Head-to-Head: Handicapping the 2020 Blue Grass

Head-to-Head: Handicapping the 2020 Blue Grass
Photo: Coady Photography

The Blue Grass (G1) on Keeneland’s opening weekend is a major prep for the 2020 Kentucky Derby.  

Laurie Ross of Pedigree Power and Ashley Tamulonis of Coast To Coast weed out the contenders from the pretenders.




Shivaree is speed on the golden rail. The question is – how far can he carry that speed with Swiss Skydiver divebombing him from the outside? Sure, he was second behind Tiz the Law in the Florida Derby, but that was after dueling with Ete Indien, who weakened to third. Nobody else was making up ground in the stretch. If he and Swiss Skydiver don’t heat things up early, maybe he can stick around for a piece. He would be more effective as a sprinter/miler. Pass.

Up until the Florida Derby (G1), I was pretty convinced that Shivaree was just a sprinter, but he acquitted himself well that day with a second place finish behind top Derby prospect Tiz the Law. I think 1 1/8-mile is probably this one’s limit. I do not expect a win, but I do think Shivaree could hang around for a minor award.

Finnick the Fierce

Finnick the Fierce is 2 for 8 lifetime, and one of those wins came vis a DQ. He can be counted on to hit the board and, given the history of the Blue Grass, can be one of those overlooked winners. But I’m not betting on it. Exotics.

Though the one-eyed Finnick the Fierce might take a good bit of money for being a fan favorite, he tends to reward his backers by hitting the board. He has put in two bullet works toward this start and should hit the board.

Art Collector

Art Collector is one of three in here who can string together back to back wins. He moves up in company and stretches out, but that should pose no problem since he is by Bernardini out of Distorted Legacy, a stakes-winning daughter of Distorted Humor. Distorted Legacy placed in the 10-furlong Flower Bowl Invitational (G1). Further, Distorted Legacy’s half-brother Vision And Verse won the Illinois Derby and placed in the Belmont Stakes (G1) and Travers (G1). The Thomas Drury Jr. trainee can win from mid-pack or closer. He earned a career-best Brisnet speed figure of 105 in his last start, Which was a 10-point jump. He could regress a bit, but I still like him.

Out of the grade one placed turf mare Distorted Legacy, Art Collector is riding a three-race win streak since switching to dirt. Last out, the Bernardini colt took the field gate-to-wire but got away with a soft pace. He won’t find that here but will face stiffer competition. I’m on the fence about this one.

Mr. Big News

Mr. Big News made headlines as the surprise winner of the Oaklawn Stakes. The one-run closer passes tired horses while circling the field. He fits the profile of previous Blue Grass winners, and his overall speed figures are improving, but I don’t think he’s fast enough to beat some of these. Pass.

Mr. Big News appreciated the drop in class in his last outing, winning the Oaklawn Stakes after running fifth in one division of the Risen Star (G2). He did so off long odds, making a sustained run from the back of the field to take advantage of the quick early pace. He has a shot to get a piece if he can catch another hot pace.

Man in the Can

Man in the Can was a big horse in a small state-bred pond this spring at Oaklawn. In his last start, the Ron Moquett trainee stepped into open company at Churchill and beat eventual Ohio Derby (G3) winner Dean Martini by 1 1/2 lengths. He returned to work a bullet five furlongs in 59.60 at Keeneland. Man in the Can is tractable and can sit just about anywhere, so he’s not dependent on pace. There’s a lot to like about him, and Moquett knows how to spot his horses. Win contender.


Man in the Can proved that he could handle open company in his last outing, taking an optional claimer at Churchill over eventual Ohio Derby (G3) winner Dean Martini after having run in state-bred company previously at Oaklawn. This will certainly be a class test for the colt, so I have to pass.

Hard Lighting

This is the time of year when the late bloomers should come into their own. Hard Lighting won his third start, but the bloom wilted against a salty allowance group that included the Gulfstream trio of Sole Volante, Shivaree and Ete Indien. To be fair, the speed bias played against him, so I’m tossing that race. What I’m left with are so-so speed figures. Maybe he’ll flash speed in another month or so, but I’ll pass this time.

Hard Lighting’s only win came in the slop down at Gulfstream. In his last outing, he showed nothing against Sole Volante and Shivaree. Pass.

Swiss Skydiver

Swiss Skydiver is only the second filly to compete in the Blue Grass since 1944. When the race was created way back in 1911, three of the first five editions of the Blue Grass were captured by fillies. Enough of the history lesson. She’s fast and likes to be on the lead or within a length of the pacesetter. With Mike Smith in the saddle, we know he’ll use her speed early to get position. The $600,000 question is – how far will she carry that speed? Her pedigree and conformation say 1 1/16 miles is her winning limit against top-class competition, but she’s entirely capable of hitting the board, and even winning against lesser. She’s the classiest contender in the race, and shouldn’t be dismissed. Exotics.

Since the points system was put into place, we have not seen a filly take on the boys in the attempt to qualify for the Derby. That trend ends now with Swiss Skydiver. The Daredevil filly has won her last three starts, all against fillies, and would certainly be the one to beat in the Oaks. This will be her first start against colts and first time going nine furlongs. Kenny McPeek would not make this move if he didn’t think his filly stood a really good chance of winning. Top contender.


Basin tries hard. He looked good as a sprinter last year and held his position in the merry-go-round Arkansas Derby (G1). Santana will put the son of Liam’s Map near the pace, and hope they hang on for a piece. Pass.

Basin’s best races have been in sprints, though he has run well while routing this year. He has no wins at those distances, but he has landed in the superfecta in each 2020 race. Use him to fill out your exotics.

