Peter Callahan’s Swiss Skydiver will try to put herself on the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail Saturday when she takes on males in a field of 13 horses entered for the 96th running of the $600,000 Blue Grass Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds going 1 1/8 miles on Keeneland’s main track.
A major steppingstone for the $3 million Kentucky Derby to be run Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs, the Blue Grass offers 170 points toward qualification to this year’s Derby with 100 points going to the winner, 40 to the runner-up, 20 to third place and 10 points to fourth. The Derby is limited to the top 20 point earners that pass the entry box.
This year’s Blue Grass will go as the ninth race on Saturday’s 10-race program with a 5:30 p.m. ET post time. First post for the card that features six graded stakes is 1:05 p.m.
Trained by two-time Blue Grass winner Kenny McPeek, Swiss Skydiver will be seeking her initial Kentucky Derby points in her first test against males. She has won three graded stakes this year and compiled 310 points toward the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) to be run Sept. 4.
“Any other year, (the decision not to run a filly in the Blue Grass) would have been easy," McPeek said. "[But] I’ve got another filly (Envoutante) in the Ashland that we’re fond of, and I hate running against each other if I can help it.
"(Swiss Skydiver) gets a bit of a weight break in the Blue Grass, and we did Triple Crown nominate her," McPeek added. "(The race) seems to be pretty wide open."
Winner of the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2), Fantasy (G3) and Santa Anita Oaks (G2) in her past three starts, Swiss Skydiver will get a 5-pound weight allowance Saturday and carry 118 pounds in the Blue Grass. Mike Smith has the mount and will break from post position seven.
“(Swiss Skydiver is) doing super...I think she’s going to like the added distance," McPeek continued. "I like the mile and an eighth (distance of the Blue Grass) better than the mile and a sixteenth (distance of the Ashland). It’ll be exciting.”
Smith is a two-time Blue Grass winner, having scored in 1993 with Prairie Bayou and 1994 with Holy Bull.
No filly has won the Toyota Blue Grass and only one filly has run in the race since it debuted at Keeneland during the track’s inaugural Spring Meet in April 1937. She is Hyman Friedberg’s homebred Harriet Sue, who in 1944 won the Ashland and next was fifth to Skytracer in the Blue Grass. That year, Keeneland’s Spring Meet was held at Churchill Downs.
In 1948, future Hall of Famer Bewitch was scratched from the Blue Grass.
Another accomplished runner in the field is Jackpot Farm’s Basin. Winner of the Hopeful (G1) at Saratoga and most recently second in a division of the Arkansas Derby (G1), Basin ranks ninth on the Derby leaderboard with 50 points.
Trained by Steve Asmussen, Basin will be ridden Saturday by Ricardo Santana Jr. and break from post position eight.
“He is fit, ready to go," said Ryne Poncik of Jackpot Farm. "This nine weeks since the Arkansas Derby has really helped him. The Arkansas Derby really took a lot out of him trying to keep up with Charlatan all the way around there. So, on these nine weeks he got good weight and he's really looking good.”
Invading from California is Jim and Donna Daniell’s Rushie. Trained by Michael McCarthy, Rushie finished third in last month’s Santa Anita Derby (G1) in his stakes debut to gain 20 Derby points. Javier Castellano, who won last year’s running on Vekoma, has the mount and will break from post position 10.
Also looking to add to his Derby points total is John Oxley’s Enforceable. Winner of the Lecomte (G3) and runner-up in the Risen Star (G2), Enforceable is trained by Mark Casse and will be ridden by Joel Rosario. Enforceable is 14th on the Derby leaderboard with 33 points.
Rosario is seeking his second Toyota Blue Grass victory to go with the triumph in 2011 on Brilliant Speed. Enforceable, third in last fall’s Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1), will break from post 12.
“(The post is) not as important with him," Casse said. "It’s not going to affect us as much because we’re not going to the lead. It actually could be to our benefit in that he tends to break a little slow. But if he happens to break a little better, it will let (jockey) Joel (Rosario) find his spot.
"Plus, it’s 1 1/8 miles so we have a little more run into the first turn,” Casse added.
Seeking his initial Derby points is Bruce Lunsford’s Art Collector. Trained by Tom Drury, Art Collector enters Saturday’s race off two allowance victories at Churchill Downs this year by a combined 9 ¾ lengths. Brian Hernandez Jr. has the mount and will break from post position three.
“I’d sure rather be in post three than 13," Drury said. "He is doing good. He has had to earn his way into this spot. There was a question if he really wants to go two turns, but he checked that box and did it maybe with an exclamation point."
In addition to McPeek, who won the Toyota Blue Grass with Harlan’s Holiday in 2002 and Java’s War in 2013, three other trainers will try to add to their win totals in the race.
Nick Zito, whose Blue Grass victories came with Strike the Gold (1991), Halory Hunter (1998) and The Cliff’s Edge (2004), will saddle Dream Walkin Farms’ Hunt the Front. A maiden winner at Oaklawn, Hunt the Front will be ridden by Corey Lanerie and break from post 11.
Dale Romans, a two-time Blue Grass winner with Dullahan (2012) and Brody’s Cause (2016), will send out graded stakes-placed Attachment Rate. Owned by Jim Bakke and Gerald Isbister, Attachment Rate will be ridden by Luis Saez and break from post nine. Saez won the 2016 Blue Grass for Romans on Brody’s Cause.
Bill Mott, who won the Blue Grass in 1984 with Taylor’s Special, will send out LNJ Foxwoods and NK Racing’s maiden winner Tiesto. Flavien Prat has the mount and will break from post 13.
Three other riders with previous wins – John Velazquez, Rafael Bejarano and Jose Ortiz – will be seeking additional Blue Grass victories.
Velazquez, who rode Bandini in 2005 and Carpe Diem in 2015 to victory for Todd Pletcher, has the call on Jacks or Better Farm’s Shivaree, who will break from the rail.
Bejarano, who won the Toyota Blue Grass in 2007 aboard Dominican, has the call on Partner Stable’s Hard Lighting who will break from post six. Ortiz, who took the 2018 race on champion Good Magic, will be aboard Arnaldo Monge and trainer Rey Hernandez’s Finnick the Fierce and break from post two.
|#||Silks||Horse / Sire||Rank||Rating||Trainer / Jockey||Last Start||HRN|
Awesome of Course
B. Hernandez, Jr.
Can The Man
R. Santana, Jr.