The Toyota Blue Grass (Grade II)

4/8/2017 Keeneland Race Course-Race 10

The Toyota Blue Grass-$1,000,000—Grade II

1 & 1/8th Miles on Dirt for Three-Year-Olds

Post Time: 3:17 P.M. PST

Analysis by Michael Patricks

The 93rd Toyota Blue Grass Stakes runs on Saturday and while the race may be short on numbers it unquestionably is long on talent.  The field of seven features four graded stakes winners, two other entrants are graded stakes placed, and It’s Your Nickel comes off a small stakes score at Turfway Park in the John Battaglia Memorial.  The undefeated McCraken is the headliner and his credentials are evidenced by his 7 to 5 morning line price.  Will McCraken make it an undefeated five-for-five?  Let’s go inside the numbers.

1-It’s Your Nickel 20/1 ML- Took to the synthetic at Turfway Park like a pig to slop and that resulted in a commanding six length score while going off favored.  En Hanse, the runner up from his last race came back to set the pace in the Spiral before doing his best impression of the Moonwalk straight out of contention when the real running began. It’s Your Nickel has run well in three straight efforts and his Beyer speed figures are gradually climbing the ladder but methodical improvement will only make marginal headway against the quality of this group.  Fresh and improving horses are always dangerous but the chances of him “freaking” over the dirt at Keeneland after such a big effort last time is in my estimation quite unlikely.  It’s your nickel if you want to go to the window on him but I’d recommend scraping up the silver in your change jar for other ponies that are more intriguing in the analysis below; ranks as an outsider.

2-McCraken 7/5 ML- Unblemished in his four starts, McCraken enters the Blue Grass as the prohibitive favorite for the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and will be sent out as the one to beat on race day.  McCraken had been sidelined with a very minor foot issue that by all reports has been resolved, yet explains his repeat layoff lines between races.  On paper, this race appears to lack any real early speed and that could turn it into a half mile sprint for home and leave McCraken with the most amount of ground to pick up.  In my experience, I’ve found that the horse with the best turn of foot can win a paceless affair and McCraken is proven to be that animal.  Giving me cause for concern is the fact that this is by far the toughest prep race to be run to date and he’s also spotting the field in recency.  McCraken will have to fire huge off the layoff to take the Blue Grass and bear in mind he is safely in the field on points already. With bigger fish to fry on the first Saturday in May he may only be in the neighborhood of 90 per cent for this race.  Given that he figures to be at or near his morning line price and such little value can be found with him, I believe there are enough cracks in the foundation to try and beat him in this one; must bring his “A game”.

3-J Boys Echo 4/1 ML- Won like the proverbial good thing in the Gotham last time out, sitting in behind pressing fractions, then slingshotting past the besieged El Areeb en route to an open lengths score.  His 102 Beyer speed figure literally leaps off the page at you and a repeat of his last race would likely close escrow on this cast.  Some would say his best is yet to come and others might say he appears to be a prime candidate to bounce.  I think two things can equally be true and that tried and true aphorism is applicable in this case.  The chief problem J Boys Echo will have in the Blue Grass is a lack of speed to set up his run.  McCraken closes into fractions every time, while J Boys Echo seems to need a quick tempo up front to help tow him along.  If the pace is as slow as anticipated on paper, a regression to the mean seems quite likely for him.  I do also believe that there will be plenty of early speed in the Kentucky Derby based on who’s already committed to run and that will only help this guy’s chances when the chips are down next time out.  His maiden victory came over this surface so you know he likes it and Romans won the race with Brody’s Cause last year. This Mineshaft son may have finally figured it out and is just now getting good all of the sudden which is very scary; logical player must avoid reverberating on the bounce, but he also figures to relish the distance; he’s a true dice roll off the big score.

