04/12/2016 7:51AM

Road to the Derby: Blue Grass Stakes


Grade 1, $1 million Blue Grass Stakes; 1 1/8 miles; Keeneland; April 9, 2016
(100 Derby qualifying points for a win, 40 for second, 20 for third, 10 for fourth)

 Winner: Brody’s Cause, by Giant’s Causeway

Trainer: Dale Romans

Jockey: Luis Saez

Owner: Albaugh Family Stable

Beyer Speed Figure: 91

This was an odd lineup, for of the 14 runners, only one – BRODY’S CAUSE – owned a stakes win. That victory, significantly, came in Keeneland’s premier race for 2-year-olds, the Breeders’ Futurity, and Brody’s Cause returned to his winning ways in this, Keeneland’s premier race for 3-year-olds.

This was an important step for Brody’s Cause, who was dreadful in his only other start this year, the Tampa Bay Derby. He adds his name to the long list of stakes-class horses who find that surface difficult to navigate. This year’s Tampa Bay Derby is proving to be a key race, as both Brody’s Cause, who was seventh, and Outwork, who was second, returned to win a major Kentucky Derby prep in their next start, with Outwork capturing the Wood Memorial. Tampa Bay Derby winner Destin, who got a Beyer Speed Figure of 100 that day, will not race again until the Kentucky Derby.

Brody’s Cause obviously loves Keeneland. In addition to his two Grade 1 victories there, he also was third last fall in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He also won his lone start at Churchill Downs, against maidens last fall, which bodes well for the Derby. Less encouraging is that Brody’s Cause got only a 91 in this race, and that represents his career best. He will need better than that to win the Derby. But at least he’s headed in the right direction as the first Saturday in May approaches.

In the Blue Grass, Brody’s Cause had no speed and raced between horses, near the back of the pack, around the first turn, where he was jostled between CHERRY WINE and GOATS TOWN. He made a sharp rally between horses while four paths wide on the far turn, was fanned about five paths wide into the lane, closed resolutely and won going away.

MY MAN SAM, who was second, had no speed away from the gate and was last, in the three path, into the first turn. He had just one horse beat with three furlongs to go, started about three paths wide on the turn but was fanned about six or seven wide entering the lane, and made a nice late run down the center of the track to touch out Cherry Wine for second.

Cherry Wine, who finished third, raced near the back of the pack along the rail into the first turn, bumped with Brody’s Cause going around that turn, had to wait for a moment in traffic three furlongs out, angled outside – just inside of My Man Sam – midway on the turn, was fanned about five or six wide into the stretch, got separation from My Man Sam in upper stretch, but was nailed by that rival in the closing yards while unable to reel in Brody’s Cause.

The first three finishers were all far back in the early going, so the race shape certainly was in their favor.

By contrast, the maiden LAOBAN, who finished fourth, was part of the speed brigade. After a slight hop at the start, he took the lead into the first turn and had a clear lead by the time the field turned into the backstretch. He was challenged by CARDS OF STONE and STAR HILL entering the far turn, but fought off those two, was passed by Brody’s Cause a furlong out, then tired in the final sixteenth. Of those nearest the lead, he ran best.

Star Hill, who was fifth, was caught about four or five paths wide into the first turn while racing mid-pack, advanced in the middle of the track down the backstretch, continued his progress while still wide on the far turn, was lapped on Laoban entering the lane, but never could get past him and was engulfed by the top three through the lane. This was a better-than-looked effort, considering the ground loss and extended mid-race move.

Goats Town, who was sixth, was squeezed back between rivals leaving the gate, bumped with Brody’s Cause around the first turn, had to check entering the backside, had to wait in traffic for a bit early on the far turn, was tipped to the three path for room, then continued to make steady progress all the way to the wire. Not bad at all for a maiden.

LOOKIN FOR A KISS, who was seventh, was forwardly placed along the inside into the first turn, remained on the rail to the far turn, was aggressively urged beginning about three furlongs from home, made a mini-rally in upper stretch, but could not sustain his bid.

DONEGAL MOON, who finished eighth, was hustled away from the gate but was outrun nearing the first turn and wound up mid-pack, toward the inside. He was outfooted entering the backside, made good progress while four paths wide early on the far turn and got up to fourth, but could not make any impact down the lane and had several late runners overtake him.

CRESCENT DRIVE, who was ninth, lacked speed leaving the gate and was in front of only My Man Sam into the first turn while racing inside. He remained on the rail the rest of the way – on the far turn, in the stretch – and never made any impact. Pity such a nice ride by James Graham went for naught. This was his first try on dirt after finishing in the money in all his prior starts on synthetic or turf.

Cards of Stone, who was 10th, was hustled away from the gate but wound up caught four wide into the first turn. He tracked Laoban down the backstretch, moved with Star Hill to engage Laoban three furlongs out, was the first of those three to yield nearing the top of the stretch, then emptied out while swapping leads a couple of times through the lane.

ZAPPERINI, who was 11th, was toward the rear of the field while four paths wide around the first turn, lost ground into the backstretch and fell back to 13th, was outrun into the far turn while wide, dropped back to last, then passed a few weary rivals in the stretch.

ZULU, who was 12th, was in the two path, just behind Laoban while between runners around the first turn. He was squeezed back to fifth just before entering the backstretch, tried to rally while three paths wide on the far turn, but was outrun by stablemate Donegal Moon and was done with a quarter-mile remaining. His performance, coupled with Mohaymen’s fourth in the Florida Derby one week earlier, further calls into the question the quality of the Fountain of Youth, in which Mohaymen and Zulu were one-two.

AMERICAN DUBAI, who was 13th, veered out at the start and then had to check coming under the wire the first time, drifted out around the first turn while racing in mid-pack, remained wide down the backstretch and into the far turn, had no response when Brody’s Cause and Cherry Wine roared past him to his inside at that point, tired, and raced on his wrong lead down the stretch.

TWIZZ, who finished last of 14, was forwardly placed while three paths wide around the first turn, chased Laoban down the backstretch, began to lose ground entering the far turn and tired badly while also racing on his wrong lead in the stretch.