Kentucky Derby 2014 - Handicapping the Blue Grass Stakes

Vinceremos SFD 615 X 400
Photo: SV Photography
In the seven years since the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes has been contested over Polytrack, only three horses, Street Sense, Paddy O’Prado, and Dullahan have finished in the top three in the Kentucky Derby. 
This year, a full field of fifteen colts have been entered in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland to vie for the honor of a start in the Kentucky Derby.  Nine of the fifteen finished first or second in their last start. Florida Filly Ashley Tamulonis and I weed out the pretenders.  

ASSERTING BEAR —I rather liked this one going into the Spiral, and though he didn’t win, he also didn’t run a bad race. Finishing 4th, he was beaten for it all by only about 2 lengths. All weather is obviously his preferred “turf,” and he’s performed well at the 9 furlong distance. Emma-Jayne will likely have to use him a little early to get a good position coming out of the rail post, but I think he has a shot.
ASSERTING BEAR (Bear's Kid - Star Guest, by Assert (IRE)) has traveled 1 1/8 miles, twice in his career with a win and a strong fourth place finish, so we know he can handle the distance.  Asserting Bear is a half to the multiple stakes veteran Inish Glora and stakes winner Invitation Only.  The colt likes to sit off of the pace, but hopefully, he won’t be as far back as he was in the opening stages of the Spiral. The drawback is that he’ll be blocked in traffic when the running starts and the Spiral hasn’t held up as a key race for the Bluegrass. Pass.
EXTRASEXYHIPPZSTER—I honestly think trainer Trombetta was trying to land in an easier spot, but this isn’t it. Sire Stroll was a graded stakes winner on turf and dirt, and dam Extra Sexy Psychic was a winner on dirt and synthetics. Ultimately, I think the issue may lie more with class and distance than with surface, though the colt could improve with the surface switch. His works would seem to indicate that potential as his morning breezes at Keeneland have been much faster than his morning breezes at Laurel. My gut tells me to not overlook this one, but common sense says that he may be in over his head. At a price, I just might have to take a shot.
EXTRASEXYHIPPZSTER (Stroll - Extra Sexy Psychic, by Freud) tossed in a clunker in the Gotham. For whatever reason, he was at the back of the field that day instead in his customary pace pressing spot. I’m inclined to give him a pass on that race. Although Extrasexyhippzster has never raced over the Poly, his sire gets 18% winners over the surface. Extrasexyhippzster’s dam is a stakes winner over Tapeta.  As Ashley noted, the colt’s works at Keeneland are good.  I think Extrasexyhippzster is worth a long-shot look.
PABLO DEL MONTE —Will appreciate both the switch back to synthetics and his return to Keeneland. He hasn’t done too hot in his last three starts, but Pablo Del Monte is perfect both on synthetics and at Keeneland. The biggest question will be the increase in distance, but I trust that trainer Wesley Ward will have him ready. Contender.
PABLO DEL MONTE (Giant's Causeway - One Hot Wish, by Bring the Heat) faded to third in the Holy Bull, which was better than I thought he’d do.  He gets back to his preferred surface and you gotta watch those Giant Causeway babies over the Keeneland Poly. Pablo Del Monte’s dam won her maiden over the Keeneland poly as well. The drawback here is that the colt’s pedigree is very light for 1 1/8 miles and he’s never run 1 1/16 miles, let along 1 1/8 miles. Maybe his running style and return to poly will help, but I don’t see him winning it. Exotics.
HARRY’S HOLIDAY—After losing the Spiral by a nose in the last jump, this one will be back seeking revenge. He retains jockey Rosie Napravnik, who rode him for the first time in his last outing. Rosie is about as good as they come, and I am confident that she will adjust his methods from the Spiral to here in order to make sure that they don’t lose in the last jump again. If Coltimus Prime is slow out of the gate or doesn’t get a good early position, Harry’s Holiday could be going…going…gone on the lead. Contender.
