Blended Citizen might have cost his connections $6,000.
The son of Proud Citizen was not among the early nominees to the 2018 Triple Crown series, but, after he rallied up the rail to best Pony Up by a neck in the March 17 Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway Park, the payment figures to be sent on his behalf when the deadline for late nominations to the American classics closes March 19.
While Turfway's signature race over its synthetic main track has yielded more successful turf runners in recent years than significant contenders on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, Blended Citizen is expected to try and bust that trend. Though his only win heading into Saturday's 1 1/8-mile race was a maiden victory over the Del Mar turf going eight furlongs Nov. 24, Blended Citizen's team indicated a a trip to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) would be on the table if the colt can amass enough qualifying points.
"(Trainer) Doug O'Neill sent him here to win and get into the Kentucky Derby," said O'Neill assistant Octavio Vergara.
Owned by Greg Hall and Sayjay Racing, Blended Citizen is winless in three races over dirt. It is over synthetic tracks that the bay colt has shown his most promise. He finished third to Paved in the Feb. 17 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields during his seasonal debut.
With the Jeff Ruby boasting a wide-open field of 12, the opportunity was there for the O'Neill trainee to use his late kick and secure the 20 Kentucky Derby qualifying points bestowed to the winner. The stage was set when favorite Hazit stumbled out of the gate and never got involved, and 13-1 shot Mugaritz shot to the front and set fractions of :25.14 and :48.77, while Blended Citizen rated between horses in seventh.
Mugaritz did his best to steal the race when he opened up a six-length lead heading into the far turn, but the masses began to swallow him up as the field headed into the stretch drive and his advantage dwindled to a length. With the pacesetter getting weary, jockey Kyle Frey drove Blended Citizen up the rail and held off Pony Up, who was charging down the middle of the track, to hit the wire in 1:50.15.
"We broke a little quicker, and we were a lot closer than I expected, and I had to steady a bit, because the outside horse closed in on us early in the race," Frey said. "I wasn't too worried about it. I pulled out of there and waited. (At) about the half-mile pole, it seemed like the race just started to fall apart. As things opened up, I just let Jesus take the wheel. With the way he was moving, all I needed was an opening, and I got it."
"I knew he would run good," Vergara added. "Last time out he should have won the El Camino Real Derby, but he got stopped twice."
Pony Up, who tracked in ninth down the backstretch, was a length clear of third-place finisher Arawak, with Zanesville and Mugaritz rounding out the top five. Hazit, the 3-1 betting choice, came in last.
Sent off at 6-1 odds, Blended Citizen improved to two wins from eight starts with $167,054 in earnings. He was bred in Kentucky by Ray Hanson, out of the Langfuhr mare Langara Lass, and was purchased by Brooke Hubbard, agent, for $85,000 out of the Wavertree Stables consignment to the 2017 Ocala Breeders' Sales March 2-year-olds in training sale.
Video: Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3)
In the DRF Bets Bourbonette Oaks (G3) contested earlier on the card, Go Noni Go came with a rally in the stretch to win the one-mile race for 3-year-old fillies by two lengths and earn 20 qualifying points toward a berth in the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1).
Trained by Mike Maker for owner Three Diamonds Farm, Go Noni Go came into the Bourbonette off a fifth-place finish in the Sweetest Chant Stakes (G3T) at Gulfstream Park Feb. 3. Maker said they toyed with the idea of trying the daughter of Get Stormy on dirt but compromised by racing her over the synthetic instead—a decision that resulted in her third win from nine starts and her first graded stakes score.
"She ran a great race last time out at Gulfstream Park ... but she was in a little bit over her head," Maker said. "We flirted with the idea of running her on dirt but decided to try the Polytrack. And now she's a stakes winner. She's a very slight filly. She struggles with keeping weight on, but she's easy to train."
The winner was a $100,000 purchase by Three Diamonds from Foundations Farm's consignment to the 2017 Fasig-Tipton summer selected horses of racing age sale.