Keeneland spring races attracted top fields, Derby candidates

Keeneland’s $1 Million, Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass Attracts Kentucky Derby Qualifying Points Leaders Epicenter, Smile Happy among 121 Nominees

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Keeneland) – Keeneland’s $1 million Toyota Blue Grass (G1), which will be run for the 98th time on April 9, opening Saturday of Keeneland’s 15-day Spring Meet, has attracted 121 nominees led by Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Epicenter and Lucky Seven Stable’s Smile Happy, the 1-2 finishers in last Saturday’s Risen Star (G2) Presented by Lamarque Ford at Fair Grounds and the top two point earners on the 2022 Road to the Kentucky Derby (G1).

The Toyota Blue Grass, Keeneland’s signature race and a key Triple Crown prep, features two exciting enhancements this year: The race has been reinstated as a Grade 1 event, and the purse has returned to the $1 million it offered from 2015-2019.

Click here for the list of the Toyota Blue Grass nominees; click here for their past performances.

“The Grade 1 status and $1 million purse of the Toyota Blue Grass reaffirm the stature of this historic event on the spring racing calendar,” Keeneland Vice President of Racing Gatewood Bell said. “Keeneland is appreciative of all the horsemen for their interest in nominating to the Toyota Blue Grass, which anchors a fantastic three-day opening weekend of our Spring Meet.”

The 1 1/8-mile Toyota Blue Grass is one of the nation’s most prominent steppingstones to the first leg of the Triple Crown, the $3 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 7 at Churchill Downs. The winner of the Toyota Blue Grass earns 100 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, while the second-, third- and fourth-place finishers receive 40 points, 20 points and 10 points, respectively.

Captured last year by multiple champion and Belmont (G1) winner Essential Quality, the Toyota Blue Grass is one of five graded stakes worth a combined $2,550,000 to be run April 9 on Keeneland’s 11-race card, which has a special first post of 12:30 p.m. Other stakes that day are the $500,000 Madison (G1) for fillies and mares at 7 furlongs on the dirt; $400,000 Appalachian (G2) Presented by Japan Racing Association for 3-year-old fillies at 1 mile on the turf; $350,000 Shakertown (G2) for 3-year-olds and up at 5½ furlongs on the turf and $300,000 Commonwealth (G3) for older horses at 7 furlongs on the dirt.

Keeneland will offer a $500,000 All-Stakes Pick 4 and a $500,000 All Stakes Pick 5.

The Toyota Blue Grass is the ninth race with a 5:10 p.m. post. NBC will televise the race along with the Wood Memorial (G2) Presented by Resorts World Casino from Aqueduct and Runhappy Santa Anita Derby (G1) from 4:30-6 p.m.

The card formerly included the Central Bank Ashland (G1), a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies. Worth a stakes record $600,000 this year, the Central Bank Ashland has moved to Friday, April 8, opening day of the season.

Epicenter, trained by Steve Asmussen, has won three of five career starts highlighted by a front-running 2¾-length victory in the Risen Star. The performance by the son of Not This Time, purchased at Keeneland’s 2020 September Yearling Sale, put him atop the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 64 points.

Smile Happy, trained by two-time Toyota Blue Grass winner Kenny McPeek, made his 2022 debut in the Risen Star after concluding a 2-for-2 campaign in 2021 with a 3¼-length victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) in November at Churchill. The Runhappy colt sold as a weanling at Keeneland’s 2019 November Breeding Stock Sale and won his career debut here last October during the Fall Meet by 5½ lengths.

Epicenter and Smile Happy lead the 18 horses who are among the top 20 horses on the Derby leaderboard nominated to the Toyota Blue Grass.

Third on the leaderboard is Kentucky West Racing and Clarke M. Cooper’s Classic Causeway. From the final crop of Giant’s Causeway, Classic Causeway won the Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 12 in his 2022 debut. He ended 2021 with a runner-up finish to Smile Happy in the Kentucky Jockey Club for trainer Brian Lynch.

Other Toyota Blue Grass nominees on the leaderboard include Rustlewood Farm’s Pappacap (4), runner-up in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance; Jeff Drown’s Zandon (5), third in the Risen Star and runner-up in the Remsen (G2); C2 Racing Stable and La Milagrosa Stable’s White Abarrio (6), winner of the Holy Bull (G3); Donegal Racing’s Mo Donegal (7), winner of the Remsen; Lucky Seven Stable’s Rattle N Roll (8), winner of the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland last fall; Klaravich Stables’ Early Voting (14), winner of the Withers (G3), and Peter L. Cantrell’s Call Me Midnight (15), winner of the Lecomte (G3) over Epicenter.

