10:30 P.M. UPDATE …..Daily Racing Form's Mary Rampellini is reporting from Oaklawn Park that beaten Arkansas Derby favorite Old Fashioned came out of his second-place finish to Papa Clem with a slab fracture in his right knee. Trainer Larry Jones described the injujry to Rick Porter's son of Unbridled's Song as possibly career-ending but not life threatening. He is due to ship to Lexington Monday, where he may have surgery at Rood & Riddle equine hospital.
Live blogging of today's Toyota Blue Grass Stakes card from Keeneland and the Arkansas Derby from Oaklawn Park kicks off around 4 p.m.
In the meantime, today's Lexington Herald-Leader front-page sports article on the Blue Grass Stakes (“Polytrack coincides with drop in class: Blue Grass Stakes winners haven't fared well lately”) is sure to win reporter Alicia Wincze some icy stares from Keeneland officials, led by Rogers Beasley, the track's director of racing who may still harbor resentment against the paper for its Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative series 23 years ago that led to sanctions against the beloved University of Kentucky basketball team. Some UK basketball fans know how to carry a grudge!
But Wincze is right: the ol' Blue Grass ain't what she used to be. Perhaps it's the Polytrack installed in 2006 or maybe it's the three weeks between the Blue Grass and the Kentucky Derby, which some horsemen now consider to be too little time between races. The three weeks hasn't seemed to hurt the same day's Arkansas Derby, which has had more high-profile winners in recent years than the Blue Grass, among them Curlin, Lawyer Ron, Afleet Alex and Smarty Jones.
The Blue Grass still retains its Grade 1 ranking from the Kentucky-based Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association's Graded Stakes Committee (of which Beasley is a member), while the Arkansas Derby is Grade 2. It's a sore subject down in Hot Springs, and for good reason.
The Blue Grass lost its top Grade from 1990-98 when the committee downgraded it to Grade 2, a year after the Arkansas Derby was stripped of its Grade 1 status. Until 1988, the race was run not three weeks before the Kentucky Derby but just nine days before the Run for the Roses, on a Thursday afternoon. Track management recognized the need to give horsemen more time between races to attract better fields, and eventually got its Grade 1 ranking back.
In the 1990s, there were nine Blue Grass starters who went on to win one or more Triple Crown races (Unbridled, Summer Squall, Strike the Gold, Sea Hero, Prairie Bayou, Thunder Gulch, Editor's Note, Louis Quatorze and Lemon Drop Kid). But since 2000, Street Sense, the 2007 Blue Grass runner-up who won that year's Kentucky Derby, is the only Blue Grass starter to win a Triple Crown races.
This decade has been the leanest ever for the Blue Grass in terms of producing Triple Crown race winners. The 1940s produced four winners, there were two in the 1950s, eight in the 1960s, six in the 1970s, three in the 1980s, and the aforementioned nine in the 1990s.
But that will all be forgotten if this year's winner goes on to Triple Crown glory.
4:00 p.m. … Keeneland's big stakes day got under way a few minutes ago in the Shakertown, a 5 1/2-furlong turf spring won in off-the-pace fashion by Heros Reward and jockey Javier Castellano. Cannonball, who chased early pacesetter Mr. Nightlinger (last year's winner of the Grade 3 event), finished second, beaten a head, with with Chamberlain Bridge another head back in third and Due Date fourth.
My exacta of Hellvelyn and Hewitts tanked.
The winner is a hard-hitting 7-year-old Maryland-bred gelding by Partner's Hero who's won 11 of 29 starts. Trainer Dale Capuano trained Heros Reward up to the Shakertown off a more than five-month layoff, his last start coming with fifth to Desert Code in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. Final time was 1:04.24 for 5 1/2 furlongs after fractions of :22.25, :45.87 and :57.89. The course was rated good on a sunny day with temperatures in the low 60s, a welcome relief following Friday's torrential storms.
4:15 p.m. … Eternal Star got the job done in the Grade 2 Commonwealth, coming from just off the pace under Eibar Coa to beat defending champ Rebellion bythree-quarters of a length. My Pal Charlie and Ravalo were third and fourth, respecitvely, after battling on the lead for the opening five furlongs of the seven-furlong contest.
Eternal Star, trained by Michael Trombetta, was winning for the 10th time in 21 career starts for Harry and Tom Meyerhoff. The 5-year-old Kentucky-bred is by the Carson City stallion Five Star Day out of Retsina's Princess, by Eternal Prince. He was coming off narrow loss to Ah Day in the Toboggan at Aqueduct March 7, closing from well back to just miss at the wire.
Time for the seven furlongs on Polytrack was 1:21.17 after fractions of :23.16, :46.12, and 1:09.37.
