TOYOTA BLUE GRASS WEEKEND WEBSITE (includes bio information for connections of Toyota Blue Grass horses)
LEXINGTON, KY (April 4, 2017) – Whitham Thoroughbreds’ undefeated homebred McCraken has been installed as the 7-5 morning-line favorite in a field of seven 3-year-olds for Saturday’s 93rd running of the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass (G2).
The 1 1/8-mile main track test serves as a major steppingstone for the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) to be run May 6 at Churchill Downs.
The Toyota Blue Grass offers 170 points toward qualification for this year’s Derby with 100 points going to the winner, 40 to the runner-up, 20 to third place and 10 points to fourth. The Kentucky Derby is limited to the top 20 point earners that pass the entry box and currently the cut line is 20 points.
The Toyota Blue Grass will go as the 10th race on Saturday’s 11-race program with a 6:17 p.m. ET post time. First post time Saturday is 1:05 p.m.
Trained by Ian Wilkes and ridden in all four of his starts by Brian Hernandez Jr., McCraken has won three stakes with graded victories coming in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs to close out 2016 and the Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs in his lone 2017 start.
McCraken will break from post position two in his bid to give Wilkes and Hernandez their first Toyota Blue Grass victory.
Second choice on the line at 5-2 is Bridlewood Farm, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Robert LaPenta’s Tapwrit.
Winner of the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) in his most recent start and runner-up to McCraken in the Sam F. Davis, Tapwrit will be attempting to give seven-time Eclipse Award-training Todd Pletcher a record fourth Toyota Blue Grass victory.
Pletcher, who won the Toyota Blue Grass with Bandini in 2005, Monba in 2008 and Carpe Diem in 2015, is one of five trainers to win this race three times. The others are all Hall of Famers: LeRoy Jolley, Ben Jones, Woody Stephens and Nick Zito.
Jose Ortiz, who will be seeking his initial Toyota Blue Grass victory, has the mount and will break from post position four.
The 7-2 third choice on handicapper Mike Battaglia’s morning line is Klaravich Stable and William Lawrence’s Practical Joke.
Trained by 2016 Eclipse Award winner Chad Brown, who is seeking his first Toyota Blue Grass victory, Practical Joke enters Saturday’s race off a runner-up finish in the Fountain of Youth (G2) on March 4 at Gulfstream Park. As a 2-year-old, Practical Joke won the Hopeful (G1) at Saratoga and the Champagne (G1) at Belmont Park before closing 2016 with a third-place finish in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Santa Anita.
Joel Rosario, who won the 2011 Toyota Blue Grass on Brilliant Speed, has the mount on Practical Joke and will break from post position seven.
Two other trainers will be attempting to join Pletcher with three victories in the race: Dale Romans and Kenny McPeek.
Romans, who will send out J Boys Echo for the Albaugh Family Stable, won last year’s race with Brody’s Cause, also owned by Albaugh. Should Romans repeat, he would become the third trainer to win the Toyota Blue Grass in consecutive years, joining Jolley with Honest Pleasure and For the Moment in 1976 and 1977, and Jones with Faultless in 1947 and Coaltown in 1948.
J Boys Echo, who broke his maiden here last fall in his second start and won the Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct in his most recent outing, will be ridden by Robby Albarado and break from post position three. J Boys Echo is 4-1 on the morning line.
McPeek, who won the race in 2002 with Harlan’s Holiday and in 2013 with Java’s War, will send out It’s Your Nickel for the ownership group of Harold Lerner, AWC Stables, Nehoc Stables and Magdelena Stable.
Winner of the John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park on March 4 in his most recent start, It’s Your Nickel will be ridden by James Graham and break from post position one as a 20-1 morning-line proposition.
In addition to Rosario, one other rider is going for a second Toyota Blue Grass victory.
Julien Leparoux, who won the 2013 renewal on Java’s War, will ride Irap for trainer Doug O’Neill. Owned by Reddam Racing, Irap will try to become the first maiden to win the race. Irap is 20-1 on the morning line and will break from post position six.
The field for the Toyota Blue Grass, with riders and morning-line odds, from the rail out is: It’s Your Nickel (Graham, 20-1), McCraken (Hernandez, 7-5), J Boys Echo (Albarado, 4-1), Tapwrit (Ortiz, 5-2), Wild Shot (Corey Lanerie, 15-1), Irap (Leparoux, 20-1), Practical Joke (Rosario, 7-2). All starters will carry 123 pounds.
