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Lexington Stakes Preview 2024: Final Kentucky Derby Prep Race
Keeneland Photo

Lexington Stakes Preview 2024: Final Kentucky Derby Prep Race

Saturday’s $400,000 Lexington (G3) at Keeneland represents the last stop on the 2023-24 Road to the Kentucky Derby series. The 1 1/16-mile race offers up points on a 20-10-6-4-2 scale to the top five respective finishers, and Hades is the only member of the 10-horse field who controls his fate, guaranteeing himself a spot in a 20-horse Kentucky Derby field with a victory.

The current threshold to run in the Kentucky Derby is 45 points, belonging to No More Time, and the 20-point prize for a Lexington win would put Encino (20 points entering Lexington), Liberal Arts (19 points), and Lucky Jeremy (16) on the bubble, needing defections to participate in the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

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#9 Liberal Arts (4-1) raced close to the pace early in his career, but he became more of a late runner when stretching out in distance for a pair of stakes last year, concluding his juvenile campaign with a convincing triumph in the Street Sense (G3). He left himself too much to do when opening 2024 in the Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn, rallying belatedly to just miss second behind runaway winner Mystik Dan, but nothing went right in the Arkansas Derby (G1) next out. Liberal Arts refused to settle from off the pace that afternoon, losing any chance by behaving poorly on the first turn, and trainer Robert Medina drew a line through the performance, wheeling his charge right back in the Lexington two weeks later.

The gray son of Arrogate picks up a new rider in Irad Ortiz Jr. and look for Liberal Arts to race more towards midpack Saturday, stalking just behind the leaders before offering his bid. He’s shown an affinity for the 1 1/16-mile distance and Liberal Arts is eligible to receive a nice set up, with The Wine Steward, Hades and Lucky Jeremy all potentially being part of the pace.

Vertical exotic horses

After winning the Holy Bull (G3) on the front end, #5 Hades (7-2) broke slowly in the Florida Derby (G1) and got caught behind horses entering the first turn, essentially ending all chance he had to factor. Joe Orseno adds blinkers and Jose Ortiz picks up the mount, and Hades remains a candidate to last a long way on the front end.

#8 Encino (5-1) didn’t get into gear until deep stretch of the John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park, closing powerfully to win going away by a length, and the up-and-coming colt may continue to show more for Brad Cox in the Lexington. Keeneland’s short stretch at the distance may work against the late runner, but Encino will be included in some wagers.

#4 Footprint (10-1) wasn’t much of a factor in his first stakes attempt last December, but he ran well to place in a pair of Oaklawn allowances in his following starts and showed an affinity for Keeneland’s maiden track when breaking his maiden. Footprint displayed improved positional speed in his last two outings, and the Kenny McPeek-trained colt holds some appeal for a minor award.