2017 Blue Grass Stakes Preview

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

April 6th 2017

Coming up this Saturday is a huge weekend of racing with three very important Kentucky Derby prep races: the Blue Grass Stakes, the Wood Memorial and the Santa Anita Derby. All three races offer a $1 million dollar purse, 170 Kentucky Derby points and are run at the 9 furlong (1 1/8th mile) distance.

I will preview all three races individually and will start with the Blue Grass Stakes since the morning line odds have been released. 

The Blue Grass Stakes  – 1 1/8th Mile – Race #10 at Keeneland– Post-Time: 5:17PM CST. Televised by NBC Sports Network and TVG

1. It’s Your Nickel – Graham/McPeek – 20/1
2. McCraken – Hernandez Jr/Wilkes – 7/5 
3. J Boys Echo  – Albarado/Romans – 4/1
4. Tapwrit  –  Ortiz/Pletcher – 5/2  
5. Wild Shot – Lanerie/Arnold III – 12/1
6. Irap – Leparoux/O’Neill – 20/1
7. Practical Joke – Rosario/Brown – 7/2

Race Commentary: The Blue Grass Stakes doesn’t have the history of producing a lot of Kentucky Derby winners that a few of the other big Derby prep races have. The last Blue Grass Stakes runner to win the Kentucky Derby was Street Sense in 2007.  Then you would have to go all the way back to 1995 with Thunder Gulch. Oddly enough, neither Street Sense or Thunder Gulch won Blue Grass Stakes (Street Sense finished 2nd, Thunder Gulch finished 4th)

However, this year could be different as the 2017 Blue Grass Stakes field is small but very talent-packed. All the horses who I have bold-fonted above really have a legitimate chance of winning this race. However, I see this more as a showdown between McCraken and Tapwrit. The race favorite McCraken is undefeated in 4 career starts. His trainer, Ian Wilkes, has said that McCraken has gotten bigger and stronger since his last start in February. 

McCraken’s biggest threat is the Todd Pletcher-trained Tapwrit. However, remember that Tapwrit was defeated by McCraken in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (shown below) back in February. When reviewing this race, Tapwrit did display late speed and may have made this more of a race if he had an additional 1/2 furlong to work with. He will have that extra 1/2 furlong in the Blue Grass Stakes.

Other horses to keep an eye on are J Boys Echo and Practical Joke. Practical Joke won two Grade 1 races as a 2-year-old in the Hopeful Stakes and Champagne Stakes. He finished 3rd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile race behind Classic Empire and Not This Time. He had a decent performance coming back after a long layoff in the Fountain of Youth Stakes with a second place finish behind Gunnevera. It will be interesting to see if he has improved off of that performance.

J Boys Echo won in his last start in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. He received a 102 Beyer Speed Figure for this win despite the fact that his time of 1:46.34 for this 8 1/2 furlong race was very pedestrian. Even his final 2 1/2 fraction time, that I estimated at 32.4, wasn’t impressive.

My Prediction:  I think the handicapper Mike Battaglia has this one pegged right: 1) McCraken, 2) Tapwrit, 3) Pratical Joke, 4) J Boys Echo. However, I would probably box an Exacta bet of McCraken and Tapwrit knowing how hot Todd Pletcher has been on the Derby trail of late.

On the docket…

Previews of the Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby.


Sam F. Davis Stakes Preview – McCraken vs Fact Finding

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

February 11th 2017

This afternoon, we have another interesting battle between two undefeated colts on the Derby Trail in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs: McCraken vs Fact Finding. Both colts are undefeated in three starts. The Sam F. Davis Stakes is a prep race for the Tampa Bay Derby and a points-paying race on the Kentucky Derby trail.

Below are the entries, post-positions, jockeys and morning line odds.

The Sam F. Davis Stakes  – 1 1/16th Mile – Race #10 at Tampa Bay Downs – Post-Time: 3:45 PM CST. Televised by TVG

Post/Horse/Weight/Jockey/Trainer/ Odds
1. State of Honor (116) – Leparoux/Casse – 8/1 
2. King and His Court (120) – Boulanger/Casse – 8/1 
3. Fact Finding (116) – Velazquez/Pletcher – 9/2  
4. Chance of Luck (116) – Allen Jr./Bennett – 15/1
5. Six Gun Salute (116) – Morales/Harty -30/1
6. Wild Shot (116) – Albarado/Arnold – 5/1
7. Tapwrit (120) – Ortiz/Pletcher – 8/1  
8. McCraken (122) – Hernandez Jr./Wilkes – 2/1
9. No Dozing (116) – Centeno/Delacour – 4/1

Race Commentary: As we saw last week, expect the unexpected with 3 year-olds coming into the new year after a long layoff. Fact Finding likes to get out into the early lead and won by 7 lengths in his last start–the Smooth Air Stakes. McCraken has a closer racing style and impressed in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, beating Wild Shot by 1 1/4 lengths back in late November. No Dozing also has a closer race style.

