Five things to know for 2018 Blue Grass
As if Saturday’s $1 million Blue Grass (G2) didn’t feature enough angles and storylines as a contentious Kentucky Derby (G1) points race, there’s also the impending snowfall around the entire region. Keeneland officials have been on a careful weather watch, and fans and bettors are advised to stay aware of conditions as well.
With the obligatory winter weather advisory out of the way, here are the racing-focused five things to know:
1. Good Magic faces a must-win scenario to restore his reputation as a serious Derby threat. His Derby points situation isn’t as dire, with 34 points already to his credit. Even a reasonable effort in defeat, given the points structure of 100-40-20-10, would ensure a spot in the Derby starting gate. But physically getting into the Derby field, and arriving there as a top contender, are two different things. Good Magic has arguably been the victim of his own lofty expectations, and the swings of the pendulum may have been exaggerated at both ends.
Entering the season on a high, honored as the Eclipse Award champion after his maiden-breaking Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), the $1 million son of Curlin gave us a letdown when only third in his Fountain of Youth (G2) comeback. He certainly ran like a horse in need of the race, whether physically or mentally, or both, and trainer Chad Brown sounded as if lack of race-fitness was to blame. If he’s back into the competitive groove, Good Magic can put himself right back into the Derby discussion. Post 11 won’t help, but he’ll have to overcome it to regain his luster.
2. Free Drop Billy and Sporting Chance are also out to regain their old juvenile swagger. The Dale Romans-trained Free Drop Billy returns to the scene of his signature win in last fall’s Breeders’ Futurity (G1). Only four horses have turned the Breeders’ Futurity/Blue Grass double, but Romans was responsible for two (Dullahan 2011-12 and Brody’s Cause 2015-16). A fairly consistent placegetter otherwise (except for his Breeders’ Cup flop), Free Drop Billy was best of the rest behind Audible in the Holy Bull (G2) but a less useful third in the Gotham (G3) last out, and continues to rank a notch below the best.
Sporting Chance, who edged Free Drop Billy in last summer’s Hopeful (G1), has had excuses in both of his appearances at Oaklawn Park. The Wayne Lukas trainee needed the Southwest (G3) as his first start back from surgery, and getting clobbered by Combatant in the stretch wasn’t exactly a welcoming party as he faded to third. Then came a less than ideal trip in the Rebel (G2). Hung out widest of all on the clubhouse turn, Sporting Chance tried to launch a premature move entering the backstretch and ended up tiring to fifth behind Magnum Moon. The Tiznow colt stands to get a more beneficial passage from post 2, and with Luis Saez regaining the mount. Speaking of tough trips in the Rebel, Zing Zang may have threatened for the minors if he hadn’t been anchored behind a horse going nowhere. By Tapit and from the family of Sightseeing, Steve Asmussen’s deep closer hopes to get some additional pace help from the stretching-out California Night.
3. Machismo and Marconi, fourth and fifth in the Fountain of Youth, are eligible to move forward at Keeneland. (The backstory on both was covered in the “Five things to know” for the Fountain of Youth.) Machismo’s performance at Gulfstream was a sneakily-good one considering that he didn’t use his early speed as expected, but instead bided his time before rallying for fourth. The well-bred son of More Than Ready figures to be sent from post 13 and could have the engine to clear them early. The Todd Pletcher-trained Marconi has been a work in progress between his slow starts and need to be driven along when the real running starts. That said, Keeneland should suit the $2 million Tapit half to Mucho Macho Ma a lot better than Gulfstream, especially going back up in distance to 1 1/8 miles. Still, Marconi will have to be more professional to spring the upset. Perhaps the most interesting angle on him is his jockey switch – to Ryan Moore. Getting some U.S. dirt practice in ahead of piloting Mendelssohn in the Kentucky Derby? Or looking for help to decide whether to stay home for Newmarket’s 2000 Guineas (G1) on Derby Day?
4. The Tampa Bay Derby (G2) reunion lost its key participant now that the victorious Quip is scratching in favor of next Saturday’s Arkansas Derby (G1). His change of plan was part of the domino effect initiated by McKinzie’s injury, opening the door for Justify to switch to Santa Anita. Quip, with WinStar and China Horse Club ownership in common with Justify, is accordingly rerouted into that one’s original Arkansas slot. The withdrawal of Quip in turn lets also-eligible Determinant draw into the Blue Grass, giving owner John C. Oxley and trainer Mark Casse two along with their Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Flameaway. Determinant, a $550,000 son of Tapit and multiple Grade 3 victress Indescribable, makes his dirt and stakes debut after breaking his maiden in his third attempt on the Gulfstream turf. Although this is in principle a more ambitious spot than his cross-entry in Friday’s grassy Transylvania (G3), Determinant would have stood little chance against Analyze It anyway. Why not roll the dice in an open-looking Derby prep and see how the Triple Crown nominee copes?
The versatile Flameaway may have gained more fans in defeat last time at Tampa, in light of his troubled passage that saw him beaten a grand total of a length by Quip. We learned more about the Mark Casse trainee there than in his pace-controlling win in the Sam F. Davis (G3) two back, although his grit was proven in the off-the-turf Bourbon (G3) on this track last October. If not necessarily the idea of a Kentucky Derby winner, Flameaway is the type of classy customer who gives you a run for your money. Tiz Mischief, who broke his maiden here for Romans before just missing in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), has been beaten double-digits in his two ensuing starts. A remote third to Audible and stablemate Free Drop Billy in the Holy Bull, Tiz Mischief was a non-threatening fifth at Tampa.
5. San Vicente (G2) hero Kanthaka is on trial to determine his future direction, as are the rest in here. No match for McKinzie and Bolt d’Oro in their San Felipe (G2) brawl, the Jerry Hollendorfer trainee may have been exposed as a closing sprinter. But was it really the distance that found out Kanthaka, or the class level of those two heavyweights? The Blue Grass will provide the answer. Gotta Go is a similar case, shaping as more of a one-turn specialist so far. He’s yet another exiting the Fountain of Youth, having checked in sixth. The Doug O’Neill duo of Blended Citizen and Arawak face a surface question after finishing first and third in Turfway Park’s Jeff Ruby Steaks (sic) (G3). More useful on synthetic and turf so far, Blended Citizen has a dirt-oriented pedigree as a Proud Citizen half-brother to Lookin at Lee, last year’s Kentucky Derby runner-up. Arawak, making his first start for O’Neill after switching from Wesley Ward, is also bred to act on dirt as a son of Uncle Mo out of a half to Sir Bear.
Good Magic photo by Jamie Newell/Horsephotos.com