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Barn Notes: Notes on the $1 Million Toyota Blue Grass

April 6, 2019

Today is a blockbuster day of racing at Keeneland with five graded stakes worth $2.25 million. The richest is the 95thrunning of the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass (G2), the most famous race at Keeneland and one of the most storied events in all of Thoroughbred racing. For the fifth consecutive year, the race for 3-year-olds going 1 1/8 miles is worth $1 million and is being run on the first Saturday of the Spring Meet – four weeks before the $3 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1).

The Toyota Blue Grass is one of two million-dollar stakes at Keeneland. The purse of the Fall Meet’s Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) was increased to $1 million in 2014. 

The Toyota Blue Grass is being run the same day as the $500,000 Central Bank Ashland (G1), a premier prep for the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1). Thirty-four fillies who raced in the 1 1/16-mile Central Bank Ashland have won the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs, including three of the past four Oaks winners: champion Monomoy Girl (2018), Cathryn Sophia (2016) and Lovely Maria (2015). 

Three other graded stakes join the Toyota Blue Grass and Central Bank Ashland: $300,000 Madison (G1), for fillies and mares going 7 furlongs; $200,000 Shakertown (G2), for older horses at 5½ furlongs on the turf; and $250,000 Commonwealth (G3), for older horses at 7 furlongs.

Here is additional information about the Toyota Blue Grass to aid in your coverage:

Kentucky Derby points: The winner of the Toyota Blue Grass earns 100 points as part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby, a points-based system with a series of key races offering escalating points to determine which horses will compete in the Kentucky Derby.

The second-place finisher in the Toyota Blue Grass earns 40 points, followed by 20 points to the third-place finisher and 10 points to the fourth-place finisher.

History: The Blue Grass was named for the famous Bluegrass region of Central Kentucky and was held in 1911-1914 and 1919-1926 at the old Kentucky Association track near downtown Lexington. Second-place finishers Meridian (1911), Donerail (1913) and Behave Yourself (1921) went on to win the Kentucky Derby. The 1926 winner, Bubbling Over, became the first horse to win the Blue Grass and the Kentucky Derby.

With the closure of the Kentucky Association track, a group of prominent area Thoroughbred breeders went to work to return racing to Lexington. In 1935, they founded the Keeneland Association, purchased land from horseman J.O. “Jack” Keene and set out to open a model race track. Keeneland opened on Oct. 15, 1936, for nine days of racing. In April 1937, Keeneland held its inaugural Spring Meet of 11 days and ran the Blue Grass for the first time.

The winner of the first Blue Grass at Keeneland was Maxwell Howard’s Fencing, who won by three-quarters of a length over Col. E.R. Bradley’s favored pair of Billionaire and Brooklyn, who finished noses apart for second. Nine days later at Churchill Downs, Fencing and Billionaire raced back in the Kentucky Derby, inaugurating a pattern that future Derby hopefuls would follow.

Blue Grass-Kentucky Derby connectionTen winners of the Blue Grass at Keeneland have won the Kentucky Derby. Nineteen horses who ran in the race at Keeneland returned to win the Derby.

Toyota sponsorshipIn 1996, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky (located in Georgetown), five area Toyota dealerships and Toyota Motor Sales in Cincinnati teamed to sponsor the Blue Grass, marking Toyota’s first sponsorship of a horse race.

The automotive giant is a strong supporter of Keeneland. The two share a commitment of giving back to the community. Toyota has contributed more than $138 million to charitable organizations in Kentucky.

Post positionsHere are the post positions and the number of Toyota Blue Grass winners each post position has produced since 1937 (the race was run in two divisions in 1951):

Post     No. of Winners
1          13
2          12
3          10
4          14
5          11 
6          7

7          3

8          6
9          2
10        3 (latest was Good Magic, 2018)
11        2
12        0
13        1 (Goyamo, 1954)
14        0

The shortest-priced favorite to win was Spectacular Bid (1979), who went off at .05-1 (1-20). He paid $2.10.

The longest shot to win was Stately Victor (2010), who went off at 40.10-1. He paid $82.20.

The last post-time favorite to win was Good Magic, who won in 2018 at 8-5.

Largest margin of victory: The largest margin of victory was turned in by Arts and Letters, who won the 1969 edition by 15 lengths. He was followed by Alydar (13-length winner in 1978) and Sinister Minister (12¾-length winner in 2006).

Fastest timesThe stakes record is 1:47 1/5, set by Skip Away in 1996. The track record for 
1 1/8 miles is 1:47.75 set by 5-year-old Noble Bird when he won the Hagyard Fayette (G2) on Oct. 29, 2016.

Maiden winner: In 2017, Irap became the first maiden to win the race. He paid $64.60 to win. Parsimony, a 2019 entrant, is a maiden.

Largest fields: Fourteen horses ran in the race in 1954, 1974, 2013, 2014 and 2016. That number was entered in the 2019 running.

