The annual Keeneland Spring Meet is unique in several ways. Its short length (16 racing days in April) limits horses’ experience over the track, so unless trainers are based here, most horses will only get in a few training sessions. The course can have its quirks, too, so the more experience, the better. Local writer Dan Keener gives his unique insight as the highly-anticipated meet nears its return to the Lexington, Kentucky-based venue.
The Grade 2, $1 million Toyota Blue Grass Stakes is the Spring Meet’s feature event, offering 100 points to the winner and guaranteeing a spot in the 2019 Kentucky Derby starting gate. The timing is great because horses can exit any of the following Derby prep races and still make the Blue Grass:
- Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park (March 2)
- Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park (March 9)
- Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs (March 9)
- Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct (March 9)
- Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park (March 9)
Enticing horses from all over the country has historically led to large fields (an average of 11 starters since 2015), which in turn helped increase payouts. Over that same time period, the average returns were:
- Exacta: $107
- Trifecta: $354
- Superfecta: $1,912
“We get it, we get it; big fields, horses invading from all over, now tell me how I make some money on this thing!”
First, let’s take a closer look at the past four winners:
- 2018 – Good Magic – previous race: third in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth
- 2017 – Irap – previous race: fourth in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby
- 2016 – Brody’s Cause – previous race: seventh in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby
- 2015 – Carpe Diem – previous race: winner of the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby
The last three were coming off of defeats in their previous races. This is big for potential price plays because if the public does not value talent over recent success, then big payouts become available. Only Good Magic (5/2) and Carpe Diem (3/2) were favored going into the gates. Brody’s Cause was the second choice (5/1) to Zulu, but Irap was looking to break his maiden (32/1).
The past four winners’ racing positions also showed some similarities. Three were either on the lead or within 2 lengths of the leader at the 1/4 pole (Brody’s Cause being the exception), and all four had taken the lead when entering the stretch. So what does this mean? Being on, or within 2 lengths of, the lead at the 1/4 pole is very important.
Some other interesting pieces of data:
- 2 of the past 4 winners were by Giant’s Causeway
- All 4 were Keeneland Sales graduates
- 3 of the 4 winners ran in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Stakes in the year prior
- 3 of the 4 had earned a triple-digit Equibase speed figure prior to the Blue Grass
- 2 of the 4 had won the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity Stakes at Keeneland in the year prior
Horses do not have to be on a winning streak to triumph in the Blue Grass, but they do need to be on or near the lead at the 1/4 pole, highlighting the importance of being forwardly placed coming around the final turn. Giant’s Causeway has had success as a sire in this race, and prior Grade 1 stakes experience has been a factor, especially at this track. Let’s put this data to work this year when we select the Blue Grass winner!
Stay tuned to https://racingdudes.com for more betting tips and previews as the Road to the 2019 Kentucky Derby continues, and be sure to check out the Derby Trail Tracker to find out where your favorite horses are heading next!