Attachment Rate

Attachment Rate is bred to run all day. The issue with these types is that they don’t usually have a lot of speed. In the Matt Winn, the Dale Roman’s trainee just ran around out there maintaining position while three and four wide. The chart noted Attachment Rate was in tight around the first turn. He was but didn’t have to steady, and if there was bumping, it was minor. No excuse for his flat one-speed performance. Pass.

Attachment Rate has just one win in six career starts. Last out he ran a very even fourth in the Matt Winn (G3) against some top class competition. I expect about the same here.


Rushie has hit the board in all starts at a mile and farther. He did his best against the classy Charlatan and Honor A. P., but few are in their league. Rushie’s pedigree and performance hints that he’s more reliable at a mile to 1 1/16 miles. The Mike McCarthy trainee ran evenly in the Santa Anita Derby but wasn’t going to make up ground on the second-place finisher, Authentic. Rushie will likely get a wide trip while chasing the Blue Grass pace unless Castellano can scoot him to the rail. Note that he hit a lifetime best speed figure last out, a 10-point jump. These types generally regress next out. Pass.

Rushie exits off a third place finish in the Santa Anita Derby (G1). In California, Rushie continually ran into Bob Baffert’s contingent and could not get the best of them. Shipping East gives this colt a chance to nab a graded stakes win. Contender.

Hunt the Front

Hunt the Front has zero early speed. Another one-run plodder who finally won after three consecutive runner-up finishes. The son of Revolutionary was 11 lengths out of it early. He was left with too much to do against Can the Man in their last start. I’d like to see Nick Zito in the winner’s circle again, but Hunt the Front will have to run the race of his life. Pass.

In his last race, Hunt the Front finished far behind winner Man in the Can and eventual Ohio Derby (G3) winner Dean Martini. It doesn’t look good for him here. Pass.


Enforceable is lumped in with Finnick the Fierce, Mr. Big News and Basin as horses who have taken turns beating each other, and even their speed figures are comparable. None are particularly fast but can surprise if things go their way. There’s a jock switch to Rosario, but note that Casse/Rosario are 0-6 in the last three months. Exotics.

Mark Casse trained Enforceable has a lovely pedigree and the talent to go along with it. He won the Lecomte (G3) earlier this year before finishing second in the Risen Star (G2) and fifth in the Louisiana Derby (G2), getting off a beat slow in both. While he has not raced since March, he has been working smartly for Casse. His morning-line odds are a gift. Ignore at your own risk.


This well-bred youngster finally gets a shot to show his stuff on the main track. His family is dirt oriented; Half-brother Promises Fulfilled is a Grade 1-winning sprinter/miler, and half-sister Marquee Miss is a multiple stakes-winning sprinter/miler. Tiesto resembles his sire Tiznow and should handle the distance. Mott is 18% win and 54% in the money with the turf to dirt switch. There’s a lot to like here. Logical longshot play.

A half-brother to H. Allen Jerkens (G1) winner Promises Fulfilled, Tiesto will be trying dirt for the first time in the Bluegrass. Dirt could do the trick for this colt, but I’m looking elsewhere.

Final Thoughts

Laurie: The Blue Grass is a terrific betting race. In the last decade, favorites won three times. More than half of the winners paid double digits, and the average win payout in the last 10 years was $24.46. One run closers captured six of the last 10 editions of the Blue Grass, and surprisingly, none of the pacesetters won. Three pressers and two mid-pack runners were successful.

So who fits the profile of a presser or closer? Man the Can ticks most of the boxes. Art Collector has a lot going for him, but that flashy triple-digit speed figure last out gives me pause. Finnick the Fierce, Basin and Enforceable can be counted on to pick up lower exotics, so if you have cash to spread, use them. I think Tiesto can run a big race, and Mott doesn’t enter races for the fun of it. Yes, I’m leaving Swiss Skydiver off my picks, but she’s entirely capable of messing up the exotics. I think she’ll be harassed on the front end, and her ability for the distance is suspect.

Ashley: Swiss Skydiver aside, this field is devoid of a true standout. The filly is the class of the field, but as Laurie pointed out, the $600,000 question is whether or not she can handle the boys. Personally, I think she stands a good chance of running well, even if she does not nail down the win. I’m looking for consistent graded stakes type performers, and a few of those are offering nice odds.






#12 Enforceable (10-1)

#5 Man in the can  (10-1)

#7 Swiss Skydiver (3-1)

#3 Art Collector (5-1)

#2 Finnick the Fierce (12-1)

#2 Finnick the Fierce (12-1)

#8 Basin (8-1)

#13 Tiesto (15-1)

Meet Ashley Tamulonis

Despite growing up in a non-horse racing state, Ashley has been a fan of the sport since a young age. Her love for horse racing was fostered through the kids’ book series Thoroughbred by Joanna Campbell, which led her to educate herself on the ins and outs of the sport. Since becoming actively involved in the industry just a few years ago, Ashley has had the opportunity to meet many important players in the industry, attend the Eclipse Awards, see personal favorite Mucho Macho Man race twice in person, and befriend many of the fantastic fans and horsemen involved in the sport.

Ashley began her time with Horse Racing Nation covering racing in South Florida but also blogged about nationwide racing, industry issues and, from time to time, offered her opinion on how various changes could be beneficial to the industry. A move North to New Hampshire began both a new chapter in both Ashley's personal life and professional life. She currently pens the From Coast to Coast blog for HRN. Ashley also participates as a voter in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Polls.

An alumni of Macon State College, Ashley is from Central Georgia but is currently living in New Hampshire with her husband, Chris, and their two sons Charlie and Michael. A stay-at-home mom, Ashley juggles parenting with blogging and her other passions. Aside from horse racing, Ashley is a fervent football fan, enjoys reading and studying history, and hopes to someday author a historical work covering the Tudor period as well as biographies of horse racing’s stars, equine and human alike.

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