Blue Grass Stakes & More Derby Prep Races Recap

Two noses and a neck were the winning margins in the three major preps for the Kentucky Derby on a thrilling and dramatic Saturday afternoon. Practical Move took the G1 Santa Anita Derby by a nose from gallant Japanese shipper Mandarin Hero; Tapit Trice boosted Todd Pletcher’s hefty Derby portfolio when he had a neck to spare over Verifying in the G1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland; and 59-1 shocker Lord Miles snapped up a place in the gate at Churchill Downs when making his stakes breakthrough in the G2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, pipping Hit Show by a nose.

Practical has all the right moves

Santa Anita Derby, G1, $750,000, 1m 1f dirt, 3yo, Santa Anita

His ability was well known, but Practical Move added tenacity and guts to his portfolio with a knock-down, drag-out score in the Santa Anita Derby on Saturday, outmuscling Japanese raider Mandarin Hero and Skinner in a rousing finish that may see all three qualify for next month’s Kentucky Derby.

The late scratch of the well-fancied Geaux Rocket Ride robbed the race of considerable interest, but Practical Move was already the confirmed A-lister in the field and justified his billing as even-money favorite. He moved easily to the lead around the turn, Ramon Vazquez with no option but to let the big horse roll, but the complexion of the race changed when Mandarin Hero and Skinner went in pursuit.

Practical Move kept them at arm’s length through the stretch, and although Mandarin Hero gave it all he had in the last strides he just couldn’t get past. Practical Move got it by a nose, with a half-length back to Skinner, who never quite looked like he had the ammunition to hit the target.

“Now we’re seeing his maturity, he knows how to fight and compete,” said trainer Tim Yakteen, signing for back-to-back wins in the Santa Anita Derby after Taiba last year. “The rush you get – that’s why we’re in this game.”

Practical Move, four-for-seven lifetime and never off the board, is the undisputed leader of the Californian crop and is 7-1 fourth-choice for the Kentucky Derby on the JazzSports future book. 

Mandarin Hero, who ran an astonishing race on his first start at this level and first outside Japan, earned 40 RTKD points but is currently outside the top 20 on the Derby leaderboard and will need defections if he is to make it to Churchill Downs, although there will certainly be a number of qualified horses dropping out for one reason or another. Skinner has 45 RTKD points and is 21st on the leaderboard; it’s highly likely he’ll be able to take his chance on the big day.

Santa Anita Derby Payouts

HorseWinPlaceShow
1. Practical Move4.003.002.20
2. Mandarin Hero6.604.00
3. Skinner2.60

Winning time: 1m 48.69s

Santa Anita Derby Race Video

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Tough-guy Tapit wraps it up

Blue Grass Stakes, G1, $1,000,000, 1m 1f dirt, 3yo, Keeneland

And then there were three. Todd Pletcher now has a trio of top prospects for the Kentucky Derby after Tapit Trice graduated to the big league with a battling victory in the Blue Grass at Keeneland on Saturday, outrunning the game Verifying by a neck with Blazing Sevens a way back in third.

The elegant grey Tapit Trice had already booked his place in the gate at Churchill Downs but showed here that he will be a major player. The 8-5 favorite started a little slowly as usual but then made a big move down the back-stretch and threw down a challenge to second-choice Verifying, who had stalked the steady fractions, at the top of the lane.

The two were soon eye-to-eye, nose-to-nose, but Tapit Trice slowly began to assert inside the final sixteenth and was stronger to the line, with the pair pulling five and three-quarter lengths clear of the no-kick Blazing Sevens.

“He’s improving all the time,” said Pletcher, winning his fourth Blue Grass, a new record. “He was always in good shape there and I think stretching out to a mile and a quarter will be even better for him.”

Tapit Trice took his winning streak to four with this success, his only defeat coming on debut when he finished third. He is 4-1 second-favorite for the Derby on the Jazz Sports future book, behind his barnmate Forte, a 5-2 chance. The first five home in the Blue Grass – Sun Thunder was fourth and Raise Cain fifth – are all in the top 20 on the RTKD leaderboard and qualified to head to Churchill Downs next month.

Blue Grass Stakes Payouts

HorseWinPlaceShow
1. Tapit Trice5.283.122.64
2. Verifying3.702.92
3. Blazing Sevens3.74

Winning time: 1m 50.00s

Blue Grass Race Video

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Miles goes the distance at last

Wood Memorial Stakes, G2, $750,000, 1m 1f dirt, 3yo, Aqueduct

If nothing else, Lord Miles has impeccable timing. The 59-1 shot hurled himself into the gate for the Kentucky Derby at the last gasp when emerging top dog in a breathtaking three-way go for the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on Saturday, making his stakes breakthrough by a nose and a head from Hit Show and Dreamlike.

Off the board in his two previous attempts on the Derby trail, Lord Miles upset the applecart in a big way under Paco Lopez. At the sixteenth-pole there were three horses in lockstep, third-choice Dreamlike on the inner and Lord Miles on the outside, with the favorite Hit Show sandwiched in between.

Hit Show went a whisker in front but Lord Miles was not to be denied and, with none of the trio giving an inch, the longshot stretched his neck out to have his photo taken at the moment the camera clicked. The stewards took a look at all the bumping and boring but let the result stand.

“You dream and sometimes it doesn’t happen. Now our dreams have become a reality,” said trainer Saffie Joseph. “We believed in the horse and he showed what he could do at the most important time.”

Lord Miles, a son of Curlin, was zero-for-three in stakes before the Wood, but the 100 RTKD Points he earned qualified him for Churchill Downs with room to spare. He is 50-1 for the big race on the Jazz Sports Future Book. Hit Show is also safely in the top 20 on the leaderboard, but Dreamlike is likely to miss out.

Wood Memorial Stakes Payouts

HorseWinPlaceShow
1. Lord Miles120.5025.6013.20
2. Hit Show3.502.70
3. Dreamlike4.60

Winning time: 1m 51.17s

Wood Memorial Race Video

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