Churchill Downs revamped its point system for the Kentucky Derby beginning this year, making races like the Blue Grass Stakes all the more important for 3-year-old thoroughbreds in the weeks leading up to the event.
With several high-profile 3-year-old stakes events in the six weeks prior to the Derby, getting a good run from potential challengers is crucial to accumulating enough points to earn a berth in the biggest event of the year. A win in those events yields 100 points and a trip to the Derby, while the following three finishers are awarded points in descending order (h/t DRF.com).
Mark Casse’s Uncaptured entered the Blue Grass Stakes as the 7/2 favorite with 30 points already accrued in the Derby standings. But after a strong start, the thoroughbred was unable to keep up with the rest of the pack and posted a 10th-place finish.
Gary Contessa’s Rydilluc was a 4/1 favorite to capture the crown at the Blue Grass Stakes but only managed a fourth-place finish for 10 points in the Derby standings.
It was the other 4/1 favorite to come away victorious, though.
Trainer Kenny McPeek probably didn’t expect the slow start he got from Java’s War, but the 3-year-old Colt’s finish proved its worth after roaring from the back of the pack to a first-place finish and 100 points.
After falling to the back out of the gates and remaining there for three-quarters of a mile, Java’s War took the center of the track all the way to the front of the pack by the end of the race. While the Colt’s slow start wasn’t ideal, McPeek wasn’t worried about his horse’s chances of winning (as quoted by Claire Novak of ESPN):
It reminded me of Tampa when he came late. He actually broke better today than he did in Tampa. But this is his running style. I wasn't at all worried. I was watching the front thinking, 'Okay, if they set a little pace for us the first half or even in the middle, we'll get a good chance here.
Java’s War moves into fourth place (122 points) in the Derby standings with the win, directly behind Goldencents, which won at Santa Anita on April 6.
Trainer Todd Pletcher should also be pleased with the performance he got from two of his horses on Saturday, both securing top-three finishes. Palace Malice trotted its way to a second-place finish and 40 points toward the standings (now with 50 total), while Charming Kitten finished third for 20 points. Charming Kitten still has some work to do, however, sitting at No. 23 in the standings next to Den’s Legacy and Departing.
Pletcher has already made his mark this year. The 45-year-old also trains Verrazano, Overanalyze and Revolutionary, all of which are in the top 10 in the Kentucky Derby standings.
There is still time to add some valuable points before the Derby, but the window is slowly closing. Java’s War did its part in securing a victory, however, and the Derby awaits the Colt for the Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports on May 4.