Race of the Week 2017

Blue Grass Stakes Facts and Figures

A field of 14 horses will go postward today in the 90th running of the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass (G1). The Toyota Blue Grass is the most famous race at Keeneland, which first ran the stakes on April 29, 1937, closing day of its inaugural Spring Meet.

For the second consecutive year, the field for this year’s Toyota Blue Grass is a maximum 14 starters. Fourteen starters also competed in the 1954 and 1974 runnings.

Today’s program is the third consecutive 12-race Toyota Blue Grass card in Keeneland history. In 2012, Keeneland drew a track-record 40,617 fans to the track for the card.

Here is additional information to aid in your coverage:

Kentucky Derby points
The winner of the Toyota Blue Grass earns 100 points as part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby, a points-based system with a series of key races offering escalating points during the course of the Derby year to determine which horses will compete in the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) on May 3 at Churchill Downs.

The second-place finisher in the Toyota Blue Grass earns 40 points, followed by 20 points to the third-place finisher and 10 points to the fourth-place finisher.

Information on 2014 Toyota Blue Grass participants

Biographical information on the connections of each entrant in this year’s race, as well as past performances, charts dating back to the first running of the race at Keeneland in 1937 and historical statistics on the race are available at Keeneland.com/bluegrass.

The Blue Grass was named for the famous Bluegrass region of Central Kentucky and held in 1911-14 and 1919-26 at the old Kentucky Association track near downtown Lexington. Second-place finishers Meridian (1911), Donerail (1913) and Behave Yourself (1921) went on to win the Kentucky Derby. The 1926 winner, Bubbling Over, became the first horse to win the Blue Grass and the Kentucky Derby.

With the closure of the Kentucky Association track, a group of prominent area Thoroughbred breeders went to work to return racing to Lexington. In 1935, they founded the Keeneland Association, purchased land from horseman J.O. “Jack” Keene and set out to open a model racetrack. Keeneland opened on Oct. 15, 1936, for nine days of racing. In April 1937, Keeneland held its inaugural Spring Meet of 11 days and ran the Blue Grass for the first time.

The winner of the first Blue Grass at Keeneland was Maxwell Howard’s Fencing, who won by three-quarters of a length over Col. E.R. Bradley’s favored due of Billionaire and Brooklyn. Nine days later at Churchill Downs, Fencing and Billionaire raced back in the Kentucky Derby, inaugurating a pattern that future Derby hopefuls would follow.

Blue Grass - Kentucky Derby Connection
A total of nine winners of the Blue Grass at Keeneland have won the Kentucky Derby. Another 10 horses who ran in the race have won the Run for the Roses.

Toyota Sponsorship
In 1996, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky (located in Georgetown), five area Toyota dealerships and Toyota Motor Sales in Cincinnati teamed to sponsor the Blue Grass, marking Toyota’s first sponsorship of a horse race.

Post Positions
Here are the post positions and the number of winners each post position has produced since 1937 (the race was run in two divisions in 1951):


No. of Winners


























1 (Goyamo, 1954)




Harlan’s Holiday
, sire of Harry’s Holiday, won the 2002 Toyota Blue Grass.

Michael Tabor
and Susan Magnier, who own Pablo Del Monte with Derrick Smith and Wesley Ward, joined Robert and Beverly Lewis in the ownership of 2000 winner High Yield. Tabor and Smith won the race in 2005 with Bandini. Tabor, Magnier and Smith also own Gala Award.

Alan Garcia
(Coltimus Prime) and Julien Leparoux (Vinceremos) are bidding for their second win in the race. Garcia won aboard Stately Victor in 2010. Leparoux won last year on Java’s War.

Riding in the Toyota Blue Grass for the first time are Stewart Elliott (Coastline), Victor Espinoza (Pablo Del Monte), Brian Hernandez Jr. (Big Bazinga), Julian Pimentel (Extrasexyhippzster) and Emma-Jayne Wilson (Asserting Bear).

For the first time, two women will ride in the race: Emma-Jayne Wilson (Asserting Bear) and Rosie Napravnik (Harry’s Holiday). Napravnik was aboard eighth-place finisher Willcox Inn in 2011 and fifth-place finisher Fear the Kitten in 2013. Tammy Fox rode fourth-place finisher Big Courage in 1991. Julie Krone rode runner-up Suave Prospect in 1995.

Todd Pletcher
(Gala Award, Vinceremos and also-eligible Divine Oath) is bidding for a third win in the race. Pletcher won with Bandini (2005) and Monba (2008). Prior to 2014, he has had 18 starters in the race. Last year, he finished second with eventual Belmont (G1) winner Palace Malice.

Other trainers with a previous win in the race are Mike Maker (Harry’s Holiday), who won the race in 2010 with Stately Victor, and Dale Romans (Medal Count), who won the race in 2012 with Dullahan.

Trainers with horses in the race for the first time are Tom Bush (So Lonesome), Mario Morales (Casiguapo), Justin Nixon (Coltimus Prime), Michael Trombetta (Extrasexyhippzster) and Katerina Vassilieva (Big Bazinga).

Katerina Vassilieva (Big Bazinga) is bidding to become the first female trainer to win the race. Other female trainers with starters in the race are Alexis Barba (Make Music for Me, 6th in 2010), Jennifer Pedersen (Mr Sword, 7th in 2005), Jamie Sanders (Teuflesberg, 4th in 2007) and Josie Carroll (Tesseron, 11th in 2013).

