04/06/2010 11:00PM

Evenly matched crew aboard for Blue Grass

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Seeking validation within the 3-year-old division - not to mention sufficient graded earnings to make the cut for the May 1 Kentucky Derby - a field of nine has been entered in the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes, which will be run Saturday for the 86th time at Keeneland Race Course.

What the $750,000 Blue Grass lacks in superstars, it makes up for in apparent competitiveness. Keeneland's linemaker, Mike Battaglia, said he struggled to make a morning-line favorite for the 1 1/8-mile Polytrack race, finally settling on Pleasant Prince, the Florida Derby runner-up, as a lukewarm 3-1 choice. Pleasant Prince was assigned post 6 with Julien Leparoux to ride.

Following in short order on the Blue Grass odds line are Odysseus (post 1, 7-2) and an uncoupled Todd Pletcher pair who drew alongside each other in the far outside posts: Aikenite (post 8, 4-1) and Interactif (post 9, 4-1).

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Pletcher assistant Ginny DePasquale said at the post-draw breakfast that both colts come to the Blue Grass in great shape. Pletcher already has a handful of prospects for the 136th Derby, most notably the solid favorite, Eskendereya.

"We're hoping they can both get tucked in and get good position," said DePasquale. "After that we'll just have to see how it plays out."

Two unexpected entrants came into the Blue Grass at the 11th hour. They are Stately Victor, a longshot trained by Mike Maker, and First Dude (post 2, 8-1), who gives trainer Dale Romans a second Blue Grass starter, along with Paddy O'Prado (post 7, 10-1).

First Dude, bred and owned by Don Dizney, finished fifth under Ramon Dominguez in the March 20 Florida Derby after getting what Romans described as "a terrible trip."

"All the way around there, he was in traffic," he said. "Ramon said we should give him one more chance to make the big race."

Stately Victor (post 3) won a maiden race in his second start and has not finished higher than fifth in any of his five subsequent starts. He is listed at 30-1 as the co-longest shot on the morning line, along with Codoy (post 5).

Make Music for Me (post 4, 6-1), the lone California shipper in the field, rounds out the Blue Grass lineup.

Scheduled post time for the Blue Grass is 5:30 p.m. Eastern. It will be televised live by NBC Sports on a one-hour show (5-6 p.m.) with the Arkansas Derby.

Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes

Post Horse Jockey M/L Odds
1 Odysseus Rajiv Maragh 7-2
2 First Dude Ramon Dominguez 8-1
3 Stately Victor Alan Garcia 30-1
4 Make Music for Me Mike Smith 6-1
5 Codoy John Velazquez 30-1
6 Pleasant Prince Julien Leparoux 3-1
7 Paddy O'Prado Kent Desormeaux 10-1
8 Aikenite Garrett Gomez 4-1
9 Interactif Rafael Bejarano 4-1

All carry 123 pounds. TV: NBC. Post time: 5:30 p.m. Eastern