Keeneland: Blue Grass Stakes

Daily Racing Form Saturday Stakes Preview - - FRONT PAGE - – Marty Mcgee – David Gren­ing

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.

COADY PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

Ex­ag­ger­a­tor, shown win­ning the Grade 3 Delta Jack­pot, was third in the Grade 2 San Felipe.

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