Road to Derby: Looking for a Longshot in Toyota Blue Grass Stakes

Michael DempseyFeatured Columnist IApril 6, 2017

Thoroughbreds break from the starting game in the first horse race of opening day at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., Friday, April 4, 2014. English Council (4), getting a late start, won the race. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)
Garry Jones

The road to the Kentucky Derby (Grade 1) is coming to an end, and makes a stop in Lexington on Saturday with a full field of up-and-coming three-year-olds lining up for a shot at a $750,000 purse in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at Keeneland. 

More importantly, the Toyota Blue Grass offers an opportunity to parlay a good performance into a ticket to the Run for the Roses which is now just three weeks away. There are 170 Derby points up for grabs, with 100-40-20-10 points awarded to the top four finishers. It appears likely it will take between 20 and 30 points to get into the field for this year’s Kentucky Derby.

There have been 19 horses that used the Toyota Blue Grass on their way to Kentucky Derby glory, the last being Street Sense in 2007. Trained by Carl Nafzger, the colt ran second in the Toyota Blue Grass before wearing roses.

This year’s race is part of the “Jockey Club Tour on Fox.” The race will be nationally televised on Fox Sports 1, the 90-minute telecast getting underway at 4:30 pm ET. The telecast will also include a look at two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan’s performance in Friday’s Maker’s 46 Mile (G1) and a feature on Canadian-based up-and-coming young female trainer Katerina Vassilieva, who will saddle Toyota Blue Grass long shot Big Bazinga.

For horseplayers, this year’s edition of the Toyota Blue Grass offers up one of the best betting races among all of this spring’s Derby prep races. No favorite has won the race since Peace Rules was sent off as the favorite back in 2003.

This year’s morning line favorite is the Chad Brown-trained Bobby’s Kitten at 3-1. The colt needs a top-two finish to guarantee a starting spot in the Kentucky Derby. All five of his career starts have come on turf, including a win in last year’s Pilgrim Stakes (G3) at Belmont Park.

With a decade of beaten favorites in the race and Bobby’s Kitten trying polytrack for the first time, the race is ripe for a long shot to win again this year. Here are my top three contenders.


Pablo Del Monte

Trainer Wesley Ward (shown here at Royal Ascot) has a live long shot in the Toyota Blue Grass.
Trainer Wesley Ward (shown here at Royal Ascot) has a live long shot in the Toyota Blue Grass.Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Pablo Del Monte stretches out to nine furlongs for the first time in his career and returns to polytrack. The colt took to the surface in his first two career starts, breaking his maiden at Keeneland in his debut and then earning a solid speed figure beating Alw-1 foes by 7 1/2 lengths in his first start against winners.

The Wesley Ward barn shipped him to the West Coast where he was fifth in the Generous (G3) in his turf debut, and then he was fourth in the Gulfstream Park Derby, which was his first start on conventional dirt.

Last time out he cut back to seven furlongs and ran third in the Hutcheson (G3), beaten 5 1/4 lengths. The colt stalked the early pace toward the inside, had to wait briefly for some running room nearing upper stretch and did not have enough punch left late.

Three runners have exited the Hutcheson to win next out. The winner, Wildcat Red, came back to win the Fountain of Youth (G2) and then was beaten just a neck in the Florida Derby (G1). The colt has put in four good works over the poly here since his last outing and picks up Victor Espinoza.

Pablo Del Monte offers decent value here if he goes off near his 12-1 morning line, and keep in mind no betting favorite has won this race in over a decade.


Gala Award

Todd Pletcher sends out a trio led by Gala Award.
Todd Pletcher sends out a trio led by Gala Award.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Gala Award is one of three in here sent out by the Todd Pletcher barn. He is coming off a victory in the Palm Beach (G3) on turf at Gulfstream Park, going nine furlongs in his first start against winners.

The colt makes his first start on polytrack, but is bred to run on it. The $1.55 million Keeneland purchase is by Bernardini out of a Carson City mare that produced Stormello ($700,100), who won the 2006 Hollywood Futurity (G1) over a synthetic surface.

Gala Award draws a tough post but looks as if he has as much upside as any in the field.


Bobby’s Kitten

Bobby's Kitten will attempt to become the first betting favorite to win this race since Peace Rules in 2003. The colt won the Pilgrim (G3) and ran third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) as the beaten favorite last year. His first start in 2014 was a good-looking gate-to-wire score over the turf at Tampa Bay Downs against allowance company.

The colt makes his first start on polytrack here for the Chad Brown barn that is showing a two-for-eight mark moving runners from turf to synthetics. He had a good breeze over the surface on April 5. Bobby's Kitten has been the chalk in all five of his career starts and the price is likely going to be on the light side again in this spot.


Morning line odds and free past performances courtesy of Equibase.

Follow Michael Dempsey on Twitter @turfnsport.