2021 Blue Grass Stakes Cheat Sheet

Racing
Essential Quality, shown winning the Southwest Stakes on Feb. 27 at Oaklawn Park, will have his final tune-up for the 2021 Kentucky Derby in Saturday’s Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The road to the 2021 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve stops at picturesque Keeneland Race Course Saturday for the $800,000, Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. The race is a key steppingstone for 3-year-olds on the Derby trail and offers a total of 170 qualifying points to the 147th run for the roses on May 1 at Churchill Downs, distributed on a 100-40-20-10 basis to the top four finishers.

The 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass has sent 23 runners on to win the Kentucky Derby through the years, and 11 horses have won both races, most recently Strike the Gold in 1991. Street Sense finished third in the 2007 Blue Grass prior to winning the Kentucky Derby.

This year’s 97th edition of the Blue Grass drew a nine-horse field, headlined by 2020 champion 2-year-old male, current Kentucky Derby future-book leader, and odds-on morning-line favorite Essential Quality.

The race will be televised on NBCSN along with the Wood Memorial Stakes and the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby as part of NBC Sports’ “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series starting at 5:30 p.m. ET.

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Read on for information about all of the Blue Grass contenders.


Coady Photography

1. Hidden Stash (20-1)

Jockey: Rafael Bejarano

Trainer: Victoria Oliver

Owner: BBN Racing

Career record: 6 starts – 2 wins – 1 second – 2 thirds

Career earnings: $191,062

Earnings per start: $31,844

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 93

Kentucky Derby Points: 22

Pedigree: Constitution – Making Mark Money, by Smart Strike

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Hidden Stash enters his final Kentucky Derby prep after two starts in points races at Tampa Bay Downs, finishing a closing third in the Feb. 6 Sam F. Davis Stakes and then a game second to Helium in the March 6 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby. His Equibase Speed Figure of 93 earned in the Tampa Bay Derby was a career-high and the first time he topped the 90-mark in six starts. That figure will have to improve by about 10 points for Hidden Stash to have any shot at scoring an upset win Saturday. On the other hand, this son of good, young sire Constitution has not run a bad race since stretching out to two turns in his third career start last fall, when he won a 1 1/16-mile maiden race on the main track at Keeneland. He’s a strong choice to use in exotic tickets such as the trifecta and superfecta and should be picking it up late when the Blue Grass field rolls into the stretch. Jockey Rafael Bejarano won the 2007 Blue Grass on Dominican.

Bet Hidden Stash in the Blue Grass Stakes.


2. Untreated (8-1)

Jockey: Joel Rosario

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: Team Valor

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

Career earnings: $17,800

Earnings per start: $8,900

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 101

Kentucky Derby Points: 0

Pedigree: Nyquist – Fully Living, by Unbridled’s Song

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Untreated is a wild card entry in Saturday’s Blue Grass, coming in off of only two career starts earlier this year, the most recent of those a very impressive maiden win. After finishing a well-beaten sixth in his debut sprinting six furlongs at Gulfstream Park in January – a race won by subsequent Sam F. Davis Stakes winner Candy Man Rocket – Untreated shipped to Tampa Bay Downs and romped by 8 ¾ lengths in a one-mile and 70-yard race on the March 6 Tampa Bay Derby undercard. He sat a stalking trip in that race and drew off from the field in upper stretch to win going away, earning a good 101 Equibase Speed Figure. This son of 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist has a solid pedigree for stretching out as he’s from the female family of champion filly Halfbridled, and while Luis Saez logically keeps his mount on Essential Quality in the Blue Grass, Untreated picks up red-hot rider Joel Rosario. Rosario won the Rebel Stakes on Concert Tour and the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby on Hot Rod Charlie by urging his mounts to the early lead, and there’s a possibility he does the same with this colt Saturday as he steps up in class. If he does employ that strategy, Untreated could hang around for a long while in a race filled with closers and hit the board at good odds. Todd Pletcher, nominated to the Racing Hall of Fame this year, has won the Blue Grass three times: Bandini (2005), Monba (2008), and Carpe Diem (2015). Rosario won the 2011 edition aboard Brilliant Speed.

Bet Untreated in the Blue Grass Stakes.


