It was a crowded scene at the April 10 draw for the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), as the connections of contenders crossed their fingers and hoped for good post positions in Keeneland's April 13 prep for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
The 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass awards the winner 100 points to qualify for the Derby field, so victory in the 89th edition of the event could catapult a virtual unknown into the elite group of 20 horses. A full field of 14 plus an also-eligible, Divine Ambition, was entered.
John Oxley's 2012 Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) winner Uncaptured drew post 7 and was installed as the 7-2 morning-line favorite for the Polytrack test, with Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) runner-up Java's War and Palm Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT) winner Rydilluc sharing second-choice status at 4-1 (for a feature on Rydilluc, click here).
Uncaptured, a 3-year-old son of Lion Heart, was runner-up to Black Onyx by a hard-closing 1 1/2 lengths when making his 2013 debut for trainer Mark Casse in the March 23 Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. III) at Turfway Park. He will be ridden by jockey Miguel Mena in his second start of the year.
"For a horse to come off a four-month layoff and run a mile and an eighth and finish second, that's pretty impressive," assistant trainer Norm Casse said. "Miguel said he was out of horse at the eighth pole, and Uncaptured just continued to run. That horse has a ton of heart and a ton of guts, and as far as fitness goes he got a ton out of the Spiral. We think he's sitting on a big race Saturday."
Team Casse also has Pasco Stakes winner Dynamic Sky, fourth last time out in the March 9 Tampa Bay Derby and second before that in the Feb. 2 Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III). The Sky Mesa colt drew the rail under Joel Rosario at 10-1.
"Uncaptured should have a forward position; he'll save ground all the way. Dynamic Sky, we'll take him back and he'll come with his big run late," Casse said. "We expect him to run a much better race on Saturday, he has been here for two days and he has trained very well over the track, but more importantly we shipped him to Churchill and he worked so good over that track, so we'd really like to get him in the Derby because we know he likes it there."
Java's War finished three lengths behind undefeated Wood Memorial (gr. I) winner Verrazano in the Tampa Bay Derby, his first start of 2013 for trainer Ken McPeek. The son of War Pass breaks from post 4 under jockey Julien Leparoux for breeder Charles Fipke.
"We were really happy with that," McPeek said of the Tampa Bay Derby effort. "He had a little bit of a rough patch at the end of his 2-year-old year, and when I brought him back into basic early training, he went a little rough.
"We had to work through some issues with him, so we were behind the curve. His race at Tampa was fantastic and he has trained fantastic since he got here. He flew in (April 8). His female family says grass, and I think that kind of transcends well into the synthetics. I think he'll run great; this colt has a lot of class."
Leonard Green and partners' Rydilluc has strung together three straight victories on turf, capped by the 3 1/2-length Palm Beach Stakes score. The Medaglia d'Oro colt is making his first Polytrack try from post 13 under Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado.
"The race is on April 13, 2013, and I was born on the 13th (of October)," trainer Gary Contessa said. "I'm not superstitious but it's not a bad post, it's a great post. He has been training phenomenal, and I'm really happy with how he's training on the Poly. I've been doing this 30 years and I still haven't figured out Polytrack, so we'll see what happens."
The only other horse without double-digit odds is Dogwood Stables' Palace Malice , seventh in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II). The Curlin colt is set to go at 8-1 from post 5, ridden by Garrett Gomez for trainer Todd Pletcher. Pletcher also saddles 10-1 Charming Kitten for Ken and Sarah Ramsey from post 8 under Joe Bravo.
Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence's Balance the Books, Calumet Farm's Channel Isle, Frank Irvin's Fear the Kitten, and Darley Stable's Footbridge are also among those entered. Wachtel Stable and Barry Butzer's My Name Is Michael, Donver Stable's Tesseron, Wes Welker's Undrafted, and West Hills Giant for Long Island Racing Stables, Sunrise Stable, and Gina Bentivenga complete the field.
$750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I, Race 10, post time 5:40 p.m. EDT), 3YOs, 1 1/8 miles (all-weather track)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Trainer, Odds
1. Dynamic Sky, J. Rosario, M E Casse, 10-1
2. My Name Is Michael, S. Bridgmohan, W I Mott, 15-1
3. Undrafted, C. Nakatani, W A Ward, 10-1
4. Java's War, J. Leparxou, K G McPeek, 4-1
5. Palace Malice, G. Gomez, T A Pletcher, 8-1
6. Channel Isle, J. Rocco, Jr., D W Lukas, 30-1
7. Uncaptured, M. Mena, M E Casse, 7-2
8. Charming Kitten, J. Bravo, T A Pletcher, 10-1
9.Tesseron, A. Garcia, J Carroll, 50-1
10. Footbridge, C.J. Lanerie, E G Harty, 20-1
11. Balance the Books, J. Castellano, C Brown, 15-1
12. West Hills Giant, J.L. Espinoza, J P Terranova II, 20-1
13. Rydilluc, E.S. Prado, G C Contessa, 4-1
14. Fear the Kitten, R. Napravnik, M J Maker, 30-1
AE. Divine Ambition, J. Graham, D Miller, 50-1
All carry 123 pounds
Equipment Changes: No. 2, My Name Is Michael, Blinkers On