R. A. Hill Stable and Gatsas Stable's Vekoma took off for a three-length win in Saturday's G2 Blue Grass Stakes, firmly stamping his ticket to the Kentucky Derby in four weeks' time. The 3-year-old son of Candy Ride finished third in the Fountain of Youth last out, but jockey Javier Castellano kept him closer to the pace in the Blue Grass and capitalized on the advantage down the stretch. Trained by George Weaver, Vekoma was favored at 7-5 and completed nine furlongs over Keeneland's fast main track in 1:50.93.
The win earns the colt 100 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby and assures him a spot in the starting gate. It was also Castellano's fourth win on the card; the jockey has won a stakes on each of the three days of this young Keeneland meet.
“I like the way he broke out of the gate,” Castellano said. “In the first turn, I realized I didn't want to dictate the pace. I tried to ride a smart race. I didn't want to be too aggressive early; you have to save something for the end. So we tracked it. I liked the way he rated the first quarter mile, and I liked the way he finished. Every time I asked him, he kicked on a little bit.”
Win Win Win was making up ground late and finished second, while Signalman was nosed out for third. Somelikeithotbrown set the pace and faded to fourth, while Chess Chief checked in fifth.
As expected, Somelikeithotbrown was sharp out of the gate and took the lead heading into the clubhouse turn. Castellano kept Vekoma in perfect striking distance on his outside, tracking the pace of :23.26 and :47.03 down the backstretch. Signalman was in a good stalking position on the inside rail in third, while eventual runner-up Win Win Win was second-last of the 14-horse field in his usual early position.
Vekoma took over from Somelikeithotbrown after three-quarters in 1:11.55, and when Castellano urged him to change leads the colt responded with a burst of acceleration. Vekoma cruised down the stretch all alone, crossing the wire about three lengths the best of the field. Win Win Win closed ground to earn second, while Signalman finished third. Somelikeithotbrown held fourth over Chess Chief.
“I didn't win today, but I am so proud of this horse,” said Irad Ortiz, jockey aboard Win Win WIn. “He ran a great race. I got into a little traffic early and when I finally got him clear, I asked him to run, and he started to really turn it on. I think he can keep improving for the Derby. He's a really nice horse.”
Bred in Kentucky by Alpha Delta Stables, Vekoma was a $135,000 yearling at the Keeneland September sale. The colt won his first two starts, including the G3 Nashua, before taking off the remainder of his 2-year-old season. The Fountain of Youth was his 2019 debut, and Vekoma seemed to be a little short in that spot while beaten by Code of Honor and Bourbon War. In the Blue Grass, Vekoma looked ready to take on Derby competition, and the win improved his record to three wins from four starts and earnings of over $750,000.
“The last start (where he ran third in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth [G2]), there was a pretty fast pace, and I told (Fountain of Youth jockey) Manny (Franco) to be conservative the first half-mile,” Weaver explained. “I talked to (jockey) Javier (Castellano) before this race, and told him I wasn't so worried about that. I wanted to know if he can go the distance. He's got great tactical speed, (which) put him in a spot going into the first turn and just ride him natural.”
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