July 24, 2024

Sierra Leone faces Dornoch in 11-horse Blue Grass

Dornoch in The Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct
Dornoch (inside) edges Sierre Leone in the Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct (Photo by Coglianese Photography / Credit to Susie Raisher)

Bet down to favoritism in Pool 4 and 5 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, Sierra Leone will seek to cement his status as a top contender for the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby (G1) when he lines up for Saturday’s $1 million Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland. The Chad Brown-trained colt tops a field of 11 in the 1 1/8-mile event.

Tyler Gaffalione will be up on the late runner, a $2.3 million son of Gun Runner, and Sierra Leone exits a game win in his seasonal debut, the Feb. 17 Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds, getting up late to prevail by a half-length. He’s a candidate to keep progressing in his fourth career start, and the dark bay will try to exact a measure of revenge for his lone career setback, a nose second in December’s Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct.

Remsen winner Dornoch, who stretched his win streak to three when capturing the March 2 Fountain of Youth (G2) by 1 3/4 lengths off a three-month layoff, looms as a serious threat on the front end. The Danny Gargan trainee has shown an affinity for Keeneland, breaking his maiden by a 6 1/2-length margin last October, and the Good Magic colt is a full brother to 2023 Kentucky Derby winner Mage. Luis Saez guides the frontrunner.

Brown has two more entrants in the major Road to the Kentucky Derby series qualifier, Good Money and Top Conor. Good Money, a first-out winner in late January, exits a close fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), and Top Conor will jump straight to stakes competition in his second start after rolling to a decisive one-mile maiden tally at Gulfstream in mid-February.

The Blue Grass offers points on a 100-50-25-15-10 basis to the top five respective finishers.

Just a Touch, second when jumping to stakes competition in the March 2 Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct, will look to jump into the Kentucky Derby picture in his first two-turn attempt. A brilliant debut winner at Fair Grounds in late January, the Brad Cox-trained colt appears well-built for longer distances, but Just a Touch must still prove it. Florent Geroux will be up on the son of Justify, and Just a Touch appears likely to make his initial appearance on a fast track.

Cox also has Encino, who will switch to dirt and face a class check following a sharp win in his stakes debut, the March 2 John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park. Flavien Prat picks up the mount on the Nyquist colt.

Be You, scratched from the Fountain of Youth after veering into the rail and sustaining a cut in the post parade, rates as a contender for Todd Pletcher. The Grade 1-placed colt exits smashing maiden score at Gulfstream Park in early March, and Be You has recorded consecutive bullet works in preparation. Irad Ortiz rides the son of Curlin.

Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) third Seize the Grey, Lecomte (G3) third Lat Long, Battaglia Memorial runner-up Epic Ride, and maiden winner Mugatu complete the field.