4:25 p.m. … Morning linemaker Mike Battaglia hung even-money odds on female turf champion Forever Together for the Grade 2 Jenny WIley, but in the early betting the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf winner wasn't even the favorite. Early action was on Paul Pompa's Backseat Rhythm, who recently switched from the Pat Reynolds barn to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. Backseat Rhythm is coming off a nose win in the Grade 3 Hillsborrough at Tampa Bay Downs. Forever Together hasn't raced since the Breeders' Cup.
Lady and Visit have been scratched from the Jenny Wiley, leaving a field of seven fillies and mares going 1 1/16 miles on a turf course rated good for the earlier Shakertown.
4:30 p.m. … Love the ShamWow! ads on TVG, especially now that I know a little bit more about Vince Shlomi, the pitchman for the spongy product. You can read about Vince's recent run-in with the law here.
4:40 p.m. … Maybe Battaglia's estimated odds will be on target. As post time approaches for the Jenny WIley, the odds are dropping on Forever Together and they're going up on
4:45 p.m. … That's what I like to see! A champion coming back to run like a champion. Forever Together, confidently ridden by Julien Leparoux, won the Jenny Wiley by a length in a most impressive performance. Not sure what trainer Jonathan Sheppard's been doing with this daughter of Belong to Me all winter, since she only had two published workouts in her past performances (what's that all about?), but she was ready to run.
Leparoux allowed Forever Together to fall back near the back of the field as Kiss With a Twist set slow fractions. He urged Forever Together to pick it up entering the far turn, she swung wide at the top of the stretch, then won without really being seriously asked down the stretch by her rider, who never uncocked his whip. Rutherienne tried to make a race of it, finishing second, with Kiss With a Twist hanging in for third and Rustic Flame fourth.
Battaglia nailed the odds perfectly, as Forever Together paid $4 for her eighth win in 15 starts for the Augustin Stable of George Strawbridge. Call me a sucker, but I went for the early money play, betting on Backseat Rhythm to win.
Final time was 1:46.93 after fractions of :25.92, :51.83, 1:17.12 and 1:40.80 on a track labeled good.
Jenny Wiley chart.
5:00 p.m. … No major early money odds swings in the Blue Grass. A little action on Mafaaz, bet down from 12-1 morning line to 8-1, but everyone else is pretty much in accordance with the morning line. Hold Me Back looks like a million-dollars in the paddock, a fact confirmed on TVG by Jill Byrne, who knows a bit more about horseflesh than I do.
For what it's worth, I'm taking a stab at Patena, who was a big disappointment in the slop at Fair Grounds in the Louisiana Derby last out, his first start for trainer Rick Dutrow. A cough may have interrupted or compromised his training up to that race, and I like his chance to run much bigger today. But he will be up against it with Hold Me Back looking like a legitimate favorite off his 3-for-3 record on different Polytrack surfaces at Arlington, Keeneland and Turfway Park for trainer Bill Mott and WinStar Farm.
5:05 p.m. … It's a great accomplishment for any breeder to have a horse in a Grade 1 race, but for a small breeding operation to have two horses in the same race is really something. Hats off to Carrie Brogden and her family's Machmer Hall for having two starters in the Blue Grass, Join in the Dance and Loch Dubh, bred in the name of The Answer.
5:15 p.m. … TVG did a nice feature on the NBA star Rashard Lewis, one of the owners of Join in the Dance. Overall, the TVG coverage has been quite good, though Frank Lyons seems underutilized in the coverage. He's always seemed to be one of the stronger parts of TVG's big-race coverage.
5:20 p.m. … Perhaps dreams do come true. Tom McCarthy, the owner and trainer of General Quarters, is on his way to the Kentucky Derby after the son of Sky Mesa gave him the biggest win of his life, taking the Blue Grass over favorite Hold Me Back.
McCarthy, a 75-year-old Army veteran and retired high school principal who has trained a small string of horsers for 45 years, has attended every Kentucky Derby in his home town of Louisville, Ky., since 1959. This year he'll be there to saddle the only runner in his one-horse stable. He claimed General Quarters for $20,000 out of his first start at Churchill Downs last May 30, from Ken and Sarah Ramsaey and trainer Wesley Ward. Most recently, after General Quarters had won the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in February, McCarthy turned down some seven-figure offers for the colt, saying, “You can't sell a dream.”
General Quarters got a great trip from Eibar Coa, racing in mid-pack early, then moving toward Join in the Dance, the early pacesetter, as the field approached the far turn. He hit the front around the three-sixteenths pole, opened up by several lengths, and under aggressive handling held off the late charge of Hold Me Back to win by 1 1/2 lengths. West Coast invader Massone was third, a length and a quarter back, with Terrain fourth and Join in the Dance fifth. Theregoesjojo had to be one of the bigger disappointments in the Blue Grass, finishing ninth as the second wagering choice behind Hold Me Back.