HARRY'S HOLIDAY (Harlan's Holiday - Daisy Mason, by Orientate) fought hard the entire way and was caught by surprise by a surging We Miss Artie in the final step of the Spiral. I don’t think he gets an easy lead this time either, and Harry’s Holiday will have to contend with speed next to him in the form of Bobby’s Kitten and Coltimus Prime. Harry’s Holiday ran some monster early speed figures in the Spiral, but his late pace figures have a lot to be desired. Plus, he’s facing a much deeper field here. When was the last time a horse won or placed in the Spiral and was competitive in the Bluegrass?  Pass.
BOBBY'S KITTEN —The Ramseys + a Kitten’s Joy colt + Keeneland = success…or at least that was generally the case last year. He’s got a lot of speed and talent, but the switch from turf to synthetics could be dicey. He did have a solid 5 furlong work in a minute and change on the 5th, but how that translates in the afternoon will remain to be seen. I believe a lot of people on going to be on board the Bobby’s Kitten bandwagon, but this is one I believe I have to take a stand against. Pass.
BOBBY’S KITTEN (Kitten's Joy - Celestial Woods, by Forestry) will be right there contesting the lead. The last five editions of the Bluegrass were won by horses who sat mid-pack or farther back.  In all but one of those races, the early leaders were nowhere to be found.  Bobby’s Kitten has the pedigree and class, but not the running style. His stablemate Charming Kitten finished third in this race last year. Talented colt, but his late pace speed figures aren’t that great. Pass.
COLTIMUS PRIME—He’s run his best races on synthetics, so like Pablo Del Monte, he’ll appreciate the surface switch. Other than that, I don’t really like him. I believe he’s a cut below the rest of the field in terms of class. Pass.
COLTIMUS PRIME (Milwaukee Brew - Certainly Special, by Distorted Humor) should transform back into a contender with the switch to Poly.  He needed a search party to locate him after a 25 length drubbing in the Tampa Bay Derby, so I don’t know how much running he actually did. That, along with his front running style may run his batteries down when it’s time for the real running to begin. Pass.
CASIGUAPO —As a 2-year old Casiguapo ran fairly well and got a slice of the pie in a handful of graded stakes. In his 3-year old debut, he didn’t do much against lesser company and posted a poor speed figure. I’m not a fan, nor am I convinced he belongs in this spot. Though his last two works would suggest that he’s on his toes, I still have to pass.
CASIGUAPO (Sightseeing - Emerald Buddha, by Buddha) has been kept on a steady diet of sprint races with poor results. In his only race at 1 1/16 miles, he finished second in the Delta Jackpot.  The colt was best of the rest in both the Hopeful and Delta Jackpot, so he’s showed a modicum of class. His sire and damsire both won at 1 1/8 miles, plus his second dam is the legendary Alysheba. Casiguapo should enjoy the extra distance, however his Polypedigree is poor, Sightseeing has a total of three winners over Polytrack.  I also agree with Ashley that Casiguapo is a cut below these.  Pass.
DANCE WITH FATE—With Tamarando not in the Blue Grass, it may just be Dance With Fate’s time to shine. He finished behind that rival in both the G1 Del Mar Futurity and the G3 El Camino Real Derby, both on synthetics. Sitting off the abundant early runners, he has the potential to be very dangerous down the lane in the stretch. Contender.
DANCE WITH FATE (Two Step Salsa - Flirting With Fate, by Saint Ballado) will handle the Poly, and I think 1 1/8 miles is at the top of his distance range.  His sire was a nice sprinter/miler, however none of his offspring have won beyond a mile.  That being said, Dance With Fate owns the highest late pace speed figure in the field and he should get a nice stalking trip.  Contender.
BIG BAZINGA —He didn’t quite fill out the exotics like I believed he would in the Spiral, but like Asserting Bear, he didn’t run a bad race. Caught in that blanket finish, he was just 2 ½ lengths away from winning it all. With that being said, I think he faces tougher here than he did in the Spiral. Maybe…but at the right price.
BIG BAZINGA (Bluegrass Cat - Darling Daughter, by Maria's Mon) was part of the blanket finish in the Spiral. He came back with a very nice breeze at Keeneland.   He has some class in his distaff family, as he’s a half-brother to stakes winner Holiday Mischief and his dam is G-3 placed. The drawback here is that he failed against lesser horses in the Spiral and he’s finished behind four other horses in the field in previous attempts.  Pass.
