LEXINGTON, Ky. - There have been quite a few one-sided runnings of the Blue Grass Stakes in its distinguished history. Over the last 30 years, Spectacular Bid, Alydar, Holy Bull, and Pulpit are some of the odds-on winners to use the Blue Grass as little more than a dress rehearsal for the Kentucky Derby.
For better or worse, the 85th Blue Grass on Saturday at Keeneland will not be one of those. Indeed, the 11 3-year-olds entered Wednesday for the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass appear extremely well-matched, with the program favorite, Hold Me Back, pegged at 3-1, followed closely on the morning line by several others.
"It was tough making a line on this," Keeneland oddsmaker Mike Battaglia said.
Hold Me Back, with Kent Desormeaux to ride, will break from post 10 in the 1 1/8-mile Polytrack race. He and Mafaaz (post 5), who earned an automatic berth last month in England, are the only two Blue Grass starters already assured spots in the starting gate for the May 2 Kentucky Derby.
The rest are trying to run their way in. Among the other major contenders are Theregoesjojo (post 3), wheeling back in two weeks after running third to Quality Road and Dunkirk in the Florida Derby; Charitable Man (post 9), playing catch-up after being sidelined since winning the Futurity at Belmont last September; Terrain (post 6), third in the Louisiana Derby; and Patena (post 1), who will try to rebound from a disappointing effort when he makes his second start since the IEAH Stables became one of his part-owners.
Charitable Man, with Alan Garcia to ride, is one of the key players, in large part because of the speed he flashed at 2. Neal McLaughlin, who is deputizing for his brother, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, said Charitable Man will proceed to the Derby with a big effort Saturday.
"He had a saucer fracture in his shin and a screw had to be put in," McLaughlin said. "But he's really recovered from that very well. He had a good winter in Ocala and came back to us in great shape. This will be tough, but he's an exceptional horse. We really felt like he deserved a chance to make it to the Derby, and we felt this was the best place to try that."
A fast pace would seem to help Hold Me Back, who returns three weeks after posting a 9-1 upset in the Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park following a layoff of nearly four months. With Desormeaux up, Hold Me Back broke sluggishly to trail early in the Lane's End, but he wound up passing all 11 opponents in winning with a flourish.
The balance of the Blue Grass field is Join in the Dance, Cliffy's Future, Loch Dubh, General Quarters, and Massone.
The Blue Grass will be televised live on TVG, with post time set for 5:15 p.m. Eastern. The race also will be shown on a tape-delay basis during a one-hour ESPN2 telecast (6-7 p.m. Eastern) featuring a live running of the Arkansas Derby from Oaklawn Park.
The last horse to run in the Blue Grass and win the Derby was Street Sense, the 2007 Blue Grass runner-up. The last horse to win both races was Strike the Gold in 1991.
Blue Grass field
(PP, Horse, Jockey, Morning line)
1. Patena, R. Albarado, 10-1
2. Join in the Dance, J. Velazquez, 10-1
3. Theregoesjojo, C. Borel, 7-2
4. Cliffy's Future, J. Castanon, 20-1
5. Mafaaz, R. Hills, 12-1
6. Terrain, J. Leparoux, 6-1
7. Loch Dubh, J. Theriot, 50-1
8. General Quarters, E. Coa, 15-1
9. Charitable Man, A. Garcia, 4-1
10. Hold Me Back, K. Desormeaux, 3-1
11. Massone, G. Gomez, 12-1