04/14/2011 4:09PM

Blue Grass Stakes: Santiva fresh and ready


LEXINGTON, Ky. – Yes, it’s a Grade 1 race with a $750,000 purse. But the inextricable significance of the Blue Grass Stakes is its positioning before the Kentucky Derby, and after the Blue Grass is run Saturday over Polytrack at Keeneland, everyone will surely be asking: What did it mean?

In a lot of recent years, it hasn’t meant much in the Derby context. Only one Derby winner (Street Sense, 2007) in the last 15 years has even run in the Blue Grass, and it has been 20 years (Strike the Gold, 1991) since the Blue Grass winner also won the Derby.

BLUE GRASS STAKES: Check out handicapping preview and watch the race live

A number of trainers, including Eddie Kenneally, are intent on reversing that trend Saturday. Kenneally will send out Santiva, the likely favorite among 12 3-year-olds in the 87th running of the Blue Grass. To this point, things have gone pretty much according to plan for Kenneally, whose horse currently has sufficient graded earnings to make the Derby starting gate. Santiva was second in the Feb. 19 Risen Star at Fair Grounds in his only start this year, lifting his graded earnings total to $240,254, good for 18th on the graded earnings list.

“He’s a fresh, lightly raced horse,” said Kenneally. “I definitely feel good about his chances for Saturday. We have a live horse.”

Santiva, owned by Tom Walters, won the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last fall at Churchill Downs, and his connections obviously are hoping he can repeat what Super Saver did last year in completing the KJC-Derby double.

“He’s won a graded stakes at Churchill, so he’s familiar with that track,” said Kenneally.

Aside from Santiva, most of the others would need to win to clinch a spot in the Derby, which is limited to the top 20 based on graded earnings. A few could run second, worth $150,000, and make the cut, depending on how things fall. After Santiva, those with notable sums are Willcox Inn ($139,000), Joes Blazing Aaron ($90,000), and Wilkinson ($70,000).

Santiva will start from post 3 under Julien Leparoux, who already has one of the favorites for the May 7 Derby in Dialed In. Leparoux has been aboard Santiva once, in a Palm Meadows workout.

“He seems like a very nice horse,” said Leparoux.

Santiva ran second here last fall in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity over Polytrack, a surface that has enticed more than a few horses who otherwise might not be in a Derby prep of such stature. Brilliant Speed, entered off five straight turf races for trainer Tom Albertrani, is one of those.

“It seems to be the trend with turf horses going to synthetic,” said Albertrani assistant Dan Blacker. “A lot of the turf horses, they seem to run equally well on the synthetic – not always the case, but more often than not.”

Brilliant Speed will have Joel Rosario aboard when he breaks from post 5. Albertrani has another turf standout in King Congie (post 2, Rajiv Maragh) in the lineup. King Congie, owned by West Point Thoroughbreds, is named for the late Congie DeVito, who died in February after working for more than 10 years for West Point.

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

Mike Maker, who last year sent out Stately Victor to a 40-1 upset in the Blue Grass, also has an uncoupled duo in Joes Blazing Aaron (post 4, Garrett Gomez) and Twinspired (post 7, Robby Albarado), both with noncompetitive dirt form.

Likewise, Todd Pletcher, already a two-time Blue Grass winner with Bandini (2005) and Momba (2008), has three horses in the race, and all have turf or synthetic leanings: Sensational Slam (post 6, Jose Lezcano), Praetereo (post 10, Edgar Prado), and Queen’splatekitten (post 12, John Velazquez).

Newsdad (post 1, Jesus Castanon), Willcox Inn (post 8, Rosie Napravnik), Wilkinson (post 9, Jamie Theriot), and Crimson China (post 11, Alan Garcia) are four more colts whose forte could prove to be turf or synthetic.

“Our horse has moved forward off his last race,” said Graham Motion, trainer of Crimson China, who reportedly bled a 2 on a scale of 5 when he finished second in the Rushaway Stakes three weeks ago at Turfway Park.

This will be the fifth Blue Grass since Keeneland installed its Polytrack in the fall of 2006.

The Blue Grass is carded as the ninth of 10 races Saturday, with post time set for 5:45 p.m. Eastern. First post is 1:15. Three graded stakes come directly beforehand: the Shakertown, Commonwealth, and Jenny Wiley. There are no claiming races on an outstanding program.

Live streaming of the Blue Grass is available on DRF.com. TVG will provide extensive television coverage. The race also will be shown on NTRA.com.

The weather forecast for Saturday calls for showers and a high of 57 degrees.

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