KENTUCKY / RAMSEY’S PLEASANT PRINCE FAVORED OVER EIGHT RIVALS IN TOYOTA BLUE GRASS – Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Pleasant Prince, narrowly beaten by Ice Box in the Florida Derby (Grade I), and Padua Stables’ Odysseus, winner of the Tampa Bay Derby (GIII), will attempt to ensure their participation in next month’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) at Churchill Downs when they face seven rivals in Saturday’s $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GI) on the synthetic Polytrack course at Keeneland.
Heading into the race both colts appear unlikely to have sufficient career earnings in graded stakes races to make their way into the crowded starting gate for the 1 1/4-mile Derby on Saturday, May 1 at Churchill Downs. But big efforts in the 1 1/8-mile Toyota Blue Grass would take care of those concerns
The Keeneland race has long been a key prep for the “Run for the Roses.” Nineteen horses that have competed in the race have returned to win the Kentucky Derby. James Tafel’s homebred Street Sense, a narrow loser to Dominican in the Blue Grass before winning the Derby in 2007, is the most recent to successfully use the race at the Lexington track as a prep for America’s greatest race three weeks later.
Pleasant Prince, runner-up at 29-1 to Ice Box in the Florida Derby on March 20, is a tepid 3-1 favorite in oddsmaker Mike Battaglia’s morning line for the Toyota Blue Grass. The Wesley Ward-trained colt will be ridden by regular rider Julien Lepaoux.
Odysseus, trained by Tom Albertrani, is the 7-2 second choice and carries a three-race winning streak into the Keeneland race. Rajiv Maragh will ride Odysseus.
Other contenders in the race include a pair of runners from trainer Todd Pletcher’s deep group of Derby hopes that has been dubbed “The Todd Squad.” Pletcher’s barn is represented by Wertheimer and Frere’s Interactif and Aikenite, who is owned by the Dogwood Stable partnership. Both horses are listed at 4-1 in the Blue Grass morning line.
Interactif finished a strong second to Sidney’s Candy in the San Felipe (GII) at Santa Anita on March 13, a race that marked his debut on a synthetic racing surface. Sidney’s Candy emerged as a major contender for the Kentucky Derby when he won last week’s Santa Anita Derby (GI). Aikenite finished a distant third to Kentucky Derby favorite Eskendereya last time out in the Fountain of Youth (GII) at Gulfstream Park.
Rafael Bejarano will ride Interactif, while Garrett Gomez will be up on Aikenite.
Other Toyota Blue Grass hopes include the Dale Romans-trained duo of First Dude and Paddy O’Prado, Make Music for Me, Stately Victor and Codoy.
SOUTH / PLETCHER’S SUPER SAVER, NOBLE’S PROMISE HEAD ARKANSAS DERBY – WinStar Farm’s Super Saver, a dazzling front-running winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) last fall at Churchill Downs, and Chasing Dreams Racing 2008’s Noble’s Promise, third in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) last fall at Santa Anita, top a field of nine entered in Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (GI), the richest of the remaining preps on the Kentucky Derby trail.
The Todd Pletcher-trained Super Saver, who will be ridden by Calvin Borel, was installed as the 9-5 favorite for the 1 1/8-mile race over traditional dirt at Arkansas’ Oaklawn Park.
Noble’s Promise, trained by Ken McPeek and ridden by Robby Albarado, figured to be the Arkansas Derby choice following a narrow loss to reigning 2-year-old champion Lookin At Lucky in the Rebel Stakes (GIII) at Oaklawn last time out. But he was installed as the close 2-1 second choice after he drew post three and the swift Super Saver drew the rail.
Noble’s Promise has finished behind Lookin At Lucky in all three of his career starts and McPeek had looked for other options for his colt until trainer Bob Baffert decided that the champ’s final Derby prep would be the Santa Anita Derby, where he finished a troubled third.
“Any time a horse that’s that talented goes someplace else is a positive,” said McPeek. “We would like to be able to win it and not have to stress real hard to win it, either. So can we get the best of both worlds? We’re going to find out.”
Another major player in the Arkansas Derby is Dublin, the major hope of four-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas. The son of Afleet Alex was third in the Rebel.
NBC SPORTS’ ‘ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY’ WRAPS UP WITH TOYOTA BLUE GRASS, ARKANSAS DERBY – The finale of NBC Sports’ three “Road to the Kentucky Derby” telecasts on Saturday, April 10 will feature live coverage of the Arkansas Derby and t he Toyota Blue Grass.
NBC’s Tom Hammond and three-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Gary Stevens will anchor the coverage, which will originate from Keeneland from 5-6 p.m. ET.
NOBLE’S PROMISE ELIGIBLE FOR ENGLAND’S EPSOM DERBY – Kentucky Derby contender Nobile’s Promise was one of eight horses made eligible to run in the Investec Epsom Derby, England’s classic 1 ½-mile race for 3-year-olds to be run on June 5 at Epsom Downs.
The son of Cuvee was the only U.S.-based horse made eligible at the second stage of Epsom Derby entries to compete in the race on which the Kentucky Derby was modeled.
“It depends how Noble’s Promise gets on in his next couple of starts whether we decide to come over to the UK,” McPeek said. “I think this horse will like the course.”
JACKSON BEND ARRIVES AT CHURCHILL DOWNS / Robert LaPenta’s Jackson Bend, runner-up to Eskendereya in both the Fountain of Youth and Wood Memorial (GI), arrived at Churchill Downs on Thursday, joining his Nick Zito-trained stablemate Ice Box among the Kentucky Derby hopefuls on the grounds awaiting a possible bid for America’s greatest race. Others on the scene in Louisville include the Todd Pletcher-trained duo of Interactif and Connemara; Illinois Derby (GII) third-place finisher Backtalk; and First Dude. Lane’s End (GII) winner Dean’s Kitten is stabled at Trackside Louisville training center for trainer Mike Maker.