Blue Grass S. (G1) — Race 9 (5:10 p.m. ET)
The two colts that ran closest to Epicenter in the Risen Star (G2) in February appear the horses to beat in the $1 million Blue Grass S. (G1) at Keeneland on Saturday.
Smile Happy, second by 2 3/4 lengths in the Risen Star in his first outing since taking the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) in November, will again face Zandon, who finished third in the Risen Star in his first start since losing the Remsen (G2) by a nose in December. That pair faces 10 others in the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass, which offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points of 100-40-20-10 to the respective top four finishers.
Neither Smile Happy nor Zandon, who have been well-respected contenders for the Derby all winter, can afford any missteps in the Blue Grass. With a potentially higher points cutoff than usual this year, both colts will have to run competitively (fourth or better for Smile Happy, third or better for Zandon) to ensure a spot in the Derby field in five weeks.
Smile Happy and Zandon have made only three lifetime starts each. The same goes for Emmanuel, who tries to bounce back from a fourth in his stakes debut in the March 5 Fountain of Youth (G2). Well backed that day after blowout maiden and allowance wins, the Todd Pletcher charge was beaten a little more than five lengths by Simplification after enduring a very wide trip.
Rattle N Roll, who romped over the Keeneland strip last fall in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1), wheels back in two weeks following a fourth to Epicenter in the Louisiana Derby (G2). That followed a sixth in the Fountain of Youth, suggesting the colt has not trained on.
Blackadder scratched from last week’s Jeff Ruby (G3) to contest the Blue Grass. Formerly under the care of Bob Baffert, the Quality Road colt won his maiden on dirt and last time rallied to take the El Camino Real Derby on Tapeta.
Ethereal Road, who has started at a double-digit price in all five outings, was a surprise second in the Rebel (G2) last time, but the form of that race was mixed in light of the results of last week’s Arkansas Derby (G1). Grantham finished a 37-1 second to Classic Causeway in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and is joined by fellow Tampa snowbirds Volcanic, Golden Glider, and Trademark.
Champagne (G1) runner-up Commandperformance, lost at odds of 1-20 in a Tampa Bay Derby Day maiden to Fenwick, and both are back to take their long-priced chances.
The weather is forecast to be raw and cold for early April, with highs in the mid-40s and a rain/snow mixture around.