The Road to the Kentucky Derby: Bluegrass Stakes

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The magic of a horse race is never more popular than on Derby Day. Quite simply it is the equivalent to the “Big Game” of horse racing – you have millions of people who do not pay attention to the sport for the rest of the year suddenly donning outfits and dropping dollars to be part of the action. You may not be aware of the races that take place before the Kentucky Derby that horses run as preparation for the big race. Keeneland’s Toyota Blue Grass Stakes is one of those races, and it is this weekend, Saturday April 3rd. 

Race 11 - Blue Grass Stakes

For the 2021 Blue Grass Stakes, the clear favorite is Essential Quality (4). This beauty has run four races and finished first in each of them. He has the power and speed to get out of the gate quickly and dominate this race on the front end. In my mind, the only question for this race is who can possibly challenge Essential Quality down the stretch and come in second? 

To answer that question, I look at one of three different options – Highly Motivated (3), Keepmeinmind (9), and Untreated (2). Untreated (2) finished first in his last race at Tampa, but it was at a shorter distance and he was dropped into a lower maiden special weight, almost guaranteeing him that victory. Does he have enough stamina to make it to win, place, or show? I think if he can pace himself well enough, we could get nice value with him in an exacta with Essential Quality. It also helps that Todd Pletcher, his trainer, has won this race three times. 

Keepmeinmind (9) has been all over the board in previous races, which leaves me a bit concerned. His trainer is winning at 24% for horses second off the layoff, and his pedigree suggests he will like the added distance. He finished his last race 6th in a field that was not markedly better than him, but his training was interrupted due to weather concerns at Oaklawn in the weeks leading into that race. He likely will be in the Derby and has run well at Keeneland, but this race could solidify his chances of being a true contender for the first Saturday in May. 

Highly Motivated (3) is, well, motivated to challenge Essential Quality and, in my opinion, is the only horse aside from Essential Quality that has the potential to win this race outright. He’s never finished out of the money and has won at Keeneland previously. His jockey won this race in 2019, and he is trained by Chad Brown, who is one of the best trainers in the country. 

Bets to make: 

Exacta 4,3 Box

Exacta 4 with 2, 3, 9

Win 3

If you are playing a longshot, bet 9 to Win.

Another race to take a look at is race 2. I think this is a very competitive field, but Perfect Cut (5) has a good chance to come away with first place. My favorite three horses in this race are Perfect Cut, Bourbon Thunder (1), and Chasing Artie (8). 

Bets to make: 

Tri box – 1, 5, 8

Exacta – 5, with 1, 8, 2

Win – 5

One other race I like this weekend at Keeneland is the stakes race before the Bluegrass, the Madison Stakes, Race 10. I think this is a very competitive field with multiple graded stakes winners, but I believe there to be a standout over the group. Kimari (5) is second off the layoff, has won a graded stakes already this year and broke his maiden at Keeneland by 15 lengths. He is primed and ready to go, and you may even be able to get him at 3 or 4 to 1. 

Bets to make: 

Win – 5