Watch out, Pyro. Robert LaPenta has a plan to win to Saturday’s Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I). The key is Stevil, LaPenta’s 30-1 morning line longshot that is joining the owner’s 4-1 second choice, Cool Coal Man, in the $750,000 race’s field of 12 3-year-olds.
“You’ve all heard of the rabbit theory,” a smiling LaPenta told the crowd attending the Blue Grass Preview Dinner Thursday night at Keeneland. “And I think you all saw that deployed to perfection in the Wood Memorial (gr. I, where LaPenta’s champion War Pass finished second after running on the lead) over the weekend. Well, this is going to be the tortoise theory. We’re going to put him (Stevil) right in front of Pyro, and he’s not going to let Pyro pass him.”
Stevil (by Maria’s Mon) has captured one of his five career races and in his most recent outing, he finished fifth while Pyro rolled to victory in the March 8 Louisiana Derby (gr. II).
“Actually, he’s a very a capable horse, but he’s had a lot of bad luck,” LaPenta said. “In the Louisiana Derby against Pyro, he ran a very nice race, so that gave us some confidence in him and we’ll see what happens.”
Cool Coal Man (by Mineshaft ) is more accomplished, with a half-length win over Elysium Fields in the Feb. 24 Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) and three other victories. He is blessed with a formidable combination of speed and stamina, according to LaPenta.
“He trained well early at a 2-year-old sale,” LaPenta said. “I think he ran in :10 1/5 (for an eighth of a mile), which is really uncharacteristic for a Mineshaft, so he has a lot of speed. And now I think he’s developing for distance, so I think he’s going to be good.”
Winchell Thoroughbreds’ homebred Pyro is the Blue Grass’ even-money favorite. Pyro has never run in a race over Polytrack, but he shipped to Keeneland soon after winning the Lousiana Derby.
“He seems to be doing very well,” said David Fiske, the farm and racing manager for the Winchell Thoroughbreds. “He’s been here long enough to pay taxes.”
Pyro (by Pulpit) finished second to War Pass in last year’s Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) and Champagne Stakes (gr. I). Pyro, who broke his maiden at Churchill Downs in his career debut, also was third in an allowance/optional claiming race at Saratoga that was won by War Pass.
“He’s probably more professional now,” said Fiske of Pyro. “He’s more machine-like.”
Describing the excitement and anticipation of being associated with a horse with Triple Crown potential, Fiske said, “I’ve told people that I’ve been holding my breath since October or November, and I’m getting a little blue now.”
The connections of the horses entered in the Blue Grass, along with Kentucky politicians, Keeneland officials, and members of the media, dined on grilled beef tenderloin and seared halibut. Those in attendance received a set of leather 2008 Blue Grass Stakes coasters.