Trainer Patrick Biancone, right, with Keeneland's John Henderson during the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes post position draw.

Trainer Patrick Biancone, right, with Keeneland's John Henderson during the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes post position draw.

Tom Hall

Lion Heart 'That Good' as 5-2 Blue Grass Favorite

Lion Heart was installed the 5-2 morning line favorite against eight other 3-year-olds for Saturday's Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland and trainer Patrick Biancone agreed. "He's that good and I hope he gets to show it on the track," Biancone said of Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith's son of Tale of the Cat.

Biancone, who before entries were drawn wanted to be in "the 3, 4, or 5" post position, drew the six hole. The front-running grade I winner faces a well-matched field in the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass, a cast Biancone respects.

"It's the toughest prep race there is," he said of his rivals. "There are three grade I winners in this field. The Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) didn't have any grade I winners; the Wood (gr. I) doesn't have any grade I winners; and the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) doesn't have any grade I winners." Lion Heart, winner of the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) last December, is joined by Action This Day and Birdstone as grade I winners in the field.

Lion Heart will be making his fifth career start in the Blue Grass, that is the second leg of the Big 3 Pick 3 that also includes the Wood and Arkansas Derby. The race, along with the Arkansas Derby from Oaklawn, will be televised nationally on NBC starting at 4:30 p.m. EDT. The Wood, run at Aqueduct, will be shown on ESPN from 3:30-4:30.

In his lone start this year, Lion Heart was second, beaten a neck by Imperialism in the San Rafael Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita on March 6. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 104 for his effort in the mile race, the highest figure posted by any of the Blue Grass contestants. Bred by Sabine Stables, Lion Heart is out of the Mr. Leader mare Satin Sunrise. He was a $1.4 million sale juvenile out of last year's Fasig-Tipton Calder February sale of 2-year-olds in training.

The co-second choices, at 4-1, are The Cliff's Edge and Preachinatthebar. The Cliff's Edge, a son of Gulch out of the Danzig mare Zigember, was second in the Sam Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and third in the Florida Derby (gr. I) at Gulfstream in his two starts this year. Mike Pegram's Preachinatthebar, a son of Silver Charm, won the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) by a nose on March 14 for trainer Bob Baffert.

The Cliff's Edge is trained by Nick Zito, who won the Blue Grass with Strike the Gold (1991) and Halory Hunter (1998). Zito also trains Birdstone, who was entered in the Blue Grass but then scratched Thursday.

As for Robert LaPenta's The Cliff's Edge, Zito said, "He's consistent. He always comes with his game and runs his race. I'm grateful to have (jockey) Shane (Sellers) on his back. He's not the easiest horse to ride."

"At Saratoga, Nick said 'I'm going to put you up on a very nice horse,'" Sellers said of his first meeting with The Cliff's Edge last summer. "It's just a matter of how good a horse he's going to be. He was down on the inside in the Florida Derby and he was a little timid. We lost some position and he was a little hesitant. Hopefully he'll be peaking now."

Sellers said before the draw that Zito wanted to be "1,2,3, or 4." The Cliff's Edge, drew post 3, drawing a smile from Sellers.

B. Wayne Hughe's champion 2-year-old Action This Day will break from post 2 in the Blue Grass for trainer Richard Mandella. The son of Kris S. is recovering from a cut on his hind leg that required stitching when running seventh in the San Felipe. Mandella said his runner "needed the extra week" and missed last Saturday's Santa Anita Derby.

"He's gotten a bit edgy," Mandella said of the reason behind shipping him to Keeneland. "I didn't want to fly him somewhere else and fly him again to Kentucky." Mandella is hoping his star's Blue Grass effort will have him move forward to Churchill Downs, just over an hour's van ride from Keeneland.

Even the "outsiders" on the morning line merit attention. Dogwood Stable's Limehouse (6-1) has won back-to-back graded stakes. Shadwell Stable's Mustanfar (15-1) was just beaten a neck last out by Limehouse in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III). William S. Farish's Breakaway (12-1) won two in a row before finishing fourth in a roughly-run Louisiana Derby (gr. II), and Bull Stick Stables and Mercedes Stable's That's an Outrage (30-1) was third behind Lion Heart in the Hollywood Futurity.

"This is one of the best-matched fields in recent years," said Jim Williams, director of communcations for Keeneland. He harkened back to the Blue Grass field of 1983 that had as much balance. That year, Play Fellow beat a field that included Copelan, Desert Wine, Marfa, and Deputed Testamony over a sloppy track.

Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), $750,000, 3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles, Keeneland, April 10, post time approx. 5:15 p.m. EDT

PP, Horse, Jockey, ML
1, SCRATCHED Birdstone, Edgar Prado, 8-1
2, Action This Day, David Flores, 9-2
3, The Cliff's Edge, Shane Sellers, 4-1
4, Limehouse, Jose Santos, 6-1
5, That's an Outrage, Mark Guidry, 30-1
6, Lion Heart, Mike Smith, 5-2
7, Mustanfar, Richard Migliore, 15-1
8, Preachinatthebar, Javier Santiago, 4-1
9, Breakaway, Robby Albarado, 12-1