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Uncaptured, Rydilluc top overflow Blue Grass field
Uncaptured and Rydilluc will likely vie for favoritism in an oversubscribed field of 15 entered for Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass at Keeneland.
The nine-furlong Polytrack contest and Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park about one hour later are the final races in the second leg of the Championship Series on the new Road to the Kentucky Derby point system. The top four finishers from each race will be awarded points toward a starting berth in the Kentucky Derby on a 100-40-20-10 basis.
Uncaptured has been installed as the 7-2 morning-line favorite with jockey Miguel Mena scheduled to ride. The Lion Heart colt has finished off-the-board just once in his eight-race career, with that coming as a fifth in the Grey at Woodbine last October. Prior to that the dark bay racked up four straight wins, including three in stakes, over the Toronto venue's Polytrack.
Uncaptured closed out his juvenile season with a pair of wins in the Iroquois and Kentucky Jockey Club on Churchill Downs' main track, and just made his seasonal bow on March 23 when second in the Spiral at Turfway Park.
Norm Casse, assistant and son of trainer Mark Casse, was pleased with the Canadian-bred's Blue Grass draw of the 7 post.
"It's ideal. The game plan is for him to hopefully break good and hopefully get a good forward position going in to the first turn, and being in the 7 hole that's right where you want to be to do something like that," he said.
"I'm excited about it (being the morning-line favorite). I'm a numbers guy. This is the third 14-horse field in Blue Grass history and the morning-line favorite has won (the first two). That's a nice little stat that's in our favor. To be the favorite in a race like this, it's exciting. It's what you want to do."
Uncaptured will be joined in the starting gate by stablemate Dynamic Sky, who will break from the rail under Joel Rosario. He was last seen finishing fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby on March 9, capping off a prep season at that Florida track that saw the Sky Mesa sophomore win the Pasco and finish a neck second in the Sam F. Davis.
"Most trainers would be upset to have the 1 hole, but the game plan was going to be to have him fall out of there -- and you want to be on the rail anyway when you're coming from out of it -- so I have no problem with being on the rail with Dynamic Sky," Casse noted. "That's what he's going to do: He's going to come back and go right to the rail anyway. He's going to circle the field, more than likely, and hopefully be passing horses late."
Rydilluc will have to navigate from the 13 hole as the co-second choice on the morning-line at 4-1. Trained by Gary Contessa, the bay son of Medaglia d'Oro is riding a three-race win streak comprised of a maiden score, an optional claiming victory and the Palm Beach, all over the turf. Rydilluc's only start on a main track came when he finished a well-beaten fifth at Belmont Park in his career debut last October.
Java's War finished second to Kentucky Derby favorite Verrazano in the Tampa Bay Derby while making his sophomore bow on March 9, which could have led to him being the co-second favorite on the morning-line with Rydilluc.
The Kenny McPeek-trained War Pass chestnut has also competed on the turf, breaking his maiden at Ellis Park and taking the Sunday Silence at Louisiana Downs, before switching to Keeneland's Polytrack last October for a third-place run in the Breeders' Futurity. Java's War rounded out his juvenile season with a sixth-placing behind Uncaptured in the Kentucky Jockey Club, and will get a jockey change to Julien Leparoux for his return to Keeneland.
Palace Malice threw in a subpar effort in the Louisiana Derby last out, finishing a midpack seventh, and will try to rebound in what is probably his last shot at making the Kentucky Derby field. The Curlin colt has accumulated just 10 points thus far toward a spot in the Derby starting gate and is currently tied in 32nd place on the leaderboard.
Palace Malice just made his stakes debut in the Risen Star prior to the Louisiana Derby, finishing a half-length back in third on that occasion, and will have Garrett Gomez in the irons Saturday for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Both Undrafted and Charming Kitten would need at least a second in the Blue Grass to make the Derby, as neither have accumulated points thus far. Undrafted has finished third in his past three races -- the Gulfstream Park Derby, Hutcheson and Swale -- and will have Corey Nakatani aboard for trainer Wesley Ward. Charming Kitten was second to Rydilluc in the Palm Beach last out, entering that contest off a one-length win in a Gulfstream Park stakes named in honor of his sire, Kitten's Joy. Joe Bravo will take over riding duties for the recuperating John Velazquez.
"We are just going to tuck the horse in, take him back a little bit and keep him covered up and let him make his run down the stretch," said Ken Ramsey, Charming Kitten's owner/breeder. "We just hope we get through the traffic, and with a little racing luck we can be right there."
The Blue Grass field is completed by Grade 2 victor Balance the Books, who suffered his first unplaced finish in the Spiral last out; Gotham runner-up West Hills Giant; Sam F. Davis third My Name is Michael, who will be getting blinkers added; dual Grade 3-placed Fear the Kitten; Southwest fourth-placer Channel Isle; Grade 3-placed Tesseron, who hasn't competed since late February; and recent maiden scorer Footbridge.
Stakes-placed Divine Ambition will need a scratch to draw into the main body from the also-eligible list.