TOYOTA BLUE GRASS POST POSITION DRAW QUOTES
Alan Shell, assistant to Kenny McPeek, trainer of It’s Your Nickel; post 1, 20-1 morning-line odds)
“(The inside post) is not ideal, but he seems very versatile. He’s won on three surfaces (turf, dirt and all-weather). He’s handled everything we’ve thrown at him.”
Ian Wilkes, trainer of McCraken; post 2, 7-5 morning-line favorite
“Post two is OK. I don’t think it will be any problem. Just leave things up to (jockey) Brian (Hernandez Jr.) to ride the race. The goal is the first Saturday in May, and he doesn’t have to win this race. I don’t want to put that pressure on the horse. If he gets the right race and moves forward, we’ll be fine.”
Dale Romans, trainer of J Boys Echo; post 3, 4-1 morning-line odds
“Post position can’t be an excuse. The three (post) is about as good as you can get in a seven-horse field. It’s a good field of horses. You have three or four that are really top horses.”
Ginny DePasquale, assistant to Todd Pletcher, trainer of Tapwrit; post 4, 5-2 morning-line odds
“I’m very happy. He’s right in the middle, which is perfect. He can see horses on both sides. I think Todd will be pleased. It’s not a big field, so (Tapwrit will) stay out of trouble.”
Jak Knelman, director of stallion services for Calumet Farm, breeder and owner of Wild Shot; post 5, 15-1 morning-line odds
"He has been in a lot of big races and has been a consistent runner. He hasn’t gotten a big win under his belt, but he always tries really hard. We are pretty excited for this weekend. He worked really well (on Monday). He went real easy and galloped out well.”
Doug O’Neill, trainer of Irap; post 6, 20-1 morning-line odds (via text)
“It is a tough race, but our son of Tiznow has special ability if he puts it together. Blinkers off … here we go.”
Chad Brown, trainer of Practical Joke; post 7, 7-2 morning-line odds
“I normally wouldn’t be thrilled with (the outside post), but it’s not a big field. I don’t think it’ll be a big issue.”
KEENELAND CARDS 11 RACES SATURDAY
Post time for the first race on all 15 days of Keeneland’s 2017 Spring Meet is 1:05 p.m. ET. On Saturday, Keeneland will run 11 races with the final race post time of 6:50 p.m. Approximate post times for the day’s stakes are Commonwealth (G3) at 3:53 p.m., Shakertown (G2) at 4:28 p.m., Madison (G1) at 5:03 p.m., Central Bank Ashland (G1) at 5:40 and Toyota Blue Grass (G2) at 6:17 p.m.
The Spring Meet concludes Friday, April 28, with racing on Wednesdays through Sundays. Keeneland will be closed on Easter Sunday, April 16.
All-Stakes Pick 4 Presented by TVG. A $400,000-guaranteed Pick 4 featuring races 7-10: the Shakertown (G2), Madison (G1), Central Bank Ashland (G1) and Toyota Blue Grass (G2).
All-Stakes Pick 5 Presented by TVG. A $300,000-guaranteed Pick 5 featuring races 6-10: Commonwealth, Shakertown, Madison, Central Bank Ashland and Toyota Blue Grass.
LIVE TV, RADIO AND ONLINE COVERAGE
Keeneland fans have numerous ways to follow Saturday’s racing action, including free live streaming of races on Keeneland.comand the Keeneland Race Day App; live, on-site coverage on TVG beginning at 1 p.m. ET; and NBC Sports Network’s live national broadcast of the Toyota Blue Grass (G2).
The Toyota Blue Grass is included in NBC Sports Network’s program from 5:30-7:30 p.m. ET. The telecast also will include the Wood Memorial (G2) from Aqueduct and the Santa Anita Derby (G1).
Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN), the Eclipse Award-winning broadcast organization, will provide live coverage of Keeneland’s stakes on Saturday from 4-7 p.m.
HRRN is streamed worldwide on its website, horseracingradio.net, and can be heard throughout North America on Sirius/XM. Check the website for complete channel information.
“Kentucky Winner’s Circle” hosted by E.J. Clark will air live from Keeneland on Saturday from
2-4 p.m. in the Louisville radio market. The show will be broadcast on WXVW The BIG X Sports Radio 96.1 FM and 1450 AM and streamed live on 1450thesportsbuzz.com.