SO LONESOME—Gets blinkers for the first time and runs on synthetics for the first time. He faced open company for the first time in his last outing, resulting in the worst finish of his career. That’s just too many firsts for me. Pass.
SO LONESOME (Awesome Again - Dash for Money, by General Meeting) showed little in his first start of the season, so when that happens, put a hood on the horse and try again.  That angle works 2% of the time for trainer Tom Bush.  So Lonesome has the pedigree to handle the distance, maybe he’ll like the surface, I’ll bet that he doesn’t and he isn’t up to this class level.  Pass.
COASTLINE —Hasn’t lived up to all the hype yet. He did run a good third, beaten only a neck in the Spiral. Could be that he just likes synthetics best, but I’ll need to see another performance like what he gave last time to be completely convinced. If he runs the same race he ran last time, he could get another piece of the pie. Exotic play only for me.
COASTLINE (Speightstown - Culinary, by El Amante) was in the thick of it in the Spiral blanket finish. This pretty gray colt does his best work on or near the lead and I think he’ll be in the first flight early on. He’s nice enough and has an excellent Polypedigree, but his late pace speed figures don’t do anything for me.  I’m with Ashley on this one, he might finish third or fourth.
VINCEREMOS—I really like this Pioneerof the Nile colt, but I don’t know about the switch from dirt to synthetics. Personally, I would rather have seen him run last weekend in the Wood or even in this weekend’s Arkansas Derby. Sire Pioneerof the Nile did very well on Santa Anita’s synthetic surface, so the possibility that Vinceremos will run well on the surface is there. Personal bias aside, Pletcher wins at a 23% clip when switching runners from dirt to all weather, a stat that’s hard to ignore. I don’t think I can justify playing him to win, but utilizing him underneath to fill out exotics is probably the way to go                     
VINCEREMOS (Pioneerof the Nile - Kettle's Sister, by More Than Ready) was a solid second place behind Ring Weekend in the Tampa Bay Derby.  Those Pioneerof the Nile offspring are tough competitors over every surface. Vinceremos has the pedigree and running style to do well here and he owns the second highest late pace speed figure in the group.  Pletcher & Prado teamed up to win the Blue Grass with Monba in 2008.  I like this colt and I think he’s a major contender.
MEDAL COUNT   -  Wheeled back just a week after capturing G3 Transylvania here at Keeneland, Spendthrift Farm is hoping to qualify for the Kentucky Derby with a follow up performance from their Dynaformer colt. Had the Transylvania not come off the turf, I doubt Medal Count would have landed in this spot, especially with the quick turnaround. In these types of situations, I always cite Willy Beamin, who won the G1 King’s Bishop off a three day turnaround from the Albany Stakes. In this case, I don’t like it. I understand how tempting it is to have a colt that could potentially wear the roses on the first Saturday of May, but you have to think long term as well as short term. Short term for me is that I have to pass.
MEDAL COUNT (Dynaformer - Brisquette, by Unbridled's Song) turns around just eight days after his score in the Transylvania.   No question about his ability to get the distance. Like Ashley, I’m concerned about the swift turn around.  I doubt Medal Count will have the same “supplemental diet” that helped Willy Beamin with his quick turn around, but when you’re hot, you’re hot. I don’t like the outside post, but if he can get a good trip, perhaps Medal Count can hit the board. Exotics.
GALA AWARD—Does Gala Award qualify as the “other Pletcher” or does that role fall to Vinceremos? Either way, Pletcher sends out a strong duo, one a graded stakes winner on dirt (Vinceremos) and the other a graded stakes winner on turf (Gala Award). I feel like I keep reiterating myself, but so many in this field don’t have prior all weather experience that I feel like I might as well throw darts at the wall. From a personal standpoint, I like Vinceremos better (from Team Pletcher), but I also think he stands a better chance of doing better on synthetics that Gala Award, too. Pass.
GALA AWARD (Bernardini - Wilshewed, by Carson City) beat the stakes winning Mr. Speaker in their last meeting. The stablemate of Vinceremos has done well on the turf. He’s a half to the graded stakes winners Stormello and My Best Brother, plus his dam is a half to the dam of San Rafael freak The Pamplemousse.  Stakes winner? Check? Class? Check? Surface?  Well..the offspring of Bernardini aren’t all that great over Polytrack. A.P. Indy and his sons are not good Polysires. I don’t like that outside post, either.  Pass.
