatics in central Kentucky who pack the picturesque racetrack outside of Lexington, and the Blue Grass has sent many runners on to shine in Triple Crown races, most recently last year’s winner and subsequent Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic.

This year’s 95th edition of the Blue Grass drew a full field of 14 horses. The race offers a total of 170 qualifying points for the May 4 Kentucky Derby, distributed on a 100-40-20-10 scale to the top four finishers. It will be televised on NBCSN along with the Wood Memorial Presented by NYRA Bets and the Santa Anita Derby during a broadcast from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

Read on for information about each of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes contenders, presented in post-position order and with morning-line odds:


Eclipse Sportswire

1. Somelikeithotbrown (10-1)

Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione

Trainer: Mike Maker

Owners: Skychai Racing and Sand Dollar Stable

Career record: 7 starts – 3 wins – 2 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $363,478

Earnings per start: $51,925

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 103

Pedigree: Big Brown – Marilyn Monroan, by Tapit

Color: Bay

Running style: Pacesetter/press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: For this Blue Grass contender, it all comes down to the racing surface. Somelikeithotbrown has proven form on both turf and synthetic courses, notching two wins, two seconds, and one third through five starts in stakes races. But in his only start on dirt, he was defeated by 13 ½ lengths. In his defense, that dirt start was his career debut, taking place last July at Saratoga Race Course on a sloppy track. Now, he’ll try dirt again in the Blue Grass coming off of two consecutive stakes wins on Turfway Park’s Polytrack, including the March 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks where he earned 20 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby. He has an effective forwardly-placed running style and has shown a high degree of competitiveness even in the races he didn’t win. He’s also the son of a Kentucky Derby winner (Big Brown, 2008) and a close relative on his dam’s (mother’s) side to Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Stevie Wonderboy. The surface issue makes him a wild card in Saturday’s Blue Grass Stakes, and it’s worth noting that he did not have any timed workouts on Keeneland’s main track through March 30, continuing to train at Turfway. And drawing the inside post position means he will have to break sharply from the gate in order to get a good early spot and not get crowded back by horses to his outside moving toward the rail. Trainer Mike Maker won the 2010 Blue Grass with Stately Victor, a synthetic specialist who was racing on what was at that time Keeneland’s synthetic main track.


Chelsea Durand/NYRA photo

2. Vekoma (9-5)

Jockey: Javier Castellano

Trainer: George Weaver

Owners: R. A. Hill Stable and Gatsas Stables

Career record: 3 starts – 2 wins – 0 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $188,850

Earnings per start: $62,950

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 110

Pedigree: Candy Ride – Mona de Momma, by Speightstown

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This talented colt should vie with Win Win Win for post-time favoritism in the Blue Grass Stakes, and if he can move forward from his first start as a 3-year-old he stands a good chance of securing a top-two finish. After winning both of his starts last fall, including the Nashua Stakes at a one-turn mile, Vekoma took a break for nearly four months before returning in the March 2 Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. He ran well in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth, stalking Hidden Scroll’s swift pace and keeping on through the stretch to finish third behind Code of Honor and Bourbon War, both of which rallied from farther back and thus benefited more from the fast early fractions. That effort should serve as a good tune-up for the Blue Grass, and there’s a good chance that the pace on Saturday won’t be as fast as it was in the Fountain of Youth, either, which could set up his stalk-and-pounce running style. His sire Candy Ride is a proven source of stamina, and although his female family is tilted more towards speed, there is some long-distance appeal deeper in his bloodlines, as champion and 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense is a relative.


Eclipse Sportswire

3. Signalman (8-1)

Jockey: Brian Hernandez Jr.

Trainer: Ken McPeek

Owners: Tommie Lewis, Steve Crabtree, Dean Demaree, David Bernsen, Jim Chambers, and Magdalena Racing

Career record: 6 starts – 2 wins – 2 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $452,990

Earnings per start: $75,498

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 100

Pedigree: General Quarters – Trip South, by Trippi

Color: Bay

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This son of 2009 Blue Grass Stakes winner General Quarters has accumulated 18 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby, all as a juvenile. He put together one of the best 2018 campaigns among his age group, winning two of five starts with two seconds and one third. In his three graded stakes starts, he finished second in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity on Oct. 6 at Keeneland, third in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 2, and then first by a neck in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on a sloppy track at Churchill on Nov. 24 (defeating last weekend’s UAE Derby winner Plus Que Parfait). In his return to the track as a 3-year-old, he showed little in the Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth Stakes on March 2 at Gulfstream Park, finishing seventh. Signalman has been training very well since then for Ken McPeek, and perhaps he needed a race after the three-month layoff. Even so, he’ll need to improve in terms of speed figures in the Blue Grass to secure a top-three finish and be comfortably positioned for a Kentucky Derby starting spot. He’ll also need a fast pace to run into as he has shown little variance in his come-from-behind running style throughout his career. Kentucky-based McPeek has two Blue Grass Stakes wins to his credit: Harlan’s Holiday in 2002 and Java’s War in 2013.