Keeneland/Coady Photography

3. Highly Motivated (7-2)

Jockey: Javier Castellano

Trainer: Chad Brown

Owner: Klaravich Stables

Career record: 4 starts – 2 wins – 1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $160,050

Earnings per start: $40,013

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 104

Kentucky Derby Points: 10

Pedigree: Into Mischief – Strong Incentive, by Warrior’s Reward

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Highly Motivated made his 3-year-old debut in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct on March 6 and overcame a less-than-ideal start to run on and grab third, a not-bad finish coming after a four-month layoff. Now, successful owner-trainer team Klaravich Stables and Chad Brown bring Highly Motivated back to the track where he secured his first stakes win in eye-catching fashion, as he romped in the 6 ½-furlong Nyquist Stakes at Keeneland on the Nov. 6 Breeders’ Cup undercard and, in fact, set a track record for that distance of 1:14.99 (horses set several track records at Keeneland last fall). This son of leading sire Into Mischief has put in two solid workouts since the Gotham and appears ready to take the next step in development. His pedigree suggests that Highly Motivated may do his best work in the future as a sprinter-miler, but his best Equibase Speed Figures stack up well against the top Blue Grass contenders and he could certainly hit the board with a career-best effort. Look for him to be positioned in the first flight of horses through the backstretch in a field that lacks early speed and to make a bid for the lead on the far turn. Chad Brown won the 2018 Blue Grass with subsequent Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic. Hall of Fame rider Castellano won this race in 2019 aboard Vekoma.

Bet Highly Motivated in the Blue Grass Stakes.


Coady Photography

4. Essential Quality (3-5)

Jockey: Luis Saez

Trainer: Brad Cox

Owner: Godolphin

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

Career earnings: $1,785,144

Earnings per start: $446,286

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 105

Kentucky Derby Points: 40

Pedigree: Tapit – Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality

Color: Gray or roan

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Essential Quality heads into Saturday’s Blue Grass Stakes as the clear favorite for both this race and the May 1 Kentucky Derby, sealing the latter position after Life Is Good was sidelined. After going 3-for-3 as a juvenile including impressive wins in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity and the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance – both on Keeneland’s main track – he made his 3-year-old debut in the Feb. 27 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park and coasted to a 4 ¼-length victory. He raced wide throughout in the Southwest and also tackled a sloppy track for the first time but displayed the same high level of professionalism and talent he showed in 2020, and he’ll be back at a track he loves Saturday for his final Derby tune-up. In three of his four races, Essential Quality has won from a stalking position, but in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity he pressed the early pace and made a move for the lead heading into the far turn. There’s no confirmed front-runner lined up for the Blue Grass, and it would not be surprising to see Luis Saez either put his mount on the lead before the field hits the first turn or sit right off another horse that may go early, such as Untreated. Essential Quality appears a near-lock to secure a top-two finish on Saturday … of course, anything can happen in a horse race. Still, even third or fourth would probably give him enough qualifying points to continue on to Louisville for an attempt at history on May 1. Saez won the 2016 Blue Grass on Brody’s Cause.

Bet Essential Quality in the Blue Grass Stakes.


Shane Micheli/Vassar Photography

5. Rombauer (15-1)

Jockey: Florent Geroux

Trainer: Michael McCarthy

Owners: John and Dane Fradkin

Career record: 5 starts – 2 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $210,500

Earnings per start: $42,100

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 95

Kentucky Derby Points: 14

Pedigree: Twirling Candy – Cashmere, by Cowboy Cal

Color: Bay

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: California shipper Rombauer profiles as a worthy horse to consider for exotic bets in the Blue Grass at what should be good odds, but he’s a longshot win candidate against this talented field. He came back after a layoff of more than three months to make his 3-year-old debut in the Feb. 13 El Camino Real Derby on Golden Gate Fields’ synthetic Tapeta Footings surface and mounted a late stretch rally to edge the filly Javanica by a neck. Rombauer added 10 points to his Derby qualifying total and now will return to racing on dirt, where he showed promise late in his juvenile season. After making his first two starts on turf with one win, Rombauer ran a good second to Get Her Number in the American Pharoah Stakes last September and then closed to grab fifth behind Essential Quality in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance at Keeneland. The early pace in the Blue Grass does not project to be very fast, which hurts his upset chances, but Rombauer will be running in the end. Trainer Mike McCarthy finished third in last year’s Blue Grass with Rushie.

Bet Rombauer in the Blue Grass Stakes.


Coady Photography

6. Leblon (30-1)

Jockey: Albin Jimenez

Trainer: Paulo Lobo

Owner: Bonne Chance Farm

Career record: 5 starts – 1 win – 1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $72,657

Earnings per start: $14,531

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 96

Kentucky Derby Points: 0

Pedigree: Broken Vow – Trade Balance, by Giant’s Causeway

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Longshot Leblon arrives in Kentucky off of a fourth-place finish in an Oaklawn Park allowance-optional claiming race on Feb. 11, when he raced on a sloppy track, was steadied early, and checked in 2 ¾ lengths behind the winner. That race was held at 1 1/16 miles and, in fact, Leblon has made his last four starts in route races going back to last year. He broke his maiden traveling the same 1 1/8 miles he’ll try Saturday when winning by a hard-fought neck in a race at Churchill Downs last fall, and he also finished second and third in two-turn races last year. Overall, though, his speed figures are among the lowest in the Blue Grass field and he’ll also be making his graded stakes debut in an incredibly tough spot. In a best-case scenario, he could pass some tiring horses and fill out the superfecta, but closers such as Keepmeinmind, Hidden Stash, and Rombauer are all more accomplished at doing the very same thing and it would be a surprise to see Leblon making any impression in the stretch Saturday.

