Gary and Mary West’s champion Game Winner and Gary Barber’s War of Will, a two-time graded stakes winner this year, are among the 10 leading point earners on the Road to the Kentucky Derby (G1) who are nominated to the 95th running of the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass (G2) on April 6, opening Saturday of Keeneland’s 2019 Spring Meet.
Click here for the list of the 137 Toyota Blue Grass nominees and their past performances. Post positions for the Toyota Blue Grass and Keeneland’s $500,000 Central Bank Ashland (G1), a major prep race for the Kentucky Oaks (G1) also being run April 6, will be drawn Wednesday, April 3.
The 1 1/8-mile Toyota Blue Grass, one of the nation’s richest steppingstones to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) on May 4 at Churchill Downs, awards the winner 100 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. The second-, third- and fourth-place finishers of the race receive 40 points, 20 points and 10 points, respectively.
The Toyota Blue Grass will be the 10th race on April 6 with a 6:23 p.m. ET post. NBC Sports Network will have live coverage of the Toyota Blue Grass, along with the Wood Memorial (G2) from Aqueduct and Santa Anita Derby (G1), from 5:30-7:30 p.m.
TVG will provide live, enhanced coverage of the Toyota Blue Grass and all Keeneland stakes.
“The slate of 3-year-olds nominated to this year’s Toyota Blue Grass underlines the significance of the race to Thoroughbred racing’s most accomplished horsemen,” Keeneland Vice President of Racing and Sales Bob Elliston said. “We are pleased with the representation of talented classic contenders who will be here during an exciting opening weekend of the Spring Meet.”
Keeneland’s blockbuster 11-race card on April 6 will feature the Toyota Blue Grass and Central Bank Ashland, for 3-year-old fillies, at 1 1/16 miles, among the five stakes worth $2.25 million. Other stakes are the $300,000 Madison (G1) for older fillies and mares at 7 furlongs on the dirt; $200,000 Shakertown (G2) for 3-year-olds and up at 5½ furlongs on the turf; and $250,000 Commonwealth (G3) for older horses at 7 furlongs on the dirt.
That day, Keeneland will offer a $400,000-guaranteed All-Stakes Pick Four and a $300,000-guaranteed All Stakes Pick Five.
Purchased for $110,000 at Keeneland’s 2017 September Yearling Sale, Game Winner is undefeated in four starts with wins in the 2018 Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), American Pharoah (G1) and Del Mar Futurity (G1). He received the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male. Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, the son of Candy Ride (ARG) is expected to make his 2019 debut in the March 9 San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita.
With 30 points, Game Winner is second on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard behind War of Will with 60 points. A 2017 September Sale graduate, War of Will won the Risen Star Presented by Lamarque Ford (G2) and Lecomte (G3) at Fair Grounds in his first two races of 2019.
Every 3-year-old male ranked in the top 10 on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, including the aforementioned War of Will and Game Winner, is nominated to the Toyota Blue Grass: Mrs. J.V. Shields Jr., E.J.M. McFadden Jr. and LNJ Foxwoods’ Country House, runner-up in the Risen Star; KRA Stud Farm’s Knicks Go, winner of the 2018 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile; Tommie M. Lewis, David A. Bernsen and Magdalena Racing’s Signalman, winner of the 2018 Kentucky Jockey Club (G2); Hollendorfer, Pearl Racing and West Point Thoroughbreds’ Sham (G3) winner Gunmetal Gray; Willis Horton Racing’s two-time 2018 listed stakes winner Long Range Toddy, third in the Southwest (G3); Michael Lund Petersen’s Robert B. Lewis (G3) winner Mucho Gusto; Cash Is King and LC Racing’s Remsen (G2) winner Maximus Mischief; and R. A. Hill Stable, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Hugh Lynch and Corms Racing Stable’s Withers (G3) winner Tax.
Other leading Kentucky Derby contenders nominated to the Toyota Blue Grass are WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International and Starlight Racing’s 2018 Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity (G1) winner Improbable; Harold Lerner, AWC Stables, Nehoc Stables, Scott K. Akman and Paul Braverman’s Holy Bull (G2) winner Harvey Wallbanger; Stonehedge’s Sam F. Davis (G3) winner Well Defined; James and Mary Durlacher’s Roiland, third in the Risen Star; Gary Barber’s listed stakes winner Our Braintrust, third in the Withers; W.S. Farish’s Code of Honor, second in the 2018 Champagne (G1); and Calumet Farm’s Everfast, second in the Holy Bull.
With 13 horses nominated to the Toyota Blue Grass, multiple Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher leads all trainers by nominees. Pletcher has three wins in the race with Bandini (2005), Monba (2008) and Carpe Diem (2015).
Other prominent trainers with the largest number of horses nominated to the race are Steve Asmussen (11), Bob Baffert (10), Dallas Stewart (nine), Mark Casse (eight), Jerry Hollendorfer (seven), Bill Mott (seven) and Dale Romans (six). Joining Baffert in the Hall of Fame are Asmussen, Hollendorfer and Mott.
The late nomination period for the Toyota Blue Grass closes Wednesday, March 20.
Keeneland’s 16-day Spring Meet runs Thursday, April 4, through Friday, April 26. The season will open a day earlier than in recent years with a first post of 3 p.m. for the eight-race card, which includes the inaugural running of the $100,000 Palisades Turf Sprint for 3-year-olds at 5½ furlongs on the turf.
For the remainder of the season, first post is 1:05 p.m.
Racing during the Spring Meet will be held Wednesday through Sunday, except Easter Sunday, April 21, when Keeneland is closed.
After the four-day opening weekend, action will shift to Keeneland sales with the resumption of the April Two-Year-Olds in Training and Horses of Racing Age Sale on Tuesday. April 9.
Preview Day, on which cataloged horses will work on dirt or turf, is Monday, April 8.