TOYOTA BLUE GRASS STAKES | PURSE: $750,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | GRADE 1 | 1 1/8 MILES
Watching the replay of the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 13, owner Charles Fipke could not help expressing amazement at where his eventual Blue Grass winner, Java's War, was racing after three-quarters of a mile.
"We're still last!" he exclaimed, bringing chuckles from the press corps gathered at the post-race press conference. "Oh, here we come, here we come, three-quarters of a mile and he's finally coming unbelievable, eh?"
From last to first in a 14-horse field, Fipke's homebred overcame a hesitant start but moved into contention readily through upper stretch under jockey Julien Leparoux, earning his way into the May 4 Kentucky Derby with victory by a neck over Palace Malice. Charming Kitten, a 22-1 shot, was another neck back in third. Palm Beach Stakes winner Rydilluc, the 7-2 favorite, was fourth.
Java's War, a 3-year-old son of War Pass, was awarded 100 points on the road to the Kentucky Derby, coming off a runner-up finish three lengths behind eventual Wood Memorial winner Verrazano in the March 9 Tampa Bay Derby to get the score for trainer Kenny McPeek. He now has 122 points on the leaderboard for the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field.
"It reminded me of Tampa when he came late," McPeek said. "He actually broke better today than he did in Tampa. But this is his running style. I wasn't at all worried. I was watching the front thinking,'Ok, if they set a little pace for us the first half or even in the middle, we'll get a good chance here."
That was exactly what happened, as Rydilluc and 21-1 shot Undrafted contested a moderate pace for a quarter in :23.81 and a half in :48.04. Java's War bided his time at the tail of the field while Rydilluc opened a 1 1/2-length advantage for three-quarters in 1:12.76, then was wheeled out on the second turn by Leparoux.
"He didn't really break, but he traveled very nice for me," Leparoux said. "At the three-eighths pole, I tried to catch up a little bit, and he ran big the whole way through the stretch."
Coming down to the wire, it was Palace Malice who Java's War had to put away; the Dogwood Stables runner struck the front with less than a furlong to run after attending the pace off the inside, but was nipped after a mile in 1:37.29. Final time for 1 1/8 miles on the Polytrack was 1:50.27.
Off at odds of 9-2, Java's War paid $5.60, $2.80, and $2. Also 9-2, Palace Malice returned $6 and $4.60, while Charming Kitten brought $11.20. After Rydilluc came Fear the Kitten, Balance the Books, My Name is Michael, Channel Isle, Dynamic Sky, Uncaptured, Tesseron, West Hills Giant, Undrafted, and Footbridge.
Java's War was bred in Kentucky out of the Rainbow Quest mare Java. He improved his record to 3-1-1 from seven starts with earnings of $672,091 while recording his first graded stakes score.
Last year in his only other Polytrack start, the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, Java's War was third.
A hearty crowd of 37,161 attended the Lexington oval on Blue Grass Day.