Lady and The Track | September 28, 2021

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Filly Stands Out In Delayed Blue Grass Stakes

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Thirteen Will Run In Search Of Derby Points

By Margaret Ransom

Swiss Skydiver. Photo: Coady Photography/Oaklawn Park

A field of 13 was entered for Saturday’s $600,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GII) at Keeneland, the signature event at the Lexington, Kentucky, oval every spring and though slightly delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic remains a significant stop on the Road to the September 5 Kentucky Derby (GI). The race offers 100 points to the winner to make the Derby starting gate and depending on who finishes second, third and fourth, the 40-20-10 points handed out could have a solid impact on the field for the Run for the Roses.

The most exciting entrant in this year’s Blue Grass is the Daredevil filly Swiss Skydiver coming off a three-race stakes-winning streak of the Gulfstream Park Oaks (GII), Fantasy Stakes (GII) and Santa Anita Oaks (GII). The Kenny McPeek trainee is the 3-1 favorite on the morning line.

Only one filly has ever run in the Blue Grass Stakes since the race was first contested at Keeneland during the track’s inaugural Spring Meet in April 1937. Hyman Friedberg’s homebred Harriet Sue, who won the Ashland, finished fifth behind Skytracer in the 1944 Blue Grass. That year, however, Keeneland’s Spring Meet was held at Churchill Downs.

In 1948, future Hall of Famer Bewitch was scratched from the Blue Grass.

The Blue Grass, for the most part, has been a bit quiet recently as far as sending legit runners to Louisville for the Run for the Roses, but over the years some really good horses have won the Blue Grass before taking the Derby, including Tomy Lee, Northern Dancer, Lucky Debonair, Forward Pass, Dust Commander, Riva Ridge and Spectacular Bid. And though Strike the Gold in 1991 was the last, top-tier horse to have won the Blue Grass before winning the Derby, some very good horses have won Keeneland’s signature race, including Arts and Letters, Honest Pleasure, Alydar, Bull Lea, Coaltown, Round Table, Alydar, Chief’s Crown, Summer Squall, Prairie Bayou, Holy Bull, Skip Away and Pulpit.

Thunder Gulch in 1995 and Street Sense in 2007 are the most recent Blue Grass also-rans to win under the Twin Spires on the First Saturday in May, though since 1997 the Blue Grass has only produced one Kentucky Derby winner from a total of 85 starters. So the race sends out the most starters for any prep but produces the least amount of Derby winners.

A year ago Vekoma won the Blue Grass before finishing 12th in the Derby, and after taking the rest of 2019 off has more than rebounded as a 4-year-old by going undefeated in three starts this year, including the Carter Handicap (G1) in June and the Met Mile (G1) last week.

Anybody who knows anything about the weather in Kentucky in the fall knows it’s usually very hot and humid and Saturday will be no exception. The rain and thundershowers from earlier in the week will hold off on Saturday and skies will be clear, but it will be warm with temperatures reaching near 90.

Joining the favored filly in the Blue Grass gate will be Jackpot Farm’s Basin, who won the Runhappy Hopeful Stakes (GI) at Saratoga last summer and most recently was second in a division of the Arkansas Derby (G1) on May. The son of Liam’s Map, who is trained by Steve Asmussen and will be ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr., currently sits ninth on the Road to the Derby leaderboard with 50 points.

California-based conditioner Mike McCarthy ships Jim and Donna Daniell’s Rushie, who was f third in last month’s Santa Anita Derby (G1) in search of adding to his current point total of 25 points. Javier Castellano, who won last year’s Blue Grass aboard Vekoma, has the mount and will break from post position 10.

John Oxley’s Enforceable, who won the LeComte Sakes (GIII) at Fair Grounds and also finished second in the Risen Star Stakes (G2), makes his first start since a fifth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby (GII) on March 21. The Mark Casse-trained son of Tapit will be ridden by Joel Rosario. The gray colt sits 14th on the Road to the Derby leaderboard with 33 points.

Bruce Lunsford’s Art Collector, who is trained by Tom Drury, Saturday’s race off three consecutive allowance wins, the last two by a combined 9 ¾ lengths and since switching barns. Brian Hernandez Jr. has the mount and will break from post position three.

The entire field for the Toyota Blue Grass, with riders and weights from the rail out, is: Shivaree (Velazquez, 123 pounds), Finnick the Fierce (Ortiz, 123), Art Collector (Hernandez Jr., 123), Mr. Big News (Mitchell Murrill, 123), Man in the Can (Tyler Gaffalione, 123), Hard Lighting (Bejarano, 123), Swiss Skydiver (Smith, 118), Basin (Santana Jr., 123), Attachment Rate (Saez, 123), Rushie (Castellano, 123), Hunt the Front (Lanerie, 123), Enforceable (Rosario, 123), Tiesto (Prat, 123).