03/29/2006 12:00AM

Strong Contender to Blue Grass

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Strong Contender, the unbeaten, lightly raced colt who was excluded from last week's Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park because of insufficient earnings, will make his next start in the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 15, trainer John T. Ward Jr. said Wednesday morning from Florida.

Edgar Prado has chosen to stick with Strong Contender for the Blue Grass. He had also been riding First Samurai, another colt pointing for the Blue Grass. Rafael Bejarano will replace Prado on First Samurai.

Ward said Strong Contender, who worked Tuesday morning at Gulfstream Park, would work once more in Florida before leaving late next week for Kentucky. The Blue Grass will be Strong Contender's stakes debut, and his last prep for the Kentucky Derby on May 6.

"This is the best spot for us to get set up for the Derby and get us there in good shape, if we have enough money," Ward said.

If more than 20 horses enter the Derby, the field is determined by earnings in graded stakes races.