About 12 hours before the University of Kentucky plays for the NCAA championship in men's basketball Monday night, a Thoroughbred at Keeneland with UK connections turned in his final work for Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass. All American Horses' Casiguapo, a Sightseeing colt who was bred by UK, worked three furlongs on the Polytrack in a bullet :34 4/5 with Hector Salazar up for Calder-based trainer Mario Morales. (Click here to watch a video of the work.)
Watching the move were four representatives from UK's Equine Research Unit, which is based at Maine Chance Farm on Newtown Pike: Dr. Laurie Lawrence, a professor of equine nutrition; Bryan Cassill, the animal resource manager; and students Jamie Riordan and Courtney Schneider.
The program, which relies on donated mares and donated stallion seasons, will have about 24 foals this year, Lawrence said. Casiguapo played an important role in the curriculum.
"He was raised as part of our teaching and research program, so students who work at the farm are involved in breeding, foaling, getting them ready to go to the sale," Lawrence said. "But the main thing we use them for is our teaching and our research. That's why we have them."
Casiguapo is the second foal out of the unraced Buddha mare Emerald Buddha, who participates in research into the nutritional requirements for gestation. Lawrence said the colt was involved in a project to understand how the microflora of the GI tract develop in normal foals, and was used in demonstrations for class.
With earnings of $287,655 from one win, seconds in the Hopeful and Delta Downs Jackpot and a third in the Frank Gomez Memorial at Calder, Casiguapo has given the UK equine program something besides basketball to follow.
"We have a lot of students who work at the farm and students in the program that really don't have any connection with Thoroughbreds before they come here," Lawrence said. "To have a horse come out of the program that they can actually identify with, I think it really gives them a big interest in the Thoroughbred industry."
Two other Blue Grass candidates worked at Keeneland Monday, Coronation Futurity winner Asserting Bear and the on-the-bubble Coltimus Prime.
With jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson aboard, Bear Stables' Asserting Bear covered a half-mile in :48 in company after the renovation break. (Click here to watch a video of the work.)
"I was very happy with that," Wilson said of the work that culminated in a three-length advantage over Pageantry, a three-year-old maiden filly. "I think he enjoys the change of scenery up here."
Wilson will have the mount in Saturday's Blue Grass, and it will be the first time for her to ride Asserting Bear in a race.
"I worked him a few times in Florida at Palm Beach Downs for Mr. (Reade) Baker," Wilson said. "That was on dirt. He loved it out there today (on the Polytrack) and traveled well over it."
Wilson plans to remain at Keeneland this week and hopes to pick up a few rides prior to the Blue Grass.
"I called an audible and canceled my plane reservation last night," said Wilson, who has ridden here sparingly.
Also pleased with the work was Martine Pare, assistant to Baker.
"I liked it very much," Pare said. "He galloped a mile before he worked, which is something Mr. Baker normally does."
Asserting Bear has been at Keeneland since shipping here March 24, two days after a fourth-place finish in the Spiral at Turfway Park. Baker is scheduled to arrive at Keeneland Saturday to saddle Asserting Bear in the Blue Grass.
Trainer Justin Nixon never has started a horse at Keeneland, a stat he hopes to change Saturday with Cabernet Racing Stables' Coltimus Prime in the Blue Grass. However, Coltimus Prime has to get in the gate first, which could be problematic.
"You can't worry about that," Nixon said. "If he does not get in the Blue Grass, he'll go in the (Grade 3) Lexington (on April 19)."
The Blue Grass is limited to 14 starters with preference given to graded stakes winners and then highest earnings. Keeneland has published the list of Blue Grass hopefuls, in order of preference (with jockey, if named), and Coltimus Prime stands 16th in earnings among horses being considered for the race:
Coltimus Prime's cause was helped when Danza's connections announced that he would head to Saturday's Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn.
"Hot Springs here we come," Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners tweeted Monday. "Danza confirmed for G1 Arkansas Derby. Joe Bravo to ride for Todd Pletcher."
Mr Speaker, currently ninth on the list, is only "possible" at the moment.
Monday morning after the break, Coltimus Prime breezed five furlongs in 1:01 1/5 on his own with Melanie Pinto, a jockey at Fort Erie, in the saddle. (Click here to watch a video of the work.)
"I was happy with it and he seemed comfortable on it," Nixon said. "I caught him galloping out in 1:14 and 2 and 'Mel' was happy with it. He had a good work at Palm Beach Downs last week (five furlongs in a bullet :58 2/5 on March 30) and didn't have to do much today."
"I thought he went super," Pinto said as she gave the move a thumbs up. "I have been getting on him this winter in Florida."
Nixon said Pinto has worked with him for the past four or five years in the winter before Fort Erie opens.
Coltimus Prime finished ninth in his 2014 debut in the Tampa Bay Derby after making his three starts in 2013 over the Polytrack at Woodbine.
"We decided to stay away from the dirt after Tampa," Nixon said. "He never really looked comfortable on it during the race."
The Blue Grass offers 170 points toward the Kentucky Derby (100-40-20-10), but Nixon said the Derby is not a consideration now.
"That could change if he gets 10 points in the Lexington and be 22nd on the points (list) to get in the (20-horse) Derby," Nixon said. "But the Queen's Plate (July 6 at Woodbine) is the ultimate goal. I'd like to win this. Staying on the synthetics down the road has been the plan."
Alan Garcia, who won the 2010 Blue Grass on Stately Victor, will have the mount Saturday.
Post positions for the Blue Grass will be drawn on Wednesday. TVG will carry live coverage of the draw from 11:30 a.m. to noon (EDT). The draw will be hosted by Tom Leach and Todd Schrupp.