Blue Grass Stakes Preview
DERBY DOINGS 2016
VOL. 16 - NUMBER 3
ANOTHER DEEP BLUE GRASS LINEUP WITH NO SINGLE STANDOUT...WHO STANDS OUT?
Just when it appears as though the 3-year old Derby Prep series was getting short on price and short on drama along comes Keeneland Race Track and the Blue Grass Stakes.
On resume Gulfstream Park Fountain of Youth (G2) runner-up ZULU and BRODY'S CAUSE who won the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity and finished third in the Grade 1 BC Juvenile (both over the Keeneland main track) have been established as the 5-2 ML favorite and 4-1 ML second choice respectively in Saturday's $1 million mile and an eighth Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.
With a significant group of 3-year olds having already gained what appears to be a secure number of qualifying points for Kentucky Derby inclusion the 170 points up for grabs to the top four finishers (100-40-20-10 scale) of this race is crucial.
And with the Blue Grass having drawn a field of 16 runners with 2 also eligible hopefuls this race is considerably wide open.
Remember, the Morning Line is the secretary's approximation of how the public will bet and although both Zulu and Brody's cause do have credentials they also have just as many questions to answer.
Zulu, a son of Bernardini began his racing career with a pair workman like wins over maiden and entry-level allowance foes at Gulfstream for trainer Todd Pletcher before netting 20 points for his runner-up to Mohaymen in the Fountain of Youth. Certainly finishing behind the previously unbeaten Mohaymen is not a negative but one has to wonder given that one's performance in the Florida Derby and how Greenpointcrusader has faltered since facing other than Florida based runners in his Prep engagements, just how far one can elevate the Zulu performance in that FOY Stakes debut. The addition of blinkers and the switch to Javier Castellano should be considered but if Zulu is indeed the post time favorite, as the 5-2 ML suggests, the race is definitively wide open.
For his part Brody's Cause is seeking to rebound from a disappointing seventh as the favorite in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby (G2) with his connections logically banking on his excellent juvenile races last fall over this race track affinity for Keeneland's main track proving a huge plus as the Dale Romans-trained colt won the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity and rallied well for third in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile when beaten less than 3 lengths by current division leader Nyquist. This is a must perform race as Brody's cause has only 14 qualifying points right now and to be more than just "on the bubble" probably needs at least a place finish as Romans hands the reins to new pilot Luis Saez.
It would not be a complete surprise if either or both of these ML choices live up to expectations but given the depth of contention for this field their top performances would be well earned.
With that in mind let's take a look at the field from the rail out. Triple Crown nominated runners are noted with a TC following their ML odds.
LOOKIN FOR A KISS (50-1-TC) - The Michael Dickinson trained son of Lookin At Lucky will be asked to clear a number of hurdles. He has only a maiden win from two career starts, has never run two turns and never faced stakes company. In addition to drawing the rail the colt will be ridden by regular Florida based jock Tyler Gaffalione who has no Keeneland experience.
DONEGAL MOON (5-1-TC) - One of the three Todd Pletcher entrants the 5-1 ML might be more a reflection of the conditioner than the colt. Yes, his last, a 13 length two turn entry level allowance win at PARX was as impressive as the 105 BRIS Speed Number would indicate. But one also has to remain circumspect given the 9 lengths beaten fifth in the Grade 3 Withers and 8 ½ lengths beaten fifth in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes. Jockey Martin Garcia, who has not taken an assignment for Pletcher in over a year will be aboard and will likely need to press the pace early from this post.
CHERRY WINE (12-1-TC) - Trainer Dale romans (Zulu) Romans will also send out this late emerging son of Paddy O'Prado. The coly needed 5 starts to break his maiden but followed that with a dominant entry level allowance win at Gulfstream in early January and it is also worth noting that 3 of his first 4 career starts were on turf whereas dirt, a fast track and distance have been significant to his development. He was not disgraced when a troubled fourth when making his stakes bow in the Grade 2 Rebel at Oaklawn Park; and it's interesting to note Corey Lanerie, Brody's Cause's former rider, will remain here.
ZULU (5-2-TC) - See above.
CRESCENT DRIVE (20-1-TC) - There are two ways one can look at this son of Flower Alley. In four career starts the colt has never run on a fast dirt track (twice on synthetic and twice on turf) and has never turned in a BRIS Speed Number above 89. This puts him in deep in here. On the other hand crafty trainer Tom Amoss, who ships in following a minor grass turf at Sam Houston Downs is 14% in Graded Stakes races, 26% first time blinkers, 34% with shippers, 38% second time starting a horse under his care and 31% going turf to dirt.