Coa is also the rider of Musket Man, who defeated General Quarters in the Tampa Bay Derby and then went on to victory in the Illinois Derby at Hawthroen last weekend.
McCarthy earned $465,000 from the Blue Grass's $750,000 purse, and backers of the colt were rewarded with a $30.60 mutuel. Time of the Blue Grass was 1:49.26 for 1 1/8 miles after fractions of :24.40, :49.06, 1:13.31, and 1:37.32 for the mile. General Quarters ran a strong final furlong under 12 seconds after racing wide much of the way.
My pick, Patena, beat one horse.
Blue Grass chart.
5:45 p.m. … As much as I love the feel-good story of Tom McCarthy, I think it's extremely doubtful General Quarters will win the Kentucky Derby. This wasn't a particularly strong Blue Grass Field. Nevertheless, when the pack of sports columnists and turf writers arrives on the Churchill Downs backstretch for Derby week, the saga of General Quarters and McCarthy will give them something to write about that fits the romance and tradition of America's most famous race. And if he does win, well, won't that be quite an inspiration for all the dreamers and small-time stables, giving them hope that they too might someday stand in the infield winner's circle under the shadow of the Twin Spires.
6:05 p.m. … Good news for all you college lacrosse fans out there. ESPN2 will show the Duke-Virginia game to its conclusion. Duke is pounding Virginia 15-9 with less than 4:00 minutes to go. Not good for people tuning in to expect horse racing, but, hey, that's the breaks. Actually, a scroll says the Arkansas Derby/Blue Grass (tape delay) has been shifted to ESPN Classic. Duke lacrosse…aren't they famous for something?
6:10 p.m. … This lacrosse game is fantastic. Duke is ranked No. 8 in the country and they are on the verge of upsetting No. 1 Virginia. My only question is, is a touchdown in lacrosse worth six points? There appears to be hundreds of people on hand at the lacrosse stadium, probably similar to an average day at Aqueduct, but there are probably hundreds more tuning in on ESPN2 to watch these two great lacrosses rivals.
6:15 p.m. … Duke is playing keep away as the clock winds down. Great strategy.
6:16 p.m. … Do you believe in miracles? Yes! The lacrosse game is over. DUKE WINS!
6:35 p.m. … Jeanine Edwards asked good questions of Larry Jones in the ESPN2 interview, and he didn't blink in his responses. Sounds like he really will retire at year's end, at least for a short spell. Post parade for the $1 million Arkansas Derby, with Old Fashioned rightly the heavy favorite. I think Papa Clem is going to run a big race for trainer Gary Stute, going right to the front in a manner that would make Gary's dad, trainer Mel Stute, proud. Mel's won all kinds of races over the decades, but he's always been one of those “speed is king” kind of trainers. Papa Clam is owned by Bo Hirsch, son of the late Clement Hirsch, a California racing icon for many years.
6:45 p.m. Even money on Old Fashioned. Win Willy, the late runner who upset Old Fashioned in the Rebel Stakes, is 4-1, as is Papa Clem.
Uh-oh….Hank Goldberg likes Papa Clem. I'm running back to the windows to see if I can refund my ticket on the horse.
6:50 p.m. … Wrong again….Old Fashioned gets the lead…. but Papa Clem gets the win. He came from off the pace, as new rider Terry Thompson sent Old Fashioned to the front and set pretty quick fractions (:22.65, :46.19 and 1:11.15). Old Fashioned tried to spurt away at the quarter pole, but he was under pressure from Flat Out and Papa Clem, who rallied wide under Rafael Bejarano.
Old Fashioned proved a stubborn rival down the stretch, even after it looked like Papa Clem would roll on by. Papa Clem won by about a half-length, with Summer Bird a non-threatening third. It was just the second win from six starts for the Smart Strike colt out of Miss Houdini, by Belong to Me. He was coming off consecutive seconds, to Friesan Fire in the Louisiana Derby and to PIoneerof the Nile in the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita Park.
Papa Clem covered the 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.01.
Gary Stute said to Jeanine Edwards the difference between the Louisiana Derby and Arkansas Derby was that Papa Clem had a chance to trainer over the Oaklawn strip for several weeks, unlike the Louisiana Derby, where he arrived just two days before the race.
The win, coupled with I Want Revenge's dominance in New York in the Gotham and Wood after losing twice to Pioneerof the Nile, suggests that the West Coast horses this year may have the upper hand in the Kentucky Derby. Papa Clem and I Want Revenge, who began their careers on synthetic tracks in California have made a smooth transition to dirt. Will Pioneerof the Nile be able to say the same thing three weeks from today?
7:00 p.m. … One last thought: Hank Goldberg, you're the man! Great pick.
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