Blue Grass Stakes Preview: Horse-by-Horse Analysis of Saturday's Grade II Race @KEE

The Blue Grass Stakes, Essential Quality, Brad Cox, and Luis Saez take center stage at Keeneland on Saturday. Check out the results of the draw, and how our J.N. Campbell sees the race shaping up.
The Blue Grass Stakes, Essential Quality, Brad Cox, and Luis Saez take center stage at Keeneland on Saturday. Check out the results of the draw, and how our J.N. Campbell sees the race shaping up.

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1 1/8th (Dirt), Blue Grass Stakes (G2), Purse $800k, 3

Follow this complexity… Over a span of the past 5 years, the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes went from a $1 Million Grade I that gradually became relevant to the Derby Trail once the track switched back to dirt from the All-Weather surface. Simultaneously, the race was “downgraded” to a Grade 2 with a purse restructuring that landed this year at $800k. There is no question that the contest has a budding cache with Derby Points on the line to the tune of 100-40-20-10. However, winners have not travelled over to Louisville and tasted Derby glory, yet. That might change this year, which could alter the significance of this race within the Kentucky orbit. Despite all of these fits and starts, celebrated trainers have enjoyed the thrill of victory, including Todd Pletcher (Carpe Diem), Dale Romans (Brody’s Cause), Doug O’Neill (Irap), Chad Brown (Good Magic), George Weaver (Vekoma), and Tom Drury (Art Collector). Of those, clearly Brown’s Good Magic was one of the top “Trail” performers. We shall see who comes out on top this year.

Now, let’s find out about this field…


#1 Hidden Stash (Jky: R. Bejarano/Trn: V. Oliver):

If this Constitution colt won the BGS, it would give trainer Victoria Oliver her greatest victory to date. Her charge is accomplished, and if Cox’s ace were not entered in this race, I would be tempted to pick this one on top. He showed some impressive moves down the stretch with Rafael Bejarano (who retains the mount), as he was chasing eventual winner Helium. The Tampa “Trail” now gets way tougher against some impressive foes. Everyone will be chasing 2nd Place…

Grade: B


#2 Untreated (Jky: J. Rosario/Trn: T. Pletcher):

Todd Pletcher won the big prize last weekend when his colt, Known Agenda, defeated Shug McGaughey’s favorite, Greatest Honour in the Florida Derby. Now, the accomplished conditioner is trying to add another entrant to Churchill’s new, expansive Australian-built starting gate. This son of Nyquist, a Derby-winner that provides lineage, has little in the way of technical class appearances having only run in 2 MSW races. One of them was his first start under Chad Brown, before heading over to the Pletcher Clubhouse. I am not sure how Joel Rosario’s mount will handle this jump, but you can bank on the aggressive jockey trying to get to the lead and attempting to hold it for Team Valor. It is a must with the freight train that will be coming…   

Grade: C+


#3 Highly Motivated (Jky: J. Castellano/Trn: C. Brown):

A few entries in the BGS were high on Derby lists after their performances back in the Fall of 2020. The expectations for their 3-yr-old debuts were probably too lengthy. One of them was this colt, who is trained by Chad Brown. The last time he was at Keeneland on the BC undercard, he notched a major win in the Nyquist125k. That 4-length score was impressive, and folks, including me, thought that an Into Mischief runner like this one who is backed by Klaravich Stable was Derby gold. He arrived at the Gotham (G3) well-backed at the windows and failed to win. The kick he displayed was weak, and now his conditioner is hoping that a change of scenery will assist. It will not. I find this runner to be rather like Jackie’s Warrior, more of a sprinter than a router. That would suit him more. I like the choice of Javier Castellano, but even he cannot perform miracles.