Coady Photography

4. Market King (20-1)

Jockey: Jon Court

Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas

Owners: Robert Baker and William Mack

Career record: 7 starts – 1 win – 1 second – 2 thirds

Career earnings: $145,785

Earnings per start: $20,826

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 97

Pedigree: Into Mischief – Divine Presence, by A.P. Indy

Color: Bay

Running style: Press the pace/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: “The Coach,” Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, has won the Blue Grass Stakes twice, in 1987 and 2000, and he brings this improving colt to Keeneland with an outside chance of earning enough Kentucky Derby points to get into the May 4 starting gate. Market King ships from Oaklawn Park, where he has made all four of his starts at age 3, and his two best efforts to date have come in his only career starts around two turns. He broke his maiden on Feb. 9 in a 1 1/16-mile race, and, after finishing third in a late February sprint, was stretched back out again in the second division of the 1 1/16-mile Rebel Stakes on March 16, where he ran a distant third behind top Kentucky Derby trail horses Omaha Beach and Game Winner. Market King earned 7.5 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby in the Rebel and also a career-best Equibase Speed Figure. If he can bump that number up another 5 points or so and sit the same stalking trip in the Blue Grass as he did in the Rebel, he has a shot to hit the board on Saturday – although he’ll need a top-two finish to ensure a trip to Louisville.


5. Chess Chief (30-1)

Jockey: Paco Lopez

Trainer: Dallas Stewart

Owner: James Coleman Jr.

Career record: 5 starts – 1 win – 0 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $33,590

Earnings per start: $6,718

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 85

Pedigree: Into Mischief – Un Blessed, by Mineshaft

Color: Bay

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: The first of two Dallas Stewart-trained Blue Grass entrants broke through with his first career win by a half-length in his most recent start, a 1 1/16-mile maiden race at Fair Grounds on March 2. That was his third start at 3 and his first in a race longer than six furlongs. He earned a 78 Equibase Speed Figure for that effort, which is about 30 points lower than what will be needed to win the Blue Grass Stakes, and he may end up as the longest shot in a full field on Saturday when the starting gate opens. He does have a quality pedigree with some stamina influences, including his second dam (maternal grandmother) Plenty of Grace, a Grade 1-winning router on turf who is a half-sister to U.S. champion turf female Soaring Softly. But the Blue Grass will be an enormous class test for a colt who only beat five opponents in his maiden win.


Coady Photography

6. Dream Maker (10-1)

Jockey: Florent Geroux

Trainer: Mark Casse

Owner: John Oxley

Career record: 5 starts – 2 wins – 0 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $72,850

Earnings per start: $14,570

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 95

Pedigree: Tapit – To Dream About, by Monarchos

Color: Gray or roan

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: After finishing 10th in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, this well-bred son of Tapit needs a top-two finish in the Blue Grass Stakes to secure Kentucky Derby points and realize the promise he showed in his first start at 3, an 8 ½-length romp on Feb. 9 at Fair Grounds. As a juvenile, he won his first start and ran fifth in the Hopeful Stakes before enduring a horrible trip in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland as the 5-2 favorite. Dream Maker appeared to have progressed nicely over the winter after he returned and dominated at Fair Grounds, but he then had another rough start in the Tampa Bay Derby and was never a factor. This John Oxley homebred has an elite pedigree, as a full brother (same sire [father] and dam [mother]) to Grade 1 winner Dream Dancing and with a second dam (maternal grandmother) in Beautiful Pleasure who was champion older dirt female and a Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner. He’s been training well since the Tampa Bay Derby and, with better racing luck on Saturday, is due for a bounce-back performance. Mark Casse has yet to win the Blue Grass Stakes; he finished second last year with Flameaway, owned by Oxley.


Coady Photography

7. Admire (15-1)

Jockey: Robby Albarado

Trainer: Dale Romans

Owner: Albaugh Family Stables

Career record: 4 starts – 1 win – 0 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $58,060

Earnings per start: $14,515

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 98

Pedigree: Cairo Prince – Visavis, by Indian Charlie

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker/closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This son of promising young sire Cairo Prince enters the Blue Grass off of non-threatening seventh-place finish in the March 3 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby. That was his second start at 3, following a fifth-place showing in the Feb. 2 Withers Stakes. Admire will have to step up his game considerably to be a factor in the Blue Grass Stakes, but he should be well-positioned in midpack through the early stages and has a good stamina pedigree for this distance. He appears to be a cut below the top-tier contenders in this race, however. Louisville-based Dale Romans has won the Blue Grass twice, with Dullahan in 2011 and Brody’s Cause in 2016; the latter horse was owned by Albaugh Family Stables.