Additional notable horses nominated to the Toyota Blue Grass are three runners from trainer Todd Pletcher, a three-time winner of the race: Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Commandperformance, fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and runner-up in the Champagne (G1), WinStar Farm and Siena Farm’s undefeated Major General and Sumaya U. S. Stables’ Pioneer of Medina, fourth in the Risen Star.

Pletcher conditions 23 horses nominated to the Toyota Blue Grass to lead trainers. Chad Brown is second with 13 nominees, including Early Voting and Zandon.

Post positions for the Toyota Blue Grass and the other April 9 races will be drawn Wednesday, April 6.

Meanwhile, L and N Racing and Winchell Thoroughbreds’ champion Echo Zulu, who capped off a perfect 2021 campaign with a victory in the NetJets Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) at Del Mar, and Dawn and Ike Thrash’s Turnerloose, winner of the Rachel Alexandra (G2) last Saturday at Fair Grounds in her dirt debut, headline the 99 3-year-old fillies nominated to the 85th running of the $600,000 Central Bank Ashland (G1) on Friday, April 8, opening day of Keeneland’s 15-day Spring Meet.

The division’s first Grade 1 race of the year, the Central Bank Ashland is worth a stakes-record $600,000.

The 1 1/16-mile Central Bank Ashland awards 100 points to the winner on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks (G1). The next three finishers receive 40 points, 20 points and 10 points, respectively, to the $1.25 million race on May 6 at Churchill Downs. 

Thirty-five fillies who raced in the Central Bank Ashland have won the Kentucky Oaks, including champions Malathaat (2021) and Monomoy Girl (2018), Cathryn Sophia (2016) and Lovely Maria (2015).

Clickherefor a list of Central Bank Ashland nominees; clickherefor their past performances.

The Central Bank Ashland, the ninth race on April 8 with a 5:16 p.m. ET post, highlights the 10-race opening-day card that begins at 1 p.m. Other stakes that day are the $400,000 Kentucky Utilities Transylvania (G3) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on the turf and the $400,000 Lafayette for 3-year-olds at 7 furlongs on dirt.

The three stakes will be included in the late Pick 4 and late Pick 5 wagers. The Kentucky Utilities Transylvania will be part of the Keeneland Turf Pick 3.

Post positions for the Central Bank Ashland and the other opening-day races will be drawn Tuesday, April 5.

Echo Zulu, trained by Steve Asmussen, captured her four races in 2021 by a combined 22 lengths and won the Spinaway (G1), Frizette (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies as the odds-on favorite. The filly by Gun Runner, purchased at Keeneland’s 2020 September Yearling Sale, is third on the Oaks leaderboard with 30 points.

Turnerloose, trained by Brad Cox – who won the 2018 Central Bank Ashland with Monomoy Girl – raced exclusively on grass as a 2-year-old and won two of four starts. In the Rachel Alexandra, the daughter of Nyquist posted a half-length victory to pick up 50 points toward the Oaks and shoot to the top of the leaderboard. Turnerloose is a graduate of Keeneland’s November Breeding Stock and September Sales.

Six other fillies on the top 10 of the Oaks leaderboard are among the Central Bank Ashland nominees. They include the three fillies who were second, third and fourth behind Turnerloose in the Rachel Alexandra: Red Oak Stable’s Goddess of Fire (4), Reddam Racing’s Awake At Midnyte (9) and Hidden Brook Farm and Black Type Thoroughbreds’ Hidden Connection (8).

Other notable nominees to the Central Bank Ashland include Repole Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Michael House’s Nest, winner of the Demoiselle (G2) and Suncoast (L) and fifth on the Oaks leaderboard; Albaugh Family Stables’ Juju’s Map, winner of last fall’s Darley Alcibiades (G1) at Keeneland and runner-up to Echo Zulu in the Breeders’ Cup, and Briland Farm’s Secret Oath, 7¼-length winner of the Martha Washington (L) at Oaklawn Park and trained by three-time Ashland winner D. Wayne Lukas.

Juju’s Map also is trained by Cox, who leads trainers by Central Bank Ashland nominees with 14.

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