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Keeneland’s historic spring meet is always a breath of fresh air, and it’s needed more than ever right now in the horse racing industry. Thursday kicks off the opening of its 2019 session, which is highlighted by Saturday’s Blue Grass Stakes (G2). Like always, this year’s edition has drawn a big field of 14 runners, all needing to either win or finish second in order to make the Kentucky Derby starting gate. That kind of intrigue and urgency is what always makes the Blue Grass so special. The event will go off as race 10, with an estimated post time of 6:23 PM ET.
The Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) third-place finisher Vekoma has been installed as the 9/5 morning line favorite and will break from post 2. As a 2-year-old, this horse ran one of the fastest races of the entire crop, winning the Nashua Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct by 2 3/4 lengths. This will be his second start off of the layoff for trainer George Weaver, who seemed unmoved with his inner post position draw.
“I’d rather be down on the inside than outside,” Weaver said. “He’s got enough tactical speed, so the 2 post should work well for us. We’re looking forward to seeing what he can do. The horse is training real well. I’m here in my home state. I’d love to get it done for everybody.”
His main challenge will come from the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) third-place finisher Win Win Win. The son of Hat Trick has not missed the board in five career starts, winning 3 times while finishing once each in second and third. Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., will have the mount once again when the colt breaks from post 8, which seems like the perfect position.
The Kenny McPeek-trained Signalman will be happy to return to the state of Kentucky, where he won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) as a 2-year-old in impressive fashion. He will look to rebound after finishing seventh while making his 3-year-old debut in the Fountain of Youth. That was his first time not hitting the board in six career starts.
“He is a horse that can lay midpack or right off speed, and I’m pretty sure we’ll ask him to do that,” McPeek said. “How it all unfolds is hard to say, but from the 3 hole, it is relatively easy, and we’ll let him run into the first turn.”
The full field from the rail out: Somelikeithotbrown, Vekoma, Signalman, Market King, Chess Chief, Dream Maker, Admire, Win Win Win, Sir Winston, Lucky Lee, So Alive, Parsimony, Moonster, and Aquadini.
#8 Win Win Win – This horse deserves one more shot after a wide trip likely cost him a win in the Tampa Bay Derby. Despite that tough journey, he still never quit, getting up for third in the late stages. By drawing post 8, he should sit a bit more comfortably. Imagine: if he had gotten a perfect trip and won the Tampa Bay Derby, then he would easily be the favorite, which means anything at his morning line price of 7/2 or better he is interesting. He is not playable if his odds get too low, though, so keep an eye on how he is bet.
#3 Signalman – Ever since he crossed the wire first in the Kentucky Jockey Club, this race has been the plan. He looked terrible in his 3-year-old debut, finishing a well-beaten seventh in the Fountain of Youth, but McPeek used that race solely as a prep for this one, which should mean that we see him at his best here. If he does bounce back, then he’ll be in with a big shot, as we have seen in the past that he has the class and the ability to get the job done.
#6 Dream Maker – This is another horse who will need to bounce back after a very poor effort in the Tampa Bay Derby. He never had much of a shot after a poor break and trip, which gives him a little bit of hope here. When he his at his best, like two races back in his allowance romp at Fair Grounds, he just toys with the competition. If he can get back to that level, then he’ll have a chance to make a little noise at a price for a trainer in Mark Casse who always does well at Keeneland.
#2 Vekoma – While he is in with a shot, it will be extremely difficult to play him at a short price. His 3-year-old debut was decent, finishing third in the Fountain of Youth last time out, yet the horses that beat him did not run well in the Florida Derby (G1). This looks like an easier spot on paper, but it’s a question as to how far he wants to run. He has a lot to prove, which makes 9/5 a hard pill to swallow. If his odds float up a bit, then he would become more attractive.
#11 So Alive – Trainer Todd Pletcher has gotten hot on the Derby trail lately, which makes this horse a little more interesting. He was a fast-closing third in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) last time out, coming from way out of the clouds. He can’t get that far behind here, but if the pace is swift up front, then he can hit the board at a decent price. Actually winning seems a bit over his head, though.
#1 Somelikeithotbrown – Let’s see if this guy can keep it rolling on the dirt after two straight victories at Turfway Park on the synthetic surface. His win last time out in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) looked farily easy and put him on the Derby trail. There are major question marks about his abilities on the dirt, but his pedigree suggests that it may be possible. His sire, Big Brown, has sired horses for either surface, and his dam is a daughter of Tapit. It’s a 50/50 shot here, so if his odds actually are 10/1, then he’s worth a look.
#4 Market King – Maybe trainer D. Wayne Lukas can jump into the Derby mix with a horse who seems to be getting better with every race. Last time out, he was in a very tough edition of the Rebel Stakes (G2) and held on gamely to finish third at enormous odds. In a year that’s been all kinds of crazy on the Derby trail, it might be fitting to see the King of Upsets pick up a win with a horse from way out of left field. We’ve seen crazier things happen.
#14 Aquadini – This horse must take a big step up in class, which is going to be his biggest question mark. Two races back, he broke his maiden nicely at Fair Grounds, then finished second in an allowance race. He could play a pace factor from this outside post.
#10 Lucky Lee – It is hard to play any horse that came out of the Withers Stakes (G3), seeing as how they have all run poorly. Lucky Lee has been training very well leading up to this race, which had me thinking about adding him into the mix, but I just couldn’t pull the trigger on a Withers horse until he proves otherwise.
#9 Sir Winston – Another horse that comes out of the Withers, he did not show a lot next out with a fourth-place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby. Both races leave a lot to be desired. However, Casse always has success at Keeneland, which is the lone bright spot for this entry.
#7 Admire – Like Sir Winston, this horse also exits the Withers and Tampa Bay Derby, where he did very little running in either race. That makes him very tough to play, despite having trainer Dale Romans, who usually finds a way to hit the board in this race.
#5 Chess Chief – It took five races, but this horse finally broke his maiden last time out at Fair Grounds. That pattern usually doesn’t scream “prep race winner,” though it is similar to By My Standards before he won the Louisiana Derby (G2), so take that for what it’s worth.
#12 Parsimony – Usually a maiden struggles in these types of races, though Bodexpress was second last week in the Florida Derby, so once again, take that for what it’s worth. This maiden has looked pretty bad in most of his starts, though.
#13 Moonster – Seemingly out of nowhere, he ran third in the Jeff Ruby Steaks last time out. That was easily the best performance of his career, which has left a lot to be desired. Still, he must improve greatly in order to have a chance here.
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