04/13/2011 3:49PM

Blue Grass Stakes a natural spot for Wilkinson

Lynn Roberts/Hodges Photography
Wilkinson, with Garrett Gomez up, wins the Lecomte.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – It was minutes after Wilkinson finished a fast-closing second last October in his career debut in a maiden race at Keeneland, and trainer Neil Howard was upbeat despite the colt getting beat in a close photo.

“He’s a nice horse,” said Howard. “He’s classy, real smart. I think he’s got a future.”

KENTUCKY DERBY NEWS: Track all the 3-year-olds on the Triple Crown trail

Saturday at Keeneland will be back to the future for Wilkinson, who only got a Beyer Speed Figure of only 56 from that Oct. 21 race but has proved his trainer prophetic by steadily improving in the nearly six months that have passed. After winning the Lecomte Handicap and finishing a decent sixth in the Louisiana Derby, Wilkinson has been pegged as the 6-1 co-third choice on the morning line for the 87th running of the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes.

“I’m very satisfied with the way he’s progressed since last fall,” said Howard. “He only got beat [5 1/4] lengths in the Louisiana Derby, and the good thing is I don’t think it was his best effort. I did like the way he closed from the quarter pole to just inside the sixteenth pole. He’s handled the Polytrack fine, and he’s trained beautifully since his last race.”

Wilkinson, by Lemon Drop Kid, is owned by the Gaillardia Racing LLC of E.K. Gaylord. Howard said even if the colt pulls a mild upset Saturday under jockey Jamie Theriot, “at the risk of putting words in Mr. Gaylord’s mouth, I’m going to say we probably would not run back in the Derby – but obviously that’s something we’d have time to talk about afterward.”

Most of the 12 runners in the $750,000 Blue Grass will need to win to clinch a Derby spot. A few more, including Wilkinson, could run second, worth $150,000, and make the cut, depending on how things fall. Santiva leads in graded earnings with $240,254, followed by Willcox Inn ($139,000), Joes Blazing Aaron ($90,000), and Wilkinson ($70,000).

Three other graded races on card

Besides the Blue Grass, three other graded stakes will be run here Saturday. The Grade 2, $200,000 Jenny Wiley (race 8) came up the deepest of them with an oversubscribed field of 14 fillies and mares, led by Forest Uproar, Fantasia, Eclair de Lune, and Gypsy’s Warning.

The Grade 3, $100,000 Shakertown Stakes (race 6) will feature Chamberlain Bridge, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint last fall, and multiple graded winner Silver Timber in a field of nine turf sprinters.

The Grade 2, $175,000 Commonwealth Stakes (race 7) got just five runners, led by Wise Dan.

Rain not the problem it once was

Heavy rain pounded the Lexington and Louisville regions for much of Monday and Tuesday, but by Wednesday morning, the Polytrack surface at Keeneland looked as good as ever.

“In the olden days with the dirt track, three or four inches of rain would’ve been terrible for us,” said Keeneland’s president, Nick Nicholson. “We would’ve lost at least one morning of training, maybe two, and a lot of these horses preparing for our big stakes couldn’t have worked.” Wednesday’s card, said Nicholson, “would’ve been decimated with scratches. I’m extremely happy with how the Polytrack drains.”

Polytrack became the main racing surface at Keeneland at the 2006 fall meet.

The recent rain was heavy enough that two of the three Wednesday races scheduled for the turf were transferred to the Polytrack, with only the featured eighth race remaining on the grass.

Desormeaux to stay through Churchill meet

Kent Desormeaux has committed to staying in Kentucky for the Churchill Downs spring meet, which runs through July 4. Desormeaux has hired Fred Aime as his agent, effective with the start of the meet on April 30. Aime, who most recently worked for Miguel Mena, is best known as the former agent for Pat Day.

Desormeaux, a Hall of Fame jockey with three Kentucky Derby wins, was the leading rider at the 2008 Keeneland spring meet.

◗ The busiest week of stakes at the spring meet concludes Sunday with the Grade 2, $150,000 Beaumont Stakes, which is expected to have Tell a Kelly as one of the top contenders. Tell a Kelly won the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante last summer and is now trained by Chad Brown.

◗ The “Late Double” programming that TVG started last year in southern California will have a special one-time showing Friday at Keeneland during the last two races of the card. On hiatus since the end of Del Mar last summer, the show is hosted by Christina Olivares, Michelle Yu, Greg Wolf, and Tim Bader.

◗ TVG guarantees a $200,000 pool for the 50-cent late pick four (races 7-10) every Friday of the meet.

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