SV Photography

8. Win Win Win (7-2)

Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.

Trainer: Michael Trombetta

Owner: Live Oak Plantation

Career record: 5 starts – 3 wins – 1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $167,300

Earnings per start: $33,460

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 113

Pedigree: Hat Trick – Miss Smarty Pants, by Smarty Jones

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This talented, fast colt boasts the top Equibase Speed Figure in the Blue Grass field, a 113 earned in the Jan. 19 Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs where he set a track record for seven furlongs. That marked his third win in four career starts, all in one-turn races, and it set him up for what figured to be a distance test in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 2, held at 1 1/16 miles around two turns. While Win Win Win did not live up to his name in that race, he did not embarrass himself either. He raced well off the rail throughout most of the Tampa Bay Derby, rallied five-wide in early stretch, and closed to finish third. That effort was enough to convince trainer Michael Trombetta and owner Charlotte Weber of Live Oak Plantation to ship Win Win Win to Kentucky and the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass. He has 10 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby and will need to finish third on Saturday to accrue 30 total points. That should place him on the borderline for earning a spot in the Derby starting gate, based on the results of the qualifying points system over the past several years. Look for Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. to settle his mount in a stalking position and save some ground on Saturday before making a move for the lead in early stretch. Live Oak Plantation campaigned 2011 Blue Grass Stakes winner Brilliant Speed.


Michael Burns/WEG Photo

9. Sir Winston (15-1)

Jockey: Julien Leparoux

Trainer: Mark Casse

Owner: Tracy Farmer

Career record: 7 starts – 2 wins – 0 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $99,550

Earnings per start: $14,221

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 99

Pedigree: Awesome Again – La Gran Bailadora, by Afleet Alex

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Despite having shown an affinity for grass and synthetic surfaces during his racing career and a pedigree oriented in that direction as well, this colt shapes up as a worthy longshot candidate in Saturday’s Blue Grass Stakes. He has made both of his 3-year-old starts on dirt in graded stakes, and stayed on late to cut into the winner’s margin in both the Feb. 2 Withers Stakes (finishing fourth) and the Grade 2 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (finishing fifth). In 2018, Sir Winston won two of five starts, including a 1 1/16-mile stakes race on Woodbine’s synthetic Tapeta Footings main track. His sire, Awesome Again, was a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and his dam (mother) was a three-time stakes winner at a mile or longer who also ran third in a Grade 1 at 1 1/8 miles. Dirt may not be this colt’s preferred surface, but this Tracy Farmer homebred has shown enough to merit consideration as a trifecta and superfecta filler if the Blue Grass pace turns out to be fast enough and he has some racing luck. Jockey Julien Leparoux has won the Blue Grass Stakes twice, aboard Java’s War in 2013 and Irap in 2017.


10. Lucky Lee (15-1)

Jockey: Chris Landeros

Trainer: John Servis

Owners: Cash Is King and Leonard Green

Career record: 4 starts – 2 wins – 0 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $58,600

Earnings per start: $14,650

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 102

Pedigree: Flatter – Miss Shegaas, by Medaglia d’Oro

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Pacesetter/press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This Pennsylvania-based colt races for connections who have memorable Triple Crown ties from the previous decade. His co-owner Cash Is King (managing partner Chuck Zacney) campaigned 2005 Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex, and his trainer John Servis conditioned 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Smarty Jones. That pair were both champions and two of the most popular racehorses of this century. Lucky Lee does not carry credentials that are even in the same universe, but this Blue Grass Stakes contender does have some ability and projects as one of the early pacesetters. To have any chance at winning on Saturday, he’ll have to bounce back from a disheartening seventh-place finish in his most recent start and stakes debut, the Feb. 2 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct, where he got off to a poor start and was never a factor. Prior to that, he had won two of three starts at 2, both one-mile races at Parx Racing near Philadelphia.


