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.