04/13/2013 5:01PM

Blue Grass: Java's War overcomes poor start to run down Palace Malice

Keeneland/Coady Photography
Java's War nails Palace Malice (inside) on the wire of the Blue Grass Stakes.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Java’s War overcame an awful start before gathering himself and streaking down the stretch for a dramatic neck victory Saturday in the 89th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

With Julien Leparoux aboard for owner-breeder Charles Fipke and trainer Ken McPeek, Java’s War was up in the final two jumps to nip Palace Malice, who had grabbed a tenuous lead from fading pacesetter Rydilluc with about 100 yards to go. It was another neck back to Charming Kitten in third, and Rydilluc was another 1 1/4 lengths back in fourth.

Java’s War returned $11.20 as the second choice in a field of 14 3-year-olds and put himself squarely into the discussion for the 139th Kentucky Derby, for which the colt earned 100 points in the new eligibility system for making the 20-horse field.

Palace Malice and Charming Kitten earned 40 and 20 points. Both are trained by Todd Pletcher, who already has major contenders in Verrazano, Revolutionary, and Arkansas Derby winner Overanalyze for the May 4 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

Away very sluggishly – as has often happened with the colt breaking from the gate – Java’s War was still in last place midway through the final turn of the 1 1/8-mile Polytrack race. But then he came rolling down the middle of the track, picking off all but four opponents by the furlong pole. The bay colt then continued resolutely to prevail in 1:50.27.

“You always worry a little bit with a break like that,” said Leparoux, a nine-time Keeneland riding titlist who won the Blue Grass for the first time. “But he was very relaxed, and I gave him time to run free the first part. When I asked him, he picked it up nice.”

McPeek, whose lone previous win in the Blue Grass came with Harlan’s Holiday, the eventual lukewarm Derby favorite in 2002, said he was thrilled with having a viable Derby contender.

“We didn’t know coming into this year whether or not he was a turf horse or Poly horse or what,” McPeek said.

But after Java’s War finished second to Verrazano in the March 9 Tampa Bay Derby after a poor start, “we thought we might have a real nice one, regardless of the surface. Obviously, he’s shown he can run over anything. The Tampa [race] gave us the idea that we do fit, and now we have this. It’s great.”

On a sunny and cool afternoon, and before 37,161 ontrack fans, Rydilluc, the lukewarm 7-2 favorite, forced the pace in splits of 23.81, 48.04, and 1:12.76. After pulling away from a tiring Undrafted, he still held the lead passing the eighth pole, but then came Palace Malice to collar him, after which Java’s War flew by them both.

Java’s War was sired by the late War Pass, the 2007 2-year-old champion. He now has won 3 of 7 starts, with the Blue Grass marking his first graded triumph.

After Rydilluc, the order of finish was Fear the Kitten, Balance the Books, My Name is Michael, Channel Isle, Dynamic Sky, Uncaptured, Tesseron, West Hills Giant, Undrafted, and Footbridge.

Clearly, the disappointment of the race was Uncaptured, the 5-1 fourth choice who attended the early pace before fading.

McPeek strongly credited Fipke with his breeding program and his considerable investment as an owner. Fipke, a highly acclaimed geologist, lives in British Columbia and is very active as an owner and breeder throughout North America. He owned Perfect Shirl, the winner of the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf.

Twenty-three Kentucky Derby winners have prepped in the Blue Grass, with Street Sense, the 2007 Blue Grass runner-up, being the latest to use the race as a springboard to Derby victory. The last of 11 horses to win both races was Strike the Gold in 1991.

The $2 exacta (4-5) paid $61.40, the $1 trifecta (4-5-8) returned $501.30, and the 10-cent superfecta (4-5-8-13) was worth $268.50.

The attendance was the second-highest in Keeneland history, trailing only the 40,617 record set last year on Blue Grass Day.