Zulu favored in full field for Blue Grass

LEXINGTON, Ky. – A spectacular afternoon of racing is on tap for Saturday at Keeneland when the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes caps an 11-race card also highlighted by the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes and Grade 1 Madison.

The $1 million Blue Grass, which offers 170 points (including 100 to the winner) toward eligibility to the May 7 Kentucky Derby, drew an oversubscribed field of 3-year-olds, with Zulu being pegged the 5-2 favorite. He breaks from post 4 in the 1 1/8-mile race. Sixteen will be on the program, although only as many as 14 can start.

While the Blue Grass is the richest – and traditionally the most prestigious – race at the 16-day spring meet, which runs Friday through April 29, both the Ashland and Madison clearly surpass it in terms of field quality this year.

The $500,000 Ashland is a 170-point race (with 100 to the winner) toward the Kentucky Oaks, and if it weren’t for a superstar named Songbird, the Ashland might well have the three top contenders for the May 6 Oaks. There are only five 3-year-old fillies in the 1 1/16-mile race, but three of them are Cathryn Sophia, Rachel’s Valentina, and Carina Mia.

“This will be her first time going around two turns,” said John Servis, trainer of Cathryn Sophia, who has gone unchallenged in four career starts. “Obviously this is the best field she’s hooked into. If she can do the job here, I’m sure it’ll give her confidence going into the Oaks – and me, too.”

Meanwhile, the $300,000 Madison features a matchup of mares making their first start since they won a Breeders’ Cup event here last fall: Stopchargingmaria, winner of the BC Distaff, and Wavell Avenue, winner of the BC Filly and Mare Sprint. Thirteen are entered in the seven-furlong Madison, including Grade 1 winners Cavorting and Sheer Drama.

“Obviously it’s a challenging spot for a comeback, but we’re really excited about getting her back,” said Chad Brown, trainer of Wavell Avenue.

As for the Blue Grass, Zulu and jockey Javier Castellano will be trying to give trainer Todd Pletcher his fourth victory in the race, following Bandini (2005), Monba (2008), and Carpe Diem (2015). Pletcher also will be represented by Donegal Moon (post 2, Martin Garcia).

Other top contenders in the Blue Grass include the Dale Romans pair of Cherry Wine (post 3, Corey Lanerie) and Brody’s Cause (post 6, Luis Saez), along with two colts drawn outside, Star Hill (post 13, Emisael Jaramillo) and My Man Sam (post 14, Julien Leparoux). The two also-eligibles, Pinson and Hint of Roses, can make the race only in case of early scratches.

The Blue Grass and the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct are part of a pick four wager between the two tracks. As of early Tuesday afternoon, the other races in the bet (one from each track) had yet to be announced.

Keeneland also will offer pick five and late pick four wagers comprising graded stakes, including the Blue Grass, with $300,000 pool guarantees for each.

Two Grade 3 stakes, the $250,000 Commonwealth and $200,000 Shakertown, also are part of a Saturday card that starts at 12:35 p.m. Eastern.

Tom Franklin is a senior contributor at US Racing.
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