Updated on 12/08/2014 10:11AM

Keeneland moves Blue Grass Stakes date, raises purse to $1 million


The Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland Racecourse will be moved to a date four weeks prior to the Kentucky Derby and its purse will be raised to $1 million for the 2015 running, the track announced late on Friday.

The Blue Grass will anchor the April 4 card on opening weekend this year, as part of a five-stakes lineup, including two other Grade 1 races, the Ashland, a prep for the Kentucky Oaks, and the Madison. Two other major Derby preps, the Santa Anita Derby in Southern California and the Wood Memorial in New York, are scheduled for the same date, and the three races are expected to be packaged into one live television broadcast.

The Blue Grass has been held three weeks prior to the Derby since 1989, when it was moved to that spot from its traditional location nine days prior to the Derby. In recent years, however, horsemen have increasingly come to rely on more time between starts, especially for stakes-caliber horses. That trend led the operators of Aqueduct to move the Wood Memorial to a spot four weeks prior to the Derby 10 years ago.

Keeneland has been fighting perceptions of the decline of the relevance of the Blue Grass Stakes as a Derby prep for five years, based on the track’s decision to install an artificial surface in 2006. Critics of the surface said that horses were not well-prepared to run in the Derby if they competed at Keeneland in the Blue Grass in their final prep, even though the 2007 Derby winner, Street Sense, ran in the Blue Grass, and the 2011 Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, trained over Keeneland’s artificial surface and had his final prep over Turfway’s artificial track.

The purse of the Blue Grass was $750,000 last year.

“By moving the Toyota Blue Grass up a week on the calendar, to be a month before the Kentucky Derby, and elevating the purse to a million dollars, we further enhance its stature as a nationally prominent classic prep,” said Rogers Beasley, Keeneland’s vice president of racing, in a statement. “The coupling of these two Keeneland icons – the Blue Grass and the Ashland – will make for a spectacular day of racing and give fans the opportunity to see top Derby and Oaks contenders.”

Also on the April 4 card will be the Grade 3 Commonwealth and the Grade 3 Shakertown.

The move of the Blue Grass will leave only the Arkansas Derby as a major Derby prep three weeks prior to the race. It’s unlikely that Oaklawn Park would move the race now that it is the only option on the calendar for that weekend and because the track has already scheduled the prep races that lead up to its own derby.

Keeneland’s other Derby prep, the Grade 3 Lexington – which has been used by some horses as a last-ditch attempt to gain points or earnings for Derby eligibility – will be held on April 11, in the spot where the Blue Grass used to be. In recent years, the Lexington has been held two weeks prior to the Derby.