04/04/2015 6:08PM

Carpe Diem delivers as favorite in Blue Grass

Coady Photography
Carpe Diem and jockey John Velazquez win the Blue Grass Stakes by three lengths Saturday.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – All the pieces are in place. Carpe Diem completed the abbreviated racing schedule mapped out for him by trainer Todd Pletcher in a dominating victory Saturday at Keeneland in the Blue Grass Stakes and now heads to the 141st Kentucky Derby as one of the favorites.

Getting a perfect trip under John Velazquez, Carpe Diem won the Grade 1, $1 million Blue Grass by three lengths as a prohibitive favorite in a field of eight 3-year-olds, finishing the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:49.77 over a fast track. He paid $2.80 with his fourth victory from five career starts.

Danzig Moon was second, another 2 1/2 lengths before Ocho Ocho Ocho, with Frammento rallying belatedly to finish fourth by another 1 3/4 lengths.

Asked whether he believes Carpe Diem, by Giant’s Causeway, has what it takes to win the Derby, Pletcher said: “I do. The pedigree is there, and the colt has trained exceptionally well all winter. There are a lot of things that tell us yes.”

Well behaved in the post parade and in the gate, Carpe Diem broke sharply and settled into a nice rhythm almost immediately while settling alongside early leader Ocho Ocho Ocho while clear of the others. In the far turn, he maintained the look of a winner, and after being set down for the drive, he glided away, opening a sizable lead in midstretch with Velazquez merely hand-riding.

“There wasn’t much speed in there,” said Velazquez. “It was a nice, slow pace, and he was doing it easy.”

Carpe Diem was purchased last year for $1.6 million by the partnership of Stonestreet Stables and WinStar Farm. After winning two of three starts at 2, including the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity here last fall, he began his 3-year-old campaign with a five-length triumph in the March 7 Tampa Bay Derby. The Blue Grass will be his only other race before the May 2 Derby at Churchill Downs.

Carpe Diem earned another 100 qualifying points toward Derby eligibility, while the second- through fourth-place finishers earned 40, 20, and 10.

Pletcher and WinStar president Elliott Walden said they would discuss a training regimen in the weeks leading up to the Derby for Carpe Diem, saying there’s a possibility that the colt could be returned to his winter base of Palm Beach Downs in south Florida, “or maybe stay here or even go over to Churchill after a couple weeks. We’ll see,” Walden said.

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Mark Casse, the trainer of Danzig Moon, said from Florida that he would “have to talk it over” with owner John Oxley in regard to running back in the Derby, adding: “I would definitely be leaning that way.”

Nick Zito, the trainer of Frammento, said he would be very interested in running in the Derby if his colt had enough points. “We’ll hang out,” said Zito.

This was the third Blue Grass victory for Pletcher, who won it in 2005 with Bandini and 2008 with Monba. Velazquez’s lone prior Blue Grass win came with Bandini.

Pletcher and Velazquez both have won the Derby once before: Pletcher with Super Saver in 2010 and Velazquez with Animal Kingdom the following year.

The $2 exacta (5-8) paid $18, the $1 trifecta (5-8-1) returned $31, and the 10-cent superfecta (5-8-1-6) was worth $14.19.

The all-graded-stakes pick five ending with the Blue Grass (6-2-4-6-5) paid $496.15 for a 50-cent wager.

Attendance on a sunny and cool afternoon was 26,357, although thousands of those fans had departed by the time the Blue Grass was run in order to watch the Final Four basketball games.