Bet Leblon in the Blue Grass Stakes.


Coady Photography

7. Hush of a Storm (15-1)

Jockey: Santiago Gonzalez

Trainer: William Morey

Owner: Joseph P. Morey Jr. Revocable Trust

Career record: 4 starts – 3 wins – 0 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $65,985

Earnings per start: $16,496

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 97

Kentucky Derby Points: 10

Pedigree: Creative Cause – Hush Now, by Flatter

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Despite carrying a perfect 3-for-3 record on Turfway Park’s synthetic Tapeta Footings track, this colt’s connections decided to scratch him from the March 20 Jeff Ruby Steaks and point to the Blue Grass Stakes instead. This race is a much tougher assignment than the Jeff Ruby, with Essential Quality and several other graded stakes-placed runners lined up. Furthermore, in Hush of a Storm’s only start on dirt – his career debut last November in a seven-furlong race at Churchill Downs – he finished eighth. On the positive side, he’s won all three of his starts going two turns (as noted above, all at Turfway), including the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes, and the horse he defeated by 1 ½ lengths in the Battaglia, Like the King, came back to win the Jeff Ruby. If Hush of a Storm can repeat the same 97 Equibase Speed Figure he earned in the Battaglia while moving back to dirt and stretching out another sixteenth of a mile, he could fill out the trifecta or superfecta in Saturday’s Blue Grass. He should be rallying late from off of the pace alongside several other horses with similar running styles but who are more accomplished on dirt and in graded stakes.

Bet Hush of a Storm in the Blue Grass Stakes.


Eclipse Sportswire

8. Sittin On Go (30-1)

Jockey: Corey Lanerie

Trainer: Dale Romans

Owner: Albaugh Family Stables

Career record: 6 starts – 2 wins – 0 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $169,520

Earnings per start: $28,253

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 91

Kentucky Derby Points: 10

Pedigree: Brody’s Cause – Set’n On Ready, by More Than Ready

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Winless since last September, Sittin On Go has a solid chance to carry the highest odds in the Blue Grass field when the starting gate opens Saturday evening. He won the very first stakes race in the Road to the Kentucky Derby points series by rallying late to defeat Midnight Bourbon in the one-turn-mile Iroquois Stakes Presented by Ford at Churchill Downs on Sept. 5, but since then has not progressed in four graded stakes while routing. He has finished a combined 31 ¼ lengths behind the winners of both prep races he’s competed in this year, and one wonders if trainer Dale Romans may request a change in tactics and get jockey Corey Lanerie to send Sittin On Go to contest the pace amongst a Blue Grass field that lacks a confirmed front-runner. At this point, anything is worth trying to see if Sittin On Go can recapture his early form – and truthfully, this colt appears best suited to target the Pat Day Mile at Churchill on the Kentucky Derby undercard rather than the 1 ¼-mile run for the roses. Romans and Albaugh Family Stables teamed up to win the 2016 Blue Grass with Brody’s Cause, and Romans also won the 2012 renewal with Dullahan.

Bet Sittin On Go in the Blue Grass Stakes.


Eclipse Sportswire

9. Keepmeinmind (8-1)

Jockey: David Cohen

Trainer: Robertino Diodoro

Owners: Cypress Creek Equine, Arnold Bennewith, and Spendthrift Farm

Career record: 5 starts – 1 win – 2 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $400,987

Earnings per start: $80,197

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 98

Kentucky Derby Points: 18

Pedigree: Laoban – Inclination, by Victory Gallop

Color: Bay

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Keepmeinmind disappointed in his 3-year-old debut on March 13 with a nonthreatening sixth-place finish in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Still, he’s accumulated enough Kentucky Derby qualifying points to currently rank 20th on the leaderboard, which puts him in a good position to secure a spot in the May 1 starting gate at Churchill Downs with a top-two finish in Saturday’s Blue Grass. This colt was among the leaders in Kentucky Derby future-book wagering based on the fact that he finished second to Essential Quality in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity, third behind him in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, and then won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill to close out his juvenile campaign. If Keepmeinmind just needed a race when returning from a layoff in the Rebel, then he profiles as a logical horse to pair with Essential Quality in Blue Grass exactas and to include in other exotic tickets as well, especially since the form of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile has held up through the winter (runner-up Hot Rod Charlie came back to impressively win the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby). He does have his work cut out for him as a deep closer in what projects to be a moderately-paced race on Saturday, however.

Bet Keepmeinmind in the Blue Grass Stakes.

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