Smile Happy and Zandon Impress in Blue Grass Stakes

Keeneland’s Blue Grass Stakes: A Prestigious Stop on the Kentucky Derby Trail

Keeneland’s Blue Grass Stakes Regains Grade 1 Status

Keeneland’s opening weekend in Lexington, KY, kicks off with the highly anticipated Blue Grass Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile race that serves as an essential stop on the Kentucky Derby trail. This year, the Blue Grass Stakes has regained its Grade 1 status, positioning it alongside other prestigious Derby preps such as the Santa Anita Derby, Florida Derby, and Arkansas Derby. The Blue Grass Stakes has an illustrious history, with 23 of its winners claiming victory at Churchill Downs on Derby Day. Notable champions include Thunder Gulch, Strike the Gold, Unbridled, Alysheba, Spectacular Bid, Riva Ridge, Northern Dancer, and Whirlaway. Essential Quality, last year’s Blue Grass Stakes winner, went on to finish third in the Derby and secure a victory in the Belmont Stakes.

Claiming Front-Row Status as a Derby Contender

Winning the Blue Grass Stakes catapults a horse into the forefront of Derby contention. The top two finishers, or even just the winner, secure a spot in the prestigious Kentucky Derby held on May 7. The race offers 100-40-20-10 Derby qualifying points to its top four finishers, providing a significant advantage in the Derby point standings. Moreover, the Blue Grass Stakes anchors a thrilling five-race, graded-stakes lineup, offering a plethora of multi-race wagers on Keeneland’s packed Saturday card.

The Favorites: Smile Happy and Zandon

Smile Happy: A Deserving Favorite

Leading the field as the morning line favorite at odds of 9/5 is Smile Happy, trained by Kenny McPeek. This talented colt boasts an impressive record, with two wins and a second-place finish in three races. His most notable victory was in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Keeneland last fall, firmly establishing him as a top-tier Derby prospect. Despite a second-place finish in the Grade 2 Risen Star, where he was narrowly defeated by the likely Kentucky Derby favorite or second choice, Smile Happy’s stalking style and strong finish make him a deserving frontrunner in the Blue Grass Stakes. Trainer Kenny McPeek is optimistic about his chances, particularly if the track conditions turn muddy.

Zandon: Consistent and Ready for Redemption

Another promising contender in the Blue Grass Stakes is Zandon, an Upstart colt trained by Chad Brown. Zandon has shown remarkable consistency, securing one win and two third-place finishes in his three races. Notably, he finished just half a length behind both Smile Happy and Epicenter in the Grade 2 Risen Star. Zandon’s consistent Equibase figures of 93 in each race indicate his ability to compete at this level. Like Smile Happy, Zandon is a stalker who excels in the later stages of a race. With Brown at the helm and a second start as a three-year-old, Zandon is poised for improvement and aims to secure a win or runner-up finish to guarantee his spot in the Kentucky Derby.

Other Contenders to Consider

Emmanuel: A Sneaky Value Pick

Though not initially favored, Emmanuel possesses the potential to surprise bettors. Trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Luis Saez, this colt has been steadily gaining attention in each of his starts. While his odds in the Fountain of Youth climbed to 2.90/1, the highest in his three-race career, he fell short of victory with a fourth-place finish. However, an improved trip and strategic guidance from jockey Luis Saez, last year’s Blue Grass Stakes winner aboard Essential Quality, could position Emmanuel as a major threat in the race, particularly as a pacesetter.

Ethereal Road: Lukas’ Closer with Historical Intrigue

Trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, Ethereal Road brings an intriguing narrative to the Blue Grass Stakes. Lukas, a two-time Blue Grass Stakes-winning trainer, has a reputation for producing exceptional closers. Ethereal Road finished second in the Rebel Stakes, falling short to an unexpected longshot. Lukas’ expertise combined with Ethereal Road’s ability to make a strong closing move in the stretch makes this colt a compelling contender. His chances would greatly improve with a fast and competitive pace setup in the race.

