TOYOTA BLUE GRASS STAKES | PURSE: $750,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | GRADE 1 | 1 1/8 MILES
Adapting to the surface for Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, or the upcoming Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, is not a concern for Santiva, who drew post 3 in a field of 12 for the Blue Grass, for which he was installed the 3-1 morning line favorite. However, a strong effort in the Blue Grass is still imperative for the Eddie Kenneally trainee as his graded earnings of slightly more than $240,000 is very close to the cut-off point to make the May 7 Run for the Roses.
One of the more consistent members of his crop, Santiva passed through Lexington, Kentucky, last fall still a maiden after finishing second by four lengths in the Breeders' Futurity (Grade 1), a good effort on his part after early trouble forced him to make up ground from behind a slow pace. The bay finally reached the winner's circle in his fourth career outing, holding firm through the stretch to land the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes) at Churchill by a half-length. Santiva has made just one start this season, finishing second to Mucho Macho Man in the February 19 Risen Star Stakes (Grade 2) at Fair Grounds.
Willcox Inn has raced exclusively on grass since finishing third in the Breeders' Futurity, 1 1/2 lengths behind Santiva. He concluded his two-year-old campaign with a sharp third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, and opened up his 2011 ledger with a second in the grassy Grindstone S. at Fair Grounds March 12.
The Blue Grass lost an entrant before entry time Wednesday when Rushaway S. winner Swift Warrior was forced to withdraw due to a condylar fracture suffered in a morning workout. Rushaway runner-up Crimson China will thus become the only Blue Grass starter exiting Turfway Park's March 26 contest. Crimson China conceded the leaders as much as 10 lengths before rallying to miss by two lengths as the 6-5 favorite.
It's a sign of the times in the Polytrack era when a pair of grass stakes at Gulfstream Park yield the most Blue Grass candidates. The top three finishers from the nine-furlong Palm Beach Stakes (Grade 3) -- Joes Blazing Aaron, Queen'splatekitten and Newsdad -- have been entered. Joes Blazing Aaron, who was moved to the barn of trainer of Mike Maker in advance of the Blue Grass, ran his turf record to two-for-two with his 11-1 wire-to-wire upset of the Palm Beach, but the ex-claimer will be trying synthetic for the first time Saturday.
Queen'splatekitten, a Canadian-bred who broke his maiden on Woodbine's Polytrack, has the Queen's Plate as a potential backup in case his U.S. classic prospects do not materialize. Newsdad, who rallied from near the back to finish 1 3/4 lengths behind Joes Blazing Aaron despite the slow pace, starts for Bill Mott, who recently lost his leading Derby candidate, To Honor and Serve, due to a suspensory injury.
The other Gulfstream grass stakes with Blue Grass implications was the February 6 Hallandale Beach S. King Congie followed up his Tropical Park Derby score with a head win in the Hallandale Beach, but was demoted to third after drifting out in the stretch. One of the favorites for last month's Sprial Stakes (Grade 3), King Congie was a late withdrawal from that heat after developing a strained hind leg. Also hailing from the Hallandale Beach is Brilliant Speed, who was elevated to second that afternoon.
Wilkinson, who landed the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes over the winter, will try to re-enter the Derby picture after a lackluster sixth in the Louisiana Derby (Grade 2) last month. The Neil Howard trainee was away very slowly and remained near the rear of the field until the final quarter mile. Meanwhile, Sensational News enters the Blue Grass with a three-for-four mark, including Polytrack scores in the Clarendon S. and Vandal S., and the Fred "Cappy" Capossela S. on dirt last time.
The Blue Grass field is rounded out by WEBN S. winner Twinspired, six lengths third in the Spiral last time, and Todd Pletcher's last-out maiden winner Praetereo.