Few Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races can boast as long and rich a history as the Blue Grass Stakes (G2), a tried-and-true local steppingstone toward the Run for the Roses.
The Blue Grass was first run in 1911 at the long-gone Kentucky Association racetrack in Lexington, and the race quickly established its prominence when inaugural runner-up Meridian returned to win the Kentucky Derby. Donerail (1913), Behave Yourself (1921), and Bubbling Over (1926) likewise used the original Blue Grass as a springboard to success under the Twin Spires.
Following a 10-year hiatus, the Blue Grass was resurrected in 1937 at Keeneland, where it remains a prestigious spring fixture to this day. Through 2019, 19 horses have parlayed a run in Keeneland’s Blue Grass into victory at Churchill Downs, including 10 runners who won both races: Shut Out (1942), Tomy Lee (1959), Chateaugay (1963), Northern Dancer (1964), Lucky Debonair (1965), Forward Pass (1968), Dust Commander (1970), Riva Ridge (1972), Spectacular Bid (1979), and Strike the Gold (1991).
Historic Calumet Farm has won the Blue Grass half a dozen times, though arguably their most talented participant—1942 Triple Crown champion Whirlaway—was beaten to second place at Keeneland. The record for the fastest winning time belongs to Skip Away, a future Horse of the Year who blazed 1 1⁄8 miles in 1:47.29 to win the 1996 renewal.
The Blue Grass endured a dry spell between 2007 and 2014, when the race was conducted over a synthetic track; during that timeframe, only 2007 runner-up Street Sense managed to prevail in the Kentucky Derby. But Keeneland’s return to dirt is already triggering a turnaround, with 2018 Blue Grass winner Good Magic recording a runner-up finish in the Run for the Roses. Continued success seems inevitable for Kentucky’s signature Derby prep race.
By J. Keeler Johnson