DIVINE OATH —Perfect in 2 starts, Divine Oath will have to pray for a defection in order to draw into the field. Should that happen, it won’t really change my selections. Divine Oath may be undefeated, but he’s also being thrown to the wolves, asking to route for the first time against more experienced runners in a Grade 1 race. Pass.
DIVINE OATH (Broken Vow - Rejoicing, by Forestry) won a turf sprint at Gulfstream from the 10 hole, so we know he’s good. He has the pedigree to handle the Poly and Leparoux/Pletcher shouldn’t be ignored.  Now the drawbacks – far outside, lightly raced, average speed figures.  Doesn’t have a prayer if he draws in.  Pass.

Conclusion: With so many in this field being untried on synthetics, I’m leaning more toward the known entities. There’s only 2 that I believe will duke it out for the lead with most of the rest grouping in together behind those two. Back in October, Keeneland played pretty fair with no real advantage going to any type of runner. If that continues to be the case, then the best horse really will win.
Selections: Harry’s Holiday, Pablo Del Monte, Dance With Fate, Extrasexyhippzster.
Conclusion: The last five Blue Grass Stakes were won from one run closers or mid-pack types. Only one front-runner hung around to finish in the money.  There’s plenty of speed in here, with Bobby’s Kitten, Harry’s Holiday, Coltimus Prime and Gala Award, plus a host of pace pressers, too. Most of the late pace speed figures are all within a few points of each other. In a large field, I like to some reverse handicapping. Toss the ones who don’t figure and look at what’s left. I think there are seven colts in here who have a legitimate shot of hitting the board. I’m tossing the ones coming in from the Spiral, I may be wrong, but that race hasn’t proven to be a key race for the Blue Grass, so that leaves me with five. I might be boring going with the Pletcher horse, but I’ve liked Vinceremos since the Tampa Bay Derby.
Selections: Vinceremos, Dance with Fate, Pablo Del Monte, Medal Count


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Older Comments about Kentucky Derby 2014 - Handicapping the Blue Grass Stakes...

don't know any of the opposition but i rate bobby' kitten up there with the best 3yr old turf horses in the world including all out European gallopers i think hes a big talent and if takes to the surface i would expect him to romp unless there are some undercover stars inn the field
I decided to go with Gala Award, not a real bold choice I know. As long as he can overcome that outside post, I think he's got this one... That Carson City in his blood will kick in down the stretch.
No vote today, working, but out of this big field, these: 14, 5, 11, 8 ,9. Wondering about the longshot 6.
Go with proven route, surface, and stakes performance. TriBox 1,6,13.
contest (over that plastic) has been full of major surprises since that stuff was the standard. Domican over Street Sense? Come on
Unbridled 's Note should have won the King's Bishop and would have had henot been given onevof the most terrible rides in group of many terrible rides by Frenchie . n
3 outside are the only ones you need .
Unbridled 's Note should have won the King's Bishop and would have had henot been given onevof the most terrible rides in group of many terrible rides by Frenchie . n
Love the Willie Beamin reference. The most angry I have ever been after a horse race was that one.
Laurie, though you may be correct in Spiral shippers(not sure if they're that many), Dominican won on the Spiral undercard in the Rushaway Stakes, and then conquered the Blue Grass competition. And, Animal Kingdom succeeded in the Spiral, and didn't need the Blue Grass, to get to Louisville. Might give a little credence to the polytrack at Turfway?
Too big a field to hit the ALL button in the horizontals?
Casiguapo 30-1 there's your bomb!
Tough, tough race ... this one could be prime for a bomb.
Ladies, I'm siding with PABLO DEL MONTE. Displayedan affinity for this very Keeneland surrface in his first two starts, Didn't disgrace himself on the truf in the Generous Stakes. Cut back in distance and ran a decent in the Hutcheson which has turned out to be a key race. The winner, WILDCAT RED, just missed in the G1 Fla Derby. Has put in some very nice works in prearation for this and gets the services of Espinoza. Should be a nice payday if he comes through.

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