04/14/2013 9:32AM

Kentucky Derby: Blue Grass, Arkansas Derby produce two starters apiece for Pletcher, McPeek

Coady Photography
Blue Grass winner Java's War (left), who earned an 89 Beyer Speed Figure, and runner-up Palace Malice (right) will both move on to the May 4 Kentucky Derby.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Ken McPeek and Todd Pletcher swapped exactas, so to speak, in the two big Kentucky Derby prep races Saturday.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

Both watched amid a bright and fading spring sun at Keeneland when Java’s War, trained by McPeek, overtook Palace Malice, trained by Pletcher, in the desperate final yards of the Blue Grass Stakes.

Turnabout was fair play less than an hour later when Overanalyze won the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park for Pletcher, with the McPeek-trained Frac Daddy finishing second. Both trainers watched that race on television monitors in the Keeneland grandstand.

All four horses are expected to run back in the May 4 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. McPeek said Sunday morning via Twitter that Java’s War came out of the race in fine shape, although the “trainer is exhausted.” He further thanked owner-breeder Charles Fipke for the opportunity to train Java’s War and said winning the Blue Grass in his hometown of Lexington was “special.”

Java’s War, by the late sire War Pass, earned an 89 Beyer Speed Figure with his neck victory. Interestingly, the figure was the slowest for the six stakes run at Keeneland on Friday and Saturday, with the others ranging from a 99 for Wise Dan in his Maker’s 46 Mile win on Friday to a 91 for Havelock in a five-horse photo finish in the Shakertown on Saturday.

Palace Malice was wheeled back by Pletcher and owner Dogwood Stable just two weeks after a troubled trip in the Louisiana Derby with the express intent of earning enough points to make the 20-horse cutoff for the Kentucky Derby. With 40 points, that mission was accomplished.

Pletcher also trains the third-place finisher in the Blue Grass, Charming Kitten, who earned 20 points, which has him 23rd on the points list as of Sunday. Ken Ramsey, the owner-breeder of Charming Kitten, said he is hopeful his colt can still make the Derby.

“We’ve all seen the way this can unfold,” said Ramsey. “There can be defections. We’re sending the colt to the hyperbaric chamber to get him reenergized. We’ll just wait and see what happens in the coming days.”

Two more “wild card” races, each worth 20 Derby points to the winner, are still to be run: the Coolmore Lexington on Saturday at Keeneland, and the April 26 Derby Trial at Churchill.

“Todd Pletcher might twist my arm and have us run back in the Derby Trial if we need a few more points to get in,” Ramsey said with a big laugh.

The most notable disappointment in the Blue Grass had to be Uncaptured, the colt who went 6 for 7 as a 2-year-old and was the morning-line favorite for the Blue Grass before being sent off the 5-1 fourth choice. Uncaptured stalked the pace from a good spot but faded to 10th, just behind his Mark Casse-trained stablemate, Dynamic Sky, who was not a factor when ninth at 9-1.

“Both horses are good,” Casse said Sunday morning. “The only thing hurt is our pride.”

Keeneland officials were elated with the turnout on a sunny afternoon that began quite chilly but gradually warmed up as the day wore on. The attendance of 37,161 was second-highest in track history, trailing only the 40,617 record set last year on Blue Grass Day.