How do I see this one playing out? McCraken chasing Fact Finding and Wild Shot down the stretch. Tampa Bay Downs is a speed favoring track unlike Churchill Downs where McCraken won in his last start. I really like McCraken, the son of Ghostzapper, moving forward but I am not sure this track surface suits his racing style. So an upset of the race favorite seems very probable here. Fact Finding with his inside post-position and early speed may be too tough to chase down.

The safest bet on paper is probably an Exacta wheel keying two horses (McCraken & Fact Finding) to win over three horses (McCraken, Fact Finding and Wild Shot) to place. So 3, 8 over 3,6,8. However, this bet may payout less than the bet itself depending on the live odds and if the race favorite (McCraken) wins. A $2 bet of this type would cost $8.

But please note that trainer Todd Pletcher has won this race 4 out of the last 7 years. He won it last year with Destin. Pletcher also has a great jockey on Fact Finding in John Velazquez who has won the Sam F. Davis 3 times. So you may want to take a shot at beating McCraken straight up in a win bet. 

Let the live race odds and the projected Exacta payouts influence your decision. And I would never bet more than $50 on a race with a lot of 3 year-olds making the first start after a long layoff. And I would only plunk down $50 on a race of this type if I was more sure about the horses in the field than this one.

News: Classic Empire Has Foot Abscess

In my previous blog, on Classic Empire’s performance in the Holy Bull Staktes, I noted that I thought that he might have been bothered by a slight ailment of some sort that couldn’t easily be detected post-race. Whoot there it is! This was confirmed in an interview with trainer Mark Casse by Bill Finley for the Thoroughbred Daily News later in the day that I published my last blog.

Casse said We were shocked by the way he acted on Saturday. He’s probably one of the smartest horses I’ve ever trained. He never lets things bother him, but he was a mess. When he came into the paddock, I was shocked how he was acting. On Sunday morning, I was there with him and he was perfect. Got him out and jogged him and he was happy. By Monday morning he was getting around, but he wasn’t good. We did some tests which showed the problem was with his right front foot.

By Monday afternoon, he could not walk. He couldn’t get around the shedrow. We started soaking his foot, we X-rayed his foot. The X-ray of the foot was fine. [Wednesday] morning he had a huge puss pocket bust out of the bulb of his foot. He’s now a happy camper and moving around fine. We feel some relief because we knew something was up and we just couldn’t pinpoint it. I’m guessing this had been brewing but not enough for us to catch it before the race. It’s one thing to be sound at a jog or a gallop, another thing when you’re being asked to run at 40 miles per hour. Now, we have an explanation for what is going on.”

Casse also said that he Gulfstream Park is back in the picture for Classic Empire’s next start.

Your Feedback Needed…

I am looking for suggestions from my readers for ways to improve the content of this blog. In 2016, my blog exploded in terms of views and blog followers. I averaged over 14 views per hour, every hour for the entire year and had a peak of nearly 40,70o views on Kentucky Derby day. I never envisioned that my blog, created in December 2014 out of a love of horse racing and writing, would grow so quickly. I personally thank you for your patronage.

I know for a fact that this blog has been read by many of the top people in the sport of thoroughbred horse racing, from owners, trainers, jockeys and TV and published media members. I currently have a profile on Kentucky Derby contender Uncontested on www.usracing.com. So expect to see some of my work there there, and perhaps other places, from time to time.

Due to time constraints, I am pretty much confined to dirt racing and following the Kentucky Derby Trail, the Triple Crown races, the Breeders’ Cup Classic and all it’s “Win and You’re In” races and the Pegasus World Cup. And any relevant big news or story items related along the way.

