Vekoma has been installed as the 9-5 morning-line favorite in a field of 14 entered Wednesday for Saturday's 95th running of the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass (G2).
The 1 1/8-mile main track test serves as a major steppingstone for the $3 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) to be run May 4 at Churchill Downs.
The Toyota Blue Grass offers 170 points toward qualification for this year's Derby with 100 points going to the winner, 40 to the runner-up, 20 to third place and 10 points to fourth. The Derby is limited to the top 20 point earners that pass the entry box and currently the cut line is 28 points, a figure none of Saturday's entrants has attained.
The Toyota Blue Grass will go as the 10th race on Saturday's 11-race program with a 6:23 p.m. ET post time. First post time Saturday is 1:05 p.m.
NBC Sports Network will have a live national broadcast of the Toyota Blue Grass, along with the Wood Memorial (G2) from Aqueduct and the Santa Anita Derby (G1), from 5:30-7:30 p.m. EST.
||Brian Hernandez, Jr.
||Win Win Win
||Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Trained by George Weaver, Vekoma has won two of three starts and finished third in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth (G2) in his 2019 debut. Javier Castellano has the mount for the Toyota Blue Grass and will break from post position two.
Second choice on the morning line at 7-2 is Live Oak Plantation's Win Win Win, who picked up his 10 Derby points with a third-place finish in the March 9 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2).
Trained by Mike Trombetta, Win Win Win opened 2019 with a track-record performance in winning the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. Irad Ortiz Jr. will have the mount Saturday and break from post position eight.
Tommie Lewis, Steve Crabtree, Dean Demaree, David Bernsen, Jim Chambers and Magdalena Racing's Signalman is the third choice on linemaker Mike Battaglia's morning line at 5-1.
Trained by two-time Toyota Blue Grass winner Kenny McPeek, Signalman closed a consistent 2-year-old campaign with a victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs in which he picked up 10 of his 18 Derby qualifying points. He also picked up points with a runner-up finish in Keeneland's Claiborne Breeders' Futurity (G1) and a third-place finish in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1).
Seventh in the Fountain of Youth in his 2019 debut, Signalman will be ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr. and break from post position three.
Five additional trainers will be attempting to add to their victory totals in the race.
Three-time winner Todd Pletcher will send out Robert LaPenta's So Alive. Third in the Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay in his most recent start, So Alive is 15-1 on the morning line and will be ridden by Luis Saez out of post position 11.
Saez captured the 2016 Toyota Blue Grass on Brody's Cause for trainer Dale Romans.
Romans, who also won the race in 2012 with Dullahan, will have two starters in the gate: Albaugh Family Stables' Admire (15-1) and Calumet Farm's Moonster (30-1). Robby Albarado rides Admire from post seven; John McKee rides Moonster out of post position 13.
Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, who won this race with War in 1987 and High Yield in 2000, will send out graded stakes-placed Market King for Robert Baker and William Mack. Listed at 20-1 on the morning line, Market King will be ridden by Jon Court and break from post position four.
Doug O'Neill, who saddled Irap to his maiden-breaking victory in the 2017 Toyota Blue Grass for Reddam Racing, has another maiden in this year's gate in Reddam Racing's Parsimony. Eighth in a division of the Rebel (G2) in his most recent start, Parsimony (20-1) will break from post position 12 and be ridden by Mario Gutierrez.
Mike Maker, who sent out Stately Victor to post the biggest upset in race history with an $82.20 payoff in 2010, will send out Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) winner Somelikeithotbrown for the partnership of Skychai Racing and Sand Dollar Stable.
Somelikeithotbrown (10-1), who with 20 points is the top Derby point earner in the field, will be ridden by Tyler Gaffalione and break from post position one.
In addition to Saez, Julien Leparoux will try to add to his Toyota Blue Grass victory total.
Leparoux, who won in 2013 on Java's War and 2017 with Irap, has the call on Sir Winston (15-1), who will break from post nine. Sir Winston is trained by Mark Casse, who also will send out Dream Maker (12-1) with Florent Geroux aboard from post six.
Trainer Mark Casse has four horses under consideration for this Saturday's 95th running of the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2), and all four put in half-mile works Saturday morning over a fast Keeneland Racecourse main track.
First was Tracy Farmer's Sir Winston. Fifth in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) in his most recent start, Sir Winston covered the half-mile in :49 while working in company with Alltheway to Cairo, a 3-year-old maiden. Fractions for Sir Winston were :12.80, :24.40 and out 5 furlongs in 1:03.20.
"I had him here last fall," said David Carroll, Casse's assistant at Keeneland who handled the trainer's Fair Grounds string this winter. "He just got here two days ago and looks well."
