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Meet the Contenders: $1 million Grade 1 Blue Grass at Keeneland | Saturday, April 6, 2024

by Jeremy Plonk

April 2, 2024

One of 2024’s deepest Triple Crown prep fields gathers Saturday at historic Keeneland for the 100th running of the Blue Grass Stakes. The traditional springboard to the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes welcomes contenders from Florida, New York, Louisiana and Kentucky in a field of 11.

Horseplayers with 1/ST BET and Xpressbet can enjoy a $25,000 Exacta-Thon promotion on Saturday’s 11-race Keeneland card.

Let’s meet the contenders for the 1-1/8 miles Blue Grass (Race 10):

#1-TOP CONOR: Least experienced entrant in the field won his debut February 17 at Gulfstream Park against fellow maidens when also breaking from the rail. This $1 million purchase as a 2-year-old races around 2 turns for the first time while picking up 5 pounds. Trainer Chad Brown won this race in 2018 with Good Magic (teamed with jockey Jose Ortiz) and 2022 with Zandon. Expected to be part of the early pace.

#2-BE YOU: Maiden breaker last out at Gulfstream in his sixth career start, this Todd Pletcher trainee has faced some of the toughest members of his generation to date: including last week’s 1-2-4 finishers in the Arkansas Derby (Muth, Just Steel, Timberlake) in separate starts. Pletcher has won the Blue Grass twice since its return to dirt (2015 Carpe Diem, 2023 Tapit Trice). Son of Curlin, sire of 2018 Blue Grass winner Good Magic.

#3-SEIZE THE GREY: Late-running third-place finisher in Turfway’s Jeff Ruby 14 days ago wheels back quickly in search of Kentucky Derby qualifying points, currently residing near the race’s bubble. Winless in 3 career stakes, but top-4 finishers in each of those for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas – who is coming off a runner-up last week in the Arkansas Derby with Just Steel. Lukas won the ’87 Blue Grass with War and again in 2000 with High Yield.

#4-DORNOCH: Pace-making winner of the Remsen and Fountain of Youth to cap his freshman campaign and open his sophomore season. Determined Remsen victory over re-matched Blue Grass rival Sierra Leone set the stage for Saturday. Son of 2018 Blue Grass winner Good Magic has not finished worse than second in 5 starts. Jockey Luis Saez has been this race’s dominant rider in recent years with victories in 2016 (Brody’s Cause), 2021 Essential Quality) and 2023 (Tapit Trice).

#5-GOOD MONEY: Pace-setting Tampa Bay Derby fourth-place finisher gives trainer Chad Brown a second shot in this race at his third Blue Grass victory (winning in 2018 with this colt’s sire Good Magic and in 2022 with Zandon). Five Blue Grass winners since 2009 have come via the Tampa Bay Downs route, including last year’s hero Tapit Trice. Keeneland neighbor Calumet Farm owns and has 6 previous Blue Grass winners in its rich history under previous leadership – most recently Alydar in 1978.

#6-JUST A TOUCH: Fair Grounds debut sprint winner in late January was runner-up and beaten favorite in the March 2 Gotham at Aqueduct. He’ll stretch out around 2 turns for the first time for a Brad Cox barn that won this race in 2021 with Essential Quality. Jockey Florent Geroux has won 29 stakes at Keeneland since 2014, but seeks his first Blue Grass. Triple Crown winner Justify’s first crop of runners saw Verifying run second in last year’s Blue Grass and earn a Kentucky Derby berth; his second also includes last week’s Arkansas Derby runner-up Just Steel, whose aiming for Louisville.

#7-LAT LONG: January’s Lecomte Stakes third-place finisher at Fair Grounds outran his 27-1 odds that day for trainer Kenny McPeek. Sire Liam’s Map won the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile over the Keeneland main and also will be represented in Saturday’s Wood Memorial by potential favorite Deterministic. McPeek won the 2002 Blue Grass with Harlan’s Holiday on the former dirt surface and added a Polytrack victory in this race in 2013 with Java’s War. The barn was second here in 2022 with favorite Smile Happy. Brian Hernandez Jr. won the 2020 Blue Grass aboard Art Collector.

#8-EPIC RIDE: Turfway Park winter warrior won 3 times at the meeting, including the Leonatus Stakes over 1 mile. Caught late in the 1-1/16 miles John Battaglia Memorial by re-matched Blue Grass rival Encino. John Ennis trainee has not been worse than second in 4 starts. Breeders’ Cup Classic-winning sire Blame was 2-2 at Keeneland in his racing career, winning the Fayette, during the Polytrack era. He’s yet to wire a Keeneland dirt stakes winner.

#9-MUGATU: Longest chance in the field has won 1 of 11 starts and exits a pair of unplaced efforts in Turfway Park stakes at 68-1 and 25-1 odds. Jockey Joe Talamo has 1 career Keeneland stakes win, a 14-1 upset in the 2020 Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile aboard Ivar.

#10-SIERRA LEONE: A nose from perfection through 3 starts, the Grade 2 Risen Star winner at Fair Grounds looks to avenge his lone defeat to Blue Grass rival Dornoch. He’s the third of 3 Chad Brown trainees entered as that barn seeks a third Blue Grass victory. Son of Gun Runner, who sired 4 different Keeneland dirt stakes winners from 2022-‘23 (Gunite, Locked, Vahva, Wicked Humor). Jockey Tyler Gaffalione has more than 200 local wins since his Keeneland arrival in 2016, but seeks his first Blue Grass. He was second by a neck last year aboard Verifying.

#11-ENCINO: Turfway’s John Battaglia Memorial winner reeled in re-matched Blue Grass rival Epic Ride in his stakes debut March 2. This Godolphin blueblood interestingly is sired by Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist and out of a half-sister to Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense. He’s a neck away from perfection in 3 starts, all on the Tapeta. Trainer Brad Cox won this race in 2021 with Essential Quality and was second by a neck last year with Verifying. Jockey Flavien Prat won the ’22 Blue Grass aboard Zandon and owns 11 Keeneland graded stakes wins over the past 2 years.