Neither a 14-horse field nor the threat of snowy weather in Kentucky were enough to deter juvenile champion Good Magic on Saturday. The 3-year-old Curlin colt returned to the form that saw him win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall, capturing the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland as the 8-5 favorite. Owned by e5 Racing and breeder Stonestreet Thoroughbreds, Good Magic and jockey Jose Ortiz completed nine furlongs over the fast main track in 1:50.18. The Chad Brown trainee earned 100 points toward the Kentucky Derby with his victory.
“I thought it was an outstanding performance,” Brown said. “He was well-placed early and kept steady throughout. Maybe we dock one point where it looked like he jumped a shadow near the wire, but that's him. He's going to look around a little bit. I was really happy how he ran today. For only two starts this year, I was hoping to be peaking for the Derby and hopefully we'll advance another step on Derby Day. Looks like is a very good crop of horses this year and it's going to be a tough race.”
Flameaway was a hard-trying second in the Blue Grass at odds of 5-1. Sporting Chance flashed back to his juvenile campaign with a sudden dart toward the outside rail late in the stretch, but this time he caused interference with Free Drop Billy. Sporting Chance crossed the wire third but was disqualified to fourth; Free Drop Billy will be recorded as the third-place finisher.
Good Magic made history as the first maiden to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall, but disappointed in his first start as a 3-year-old. In the Fountain of Youth Stakes in February, the colt was beaten 4 1/2 lengths by Promises Fulfilled and Strike Power. Brown didn't panic, and Good Magic moved forward from that race in a big way to post a convincing win in the Blue Grass.
“In hindsight, (heading into the Fountain of Youth) he was probably a couple of works short,” said Brown. “If you want to stay on the (Kentucky) Derby (G1) trail, you have to run when it's time to get started. This horse came out of that race real well – bigger, stronger and has had some impressive workouts since. We were pretty confident coming into this race. I love the way he did it today.”
Breaking from the 12-hole, Flameaway left the starting gate running and was in the hunt for the lead heading toward the first turn. He was quickly joined by Arawak and Sporting Chance at the rail, while Good Magic kept pace with Kanthaka behind those three. Flameaway was pressured through fractions of :23.88 and :47.40, with Arawak never leaving his throatlatch down the backstretch.
Ortiz started moving Good Magic into contention at about the half-mile pole, and they inherited the runner-up position after Arawak dropped out of it around the far turn. Sporting Chance was still in contention at the rail, but Good Magic and Flameaway were locked head-and-head at the top of the stretch.
It looked like Good Magic might blow on by Flameaway, but the gritty chestnut fought back with every ounce of his heart all the way down the stretch, beaten about two lengths at the wire.
“He never gave up,” said Flameaway's trainer Mark Casse. “He's just so classy, you've got to love him. I got what I asked for. I said I wanted a fight at the top of the lane, and we got one. Unfortunately, we were second-best today. I think Chad (Brown) did a tremendous job. It's one thing to train a horse to be a champion, and another to train them after they're champions. We've beaten the winner of the Wood (Memorial-G2, Vino Rosso) twice already. I think we can hold our head high. (Flameaway will) be heading home (to Churchill Downs) probably tomorrow.”
Sporting Chance angled to the outside at the top of the lane and had dead aim on the leaders, but spooked and darted to the right at the sixteenth pole. Jockey Luis Saez was able to hang on, but the pair interfered with the progression of Free Drop Billy, who was rolling on strongly from the rear of the field.
“I thought he was going to win,” Saez said. “He was perfect (until) we came to the wire. When I hit him he (veered) out. He did it twice today. I don't know why he does that. He was perfect today up until then.”
A stewards' inquiry and jockey's objection resulted in Free Drop Billy being moved up to third over Sporting Chance. The change means that Free Drop Billy has enough points to make the field for the Kentucky Derby, with 44 total. Sporting Chance, meanwhile, has just 12 to his name and is 30th on the current leaderboard.
The current point standings after Saturday's trio of Kentucky Derby preps are as follows: Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard
Bred in Kentucky by Stonestreet, Good Magic was a $1 million yearling at the Keeneland September sale. Second on debut and then again in the Grade 1 Champagne, Good Magic rebounded to capture the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in his third career start. He was voted champion juvenile of 2017, but his first start of 2018 was a disappointing third in the Fountain of Youth. Back on track with the Blue Grass triumph, Good Magic now has a record of two wins, two seconds and a third from five starts, with earnings of $1.8 million.
“It was perfect, we had a good trip,” Ortiz said. “We broke really well and everything went really well. The way I planned was to sit back a little bit off the front and everything turned out perfect. I was pretty confident on him because I know he's a good horse out of the gate. I knew he was going to help me a lot and I was going to have a clear road to the first turn.”
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