While trainer Bob Baffert has yet to fully commit Castaway to the Kentucky Derby on May 5, the white-haired conditioner has given every indication the Street Sense colt will wheel back off the two-week break if he captures Saturday's 31st running of the Grade 3, $200,000 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland.
The Lexington is one of three graded stakes remaining prior to the Kentucky Derby for horses to earn enough money to be among the top 20 earners to make the starting gate.
Castaway needs the $120,000 winner's share of the Lexington purse to make the Run for the Roses as he currently is sitting on $162,000 in graded earnings. First, however, the bay will have to tackle 10 well-matched rivals who were also entered Wednesday morning for the 1 1/16-mile Polytrack contest.
Castaway will enter the Lexington off a subpar seventh in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby on March 25, but had already run himself into Kentucky Derby contention when taking the first division of the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park by 3 3/4 lengths in late February. Stablemate Secret Circle would go on to take the second Southwest division to give Baffert a sweep, and later captured the Grade 2 Rebel and finished second in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby to secure his berth in the Derby field.
Castaway was unable to do the same, though, when he faded to next-to-last in the nine-furlong Sunland Derby. Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan will have the mount on Castaway for the first time in the Lexington and will try to guide his runner straight into the Keeneland winner's circle.
While eight of the 11 Lexington entrants sport graded earnings, Castaway is the only one capable of making the Kentucky Derby. Looking to derail his chances, though, are Morgan's Guerrilla, Golden Ticket and Holiday Promise, who all finished second in their last runs.
Trainer Mike Maker will be taking the blinkers off Morgan's Guerrilla in the Lexington after the Ghostzapper colt just missed by three parts of a length in the Grade 3 Illinois Derby two weeks ago. The late-blooming chestnut broke his maiden at Aqueduct in early March and didn't even start his career until mid-February at Gulfstream Park, where he wound up second. Julien Leparoux, who has been winning at a 22-percent clip during this Keeneland meet, was aboard for that debut and takes back the mount on Saturday.
Golden Ticket was also just three-quarters of a length behind the winner in his last race, the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby in early March. The Kenny McPeek pupil took six tries to break his maiden before that, though, including a pair of runs during Keeneland's fall meet where he finished third and fourth. Manoel Cruz has the call in the Lexington.
Holiday Promise ran second in his first try on a synthetic track in the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park last out, and could use that experience on Saturday to earn his first win since breaking his maiden last November. Trained by Todd Pletcher, the Harlan's Holiday bay drilled a sharp half-mile over Keeneland's Polytrack last Sunday in :47 to prepare for the Lexington.
Also in with a chance are News Pending, Gold Megillah and Summer Front. The former, a Dale Romans-conditioned son of Harlan's Holiday, finished second in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes but will have to rebound off a seventh in the Grade 1 Florida Derby. Gold Megillah didn't seem to take to the turf last year at Keeneland when seventh in the Grade 3 Bourbon Stakes, but the Purim colt did much better on Turfway's Polytrack March 24 when third in the Rushaway Stakes.
Summer Front is unique in that he brings an undefeated three-for-three mark into the Lexington, all of which came on turf. The son of War Front is trained by Christophe Clement and already has stakes experience following victories in the Dania Beach and King Cugat Stakes, but will be making his seasonal bow in this spot.
Completing the Lexington field are Johannesbourbon, a 9 3/4-length maiden debut winner at Turfway; Illinois Derby seventh Skyring; Black Gold Stakes third Hammers Terror; and Spiral sixth-placer All Squared Away.