A total of 15 sophomores were entered on Wednesday at Keeneland for the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes, which takes place on Saturday going nine furlongs over that Lexington, Kentucky, venue's Polytrack. Only 14 will be allowed to line up, leaving unbeaten Divine Oath on the outside looking in and hoping for a withdrawal.
The Blue Grass, along with the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby, are the final major points races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby series. Each contest will award 100 points to the winner, virtually guaranteeing that three-year-old a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate on May 3. The only race left in the series after Saturday is the Grade 3, 200,000 Lexington at Keeneland on April 19, but that event is only worth 10 points to the winner.
The significance of Saturday's Blue Grass has not been lost on the racing world, resulting in the overflow field. Bobby's Kitten has been installed as the 3-1 morning-line favorite of the bunch, and could give owner/breeders Ken and Sarah Ramsey a third horse to root for come the first Saturday in May.
The Ramseys' already have Louisiana Derby hero Vicar's in Trouble and Spiral victor We Miss Artie readying for the Kentucky Derby, but Bobby's Kitten will need the win if he hopes to join the pair. The Kitten's Joy colt doesn't have any points on the Road to the Kentucky series, having competed exclusively on turf thus far for trainer Chad Brown.
Bobby's Kitten took two tries to break his maiden at Saratoga last summer, but has since captured the Pilgrim by 6 1/4 lengths, run third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf and captured an allowance Tampa Bay Downs by 1 1/2 lengths. That latter contest came on March 8 in the bay colt's only start of 2014.
"Chad (Brown) thinks he can rate," Ken Ramsey said. "He's never really come from behind or got a lot of dirt kicked in his face. He didn't come from off the pace in the Breeders' Cup and was supposed to, so that didn't pan out.
"We've got a really good post position (5), with the speed on the inside of us, so we'll set out to develop our strategy. I think (the strategy) is to let the other horses go on and tuck in behind them and that way we won't run those 1:09 fractions and we'll have something left for the stretch run. He's by Kitten's Joy, so we know he can get a distance of ground."
Javier Castellano has been aboard since the Pilgrim and stays in the irons as Bobby's Kitten tries to make the Derby field.
Medal Count is the 9-2 second favorite from post 13 in the Blue Grass off his 1 1/4-length victory in the Transylvania on Keeneland's opening day last Friday. The Dale Romans pupil was fifth in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream prior to that, and opened his three-year-old campaign with a grass victory in Florida against optional claiming rivals. The bay son of Dynaformer gets jockey Robby Albarado back in the saddle as he goes for back-to-back wins off the week break.
"The Blue Grass is such an important race to a three-year-old's career," Romans explained the quick turnaround. "If he can win that, it puts him into a stallion barn. And the horse ran well on the race track. He came out of the (Transylvania) in good shape; it was a pretty easy race for him. And this is such an important race, we just don't want to pass it up.
"I took him to the track two days. He's been very good," Romans added about what he's been doing with Medal Count this past week. "He's had a lot of good energy; he bounced out of the race like he never ran. I would have put a pretty stiff work in him on Saturday anyway, so I don't think the turnaround is that big a deal and it actually may be beneficial to have had that race under his belt."
Vinceremos will break just to the inside of Medal Count at 8-1 on the morning-line for trainer Todd Pletcher. The Pioneerof the Nile colt is one of three entrants in the race for the conditioner, but is likely to only face stablemate Gala Award as the other Pletcher pupil is also-eligible Divine Oath.
Vinceremos has recorded a pair of close wins this season, breaking his maiden by a head at Gulfstream Park in early January and taking the Sam F. Davis by a nose one month later. The dark bay was unable to duplicate those performances in the March 8 Tampa Bay Derby last out but did fill the runner-up spot that day under regular rider Edgar Prado, who will be holding the reins on Saturday.
Like Bobby's Kitten, Gala Award will be trying a surface other than turf for the first time in the Blue Grass. The Bernardini colt is currently 2-1-0 from three starts on turf, with the most recent coming as a win in the Palm Beach at Gulfstream on March 1. John Velazquez was aboard that day and has the call on Saturday as Gala Award breaks from the far outside post as the 5-1 third choice on the morning-line.
"Obviously, it's less than ideal. I don't think anyone wanted the 14 but there is nothing we can do now but hope for a little luck," commented Scott Calder, Ashford Stud sales and marketing for Gala Award's owner Coolmore. "He's kind of sat just off the pace in his last couple of starts so hopefully he can go forward and with a little pace something will open up. John Velazquez is the best in the business so we'll leave it to him and hope something good works out for us here."
We Miss Artie may have won the Spiral on March 22 at Turfway Park to earn his shot at Derby glory, but it was just a nose behind the winner to Harry's Holiday, who in turn only had a head to spare on Coastline. Those two will face off yet again in the Blue Grass, with Harry's Holiday drawing the 4 post and Coastline breaking from 11.
Harry's Holiday did well for himself over Turfway's Polytrack, taking the 96ROCK Stakes by eight lengths before running third in the John Battaglia Memorial and second in the Spiral. The Mike Maker trainee opened the year with a fifth-place effort in the Pasco at Tampa Bay Downs on January 4, just 15 days after closing out his juvenile campaign with a 2 3/4-length optional claiming victory sprinting at Gulfstream Park.
Coastline, on the other hand, took a short break between his two- and three-year-old seasons. The Mark Casse runner broke his maiden at Keeneland's fall meet, took the Street Sense at Churchill by three lengths, then finished a subpar eighth in the Delta Downs Jackpot on November 23. The gray son of Speightstown reappeared in 2014 at Oaklawn filling the third spot in the Smarty Jones and crossing the line in fourth in the Southwest prior to his neck third in the Spiral.
Rosie Napravnik has the return mount on Harry's Holiday, who is 10-1 on the morning-line, while Stewart Elliott will be back aboard Coastline, assigned 8-1 opening odds.
Asserting Bear and Big Bazinga, the respective fourth- and fifth-place finishers in the Spiral, are also entered in the Blue Grass.
Of note in Saturday's race is Pablo del Monte and Dance With Fate. The former captured his career openers at Keeneland by a combined 12 1/2 lengths last year before finishing fifth in the grassy Generous, fourth in the Gulfstream Park Derby and third in the Hutcheson. The Giant's Causeway chestnut will be stretching out past a mile for the first time in the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass.
Dance With Fate ran second in the Del Mar Futurity on that track's version of Polytrack last September, was runner-up in the FrontRunner on Santa Anita's dirt and then finished a one-paced eighth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. So far this season the Two Step Salsa colt has captured a grassy optional claimer at Santa Anita and was just caught by a half-length on the wire of the El Camino Real Derby last out in February.
Victor Espinoza rides Pablo del Monte for Wesley Ward while trainer Peter Euron has tabbed Corey Nakantain for Dance With Fate.
Completing the field on Saturday are dual stakes winner Extrasexyhippzster, stakes-placed Coltimus Prime, Grade 1 runner-up Casiguapo and state-bred stakes scorer So Lonesome.