LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 19, 2014) -- The focus has shifted at Keeneland, as it usually does during the second week of April, to the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) and the Kentucky Derby hopefuls who will emerge from that event.
Run on April 12, a busy stakes day both at Keeneland and Oaklawn Park--where the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) will be held and where champion Will Take Charge runs in the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II)--the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass attracted an overflow field for the fourth time in its 90-year history with 14 slated to go postward (full preview here).
Connections were out full-force today for the post position draw, where owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey entertained the media -- or, mostly, Mr. Ramsey entertained the media while Mrs. Ramsey kept him under a good-natured eye. Son Jeff Ramsey is the grand marshal of the organization, and shepherded his parents out of the Keeneland sales pavilion after their 3-1 Blue Grass favorite Bobby's Kitten drew post 5. The family was en route to the paddock to watch State Flag take Race 3 for a $32,000 tag, but they lost him on the claim to new connections Kitty and Joseph Cheeks. Popular with the press corps at the draw was Mr. Ramsey's saying about his three potential Derby contenders -- "We've got a dirt horse, a synthetic horse, and a turf horse, so hopefully whatever conditions develop at Churchill Downs on Derby day, one of them will like it and win."
Ken Ramsey entertains the media at the Blue Grass draw - Keeneland Photo
Those whose fascinations may lie more with the European set will be interested to note that Morpheus, a 4-year-old half-brother to British superstar Frankel, makes his North American debut here in Thursday's eighth race, a 61/2-furlong allowance optional claiming race on the main track. The son of Oasis Dream (GB) is a homebred racing for Khaled Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms and is trained by Racing Hall of Famer Bill Mott. Jose Lezcano has the mount.
Morpheus began his career in England and won three races in eight starts. He was sent to Mott at the end of last year and most recently has trained at Palm Meadows in Florida. Frankel, considered one of the finest horses to race in Britain in recent years, at 6 is in his first season at stud at Abdullah's Banstead Manor Farm in Newmarket, England.
Frankel, whose brother Morpheus debuts at Keeneland April 10 - Mathea Kelley Photo
Back to the Blue Grass. About 12 hours before the University of Kentucky played for the NCAA championship in men's basketball, a Thoroughbred at Keeneland with UK connections turned in his final work for Saturday's upcoming test. All American Horses' Casiguapo, a Sightseeing colt who was bred by UK, worked three furlongs in a bullet :34.80 with Hector Salazar up for Calder-based trainer Mario Morales on April 7.
Watching the move were four representatives from UK's Equine Research Unit, which is based at Maine Chance Farm on Newtown Pike: Dr. Laurie Lawrence, a professor of equine nutrition; Bryan Cassill, the animal resource manager; and students Jamie Riordan and Courtney Schneider.
The program, which relies on donated mares and donated stallion seasons, will have about 24 foals this year, Lawrence said. Casiguapo played an important role in the curriculum.
"He was raised as part of our teaching and research program, so students who work at the farm are involved in breeding, foaling, getting them ready to go to the sale," Lawrence said. "But the main thing we use them for is our teaching and our research. That's why we have them."
Casiguapo - Keeneland Photo
Casiguapo is the second foal out of the unraced Buddha mare Emerald Buddha, who participates in research into the nutritional requirements for gestation. Lawrence said the colt was involved in a project to understand how the microflora of the GI tract develop in normal foals, and was used in demonstrations for class.
With earnings of $287,655 from one win, seconds in the Hopeful (gr. I) and Delta Downs Jackpot (gr. III) and a third in the Frank Gomez Memorial at Calder, Casiguapo has given the UK equine program something besides basketball to follow. Hopefully he'll turn in a better finish than "Big Blue" did on Monday.
"We have a lot of students who work at the farm and students in the program that really don't have any connection with Thoroughbreds before they come here," Lawrence said. "To have a horse come out of the program that they can actually identify with, I think it really gives them a big interest in the Thoroughbred industry."
Among the Blue Grass contenders working at Keeneland on the Lexington oval's Monday dark day were Asserting Bear and Coltimus Prime.
With jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson aboard, Bear Stables' Asserting Bear went a half-mile in :48 in company after the Monday morning renovation break.
"I was very happy with that," Wilson said of the work that culminated in a three-length advantage over Pageantry, a 3-year-old maiden filly. "I think he enjoys the change of scenery up here."
Wilson will have the mount in Saturday's Blue Grass and it will be the first time for her to ride Asserting Bear in a race.
"I worked him a few times in Florida at Palm Beach Downs for Mr. (Reade) Baker," Wilson said. "That was on dirt. He loved it out there (on the Polytrack) and traveled well over it."
Also pleased with the work was Martine Pare, assistant to Baker.
"I liked it very much," Pare said. "He galloped a mile before he worked, which is something Mr. Baker normally does."
Asserting Bear has been at Keeneland since shipping here March 24 after a fourth-place finish in the Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes (gr. III) at Turfway Park.
Baker is scheduled to arrive at Keeneland Saturday to saddle Asserting Bear in the Blue Grass.
Meanwhile, Coltimus Prime worked five furlongs in 1:01 1/5 for trainer Justin Nixon, who has never started a horse at Keeneland but will get his chance with Cabernet Racing Stables' 3-year-old runner. Melanie Pinto, a jockey at Fort Erie, was in the saddle.
"I was happy with it and he seemed comfortable on it," Nixon said. "I caught him galloping out in 1:14 and 2 and 'Mel' was happy with it. He had a good work at Palm Beach Downs last week (:58.40 on March 30) and didn't have to do much today."
Coltimus Prime working at Keeneland - Keeneland Photo
"I thought he went super," Pinto said as she gave the move a thumbs up. "I have been getting on him this winter in Florida."
Nixon said Pinto has worked with him for the past four or five years in the winter before Fort Erie opens.
Coltimus Prime finished ninth in his 2014 debut in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) after making his three starts in 2013 over the Polytrack at Woodbine.
"We decided to stay away from the dirt after Tampa," Nixon said. "He never really looked comfortable on it during the race."
The Toyota Blue Grass offers 170 points toward the Kentucky Derby (100-40-20-10), but Nixon said the Derby is not a consideration now.
"The Queen's Plate (July 6 at Woodbine) is the ultimate goal," said Nixon. "I'd like to win this. Staying on the synthetics down the road has been the plan."
Alan Garcia, who won the 2010 Toyota Blue Grass on Stately Victor, will have the mount Saturday. More on the runner, who is on twitter @ColtimusPrime and has his own website and Facebook page, may be found here.
's So Lonesome
arrived at Keeneland from his winter base at Palm Meadows in South Florida shortly before 7 o'clock Wednesday morning for a shot in the Blue Grass.
Winner of a New York-bred stakes on turf at Aqueduct last fall, So Lonesome finished ninth in the Palm Beach (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream Park in his lone start of 2014.
"He did not run the race we expected in the race March 1," trainer Tom Bush said. "He was flat and just jumped up and down on the hard turf."
The winner of the Palm Beach, Gala Award, will be waiting here for So Lonesome in the Blue Grass.
"We had targeted this race all winter," Bush said about the richest race of Keeneland's Spring Meet. "I know we are taking a little chance here, but I would be surprised if he did not handle the Polytrack. The Schulers are open to taking a chance and he had a great work (five furlongs in :59.50 on April 2) before leaving Palm Meadows.
"I haven't given up on him."
Bush will seek his second grade I victory at Keeneland. Get Stormy won the 2011 Maker's Mark Mile for the trainer, two years after he won the Bryan Station (gr.III).
Get Stormy won the 2011 Maker's Mark Mile - Anne M. Eberhardt Photo