Essential Quality Headlines Keeneland's Blue Grass Stake's
Undefeated Essential Quality, the champion 2-year-old male of 2020, is the 3-5 morning line choice in a field of nine 3-year-olds entered Tuesday for the 97th running of the $800,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) going 1 1/8 miles on the main track at Keeneland on Saturday, April 3.
A major steppingstone for the $3 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) to be run May 1 at Churchill Downs, the Toyota Blue Grass offers 170 points toward qualification to this year's Derby on a 100-40-20-10 scale to the first- through fourth-place finishers. The Derby is limited to the top 20 point earners that pass the entry box.
The Toyota Blue Grass will go as the final race on Saturday's 11-race program with a 6:35 p.m. (ET) post time. First post time for the card that features six graded stakes is 1:05 p.m.
||Hush of a Storm
||Sittin On Go
Trained by Brad Cox, Essential Quality debuted Sept. 5 at Churchill on Kentucky Derby Day and followed that 6-furlong triumph with victories in Keeneland's Claiborne Breeders' Futurity (G1) and the TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance to sew up the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old.
In his lone start of 2021, Essential Quality won the Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn Park by 4¼ lengths on Feb. 27.
On Tuesday morning, Essential Quality made his first appearance on the Keeneland main track since his Breeders' Cup victory. He galloped about 1 3/8 miles under exercise rider Elver Vargas.
Luis Saez, who has been aboard for Essential Quality's past three victories, has the mount Saturday and will break from post position four. Saez won the 2016 Toyota Blue Grass on Brody's Cause.
Brody's Cause is the most recent of four horses to complete the Breeders' Futurity-Blue Grass double. The others are Carpe Diem (2014-2015), Dullahan (2011-2012) and Round Table (1956-1957).
The second choice at 7-2 on Mike Battaglia's morning line is Klaravich Stables' Highly Motivated.
Trained by Chad Brown and to be ridden by Javier Castellano, Highly Motivated returns to Keeneland, where he won the Nyquist on the Breeders' Cup's Future Stars Friday undercard. Third in the Gotham (G3) in his 2021 debut, Highly Motivated will break from post position three.
Brown and Castellano will be seeking their second Toyota Blue Grass victories. Brown saddled Good Magic for the 2018 triumph and a year later, Castellano rode Vekoma to victory.
A co-third choice at 8-1 on the morning line is Cypress Creek Equine, Arnold Bennewith and Spendthrift Farm's Keepmeinmind.
Trained by Robertino Diodoro, Keepmeinmind returns to Keeneland, where he ran second to Essential Quality in the Claiborne Breeders' Futurity and third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He closed 2020 by scoring his first win in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs.
Sixth in the Rebel (G2) in his 2021 debut, Keepmeinmind will be ridden Saturday by David Cohen and break from post nine. Keepmeinmind is scheduled to arrive at Keeneland Wednesday night from Oaklawn Park.
Also at 8-1 is Team Valor International's Untreated, a recent maiden winner at Tampa Bay Downs who will break from post two under Joel Rosario. Rosario won the 2011 Toyota Blue Grass on Brilliant Speed.
Three-time winner Todd Pletcher trains Untreated. Pletcher's Toyota Blue Grass winners are Bandini (2005), Monba (2008) and Carpe Diem (2015).
In addition to Saez, Rosario and Castellano, Rafael Bejarano will be seeking another Toyota Blue Grass victory.
Bejarano will be aboard BBN Racing's Hidden Stash (20-1) and break from post one. Trained by Vicki Oliver, Hidden Stash finished third in the Sam F. Davis (G3) and second in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) in his two starts of 2021.
In addition to Brown and Pletcher, one other trainer will attempt to add to his Toyota Blue Grass victory totals.
Dale Romans, who will sent out Sittin On Go (30-1) for Albaugh Family Stables, has won the race twice with Dullahan and Brody's Cause. Corey Lanerie has the mount on the winner of the Iroquois (G3) last September and will break from post position eight.
