Keeneland: Blue Grass Stakes
ARCADIA, Calif. – The way Exaggerator ran against Nyquist in the San Vicente Stakes in February, coupled with how strong Nyquist subsequently ran in Florida Derby last Saturday, continues to leave trainer Keith Desormeaux puzzled over Exaggerator’s second start of the year, last month’s San Felipe Stakes, in which he finished third to Danzing Candy and Mor Spirit.
“I’m still scratching my head over the San Felipe, even more so after watching how strong Nyquist was on Saturday,” Desormeaux said at Santa Anita. “He flattened out. Maybe we can attribute it to the bounce theory. We’re going into the weekend with a lot of confidence.”
Exaggerator will get a chance to reverse the San Felipe result when he again takes on Danzing Candy and Mor Spirit on Saturday in the Grade 1, $1 million Santa Anita Derby. The field was also expected to
LEXINGTON, Ky. – A spectacular afternoon of racing is on tap for Saturday at Keeneland, where the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes caps an 11-race card that also features the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes and the Grade 1 Madison.
The $1 million Blue Grass, which offers 170 qualifying points (including 100 to the winner) for the May 7 Kentucky Derby, drew an oversubscribed field of 3-year-olds, with Zulu being pegged as the 5-2 favorite. He breaks from post 4 in the 1 1/8-mile race. Sixteen will be on the program, although only as many as 14 can start.
While the Blue Grass is the richest and traditionally the most prestigious race at the 16-day spring meet, which runs Friday through April 29, both the Ashland and Madison clearly surpass it in terms of field quality this year.
The $500,000 Ashland is a 170-point race (with 100 to the winner) toward the Kentucky Oaks, and if it weren’t for a superstar named Songbird, the Ashland might well have the three top contenders for the May 6 Oaks. There are only five 3-year-old fillies in the 1 1/16mile race, but three of them are Cathryn Sophia, Rachel’s Valentina, and Carina Mia.
“This will be her first time going around two turns,” said John Servis, the trainer of Cathryn Sophia, who has gone unchallenged in four career starts. “Obviously, this is the best field she’s hooked into. If she can do the job here, I’m sure it’ll give her confidence going into the Oaks – and me, too.”
Meanwhile, the $300,000 Madison features a matchup of mares making their first start since they won a Breeders’ Cup event here last fall: Stopchargingmaria, the winner of the BC Distaff, and Wavell Avenue, the winner of the BC Filly and Mare Sprint. Thirteen are entered in the seven-furlong Madison, including Grade 1 winners Cavorting and Sheer Drama.
“Obviously, it’s a challenging spot for a comeback, but we’re really excited about getting her back,” said Chad Brown, the trainer of Wavell Avenue.
As for the Blue Grass, Zulu and jockey Javier Castellano will be trying to give trainer Todd Pletcher his fourth victory in the race, following Bandini (2005), Monba (2008), and Carpe Diem (2015). Pletcher also will be represented by Donegal Moon (post 2, Martin Garcia).
Other top contenders in the Blue Grass include the Dale Romans pair of Cherry Wine (post 3, Corey Lanerie) and Brody’s Cause (post 6, Luis Saez), along with two colts drawn outside, Star Hill (post 13, Emisael Jaramillo) and My Man Sam (post 14, Julien Leparoux). The two also-eligibles, Pinson and Hint of Roses, can make the race only in the case of early scratches.
The Blue Grass and the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct are part of a pick four wager between the two tracks. Keeneland also will offer pick five and late pick four wagers comprising graded stakes, including the Blue Grass, with $300,000 pool guarantees for each.
Two Grade 3 stakes, the $250,000 Commonwealth and $200,000 Shakertown, also are part of a Saturday card that starts at 12:35 p.m. Eastern.
Aqueduct: Wood Memorial
OZONE PARK, N.Y. – As Shagaf walked back into the barn following a Wednesday morning gallop at Belmont Park, trainer Chad Brown couldn’t help but gush over the physical appearance the colt made.
“He has the look of a Derby horse,” Brown said.
On Saturday, Shagaf will try to take on the look of a top Kentucky Derby contender when he heads an eight-horse field entered in the Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial.
Shagaf was one of just two stakes winners entered Wednesday for the 1 1/8-mile Wood, which offers 170 qualifying points to the top four finishers (10 0 - 40 -20 -10) toward the May 7 Kentucky Derby. Flexibility, who is also trained by Brown, is the other stakes winner.
