04/09/2010 12:00AM

Plenty of contenders in Blue Grass


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Records only date to 1937, and just once since then has the favorite been as high as 3-1 in the Blue Grass Stakes. That was an obscure colt named Can Trust, the fourth-place finisher in the 1958 renewal under a young jockey named Bill Hartack.

This arcane Blue Grass record could come under serious threat Saturday when the Grade 1 race is run for the 86th time at Keeneland, where one or more berths in the Kentucky Derby will be up for grabs. At least seven of the nine 3-year-old colts appear capable of taking down the winner's share of the $750,000 purse, and that contentious outlook might wind up scrambling the Keeneland toteboard any which way.

Pleasant Prince, runner-up in the Florida Derby three Saturdays ago, is a lukewarm morning-line favorite at 3-1. But nobody will be shocked if favoritism ultimately falls to Odysseus, the Tampa Bay Derby winner, or Interactif, one of two Todd Pletcher contenders in the race, along with his uncoupled stablemate Aikenite. Make Music for Me, the lone California invader in the lineup, and the uncoupled Dale Romans duo of First Dude and Paddy O'Prado all will take solid fractions of the wagering action, too.

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The funny thing about this Blue Grass is that it might look as confusing exiting as entering. Given that Eskendereya and Lookin At Lucky appear clear-cut as the top two favorites in the May 1 Derby, and that the Blue Grass will be run at 1 1/8 miles on a Polytrack surface that often produces inconclusive results - and even has been known to favor turf specialists who wouldn't necessarily care for the Churchill Downs dirt - there certainly is no guarantee that the winner will move to Louisville as one of the more highly regarded starters for the 2010 Derby.

"That's okay," said Romans, a perennial top trainer on the Kentucky circuit seeking his first Blue Grass win. "If you can be one of the 20 in the gate for the Derby, you've got a better shot than the horses not in there."

The Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby will be televised live on NBC on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series. The one-hour show starts at 5 p.m. Eastern, with the Blue Grass set for 5:30.

Race strategy, as you might guess, should be a major factor in the outcome. On paper, the Blue Grass lacks much pace, and it will be interesting to see if Odysseus or First Dude will shoot for the lead from the two inside posts, or whether Paddy O'Prado or Interactif are purposely urged toward the front from their outer draws. None could be fairly characterized as a pure front-runner, so don't be surprised if the race unfolds somewhat strangely.

"There's not a lot of speed in there," said owner Ken Ramsey, who is trying to get late-running Pleasant Prince to join his Lane's End winner Dean's Kitten in the Derby gate. "That might hurt us because of our running style, but you never know. Our horse is really sharp right now, and he's really on the improve."

While Pleasant Prince and longshots Stately Victor and Codoy figure to lag early, Make Music for Me and Aikenite could be making their moves from midpack.

"He's a pretty straightforward horse, so tactically there's not much to discuss," said Andy Durnin, who traveled with Make Music for Me and has represented trainer Alexis Barba here this week. "He's going to go out there and run his race."

The Blue Grass is carded as the ninth of 11 races on a Saturday card that starts at 1:05 p.m. Eastern. Three graded races directly precede the Blue Grass on easily the biggest day of the year at Keeneland: the Grade 3 Shakertown (race 6), Grade 2 Commonwealth (race 7), and Grade 2 Jenny Wiley (race 8).

Several of the human participants in the 2010 Blue Grass have won the race at least once, including Pletcher and Mike Smith, who rides Make Music for Me. Both men have won it twice.

Although the weather was chilly here Thursday, the forecast for Saturday calls for an upgrade to sunny skies and a high of 68.