First Samurai was installed as the 8-5 favorite when he drew post position five in the nine-horse field entered for Saturday's 82nd running of the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington, Ky. Televised live on ABC from 5-6 p.m. EDT, the telecast will also include live coverage of the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) from Oaklawn Park.Those two traditional preps for the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), along with Oaklawn's Instant Racing Breeders' Cup for 3-year-old fillies and the Commonwealth Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II) for 3-year-olds at Keeneland, make up a Saturday "Premier Pick Four" wager.First Samurai, a chestnut 3-year-old son of Giant's Causeway , is trained by Frank Brothers for owners Bruce Lunsford and Lansdon Robbins III. The colt will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano for the first time in the Blue Grass. Questions remain about whether First Samurai--who has yet to gain victory at a distance over a mile or around two turns--can stay for the 1 1/8-mile contest. He is winless in his last three races after scores in the 2005 Hopeful and Champagne Stakes (both gr. I) at two.
"When we purchased this horse at Keeneland we bought him thinking he'd be a three-year-old, two-turn type horse," said Robbins."No one's going to have more fun than we are going to have," said Lunsford. "This horse's peak will either be this race or the next one."The 5-2 second choice is the Todd Pletcher-trained Bluegrass Cat, the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III) runner-up will be ridden out of the second post position by regular rider John Velazquez. Elliott Walden, racing manager for WinStar Farm, which owns the bay son of Storm Cat--She's a Winner, (by A.P. Indy), said he had faith in two-time Eclipse Award-winning conditioner Pletcher, who trained runaway winner Bandini in last year's renewal."Todd did a great job of getting this horse ready," said Walden.Odds-maker Mike Battaglia made Strong Contender, who will break from post four under jockey Edgar Prado, the morning-line third choice. The John Oxley-owned son of Maria's Mon is trained by John Ward, connections that brought Monarchos, another son of Maria's Mon, into the winner's circle of the 2001 Kentucky Derby (gr. I)."We have a very finite target," said Ward, whose colt has just two career starts and was shut out of an overflow field in the March 25 Lane's End Stakes (gr. II) at Turfway Park and is in dire need of graded stakes earnings. "We have to be there."Trainer Patrick Biancone will send Sadler's Trick, owner of a maiden special-weight win at a mile on the Lane's End undercard. The colt will be ridden by Julien Leparoux, with the pair breaking from post eight.Asked about sending a maiden winner into a grade I race, Biancone said, "We have to take a shot...a big shot."Biancone wouldn't reveal Saturday's tactics for the son of Favorite Trick, saying he and Leparoux will "work out our strategy in French."The full field with post position, jockey assignment, and morning-line odds below:Toyota Blue Grass Stakes(gr. I), Keeneland Racecourse, Saturday, April 15, $750,000, 3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles, Appx. post time 5:22 p.m. EDT.
1 -- Little Cliff, Corey Nakatani, 10-1
2 -- Bluegrass Cat, John Velazquez, 5-2
3 -- Storm Treasure, Mark Guidry, 15-1
4 -- Strong Contender, Edgar Prado, 4-1
5 -- First Samurai, Rafael Bejarano, 8-5
6 -- Court Folly, Javier Castellano, 12-1
7 -- Sinister Minister, Garrett Gomez, 15-1
8 -- Sadler's Trick, Julien Leparoux, 15-1
9 -- Seaside Retreat, Patrick Husbands, 15-1