The field for the Toyota Blue Grass, will riders and morning line odds from the rail out, is: Hidden Stash (Bejarano, 20-1), Untreated (Rosario, 8-1), Highly Motivated (Castellano, 7-2), Essential Quality (Saez, 3-5), Rombauer (Florent Geroux, 15-1), Leblon (Albin Jimenez, 30-1), Hush of a Storm (Santiago Gonzalez, 15-1), Sittin On Go (Lanerie, 30-1) and Keepmeinmind (Cohen, 8-1). All starters will carry 123 pounds.
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TOYOTA BLUE GRASS POST POSITION DRAW QUOTES
Brad Cox, trainer of Essential Quality (post 4: Luis Saez to ride)
"Post position, it's important. But I feel comfortable in the 4 hole. Obviously Luis (Saez) is on him, and he knows what to do away from there. We're in a good spot with him. Very happy with where he is mentally, physically. And the post is fine."
"It's very rare for a horse to be able to be 4 for 4 and have different tactics. He's won from three- quarters all the way to 1 1/16 miles at the Grade 1 level. I just think it speaks volumes to actually how good he is and how much talent he has. We're in a good spot with him. He's just a very good horse."
Robertino Diodoro, trainer of Keepmeinmind (post 9; David Cohen to ride)
"I like it. I like being outside rather than inside; he's a big horse."
Barry Irwin of Team Valor, owner of Untreated (post 2; Joel Rosario to ride)
"You always want to be toward the middle. We're going to be in the back part of the race anyway, so hopefully it won't have an impact on him."
On choosing to run Untreated in the Toyota Blue Grass
"We wanted to run him in a good race. There was an allowance that was an option. We kind of know the horses that are out there that are going to be looking at this. (The Toyota Blue Grass) is going to be a pretty tough race. We think a lot of our horse. We know he's behind the 8 ball in terms of experience and seasoning, but he can run 1¼ miles. The farther he goes, the more he likes it. He's continuing to train well and we're going to run him in here. If the horse was a speed horse, I wouldn't do it. But a horse like this, a come-from-behind horse who can pick up horses, I feel it's worth trying him here."
Paulo Lobo, trainer of Leblon (post 6: Albin Jimenez to ride)
"Leblon had a very unlucky trip his last time out at Oaklawn (fourth in a Feb. 11 allowance race over a muddy track). He is improving a lot and we are going to come over Saturday (from The Thoroughbred Center in Lexington)."
Michael McCarthy, trainer of Rombauer (post 5; Florent Geroux to ride)
"That is a good post. I will be at Santa Anita Saturday and my assistant Justin Curran will be overseeing his preparation."
William Morey, trainer of Hush of a Storm (post 7; Santiago Gonzalez to ride)
"The seven is a good spot. There is plenty of run to the first turn going a mile and an eighth. He will return to the track Wednesday morning (after working 5 furlongs in :59.80 at Keeneland on Monday)."
Vicki Oliver, trainer of Hidden Stash (post 1; Rafael Bejarano to ride)
"(The inside post) was the only place I didn't want. That's the second time I've drawn the one hole (with Hidden Stash). I would have liked to have been in the middle or toward the outside, but it is what it is. We'll have to take a look at (the past performances) and see how much speed is in there and how we'll play the race."
Dale Romans, trainer of Sittin On Go (post 8; Corey Lanerie to ride)
"Outside again. It is amazing he keeps drawing out there. But nine horses is a lot different than 12 so he should be OK. There is plenty of run into the first turn."
"I'll let the jock decide (the strategy), but we will probably just (wait) and come running."
On comparing Sittin On Go to his sire, Brody's Cause, who won the Toyota Blue Grass in 2016
"They are both straightforward horses who like what they do."
Blue Grass Stakes Nominees Headlined by Essential Quality & Mandaloun
FEB 22 - Ten of the top 11 horses on the Road to the Kentucky Derby (G1) leaderboard, which is led by recent Risen Star (G2) winner Mandaloun and undefeated champion Essential Quality, are among 148 3-year-olds nominated to the 97th running of the Grade 2, $800,000 Blue Grass Stakes, the richest of the six graded stakes worth $2.1 million to be run April 3 on opening Saturday of Keeneland Racecourse's 2021 Spring Meet.
Brad Cox, who received the 2020 Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer, conditions both Essential Quality and Mandaloun. He trains a total of 13 horses nominated to the Toyota Blue Grass.