Keeneland Sales Grads
Graduates of Keeneland sales are Big Bazinga, Coastline, Divine Oath (also-eligible), Gala Award, Harry’s Holiday, Medal Count and Vinceremos.

Big Bazinga was a $32,000 RNA at the 2012 January Horses of All Ages Sale. He was a $25,000 purchase at the 2012 September Yearling Sale.

Also sold at the 2012 September Sale were Coastline ($190,000), Divine Oath ($200,000), Gala Award ($1.55 million), Harry’s Holiday ($50,000), Medal Count ($360,000) and Vinceremos ($140,000). Vinceremos also sold for $340,000 at the 2013 Keeneland April Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale.

The shortest-priced favorite to win the race was Spectacular Bid (1979), who went off at .05-1 (1-20). He paid $2.10.

The longest shot to win the race was Stately Victor (2010), who went off at 40.10-1 in 2010. He paid $82.20.

The last time the post-time favorite won the Blue Grass was Peace Rules in 2003 at odds of 3-5.

Margin of Victory
The largest margin of victory was turned in by Arts and Letters, who won the 1969 race by 15 lengths. He was followed by Alydar (13-length winner in 1978) and Sinister Minister (12¾-length winner in 2006).

This is the eighth year that the Toyota Blue Grass has been run on Keeneland’s Polytrack main track. (Polytrack debuted during the 2006 Fall Meet.) The Polytrack record for 1 1/8 miles, the distance of the Toyota Blue Grass, is 1:46.77, set by Carriage Trail in the 2008 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (G1). The fastest Toyota Blue Grass on Polytrack is the 1:47.84 by Dullahan in 2012. The stakes record is 1:47 1/5, set by Skip Away in 1996.

Keeneland drew an all-time record 40,617 fans for the 2012 Toyota Blue Grass Day. Last year’s attendance of 37,161 is second-highest in track history.

All-sources wagering
on last year’s 12-race Toyota Blue Grass card reached $21,114,552, second to the record $21,647,378 from the 2012 Toyota Blue Grass card. Keeneland’s record for single-day on-track handle was $3,599,647 on April 16, 2005, day of the Toyota Blue Grass.



The Toyota Blue Grass (G1) has been won by some of the most notable Thoroughbreds in history. That definitely was the case 50 years ago when a stocky little bay Canadian-bred colt named Northern Dancer won the stakes during a seven-race win streak that continued in May with victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. (Click here for the Toyota Blue Grass website and to watch previous runnings of the race, including the stretch run of Northern Dancer’s victory.)

As brilliant as he was as a racehorse, however, Northern Dancer would be an even better sire. He became the most important stallion of the late 20th century, once commanding a $1 million stud fee, while the demand for his yearlings helped to put Keeneland sales on a global stage.

Northern Dancer, by Nearctic, was a homebred racing for E.P. Taylor’s Windfields Farm. He became the third Blue Grass starter for trainer Horatio Luro, who was second in 1960 with Windfields’ Victoria Park and again in 1962 with the future Derby winner, Decidedly.

In 1964, the Blue Grass was a $25,000-added race worth a total of $29,550. The 10,141 Keeneland fans made the Canadian colt, ridden for the first time by Bill Hartack, the 1-5 favorite against four rivals. The Blood-Horse reported on the race:

“After being lapped on pace-setting Royal Shuck, which ran the first quarter in :25 and the first half in :50 1/5, Northern Dancer moved to the front at the three-eighths pole and held safe the game bid of Allen Adair with a final eighth in :11 2/5. (Northern Dancer) galloped out an additional furlong, getting the full Derby distance in 2:03, and came back blowing only slightly.”

Northern Dancer won the Blue Grass by a “narrow but decisive margin,” according to The Blood-Horse. The colt earned $19,207 for the win, which came nine days before the Kentucky Derby. (The Blue Grass was moved to its present date of three weeks before the Derby in 1989.)

At Keeneland’s July Sale of Selected Yearlings in the 1970s and 1980s, Northern Dancer’s yearlings sold for well over a combined $150 million. His reign included:

  • Leading sire by average (with three or more horses sold) in 1974, 1975, 1978-1984 and 1986-1988.
  • Sire of sale-toppers in 1978, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1986 and 1989.
  • His sons sired the sale-toppers in 1980, 1982, 1985, 1988 and 1991.
  • His grandson Storm Cat, a dominant sire in his own right, sired sale-toppers in 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2002.

In 1984, the price for one of Northern Dancer’s offspring reached a world-record $10.2 million, when Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Aston Upthorpe Stud spent that amount on the colt later named Snaafi Dancer. The price was so high that Keeneland’s bid board did not have enough figures to accommodate it. At the sale, 12 of Northern Dancer’s yearlings sold for an average of $3,446,666.

The next year, the sale price for a grandson of Northern Dancer reached $13.1 million, still the highest amount paid for a yearling Thoroughbred at auction. B.B.A. (England) purchased the colt by Nijinsky II who was a half-brother to 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew and was later named Seattle Dancer.

Northern Dancer died Nov. 16, 1990, at 29. His influence continues through his descendants, many of which will race today at Keeneland. Runners by such stallions as Giant’s Causeway, Kitten’s Joy and War Front all carry his prized blood.

Sources: The Blood-Horse; Champions: The Lives, Times and Past Performances of America’s Greatest Thoroughbreds by Daily Racing Form; Legacies of the Turf: A Century of Great Thoroughbred Breeders (Vol. 2) by Edward L. Bowen.




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