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Keeneland notes: Blue Grass coming up huge
LEXINGTON, Ky. – If they don’t stop soon, this might become a Grade 1 trend.
Keeneland carded 16 possible starters for the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes on opening weekend, and when the marquee race of the spring meet, the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes, is run next Saturday, April 13, there might also be 16 on the program, including two also-eligibles, because the maximum number of starters is 14.
“The Blue Grass is coming up with a huge field, too,” Keeneland racing secretary Ben Huffman said.
As of Friday, Keeneland was listing the connections of 19 3-year-olds as being interested in running in the $750,000 Blue Grass. The 1 1/8-mile Polytrack race is worth 100 points to the winner on the new eligibility system being used for the Kentucky Derby.
Among the biggest names being pointed to the Blue Grass are Charming Kitten, Dewey Square, Java’s War, Noble Tune, Palace Malice, Rydilluc, and Uncaptured. Entries will be drawn Wednesday. Some of the horses who don’t make the Blue Grass field can be expected back a week later for the Grade 3 Coolmore Lexington, which offers 20 Derby points to the winner.
A slew of Blue Grass workouts were scheduled in the next few days, not only here, but also at Churchill Downs and Gulfstream Park.
Dewey Square, disappointing in the Holy Bull and Palm Beach at Gulfstream this winter, needs to “fish or cut bait” in the Blue Grass, trainer Dale Romans said. “Obviously, we’re in the same boat as a lot of folks. We need a big one here and see which way we’re headed.”
The Blue Grass anchors a blockbuster Saturday card that also will include the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley, Grade 1 Madison, Grade 3 Commonwealth, and Grade 3 Shakertown.
Spirit of ’68 survives
Surely the announcement this week of the death of the 32-year-old horse, Coax Me Chad, in Adair County, Ky., caught some people by surprise. The runner-up to Swale in the 1984 Kentucky Derby was always a relative unknown, even in life. How many people even knew he was still alive?
Of course, the website deadoraliveinfo.com, which is updated for that purpose in regard to those who have attained fame of varying degrees, carries no mention of Coax Me Chad. Nor, in fact, does it list Ronnie Warren, who trained the horse.
Warren was the leading trainer here nearly 45 years ago, topping the 1968 fall meet with a then-record 16 winners. That total has been surpassed at a single meet only three times in the track’s 76-year history (by D. Wayne Lukas twice and Ken McPeek once).
Warren, known as a gruff, temperamental man, was prominent in the early to mid-1980s, training for the late flamboyant insurance executive, Russ Michael Jr. His stable dwindled through the years, with last starter coming at River Downs in August 2007 and his last winner came at Turfway Park in March 2006.
Ronnie Warren: dead or alive?
“Oh, I’m still kicking,” he said with a laugh this week from Naples, Fla., where he lives with his brother and nephew.
Warren, 77, said he has undergone a hip replacement and a double-knee replacement but is otherwise healthy. He was all too happy to wax nostalgic about the only time he ever led a Keeneland meet, saying he had “four different horses win three races each” at that 1968 fall meet.
“Of course, that was in a different age,” he said. “You hardly ever see a horse run three times at a short meet like that anymore, let alone win ’em all.”
Ward’s a believer
If ever there has been the prototype of a horse-for-course, it’s New Believer. Now 8, the Kentucky-bred gelding has amassed a remarkable record of 8 wins and 1 second from 10 starts over the Keeneland Polytrack.
“It’s gotten to where I just save him for these Keeneland meets,” said Wesley Ward, who owns and trains New Believer.
Indeed, when he returns to action in the second race Sunday for a $25,000 claiming price, it will be the seventh time that New Believer will have raced at Keeneland from his last nine overall starts. Ward said the Sunday race is early enough in the meet that “hopefully I can run him back one more time” before the meet ends April 26.
New Believer was bred by John T. Ward Jr. – now the executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission – and his wife, Donna. They are not related to Wesley. John Ward trained Monarchos to win the 2001 Kentucky Derby.
In an interesting side note to the second race Sunday, a tangential slice of Derby history will be on display when Kelly Leak opposes New Believer. Kelly Leak won the 2009 Sunland Derby, the race in which Mine That Bird finished fourth before he won the Kentucky Derby by 6 3/4 lengths in his next start.
Kelly Leak is now trained by Leroy Hellman, a Chicago-based septuagenarian who is the fourth trainer for the 7-year-old Florida-bred. Mike Machowsky was the trainer when the gelding earned the majority of his $857,520 bankroll. He was followed by John Sadler and Bob Hess Jr., from whom Hellman claimed Kelly Leak here last spring for $32,000 in the gelding’s only prior start in Kentucky.
◗ Tommy “Cosmo” Cosden, a popular racetrack figure in Kentucky for years, has been stricken with the parasitic disease toxoplasmosis after undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer. Cosden, who was a trainer in his younger years and has served in a variety of capacities around the track, has been hospitalized in various facilities in Louisville for weeks, according to a friend, trainer Walt Bindner Jr.
Coax Me Chad wasn't a big star, but finishing second in the Derby is a real accomplishment. I read a couple of articles about him, and it sounds as if he had great homes throughout his life. I also appreciated the update about Ronnie Warren.
Can't really see a horse that knocks himself out in the Blue Grass (just to get the points) really going forward to the Derby. A horse with enough points that simple uses the race as a prep would be different. The poly to turf works as a prep if it is used as a prep. Kill for the points and win in the short term, but....
This may be the year that prompts Keeneland to go back to a dirt main track. One can only hope.