Keeneland/Coady Photography

11. So Alive (15-1)

Jockey: Luis Saez

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: Robert LaPenta

Career record: 4 starts – 2 wins – 0 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $72,569

Earnings per start: $18,142

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 88

Pedigree: Super Saver – Mythical Bride, by Street Cry

Color: Bay

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Trainer Todd Pletcher has jumped onto the Road to the Kentucky Derby in recent weeks with horses such as Cutting Humor, Spinoff, and Outshine after being absent from the leaderboard over the winter. This son of Pletcher-trained 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver could make it a foursome with a top-two Blue Grass finish. He enters off of a third-place finish in the Feb. 19 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, beaten 11 ½ lengths by Well Defined. He got off to rough start in that race and was never really in contention, running past tired horses in the stretch. That effort followed a 1 ½-length win in a one mile and 70-yard allowance optional claiming race at Tampa Bay Downs, his first start at 3. His Equibase Speed Figures are light compared with most of the other Blue Grass contenders, but he does have a very good pedigree for stamina, as his dam (mother) also produced last year’s Wood Memorial Presented by NYRA Bets winner Vino Rosso. He’s also a close relative to 2014 Belmont Stakes runner-up Commissioner. Todd Pletcher has won the Blue Grass Stakes three times – most recently with Carpe Diem in 2015 – and owner Robert LaPenta won the 2004 edition with The Cliff’s Edge. Luis Saez won the 2016 Blue Grass on Brody’s Cause.


12. Parsimony (20-1)

Jockey: Mario Gutierrez

Trainer: Doug O’Neill

Owner: Reddam Racing

Career record: 8 starts – 0 wins – 4 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $56,700

Earnings per start: $7,088

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 104

Pedigree: Dominus – Lil Cora Tee, by Lil E. Tee

Color: Gray or roan

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This West Coast shipper has yet to reach the winner’s circle through eight starts and arrives at Keeneland after a poor eighth-place finish in the second division of the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, where he fought his jockey early and was shuffled around entering the far turn. In his two races before that, both at Santa Anita Park, he finished second twice and earned triple-digit Equibase Speed Figures, so he has shown some talent. If he can recover that form, Parsimony should be stalking the leaders through the Keeneland backstretch, but he hasn’t shown a swift turn of foot in any of his races so far and will have to improve considerably to have a chance to make the exacta on Saturday. Doug O’Neill, Mario Gutierrez, and owner J. Paul Reddam won the run for the roses in 2012 (I’ll Have Another) and 2016 (Nyquist). O’Neill and Reddam also won the 2017 Blue Grass with a maiden, 31.30-1 shot Irap.


13. Moonster (30-1)

Jockey: John McKee

Trainer: Dale Romans

Owner: Calumet Farm

Career record: 8 starts – 1 win – 0 seconds – 2 thirds

Career earnings: $60,549

Earnings per start: $7,569

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 91

Pedigree: Malibu Moon – Mema, by Unbridled’s Song

Color: Bay

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This son of prominent sire Malibu Moon enters the Blue Grass off of his best performance since breaking his maiden last September, a third-place finish in the 1 1/8-mile Jeff Ruby Steaks on Turfway Park’s synthetic main track. He picked up the pieces in that event, closing from well back to nab third without threatening winner Somelikeithotbrown and runner-up Dynamic Racer. Moonster had run poorly in five consecutive races between his maiden win and the Jeff Ruby, beaten by more than 10 lengths each time, and at best he figures to pass tiring horses to gain a minor placing in the Blue Grass, repeating what he did in northern Kentucky. Calumet Farm tallied six wins in the Blue Grass Stakes during its historic era of dominance in the 20th century when owned by the Wright family, the last coming in 1978 with Hall of Famer Alydar.


14. Aquadini (30-1)

Jockey: Corey Lanerie

Trainer: Dallas Stewart

Owners: Andrew Farm and On Our Own Stable

Career record: 4 starts – 1 win – 1 second – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $36,060

Earnings per start: $9,015

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 87

Pedigree: Bernardini – Indian Pond, by Speightstown

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker/Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Aquadini started his career in a turf sprint but began to show his promise in his third start when stretching out to 1 1/16 miles on the main track at Fair Grounds. In that race, he opened a clear lead in early stretch and drew away to win by 5 ¾ lengths. He subsequently set the pace in a one-mile and 70-yard race at Fair Grounds but was caught in deep stretch despite posting a new career-best 87 Equibase Speed Figure for the runner-up finish. Aquadini is by 2006 Preakness winner Bernardini out of Grade 2-placed stakes winner Indian Pond. Based upon speed figures, he would need to improve by multiple lengths to be a factor in this race, and drawing the far outside post against a full field means he may be caught wide heading into the first turn. Trainer Dallas Stewart has sent out some 3-year-olds who ran huge in big races – Lemons Forever won the 2006 Kentucky Oaks at 47.10-1 odds, Golden Soul ran second in the Kentucky Derby at 34.50-1 in 2013, and Commanding Curve was the 2014 Kentucky Derby runner-up at 37.80-1 – so Aquadini might be worth a second look. –Mike Curry

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