Ten of the top 11 horses on the road to the 2021 Kentucky Derby leaderboard, which is led by recent Risen Star (G2) winner Mandaloun and undefeated champion Essential Quality, are among 148 3-year-olds nominated to the 97th running of the $800,000 Blue Grass (G2), the richest of the six graded stakes worth $2.1 million to be run April 3 on opening Saturday of Keeneland’s 2021 Spring Meet.
Brad Cox, who received the 2020 Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer, conditions both Essential Quality and Mandaloun. He trains 13 horses nominated to the Blue Grass.
“The race is an important part of Triple Crown season and the cornerstone of the Spring Meet,” said Gatewood Bell, Keeneland's vice president of racing.
The 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass is a prominent steppingstone to the Triple Crown’s first leg, the $3 million Kentucky Derby on May 1 at Churchill Downs. The winner earns 100 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, and the second-, third- and fourth-place finishers receive 40 points, 20 points and 10 points, respectively.
Joining the Blue Grass on Keeneland’s 11-race card on April 3 are the $400,000 Ashland (G1), a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies bidding to compete in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) — more on that below. Also on the card are the $300,000 Madison (G1) for older fillies and mares at 7 furlongs on the dirt; $200,000 Appalachian (G2) for 3-year-old fillies at one mile on the turf; $200,000 Shakertown (G2) for 3-year-olds and up at 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf; and $200,000 Commonwealth (G3) for older horses at 7 furlongs on the dirt.
That day, Keeneland will offer a $500,000-guaranteed All-Stakes Pick Four and a $500,000-guaranteed All Stakes Pick Five.
The Blue Grass will be the final race of Keeneland’s April 3 card with a 6:38 p.m. ET post. NBC Sports Network will televise the race along with the Wood Memorial (G2) from Aqueduct and Santa Anita Derby (G1) from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Post positions for the Blue Grass, Ashland and the other April 3 races will be drawn Tuesday, March 30.
Mandaloun, a homebred racing for Juddmonte Farms, posted his initial stakes victory Feb. 13 in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds to move into the top spot on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.
Owned and bred by Godolphin, Essential Quality is undefeated in three starts with two Grade 1 victories at Keeneland: the’ Futurity and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He is second on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.
Among the top-ranked horses on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard who are nominated to the Blue Grass are the first five finishers from last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Third on the leaderboard is Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Midnight Bourbon, winner of the Lecomte (G3).
He is followed by:
• Proxy, owned by Godolphin, runner-up in the Lecomte and Risen Star;
• Keepmeinmind, owned by Cypress Creek Equine, Arnold Bennewith and Spendthrift Farm, winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) who was second in the Breeders’ Futurity and third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile;
• Rombauer, owned by John and Diane Fradkin, recent winner of the El Camino Real Derby who was fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile;
• Medina Spirit, owned by Zedan Racing Stables, winner of the Robert B. Lewis (G3);
• Spielberg, owned by SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Golconda Stables, Siena Farm et al, winner of the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2);
• Jackie's Warrior, owned by J. Kirk and Judy Robison, a two-time Grade 1 winner who was fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile;
• and Hot Rod Charlie, owned by Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing and William Strauss, runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Steve Asmussen and Todd Pletcher lead trainers by number of horses nominated to the Blue Grass, with 15 each.
Asmussen’s nominees include the aforementioned Jackie’s Warrior and Midnight Bourbon along with two fillies bred and raced by Stonestreet Stables: Rachel Alexandra (G2) winner Clairiere and Pauline’s Pearl. Clairiere is the leading point earner on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks (G1).
Joining Asmussen and Pletcher along with Cox as trainers with the most nominees to the Blue Grass are Chad Brown (nine), Bob Baffert (eight), Mark Casse (seven), Saffie Joseph Jr. (five), Kenny McPeek (five) and Dale Romans (five).
The late nomination period for the Blue Grass closes Wednesday, March 17.
84 fillies nominated for Ashland
Vequist, whose victory in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Keeneland secured the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old filly for her, plus Grade 1 winners Dayoutoftheoffice and Simply Ravishing headline the 84 3-year-old fillies nominated to the 84th running of the $400,000 Ashland on the Blue Grass Stakes undercard.
The 1 1/16-mile Ashland awards 100 points to the winner on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks. The next three finishers receive 40 points, 20 points and 10 points, respectively, to the $1.25 million race on April 30 at Churchill Downs.
Thirty-four fillies who raced in the Ashland have won the Kentucky Oaks, including champion Monomoy Girl (2018), Cathryn Sophia (2016) and Lovely Maria (2015).
The Ashland is the ninth race on April 3 with a 5:30 p.m. ET post.
Vequist is trained by Butch Reid and owned by Gary Barber, Wachtel Stable and Swilcan Stable. She is a daughter of Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist. In addition to her Breeders’ Cup victory, she won the Spinaway (G1). Vequist is third on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard behind Stonestreet Stables’ Clairiere and OXO Equine’s Travel Column.
Clairiere, trained by Steve Asmussen, won the recent Rachel Alexandra (G2) at Fair Grounds to grab the top spot. She and Stonestreet’s Pauline’s Pearl are nominated to both the Ashland and the Blue Grass.
Trained by Brad Cox, Travel Column was second in the Rachel Alexandra in her 2021 debut after closing 2020 with a victory in the Golden Rod (G2) and a third-place finish in the Darley Alcibiades (G1) at Keeneland.
Other leading Kentucky Oaks point earners who are nominated to the Ashland are:
• Dayoutoftheoffice, owned by trainer Tim Hamm and Siena Farm; who won the Frizette (G1) before finishing second to Vequist in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies;
• Girl Daddy, owned by Albaugh Family Stables, who won the Pocahontas (G3) and was third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies;
• Simply Ravishing, owned by Harold Lerner, Magdalena Racing and Nehoc Stables, who won the Darley Alcibiades before finishing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies;
• Moon Swag, owned by Brad King, Jim Cone, Scott Bryant and Stan and Suzanne Kirby, third in the Rachel Alexandra;
• and undefeated Malathaat, owned by Shadwell Stable, winner of the Demoiselle (G2).
McPeek, who conditions Simply Ravishing, leads all trainers by number of nominees to the Ashland with eight.
The late nomination period for the Ashland is Wednesday, March 17.