BRODY'S CAUSE (4-1-TC) - See above.
LAOBAN (12-1-TC) - The speedy front running son of Uncle Mo is still a maiden after 4 career starts but is also the Derby Qualifying Points leader of this Blue Grass field. The colt tallied 20 points as the runner up to Shagaf (who will go to the post in the Grade 1 Wood on Saturday) in the Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct and added 2 points earlier on when third in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita. The Eric Guillot trainee has been an underneath player's delight in the exotics and has drawn the services of Jose Lezcano.
TWIZZ (30-1-TC) - The Mike Maker trained son of Twirling Candy broke his maiden in career start number 4 in his most recent (Fair Grounds.) Since adding the blinkers two back he has improved his speed but it is difficult to see him as more than a pop and stop victim as he has never raced beyond 6 furlongs. One might think that this could be a rabbit for one of Maker's other two entrants but both Pinson and Hint Of Roses are on the AE list and neither has established any credentials at this point.
GOATS TOWN (20-1-TC) - It wouldn't be a Derby Prep if we didn't have a Wayne Lukas entrant but after 5 career starts this son of Dublin is still a maiden. The colt has hit the board in all three career two turn starts but will have to move up a few lengths to battle for a supporting role in here.
AMERICAN DUBAI (20-1-TC) - The Rodney Richards trained Oaklawn invader showed improved promise when a sharp longshot third in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes (G3) before turning in a disappointing no show 13th in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes. The son of E Dubai is another in a significant lineup of runners who like to press the pace early and if he runs back to his prior to it allowance race or the Southwest he is capable of outrunning his ML odds under jockey Chris Landeros.
CARDS OF STONE (20-1 -TC) - The third of the Todd Pletcher trained trio will make his first start against open rivals after most recently defeating New York-bred rivals in an Aqueduct allowance. The son of Bustin Stones is yet another speedy runner who likes to mix it up early. But this isn't likely to give an edge to either Zulu or Donegal Moon (the other Pletcher entrants) since they are also tracking or pressing type runners and hustling rider Paco Lopez takes the assignment.
ZAPPERINI (30-1) - The Greg Foley trained colt will be making his fourth career start and appears ambitiously placed considering he is still eligible for non-winners of 2 lifetime. The son of Ghostzapper broke his maiden in career start number two...a two turn MSW at Fair Grounds...but was no threat at 47-1 with slight late interest when a 9 ¾ le3ngths beaten 5th in the Grade 2 Risen Star but will have to take another step forward and hope that the speed laden field completely collapses in front of him.
STAR HILL (10-1-TC) - The George Arnold trained colt was third behind the well regarded Destin and Todd Pletcher's improving Outwork in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby in his last. The son of Elusive Quality is bred for the added distance and should be able to lay off the figured-to-be quick early pace under jockey Emisael Jaramillo who was not aboard in the most recent but rode the colt to his 7 length MSW triumph two back.
MY MAN SAM (10-1-TC) - The Chad Brown trained son of Trappe Shot is on a number of "wise guy" lists after his most recent allowance second behind Mat King Coal who will be one of the considerations in Saturday's Grade 1 Wood memorial. The colt broke his maiden in career start number two and if he moves forward off his most recent could be in the thick of things given his 97 and 100 BRIS Speed Numbers in his most recent pair. Ridden by Julien Leparoux, who passed on Star Hill, who he rode in the Tampa Bay Derby the colt might be this good if he can prove he wasn't an Aqueduct Inner Dirt (where all 3 career races have been) horse for course.
As mentioned above, trainer Michael Maker has both PINSON (30-1-TC) and HINT OF ROSES (30-1-TC) on the outside looking in. Should either get in it would be difficult to muster support. Pinson broke his maiden in career start number five in his last and that 88 BRIS Speed Number was his only above 73 while Hint Of Roses is still a maiden after five starts and has only one third place finish and a career high BRIS Speed Number of 80 to show for his career.
The biggest favor either could be granted would be if none of the field scratched.
Make sure to return to these pages on Friday afternoon as we take a look at the Grade 1 Wood memorial from Aqueduct and the Grade I Santa Anita Derby...the other two important 100 points-to-the-winner Kentucky Derby Preps.
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