4-Tapwrit 5/2 ML- Take it to the bank that Todd Pletcher is going to hold a strong hand on Derby Day. It’s eerily beginning to resemble 2010 when he sent five to the post in the Run for the Roses, winning it with Super Saver.  Tapwrit is another bullet in the chamber for Pletcher and enters the Blue Grass in peak form and as a logical alternative to the chalky McCraken.  Tapwrit has won three out of four and his only loss in 2017 came to McCraken, unable to go with the favorite in Tampa.  Now Tapwrit shows up with added foundation McCraken may be lacking after lifting his legs to a 96 Beyer speed figure in the Tampa Bay Derby.  The question about Tapwrit is just who has he been beating?  State of Honor and Wild Shot are each considered outsiders to the Derby picture.  Like everyone else in the race, this will by far be his toughest assignment to date and he figures to be a bit short in the value department.  Expect Jose Ortiz to put him in the race a bit earlier today and sit right off Wild Shot should that one decide to go.  Can’t fault those that will side with him as he appears to be the buzz horse heading into the starting gate; major player.

5-Wild Shot 15/1 ML- Enters the mix with just the maiden victory to his credit though he has placed in Grade I and II races.  After his wide draw and mediocre beginning led to a humdrum third place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby, it seems reasonable to expect Corey Lanerie will put him in the race early and see how far he can take them.  He’s surrendered to McCraken twice and been well handled by Tapwrit in each of his two starts so the game plan should be to try and get the jump on everyone and see if he can pull off the front running heist.  Bottom line: His top Beyer speed figure of 90 isn’t enough to put fear into anybody’s heart and he has lost ground on the winner turning for home in each of his last five races.  As a value hunter, I’d love to endorse him as a longshot possibility to steal this race but more likely than not his performance will be more reflective of a daredevil running from the bulls in Pamplona than a mad dash to the winners’ circle in unexpected fashion; preordained pace casualty.

6-Irap 20/1 ML- This talented maiden ventures east after a couple efforts over the Sunland Park oval.  In the Sunland Derby Irap chased a legitimate pace before eventually surrendering in the stretch, coming home fourth and beaten better than eight lengths.  His connections keep ping ponging with the Blinkers and Saturday they will be shed once again.  His best effort came in the Robert B Lewis when he wore Blinkers and finished a good second behind Royal Mo.  Detractively, his usual tyro Mario Gutierrez stays in California to ride though he does pick up Mr. Midwest (Julien Leparoux) for the occasion.  The horses he’s been facing in New Mexico would all be double digit prices in this salty mix and while he should be prominent early on, he appears to be an appetizer heading into the far turn for the likes of Tapwrit, McCraken, J Boys Echo and Practical Joke before they vie it out for the main course.  Way too many hurdles in front of him today; pass.

7-Practical Joke 7/2 ML- Should be lauded for running a good race in every start.  In the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile he ran along for third while well beaten and was nowhere near the class of Classic Empire and Not this Time on that day.  His first run of the season came last out in the Fountain of Youth where he had a bit of trouble around the first turn and had to steady quite significantly into the backstretch.  Practical Joke reeled in Irish Wary Cry with no problem whatsoever but then had no resistance to offer Gunnevera on that day, getting blitzed by a clear cut five lengths.  Gunnevera came back to run an underwhelming third last week in the Florida Derby and Three Rules (3rd in Fountain of Youth) set the pace in the Florida Derby but ended up fifth beaten seven lengths.  Jose Ortiz obviously defects Practical Joke for Tapwrit and many will follow the jockey over to Pletcher and that makes sense.  My belief is that the best is yet to come from this horse but the question is just how good his best really is and if he wants any part of nine furlongs.  Practical Joke picked a tough spot for his last major Derby prep but as the wise man says, “To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.”  Joel Rosario will keep him in the clear and we’ll find out what he’s made of in the homestretch of the Blue Grass.  (Note that Rosario opts for him over Irish War Cry in the Wood Memorial.) 7/2 appears to be a tad short, so demand a square number if you want to run up to the window to back him.  Don’t think it will be a barrel of laughs for him when push comes to shove; leaving him out of the mix.

Selections: 4-3-2-7