Next up was a new arrival in the barn, Hoffa's Union. A 15½-length winner at Laurel in his lone start, Hoffa's Union worked a half-mile in :48.60 in company with My Sixth Sense, a 3-year-old maiden winner. Fractions on the work were :12.60, :24.20 and out 5 furlongs in 1:01.60.
A private purchase, Hoffa's Union also is nominated to the $200,000 Stonestreet Lexington (G3) to be run here April 13.
John Oxley's Dream Maker, beaten favorite here last fall in the Claiborne Breeders' Futurity (G1), worked a best-of-48 half-mile in :46 out of the gate under Jack Gilligan. Fractions for Dream Maker were :11.80, :23, :34.40 and out 5 furlongs in :58.60.
"He's got a lot of talent but his work in the mornings doesn't translate to the afternoon," Carroll said. "We broke him out of the gate today to sharpen him up."
Completing the quartet was Gary Barber's Our Braintrust, who worked a half-mile in :48 in company with the 4-year-old maiden winner Battle of Memphis (IRE). Fractions were :24.40, :48 and out 5 furlongs in 1:00.80.
Also working Saturday morning for the Casse barn was Conrad Farms' champion female sprinter of 2018, Shamrock Rose.
Working in company with 3-year-old maiden winner Weabie, Shamrock Rose covered a half-mile in :48 in preparation for a start in next Saturday's $300,000 Madison (G1) going 7 furlongs. Her first quarter-mile split was :24.60, and she galloped out 5 furlongs in 1:00.20.
"She looks great and we got her back here where she did so well last fall," Carroll said of Shamrock Rose, who parlayed a victory in the Lexus Raven Run (G2) with a triumph in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (G1) to earn an Eclipse Award.
Shamrock Rose finished third in the Azeri (G2) at Oaklawn Park on March 16 going 1 1/16 miles.
"She is back to sprinting here and down there she got beat by two Grade 1 fillies (Midnight Bisou and Elate)," Carroll said.
Working for the John Servis barn Sunday morning was Cash is King and Leonard Green's Lucky Lee, aiming for Saturday's $1 million Toyota Blue Grass (G2).
Working on his own with exercise rider Lucas Berticelli aboard, Lucky Lee covered a half-mile in :49 with internal splits of :12 and :24, again well off the rail.
"Same as Jaywalk; perfect," Tyler Servis said, noting that Chris Landeros would have the mount in the Toyota Blue Grass.
Lucky Lee has not run since a seventh-place finish in the Withers (G3) at Aqueduct on Feb. 2. Sunday's work was his fourth since the Withers.
"He's had a lot of two-minute licks," Servis said of Lucky Lee, who has won two of four starts. "In the Withers, he was just spinning his wheels. He was coming off a tight track in Florida and that track was cuppy and he never got hold of the track."
Possible 14 Runners for G1 Blue Grass Stakes
Less than a week before entries for the 95th running of the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass (G2) are taken Wednesday, April 3, a full gate of 14 runners might face the starter for the April 6 race.
According to Keeneland Stakes Coordinator Tiffany Bourque, 13 horses are considered probable for the 1 1/8-mile dirt test with another five deemed as possible starters. The Toyota Blue Grass carries 170 qualifying points for the $3 million Kentucky Derby (G1) on a 100-40-20-10 basis to the first four finishers.
Heading the list of probables is Tommie Lewis, David Bernsen and Magadalena Racing's Signalman. Trained by Kenny McPeek, Signalman was second in last fall's Claiborne Breeders' Futurity (G1) in his lone Keeneland start.
Other probables include Admire (trained by Dale Romans), Chase the Ghost (Dallas Stewart), Chess Chief (Stewart), Dream Maker (Mark Casse), Hoffa's Union (Casse), Lucky Lee (John Servis), Market King (D. Wayne Lukas), Mr. Ankeny(Romans), Sir Winston (Casse), So Alive (Todd Pletcher), Somelikeithotbrown (Mike Maker) and Vekoma (George Weaver).
Considered as possible are Current (Pletcher), Galilean (Jerry Hollendorfer), Joevia (Greg Sacco), Our Braintrust (Casse) and Tax (Danny Gargan).
About the Blue Grass Stakes
Keeneland's Blue Grass Stakes is the track's signature prep for the Kentucky Derby. The race, named for the Bluegrass region of Kentucky which is characterized by grass with bluish-green culms, is held annually in mid-April over 1 1/8 miles. The 2015 running marked the race's return to a dirt surface after the track replaced its synthetic Polytrack in the summer of 2014.
The Blue Grass at Keeneland has produced 19 winners of the Kentucky Derby, nine of which won the Blue Grass before tasting victory on the first Saturday in May. The most recent Blue Grass runner to win the Kentucky Derby was Street Sense in 2007. Other winners of the race include the Alydar, Holy Bull, Skip Away and Harlan's Holiday.
Owner Calumet Farm and jockey Bill Shoemaker each have six wins in the race.