Ten of the top 11 horses on the Road to the Kentucky Derby (G1) leaderboard, which is led by recent Risen Star (G2) Presented by Lamarque Ford winner Mandaloun and undefeated champion Essential Quality, are among 148 3-year-olds nominated to the 97th running of the $800,000 Toyota Blue Grass (G2), the richest of the six graded stakes worth $2.1 million to be run April 3 on opening Saturday of Keeneland’s 2021 Spring Meet.
Brad Cox, who received the 2020 Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer, conditions both Essential Quality and Mandaloun. He trains a total of 13 horses nominated to the Toyota Blue Grass.
“We thank the best racing operations in the U.S. for their support of Keeneland by nominating such an accomplished roster of horses to the Toyota Blue Grass,” Keeneland Vice President of Racing Gatewood Bell said. “The race is an important part of Triple Crown season and the cornerstone of the Spring Meet.”
The 1 1/8-mile Toyota Blue Grass is one of the nation’s most prominent steppingstones to the Triple Crown’s first leg, the $3 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 1 at Churchill Downs. The winner earns 100 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, while the second-, third- and fourth-place finishers receive 40 points, 20 points and 10 points, respectively.
Joining the Toyota Blue Grass on Keeneland’s 11-race card on April 3 are the $400,000 Central Bank Ashland (G1), a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies bidding to compete in the Kentucky Oaks (G1); $300,000 Madison (G1) for older fillies and mares at 7 furlongs on the dirt; $200,000 Appalachian (G2) Presented by Japan Racing Association for 3-year-old fillies at one mile on the turf; $200,000 Shakertown (G2) for 3-year-olds and up at 5½ furlongs on the turf; and $200,000 Commonwealth (G3) for older horses at 7 furlongs on the dirt.
That day, Keeneland will offer a $500,000-guaranteed All-Stakes Pick Four and a $500,000-guaranteed All Stakes Pick Five.
The Toyota Blue Grass will be the final race of Keeneland’s April 3 card with a 6:38 p.m. ET post. NBC Sports Network will televise the race along with the Wood Memorial (G2) Presented by Resorts World Casino from Aqueduct and Runhappy Santa Anita Derby (G1) from 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Post positions for the Toyota Blue Grass, Central Bank Ashland and the other April 3 races will be drawn Tuesday, March 30.
Mandaloun, a homebred racing for Juddmonte Farms, posted his initial stakes victory Feb. 13 in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds to move into the top spot on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.
Owned and bred by Godolphin, Essential Quality is undefeated in three starts with two Grade 1 victories at Keeneland: Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity and TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. He is second on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.
Among the top-ranked horses on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard who are nominated to the Toyota Blue Grass are the first five finishers from last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Third on the leaderboard is Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Midnight Bourbon, winner of the Lecomte (G3), followed by Godolphin’s Proxy, runner-up in the Lecomte and Risen Star; Cypress Creek Equine, Arnold Bennewith and Spendthrift Farm’s Keepmeinmind, winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) who was second in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity and third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile; John and Diane Fradkin’s Rombauer, recent winner of the El Camino Real Derby (L) who was fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile; Zedan Racing Stables’ Medina Spirit, winner of the Robert B. Lewis (G3); SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Golconda Stables, Siena Farm et al’s Spielberg, winner of the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2); J. Kirk and Judy Robison’s two-time Grade 1 winnerJackie’s Warrior, fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing and William Strauss’Hot Rod Charlie, runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Other notable horses nominated to the Toyota Blue Grass include the next six horses on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard: Gary Barber’s Get Her Number, winner of the American Pharoah (G1); Albaugh Family Stables’Sittin On Go, winner of the Iroquois (G3) Presented by Ford; Klaravich Stables’ Risk Taking, winner of the Withers (G3); Frank Fletcher Racing Operations’ Candy Man Rocket, winner of the Sam F. Davis (G3); Courtlandt Farms’ Greatest Honour, winner of the Holy Bull (G3), and Shortleaf Stable’s Caddo River, winner of the Smarty Jones (L).
Steve Asmussen and Todd Pletcher lead trainers by number of horses nominated to the Toyota Blue Grass, with 15 each.
Asmussen’s nominees include the aforementioned Jackie’s Warrior and Midnight Bourbon along with two fillies bred and raced by Stonestreet Stables: Rachel Alexandra (G2) winner Clairiere and Pauline’s Pearl. Clairiere is the leading point earner on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks (G1).
Joining Asmussen and Pletcher along with Cox as trainers with the most nominees to the Toyota Blue Grass are Chad Brown (nine), Bob Baffert (eight), Mark Casse (seven), Saffie Joseph Jr. (five), Kenny McPeek (five) and Dale Romans (five).
The late nomination period for the Toyota Blue Grass closes Wednesday, March 17.