"We thank the best racing operations in the U.S. for their support of Keeneland by nominating such an accomplished roster of horses to the Toyota Blue Grass," Keeneland Vice President of Racing Gatewood Bell said. "The race is an important part of Triple Crown season and the cornerstone of the Spring Meet."
The 1 1/8-mile Toyota Blue Grass is one of the nation's most prominent steppingstones to the Triple Crown's first leg, the $3 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 1 at Churchill Downs. The winner earns 100 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, while the second-, third- and fourth-place finishers receive 40 points, 20 points and 10 points, respectively.
Joining the Toyota Blue Grass on Keeneland's 11-race card on April 3 are the $400,000 Central Bank Ashland (G1)
, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies bidding to compete in the Kentucky Oaks (G1); $300,000 Madison (G1)
for older fillies and mares at 7 furlongs on the dirt; $200,000 Appalachian (G2)
Presented by Japan Racing Association for 3-year-old fillies at one mile on the turf; $200,000 Shakertown (G2)
for 3-year-olds and up at 5½ furlongs on the turf; and $200,000 Commonwealth (G3)
for older horses at 7 furlongs on the dirt.
That day, Keeneland will offer a $500,000-guaranteed All-Stakes Pick Four and a $500,000-guaranteed All Stakes Pick Five.
The Toyota Blue Grass will be the final race of Keeneland's April 3 card with a 6:38 p.m. ET post. NBC Sports Network will televise the race along with the Wood Memorial (G2) Presented by Resorts World Casino from Aqueduct and Runhappy Santa Anita Derby (G1) from 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Post positions for the Toyota Blue Grass, Central Bank Ashland and the other April 3 races will be drawn Tuesday, March 30.
Mandaloun, a homebred racing for Juddmonte Farms, posted his initial stakes victory Feb. 13 in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds to move into the top spot on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.
Owned and bred by Godolphin, Essential Quality is undefeated in three starts with two Grade 1 victories at Keeneland: Claiborne Breeders' Futurity and TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. He is second on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.
Among the top-ranked horses on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard who are nominated to the Toyota Blue Grass are the first five finishers from last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Third on the leaderboard is Winchell Thoroughbreds' Midnight Bourbon, winner of the Lecomte (G3), followed by Godolphin's Proxy, runner-up in the Lecomte and Risen Star; Cypress Creek Equine, Arnold Bennewith and Spendthrift Farm's Keepmeinmind, winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) who was second in the Claiborne Breeders' Futurity and third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile; John and Diane Fradkin's Rombauer, recent winner of the El Camino Real Derby (L) who was fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile; Zedan Racing Stables' Medina Spirit, winner of the Robert B. Lewis (G3); SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Golconda Stables, Siena Farm et al's Spielberg, winner of the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2); J. Kirk and Judy Robison's two-time Grade 1 winner Jackie's Warrior, fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing and William Strauss' Hot Rod Charlie, runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Other notable horses nominated to the Toyota Blue Grass include the next six horses on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard: Gary Barber's Get Her Number, winner of the American Pharoah (G1); Albaugh Family Stables' Sittin On Go, winner of the Iroquois (G3) Presented by Ford; Klaravich Stables' Risk Taking, winner of the Withers (G3); Frank Fletcher Racing Operations' Candy Man Rocket, winner of the Sam F. Davis (G3); Courtlandt Farms' Greatest Honour, winner of the Holy Bull (G3), and Shortleaf Stable's Caddo River, winner of the Smarty Jones (L).
Steve Asmussen and Todd Pletcher lead trainers by number of horses nominated to the Toyota Blue Grass, with 15 each.
Asmussen's nominees include the aforementioned Jackie's Warrior and Midnight Bourbon along with two fillies bred and raced by Stonestreet Stables: Rachel Alexandra (G2) winner Clairiere and Pauline's Pearl. Clairiere is the leading point earner on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks (G1).
Joining Asmussen and Pletcher along with Cox as trainers with the most nominees to the Toyota Blue Grass are Chad Brown (nine), Bob Baffert (eight), Mark Casse (seven), Saffie Joseph Jr. (five), Kenny McPeek (five) and Dale Romans (five).
The late nomination period for the Toyota Blue Grass closes Wednesday, March 17.