Wagering: All-sources wagering was a record $22,634,861 on the 11-race 2018 Toyota Blue Grass card. Keeneland’s record for single-day on-track handle was $2,968,451 on April 14, 2012.

TV and radio coverageThe Toyota Blue Grass will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network from 5:30-7:30 p.m. ET.

As always, all Keeneland races are streamed live on Keeneland.com and on the Keeneland Race Day App.

Horse Racing Radio Network, the Eclipse Award-winning broadcast organization, will provide live coverage of the Toyota Blue Grass and other Keeneland stakes from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Coverage is available via live streaming on the HRRN website, horseracingradio.net. 

Central Bank Ashland-Toyota Blue Grass DoubleTrainer Kenny McPeek and jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. will be trying to pull off a rare Central Bank Ashland-Toyota Blue Grass double. They have Restless Rider in the Central Bank Ashland and come back in the next race with Signalman in the Toyota Blue Grass.

Six trainers and six jockeys have won both races the same year with three trainer-jockey combos completing the sweep.

McPeek is the most recent trainer to sweep with Take Charge Lady and Harlan’s Holiday in 2002. Jockey Mike Smith is the most recent rider to sweep in 1994 with Inside Information and Holy Bull.

The three trainer-jockey combinations to sweep the Ashland and Blue Grass in the same year are LeRoy Jolley and Braulio Baeza in 1976, Woody Stephens and Conn McCreary in 1949 and Ben Jones and N.L. Pierson in 1948.

The Central Bank Ashland and Toyota Blue Grass have been run on the same day since 2014.

Keeneland sales representatives: Eight entrants are graduates of Keeneland sales.

Admire: $200,000 purchase as a weanling at the 2016 November Breeding Stock Sale. Buyer: Blue Sky Stable. Consignor: Brereton C. Jones/Airdrie Stud, agent. $360,000 purchase at the 2017 September Yearling Sale. Buyer: Kempton/Berkelhammer, agent for Albaugh Family Stables. Consignor: Gainesway, agent.

Aquadini: $65,000 RNA at the 2017 September Sale. Consignor: Warrendale Sales, agent.

Market King: $550,000 purchase at the 2017 September Sale. Buyers: Robert C. Baker and William Mack. Consignor: Lane’s End, agent.

Moonster: $80,000 purchase as a yearling at the 2017 January Horses of All Ages Sale. Buyer: Calumet Farm. Consignor: Taylor Made Sales Agency, agent.

Parsimony: $41,000 purchase as a yearling at the 2017 January Sale. Buyer: Gary Broad. Consignor: Taylor Made Sales Agency, agent. $85,000 purchase at the 2017 September Sale. Buyer: Grand Oaks. Consignor: Taylor Made Sales Agency, agent.

Sir Winston: $50,000 RNA at the 2017 September Sale. Consignor: Denali Stud, agent.

So Alive: $160,000 purchase at the 2017 September Sale. Consignor: Glennwood Farm, agent. Buyer: Whitehorse Stables.

Vekoma: $135,000 purchase at the 2017 September Sale. Buyer: R.A. Hill Stable. Consignor: Lane’s End, agent. 

Julien Leparoux (Sir Winston) has two wins: Java’s War (2013) and Irap (2017). He is riding in the race for the 11thconsecutive year and 13th time overall.

Luis Saez (So Alive) won the race on Brody’s Cause (2016).

Riding in the race for the first time are Jon Court (Market King), Florent Geroux (Dream Maker), Mario Gutierrez (Parsimony) and John McKee (Moonster).

Todd Pletcher (So Alive) is seeking a record fourth win following Bandini (2005), Monba (2008) and Carpe Diem(2015).

D. Wayne Lukas (Market King) won the race with War (1987) and High Yield (2000).

Kenny McPeek (Signalman) won the race with Harlan’s Holiday (2002) and Java’s War (2013).

Dale Romans (Admire, Moonster) won the race with Dullahan (2012) and Brody’s Cause (2016).

Mike Maker (Somelikeithotbrown) won the race with Stately Victor (2010).

Doug O’Neill (Parsimony) won the race with Irap (2017).

Sending out their first starters in the race are trainers John Servis (Lucky Lee) and George Weaver (Vekoma).

Albaugh Family Stables (Admire) won the race in 2016 with Brody’s Cause.

Robert V. LaPenta (So Alive) won the race in 2004 with The Cliff’s Edge.

John Paul Reddam’s Reddam Racing (Parsimony) won the race in 2017 with Irap.

Mrs. Charlotte Weber’s Live Oak Plantation (Win Win Win) won the race in 2011 with Brilliant Speed.

Other notes of interest
General Quarters, who won the race in 2009, is the sire of Signalman.

Morning-line favorite Vekoma is chasing history in the race. No horse since Coaltown in 1948 has won the Blue Grass with just three previous career starts, but that is what Vekoma will attempt today.