So if anyone has an idea or story that they would like published on this site or if anyone is interested in sponsoring this site, email me at [email protected]


The 2016 Jockey Club Gold Cup Preview


October 6th 2016 – Updated October 8th 2016 at 1:45 PM CST

This coming Saturday, we have three important “Win and You’re In” races for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. The Champagne Stakes and Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity are automatic qualifiers for the Sentient Jet Juvenile race and also a preview of next year’s Kentucky Derby hopefuls. Then the Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational, which is an auto-qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Classic and a date with California Chrome on November 5th.

Below are the post-positions and morning line odds for all three races. I have a feeling that all three will wide-open and highly contested races. I will probably update this blog on Saturday.

Champagne Stakes – 1 Mile – Saturday October 8th – Race #8 at Belmont Park – Post-Time: 3:13 PM CST. Televised by TVG

Post/ Horse/Jockey/Trainer/ Odds
1. Practical Joke  – Rosario/Brown – 4/1
2. Thirst for Victory – Franco/Pletcher – 15/1
3. Syndergaard – Velazquez/Pletcher – 9/5
4. Lookin At Blessing – I. Ortiz Jr/Zito – 12/1
5. Favorable Outcome – Castellano/Brown – 2/1
6. Big Gray Rocket – Smith/Baffert – 6/1

Race Commentary: Although this field is small, it has talent and some of the top trainers in the world behind them. I am very curious to see how the Tapit-colt–Big Gray Rocket–performs. I really feel that any of these horses have a realistic shot at winning.  So watch the live odds and if a couple of these horses odds grow long, perhaps box the entire field in a Superfecta bet. But maybe a boxed Trifecta (3,5,6) would be a better play.

Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity – 1 1/16th Mile – Saturday October 8th – Race #8 at Keeneland – Post-Time: 4:10 PM CST. Televised by NBC

Post/ Horse/Jockey/Trainer/ Odds
1. Bitumen  – Lanerie/Kenneally – 9/2
2. Gunnerva – Rios/Sano – 4/1
3. Singing Bullet – Lezcano/Romans – 8/1
4. Perro Rojo – Saez/Zito – 20/1
5. Tiz Trevor – Kennedy/Cook – 50/1
6. Blame Will – Albarado/Lukas – 12/1
7. Holiday Bonus – Ortiz/Motion – 8/1
8. Wild Shot – Hernandez/Arnold – 15/1
9. No Dozing – Bravo/Delacour – 12/1
10. Honor Thy Father – Borel/McPeek – 15/1
11. Classic Empire – Leparoux/Casse – 5/2
12. Lookin At Lee – Santana/Asmussen – 6-1

Race Commentary: Has Classic Empire gotten over his gate issues? He did an about-face after leaving the gate in the Hopeful Stakes and dumped his rider. I am still a believer in his talent but 5/2 odds seem too short on him right until we know for sure that he has matured. Plus this is a large field and he is starting on one of the outside posts. I would steer clear of laying any larges amounts of money on this race as the chances are high that we could have a surprise winner. If there is a surprise winner, I think it will be Gunnevera or Lookin At Lee.

The Jockey Club Gold Cup – 1 1/4th Mile – Saturday October 8th – Race #10 at Belmont Park – Post-Time: 4:23 PM CST. Televised by NBC

Post Position/Horse/Weight/Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. Protonico (126) – Castellano/Pletcher – 12/1
2. Mubtaahij (126) – I.Ortiz/McLaughlin – 8/5
3. Hoppertunity (126) – Velazquez/Baffert – 7/2
4. War Story (126) – Gallardo/Serey Jr. – 30/1   SCRATCHED
5. Watershed (126) – Rosario/Mclaughlin – 10/1
6. Effinex (126) – Smith/Jerkens – 7/5

Race Commentary:  Surprisingly, Jimmy Jerkens did not enter Shaman Ghost. He is going to train him up to the Breeders Cup Classic. So this appears to be an interesting battle between Effinex, Hoppertunity and Mubtaahij. Effinex ridden by Mike Smith is probably the winner in this one because Effinex runs well at Belmont Park and seems to like the 10 furlong distance. But one horse who might surprise and bust up your Trifectas is Protonico. He ran a mile in his last start at Belmont Park with a very nice time of 1:34 flat. He is a fresh horse having just raced once this year. Todd Pletcher always seems to produce a surprise new star every year.

Update: There is now a 70% chance of rain at Belmont Park for this race. I feel that this favors inside runners who can get off to good starts.