Blue Grass winner Carpe Diem brings speed and impressive talent to Kentucky Derby

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April 4th, 2015

Carpe Diem confirmed his status as a leading Kentucky Derby contender in Saturday’s $1 million Blue Grass at Keeneland, powering away to a facile three-length victory under jockey John Velasquez.

“The horse had trained really, really well,” conditioner Todd Pletcher said. “We were excited coming into (the race) and happy to see him deliver.”

The well-built chestnut colt figures to be one of the favorites in the 141st edition of the Run for the Roses on May 2 along with the Bob Baffert-trained duo of Santa Anita Derby winner Dortmund and champion two-year-old American Pharoah (presuming the latter captures next week’s Arkansas Derby).

Owned by WinStar Farm and Stonestreet Stables, Carpe Diem will attempt to give Pletcher his second Kentucky Derby win, the first coming via the WinStar-owned Super Saver in 2010. Velazquez will also be bidding for a second trophy, guiding Animal Kingdom to glory in 2012.

Favored at 3-5 over seven Blue Grass opponents, Carpe Diem broke well from post 5 but conceded the early advantage to Ocho Ocho Ocho, who established opening splits in :24, :48 and 1:12 while being closely tracked in second by the eventual winner.

Velazquez waited until the top of the stretch to give Carpe Diem his cue and the race was quickly over. Carpe Diem drew off to lead by 3 ½ lengths with a furlong remaining and cruised home, stopping the teletimer in 1:49.77 on the fast track.

“There wasn’t much speed in the race,” Velazquez explained. “It was a nice slow pace and I didn’t want to fight him very much. He was doing it pretty easy.

“Like Todd (Pletcher) said, ‘Don’t fight him, just let him do it.’ Down the lane, I asked him and he responded right away. Once he gets to the lead, he wants to wait, so I have to make sure I keep his mind on running.”

“I’ve got respect for Ocho Ocho Ocho, and I think all the California horses are strong,” Pletcher added. “We kind of anticipated (Ocho Ocho Ocho) might be the pacesetter. He set a :24 (first quarter-mile) and :48 (half-mile) and you don’t expect to put a horse away easily with those kind of fractions. But I liked what I saw (from my horse) the last eighth of a mile.”

The Kentucky Derby qualifying race offered points on a 100-40-20-10 scale and Carpe Diem increased his ledger to 164 points.

Danzig Moon picked up 40 badly needed points, rallying past Ocho Ocho Ocho in midstretch to be a non-threatening second, and moved inside the top 20 with a 45-point total. Ocho Ocho Ocho also likely secured a Kentucky Derby bid finishing another 2 ½ lengths back in third, increasing his total to 30. Frammento rallied belatedly to get up for fourth and could find himself on the Kentucky Derby bubble with only 20 points to his credit.

Carpe Diem is a well-bred son of top sire Giant’s Causeway. He co-topped the 2014 OBS March sale when commanding a $1.6 million sales price and is a half-brother to a pair of stakes winners, including Grade 1 hero J.B.’s Thunder. They are all out of the Unbridled’s Song mare Rebridled Dreams.

A runaway winner of the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland last October, Carpe Diem opened his 2015 season with a sparkling five-length romp over outclassed foes in the March 7 Tampa Bay Derby (G2). He won at first asking last summer at Saratoga, winning a 5 ½-furlong maiden special weight, and sustained his lone career setback with a troubled runner-up finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1).

The classy colt has now earned $1,519,800 from his 5-4-1-0 record.

Carpe Diem is bred to handle the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby distance and figures to be up close to the early action at Churchill Downs.

If he can carry his Blue Grass acceleration forward, the talented three-year-old should be in a prime spot, with a serious chance to win, in the Kentucky Derby stretch.

Carpe Diem photo courtesy of Coady Photography