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HRN Original Blog:
Zipse At The Track

The Blue Grass and the Kentucky Derby Do Not Mix

Zipse’s Kentucky Derby Daily – Day 20

I am thrilled to be heading to Keeneland today. It is not only one of America’s finest racetracks, but it is nestled lovingly in the middle of the rolling bluegrass hills of horse country. Lexington, Kentucky is the heart and soul of thoroughbred horse racing, and Keeneland is a beautiful place to put on their show. A visit there always brings goose bumps. Why then do I find such disappointment in their marquee event?

There is no doubt that Keeneland’s impressive racing schedule is highlighted by the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes. The Grade 1 affair is simply overflowing with tradition. In the past 87 years, the race has produced more than 20 winners of the Kentucky Derby, and over the past thirty years, no race has produced more starters in the run for the roses. It has always been a key prep for what happens on the first Saturday in May. Yet lately I have the distinct impression that the prestigious race no longer has anything to do with who will win the Kentucky Derby.

Gone are the days when year after year the Blue Grass produced strong contenders for the Derby. From 1959 to 1979, the winner of Keeneland’s big race went on to win under the Twin Spires a whopping eight times. Growing up I watched horses like Riva Ridge, Alydar, and Spectacular Bid win the Blue Grass. For now at least those days seem long gone.
It’s now been 20 years since the last horse, Strike the Gold, won both the Blue Grass and the Derby. Worse yet, when Keeneland got rid of the dirt and switched to the Polytrack surface, it seems so went the standing of the Blue Grass as a legitimate prep for the Kentucky Derby.

I now consider it extremely unlikely that a horse can win on the Keeneland strip, which is so very different than that of Churchill’s, and then three weeks later repeat the success in the Derby. In fact, since the transition to Polytrack, the winner of the Blue Grass has finished 11th, 20th, 10th, and 8th in the Derby. Clearly success in the Blue Grass is no longer a strong recommendation for your chances in the Derby.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the race, and The 2011 Blue Grass provided a thrilling finish as Brilliant Speed got up in the shadow of the wire to edge Twinspired, and King Congie. Kudos to the victor, winning it will likely be a career highlight for Brilliant Speed. Yesterday’s edition was also a fun race to watch, but as for the Kentucky Derby, I will look elsewhere than the trio of two turf horses and a synthetic specialist.
 

 

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Older Comments about The Blue Grass and the Kentucky Derby Do Not Mix...

Sad to say but anymore the Bluegrass just isn't a great race. Pretty much a turf race that lets a horse get in who probably won't impact the Derby. The losers of the Bluegrass lately have been one's to watch it seems like.
I agree with you Brian, it's kind of a shame to have such a prestigious prep on synthetics after so many years of effective dirt prepping.
The good news with the preps is- we can sort out the contenders from the pretenders. Uncle Mo, The factor can't get the distance. The pace in the Bluegrass was a walk, so I don't like their chances at mile & a quarter- although Nrhro has impressive closing speed. So, Dialed-In and a hard look at Midnight Interlude - right now.
Seems I remember before the installation of polytrack that the conditions of the track were steadily downhill and becoming unsafe. Keenland jumped out to try the newest trend, but I agree something has been lost in the translation. To try and mimick turf conditions and perhaps present themselves as being more global may have been partly a markerting ploy as well and it has backfired.
Well, after witnessing the outcome of the Bluegrass Stakes and the Arkansas Derby on Saturday, I'm ever more confused now about the Kentucky Derby picture than I already was prior to those two races. LOL. I'll tell you right now, this year's Kentucky Derby is going to be strictly a spectators sport for me. I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole.
I just filled in more details on my profile and Frankel made it into my favourite horses category - this is serious! ...Guess who ? :)

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Meet Brian Zipse 

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing since birth. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. 
  
As Managing Editor of Horse Racing Nation, Brian authors a daily column as Zipse at the Track, or ZATT for short, and adds his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Brian also serves on the the Board of Directors of ReRun Thoroughbred Adoption and is a Vox Populi committee member. 
  
A graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives in Suburban Chicago with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra, where he is a professional golf instructor when he is not following the horses.