Shagaf, a son of Bernardini, will try to brighten the spirits of Shadwell Stable, which watched Mohaymen run a dull fourth in last week’s Florida Derby, suffering his first defeat.
Shagaf is undefeated in three starts and is coming off a 1 1/4-length victory in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes here on March 5. Shagaf has had some quirks about him, proving difficult to load onto a van or at the gate, but Brown sees the horse maturing.
“He’s already made a lot of progress from when he broke his maiden last year until now both mentally and physically,” Brown said on a conference call this week. “I do see a lot of room for further improvement. He’s an exciting horse who hasn’t done anything wrong yet. Hopefully, he continues to develop.”
Shagaf, who broke from post 2 and rode a golden rail on Aqueduct’s inner track before tipping three wide in the stretch to win the Gotham, will break from the rail Saturday under Irad Ortiz Jr.
Flexibility, a New York-bred son of Bluegrass Cat, twice finished second to Mohaymen in graded stakes run over Aqueduct’s main track last fall. He won the Grade 3 Jerome by 4 1/4 lengths on Jan. 2 but ran fourth in the Grade 2 Withers on Jan. 30 as the 1-2 favorite.
“We probably ran that horse a little too much in too short a time, which might have been an excuse for his last performance in the Withers,” Brown said Wednesday. “Now, he’s had two months to recharge his batteries, so to speak, and he has a nice pattern of workouts that are strong. I think the horse is coming into the Wood in great shape.”
Manny Franco, aboard for Flexibility’s first two starts, including a maiden victory at Belmont last fall, rides from post 5.
Matt King Coal (post 6) and Outwork (post 8) look like the two primary speed horses in the field. Matt King Coal, a son of Cool Coal Man trained by Linda Rice, is coming off a solid allowance win March 6, his first start off a 129-day layoff.
Outwork, a son of Uncle Mo trained by Todd Pletcher, finished second to stablemate Destin in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby on March 12.
Others entered in the Wood include Adventist (post 2), Trojan Nation (post 3), Tale of S’avall (post 4), and Dalmore (post 7).
The Wood will go as race 10 on a 12-race card that begins at 12:20 p.m. Eastern. It will be shown live on NBC Sports Network in a two-hour broadcast (5-7 p.m.) that will include the Blue Grass Stakes and Santa Anita Derby.
Salutos Amigos is a gelding, so it won’t help his residual value, but his connections believe he deserves a Grade 1 victory.
“As fast as he is, he definitely deserves to have a Grade 1 under his belt,” said David Jacobson, the trainer and partowner of Salutos Amigos.
Salutos Amigos will get perhaps his best chance at winning a Grade 1 in Saturday’s $400,000 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct. He enters the Carter off a 2 1/2-length victory in the Grade 3 Tom Fool over the inner track March 12, his fifth Grade 3 stakes victory.
Salutos Amigos is one of eight entered in the seven-furlong Carter, including stablemate Stallwalkin’ Dude; two-time Carter winner Dads Caps and his stablemate Sassicaia; California shipper Calculator; Majestic Affair; and Anchor Down.
Salutos Amigos is 0 for 7 in Grade 1 races, coming within a neck of Rock Fall when second in last year’s Vosburgh at Belmont Park.
Salutos Amigos will carry the high weight of 123 pounds and break from post 5 under Cornelio Velasquez. Of more concern to Jacobson than the weight is the seven furlongs. He prefers Salutos Amigos at six furlongs.
“Sometimes I like seveneighths for a distance horse cutting back,” Jacobson said.
On Tuesday, Jacobson shipped Salutos Amigos from Belmont to Aqueduct to work a half-mile in 49.19 seconds.
“I just wanted him to breeze over the track that he’s going to race on,” Jacobson said.
The Carter goes as race 11 on the 12-race card and is scheduled for 6:08 p.m. Eastern.
In addition to having two horses entered in the Wood Memorial, trainer Chad Brown has a pair of contenders Saturday in the Grade 2, $300,000 Gazelle Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.
Clair de Lune and Lewis Bay drew posts 1 and 2 for the Gazelle, a 1 1/8-mile race that offers a total of 170 qualifying points to the top four finishers toward the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 6.
Lewis Bay likely will be favored as she returns to the track and distance of her Grade 2 Demoiselle win last November.
Exaggerator, shown winning the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot, was third in the Grade 2 San Felipe.