Grade: C+


#4 Essential Quality (Jky: L. Saez/Trn: B. Cox):

There are few Thoroughbreds in America that I believe in more than this Godolphin homebred—"EQ.” Tapit colts have their issues, but of the ones I have watched over the years, this might be one of the best when it comes to his mental approach. Brad Cox’s dominance continues apace, and I have little doubt that this runner will win this race. I predict that he also will win the Kentucky Derby. His style has so many facets to it, and with a plethora of gears, he is built for this road. His conditioner has studied every aspect of it, gamed for this moment, and he is employing a jockey who knows how to win. Luis Saez should have already won his 1st Derby. Now, is the time for each of these connections (Godolphin/Cox/Saez) to realize a dream. I do not hand out A pluses lightly… I do here. Bullish, exceedingly so…

Grade: A+


#5 Rombauer (Jky: Florent Geroux/Trn: McCarthy):

Trainer Mike McCarthy sent his colt up to Golden Gate Fields back in mid-February, and there was little doubt that he would win. Here is yet another example of a touted runner who folks thought possessed major ability. After running a respectable 5th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile well-behind “EQ,” that isn’t specious reasoning. Still, no disrespect to Stronach NW, but the Camino Real 100k isn’t exactly relevant to the Derby Trail. In other words, it was rather a Junior Varsity race. This try at Keeneland again, will not be easy. Certainly, getting Florent Geroux is an excellent choice, especially if he is on his game. McCarthy can train “all the live long day,” but he may just have to settle for hitting the board in this spot.

Grade: B-


#6 Leblon (Jky: A. Jimenez/Trn: P. Lobo):

The last time we saw Paulo Lobo at Keeneland during Fall Stars, he was the best he could be. His runners turned in some nice performances, and I am especially thinking of a turf router called Ivar. I suppose he is thinking some of that magic that he harnessed last time will be at the ready this go for his colt out of Broken Vow. That is an impressively tall order considering that he has never faced any “Graded” Co., and could not hit the board in an ALLW84k contest at Oaklawn Park. Still, Lobo is up for a “Hail Mary.” Albin Jimenez is good enough plying his trade at tracks like Turfway, but I am not sure he can make a difference here in the BGS.

Grade: C-


#7 Hush of a Storm (Jky: S. Gonzalez/Trn: B. Morey):

The Morey Barn thinks they have a winner in this son of Creative Cause. Owned by the Morey Trust, the colt comes into Keeneland with a 3-race win streak after running up in Northern Kentucky. The Battaglia 100k @TP was a strong performance, mind you. However, lest we forget, coming to the central part of the state is a different kettle of fish, so to speak. The waters are going to be massively deep in this race. How Morey expects him to adapt to these challenges that he will meet here is anyone’s guess. The best I can say is at least the trainer has Santiago Gonzalez back aboard. That kind of regularity is a bright spot when you are leaping into a deeper class division. He knows what his mount can handle, and when to ask for more.  

Grade: C


#8 Sittin On Go (Jky: Corey Lanerie/Trn: D. Romans):

This is another promising 2-yr-old who caught the eye of pundits last fall. In the new year, Dale Romans’ colt failed miserably at every turn. Some of it started back in November, and it will be hard to make a case for this one, especially against EQ & Co. Romans doesn’t have his best fastball like he used to, and I think this son of Brody’s Cause is going to have a very difficult time making any headway in here. Hitting the board would be an outside shot, at best… Maybe the only option is to cut him back to sprinting, and maybe he needs to try him in some lower ranks. Doctor’s orders…

Grade: D+


#9 Keepmeinmind (Jky: D. Cohen/Trn: R. Diodoro):

Finally, Robertino Diodoro’s entry is another accomplished Fall 2020 runner, who when given the chance at Oaklawn in the Rebel S. (G2) did not cut the mustard—8th Place. Granted, the layoff, the ice storm, and having to run against Bob Baffert’s Concert Tour, were all difficulties that added up to something that looked insurmountable. Now, the question is… how sharp is he heading from Diodoro’s base up to Keeneland? It’s funny with colts… they lose their “A game” over time, when the calendar moves from 2 to 3-yrs-old. Maybe that is what happened to this son of Laoban? I am willing to give him another shot, but there is no way he is going to beat EQ.

Grade: B


Join us Saturday for all of our Keeneland selections, as Handicapper Sean and Turfwriter J.N., go head-to-head in what promises to be a fabulous Handicapping Challenge! Should be a great set of races as the April Meet gets underway!


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