Full Lineup and Morning Line Odds

Below is the comprehensive list of competitors in the Blue Grass Stakes, along with their respective morning line odds:

– Commandperformance, 12/1 (Irad Ortiz Jr./Todd Pletcher)
– Fenwick, 20/1 (Paco Lopez/Kevin McKathan)
– Trademark, 30/1 (Rafael Bejarano/Vicki Oliver)
– Zandon, 5/2 (Flavien Prat/Chad Brown)
– Volcanic, 20/1 (Adam Beschizza/Mark Casse)
– Emmanuel, 5/1 (Luis Saez/Todd Pletcher)
– Golden Glider, 20/1 (Ricardo Sanchez Jr./Mark Casse)
– Ethereal Road, 20/1 (Luis Contreras/D. Wayne Lukas)
– Rattle N Road, 8/1 (Brian Hernandez/Kenny McPeek)
– Smile Happy, 9/5 (Corey Lanerie/Kenny McPeek)
– Blackadder, 20/1 (Florent Geroux/Rodolphe Brisset)
– Grantham, 20/1 (Tyler Gaffalione/Michael Maker)


The Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland serves as a pivotal race on the Kentucky Derby trail, offering prestigious Grade 1 status and providing contenders with a direct path to the Derby. Smile Happy and Zandon emerge as the frontrunners, with both colts displaying promising performances and the potential for further growth. Emmanuel and Ethereal Road offer intriguing alternatives, with each horse bringing their own set of skills and historical context to the race. As fans eagerly anticipate the Blue Grass Stakes, the excitement and anticipation surrounding this Derby prep race continue to build.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How significant is winning the Blue Grass Stakes for a horse’s chances in the Kentucky Derby?

Winning the Blue Grass Stakes holds immense importance for a horse’s Kentucky Derby aspirations. Not only does it grant the winner front-row status as a Derby contender, but it also guarantees a spot in the Kentucky Derby field. The race offers valuable Derby qualifying points to its top four finishers, enhancing their chances of making it to the “Run for the Roses.”

2. Which legendary horses have emerged victorious in the Blue Grass Stakes?

Over the years, the Blue Grass Stakes has seen several legendary horses claim victory. Notable champions include Thunder Gulch, Strike the Gold, Unbridled, Alysheba, Spectacular Bid, Riva Ridge, Northern Dancer, and Whirlaway. Their performances in the Blue Grass Stakes solidified their places in racing history and set the stage for their subsequent triumphs in the Kentucky Derby.

3. Who are some dark horse contenders to watch out for in the Blue Grass Stakes?

While the favorites dominate the spotlight, the Blue Grass Stakes often provides a platform for dark horse contenders to make a lasting impression. Among the horses to watch out for in this year’s edition are Emmanuel, a colt with potential value and the ability to surprise, and Ethereal Road, a talented closer trained by D. Wayne Lukas, a renowned Hall of Fame trainer known for producing impressive stretch runners.

4. How does the Blue Grass Stakes compare to other Derby prep races?

The Blue Grass Stakes has reclaimed its Grade 1 status, elevating its significance and placing it among the elite Derby prep races. Alongside the Santa Anita Derby, Florida Derby, and Arkansas Derby, the Blue Grass Stakes serves as a crucial stepping stone towards the Kentucky Derby. Its historical legacy and ability to produce Derby winners make it a must-watch event for racing enthusiasts.

5. What strategies should jockeys employ to secure victory in the Blue Grass Stakes?

Securing victory in the Blue Grass Stakes requires jockeys to employ various strategies depending on the horse they are riding and the race dynamics. Stalkers like Smile Happy and Zandon should aim to position themselves within striking distance, ready to make a winning move in the latter stages of the race. Pacesetters such as Emmanuel might opt for an aggressive front-running style, setting a strong tempo and attempting to maintain their lead. Closers like Ethereal Road rely on a patient ride, aiming to unleash a powerful late surge in the stretch to overtake their rivals and claim victory. Ultimately, jockeys must assess the race conditions, their horse’s capabilities, and their competition to make informed decisions and execute winning strategies.

Doug I. Jones

Doug I. Jones

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