Carpe Diem takes the Blue Grass Stakes.<br><a target="blank" href="http://photos.bloodhorse.com/AtTheRaces-1/At-the-Races-2015/i-j9GjdGx">Order This Photo</a>

Carpe Diem takes the Blue Grass Stakes.
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Anne M. Eberhardt

Carpe Diem Rumbles in Blue Grass

Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) winner returns to score as favorite at Keeneland April 4.

Carpe Diem  won for fun in the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) April 4 at Keeneland, living up to his 2-5 favoritism and the hype that surrounded him leading into the race (VIDEO).

The 3-year-old son of Giant's Causeway  put steady pressure on pacesetter Ocho Ocho Ocho and then powerfully took command coming out of the final turn, drawing away down the stretch under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez to finish three lengths ahead. Danzig Moon put in a good closing run to get second, but could not reach the winner, who finished the 1 1/8-mile test on a fast track in 1:49.77.

"We had a really good trip. He was pretty close to the pace and then he just stayed there," Velazquez said. "I tried not use him too much the first part of the race.

"There wasn't much speed in the race. It was a nice slow pace and I didn't want to fight him very much. He was doing it pretty easy. Like (trainer) Todd (Pletcher) said, 'Don't fight him, just let him do it.' Down the lane, I asked him and he responded right away. Once he gets to the lead, he wants to wait, so I have to make sure I keep his mind on running.

"He's done everything right to this point, so hopefully we can keep him like that when we go to Churchill Downs."

Ocho Ocho Ocho held for third, 2 1/2 lengths back, after showing the way through opening fractions of :24.15, :48.05, and 1:12.18, leaving trainer Jim Cassidy uncertain as to his next move.
 
"His effort was fine," Cassidy said. "I knew (Carpe Diem) was going to go with us. I'm sure Pletcher wasn't going to change his style, but he knew we were going to go and he didn't want us to open up too much on him. It was a hell of a match race there for a bit. We'll see what happens after this. I don't think I have any big plans right at the moment."
 
Frammento, Classy Class, Gorgeous Bird, Unrivaled, and Pepper Roani completed the order of finish.
 
The Blue Grass was worth 100 points to the winner on the road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), bumping Carpe Diem's total on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard to 164 points. Danzig Moon ranks 12th on the list for the 20-horse field with 45 points, and Ocho Ocho Ocho has 30 to rank 19th. 

"He likes the surface here and we like the surface here, so we'll probably stay here a couple weeks or a week at least and then decide if we want to have one breeze at Churchill or two," Pletcher said of future plans for Carpe Diem, one of the trainer's key Kentucky Derby contenders along with Florida Derby (gr. I) winner Materiality.

The victory for Pletcher was his third in the race, tying him with Ben Jones, Woody Stephens, LeRoy Jolley, and Nick Zito for the most triumphs in the classics prep. Pletcher's other wins came with Bandini in 2005 and Monba in 2008.

It was the second Toyota Blue Grass victory for Velazquez, who rode Bandini for Pletcher in 2005.

Carpe Diem came off a March 7 victory in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II), his first start of 2015 for WinStar Farm and Stonestreet Stable after running second in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I). He won the Claiborne Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland as a 2-year-old straight off his powerful maiden win Sept. 1 at Saratoga Race Course, and became just the third horse to complete a sweep of the Breeders' Futurity as a 2-year-old and the following spring's Blue Grass, joining Round Table (1956-1957) and Dullahan (2011-2012).

"He just continues to get better and you want to have a horse that's moving forward this time of year—you want to have a horse that's blooming and he's doing that," said Elliott Walden, WinStar's president and CEO.

The winner returned $2.80, $2.40, and $2.10 while Danzig Moon paid $7.80 and $5 with Ocho Ocho Ocho bringing $3.20. 

Norm Casse, assistant to Danzig Moon trainer Mark Casse, had high praise for their runner-up.

"He ran a big race, and with a better trip, we might have been even closer," Casse said. "I'm just glad the real Danzig Moon showed up today and showed that he's a serious racehorse. This race is redeeming, because we thought he had a big shot (in the Tampa Bay Derby) and he ran a bad fourth (behind winner Carpe Diem). But I think he just didn't handle the track that day and today is a better indication of his ability. I'm sure we'll take him over to Churchill and see where he stands and how he's doing."

MCCARTHY: Coffee Pot Brews a Good One in Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem was bred in Kentucky by Coffee Pot Stable out of the Unbridled's Song mare Rebridled Dreams, and is the first grade I winner produced by that outfit. He was a $1.6 million purchase by WinStar and Stonestreet from the Northwest Stud consignment to the 2014 Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. selected sale of 2-year-olds in training. The Blue Grass brought his career record to four wins and a second from five starts, for earnings of $1,519,800.