Updated on 09/16/2011 7:09AM

A rabbit-free Blue Grass

Harlan's Holiday, with groom Denise Hernandez on Thursday, faces Booklet for the fourth time in Saturday's Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Jorge Chavez does not have to be Elmer Fudd. "I don't see any rabbits this time," the jockey said Thursday morning.

No, Chavez will not be hunting rabbits. Nor will rabbits be hunting his mount, Booklet. Unlike the Florida Derby, in which Booklet was shadowed by the rascally Smooth Jazz, the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes on Saturday at Keeneland could cast Booklet as another Saturday morning cartoon character: the Road Runner.

The traditional bias toward speed and inside posts is alive and well this spring at Keeneland. This track is 75 miles from Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby will be run in 21 days, but it plays decidedly different. Speed is king. It is the reason why Booklet could pull off a mild upset against the current Derby favorite, Harlan's Holiday, Saturday in round four of their rivalry.

As expected, six were entered on Thursday morning in the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass. Booklet drew the outside post position, but he has enough speed to get to the lead if he wants it. The wild card is Bob's Image, who drew two slots inside of Booklet, and has plenty of speed himself. If Bob's Image is intent on the lead, Booklet will have to settle into a stalking position. He did not have that luxury in the Florida Derby, because Smooth Jazz started outside of Booklet, and shadowed him like a crazed stalker for the first six furlongs.

Harlan's Holiday drew post 3 and is the 6-5 favorite on the morning line set by Mike Watchmaker of Daily Racing Form. Booklet is 5-2. The others in the race, from the rail out, are Ocean Sound, Straight Gin, and Azillion. All starters carry 123 pounds.

The Blue Grass is the ninth race on a 10-race card that begins at 1:15 p.m. Post time for the Blue Grass is 5:15 Eastern. The Blue Grass will be televised live by NBC-Sports, in a 90-minute show. It is also the middle leg of the Big 3 Pick 3, which begins with the $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and concludes with the $500,000 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.

These three races are among the final key preps for the May 4 Kentucky Derby. Harlan's Holiday is the Derby favorite, and Booklet also is highly ranked, but the Wood has more depth than the Blue Grass. Top Derby contenders Blue Burner, Buddha, Medaglia d'Oro, Saarland, and Sunday Break are among eight in the Wood. That race will be televised live by ESPN, in a one-hour show beginning at 3:30 Eastern. Watchmaker made Saarland the 5-2 favorite, with Medaglia d'Oro at 3-1 and Buddha at 7-2.

The Arkansas Derby has a wide-open field of 11. Watchmaker made Mr. Mellon the 3-1 favorite. That race will be run at 6:45 Eastern, 2 1/2 hours after the Wood. It is not on national television.

Booklet beat Harlan's Holiday twice at Gulfstream Park this winter, in the Fountain of Youth and Holy Bull, before Harlan's Holiday captured the Florida Derby. Pace made the race in the Florida Derby.

"I don't want what happened the other day," said John Ward Jr., the trainer of Booklet. "We're hoping to see a pace like in the Fountain of Youth. I don't think we're going to go out there in kamikaze fractions."

Ward said that if Bob's Image is intent on the lead, Booklet will sit off of him. If Bob's Image does not go for the lead, Booklet will seize it.

Most likely, Booklet will have to sit off Bob's Image's flank. Bob's Image won twice this winter at Fair Grounds when he made the lead, and he also set the pace when he finished second in the Risen Star Stakes. Last time out in the Louisiana Derby, though, Bob's Image was bumped at the start while breaking from an outside post, and could not get to the top. He faded to finish fifth.

"I think this horse prefers to be on the lead," said Terry Finley, who runs the syndicate West Point Thoroughbreds, which owns Bob's Image.

If Bob's Image and Booklet go too fast too soon, Harlan's Holiday should get an ideal trip under Edgar Prado. But Prado knows he is a marked man.

"In a shorter field, everybody knows where you are," Prado said. "In a big field, if you have enough horse, you can sneak through."

Harlan's Holiday has finished first five times and second four times in nine starts. His attributes are "his consistency and his tenaciousness," trainer Ken McPeek said.

Azillion was second, beaten by a neck, in the Spiral Stakes last time out. He has a patch over a quarter crack on the outside of his right front hoof.

"He got that before the Spiral. It's old," trainer Bob Hess Jr. said.

Ocean Sound benefits by breaking from the rail.

"We'll find out if he can go the distance," trainer Jim Cassidy said.

Straight Gin was fifth in the Spiral after winning two straight at Gulfstream Park.

"He didn't have any excuse," trainer Nick Zito said. "I'm hoping it was just the track. It's not like him to just chuck it."



Purse: $750,000, 1 1/8 miles, Grade 1


1Ocean SoundE. Delahoussaye6-1

2Straight GinR. Albarado12-1

3Harlan's HolidayE. Prado6-5

4Bob's ImageL. Meche15-1

5AzillionC. Nakatani7-2

6BookletJ. Chavez5-2

All starters carry 123 pounds

Odds by Mike Watchmaker

Television: Saturday, 4:30 p.m. (Eastern) on NBC

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