Vekoma appears to be a 3-year-old peaking at just the right time.
Stretching out to 1 1/8 miles for the first time proved to Vekoma’s liking as he took command off the final turn and drew off to a 3 1/2-length victory in the $1 million, Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 6 at Keeneland.
R. A. Hill Stable and Gatsas Stables’ Vekoma completed the test in 1:50.93 under jockey Javier Castellano, who secured his fourth stakes win since the start of the meet. The 3-year-old son of Candy Ride is trained by George Weaver, who grew up in Louisville, Ky.
“I’ve won a lot of big races but this is probably the biggest,” said Weaver, recalling days in his youth when his father would take him out of school to attend the races at the Lexington track. “Keeneland and this race are special to me.”
ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY LEADERBOARD
Win Win Win rallied for second, just edging third-place Signalman.
Favored Vekoma paid $4.80, $3.20, and $2.60 across the board while Win Win Win returned $4 and $3.20 to place and show. Signalman returned $3.60.
Owner Michael Gatsas said he hadn’t slept since Wednesday, anticipating a big run from the son of Candy Ride. Vekoma won both his juvenile starts, including a clear victory in the Grade 3 Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct. In his 3-year-old debut, Vekoma finished third in the Grade 2 Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
“This is a horse who has done everything right,” Gatsas said. “The Fountain of Youth was his first race in four months so it made sense he would need that one.”
In Saturday’s race, Jeff Ruby Stakes winner Somelikeithotbrown broke well from the rail and seized the early lead through a half-mile in :47.03 while closely tracked by Vekoma. Those two would continue well into the far turn but Vekoma would put away the early leader out of the turn and quickly open up on the field. He would not be seriously tested in the stretch.
The Blue Grass awards Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve points to the top four finishers (100-40-20-10) meaning that photo for second could play big as Win Win Win locked up a spot in the Louisville classic as he has a total of 50 earned.
At the end of the day after Roadster locked up a Derby spot with his Santa Anita Derby win, Signalman ranked 18th (38 points) and Arkansas Derby probable Omaha Beach at 19th, a bubble spot with points races remaining April 13: the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby (100-40-20-10) and the Grade 3 Stonestreet Lexington Stakes (20-8-4-2) . The Derby is limited to 20 starters and this year one of those slots will be taken by Japan points qualifier Master Fencer.
Bred in Kentucky by Alpha Delta Stables, R. A. Hill Stable purchased Vekoma for $135,000 at the 2017 Keeneland September yearling sale where he was consigned by Lane's End, agent. Vekoma is out of Grade 1 winner Mona de Momma, a Speightstown mare who has produced two starters, both winners.