The sport’s best runners will continue to battle it out on the 2021 Road to the Kentucky Derby this Saturday when they head to Keeneland for the $800,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2).
The event is a major prep race for 3-year-olds heading into the Derby, offering qualifying points on a 100-40-20-10 scale to the top four finishers.
Covering 1 1/8-miles, the Blue Grass Stakes has been responsible for producing 23 eventual Kentucky Derby contenders throughout its history, with 11 of them going on to win both events.
Essential Quality headlines the field
This year will be the 97th edition of the race, and it is highlighted by the 2020 champion 2-year-old male in Essential Quality, who is also the current Kentucky Derby favorite at +300.
The undefeated son of Tapit, trained by Brad Cox, has drawn post 4 for the race, and he is coming into the event with two grade 1 victories at Keeneland already. He is the heavy morning-line favorite and will be guided by jockey Luis Saez, who has been responsible for riding the colt to victory in all three of his graded stakes wins.
Last time out, Essential Quality took a 4 1/4-length victory on a sloppy Oaklawn Park track in the Southwest Stakes (G3), another top Derby qualifying race.
“Post position, it’s important. But I feel comfortable in the 4 hole,” said Cox. “Obviously, Luis is on him, and he knows what to do away from there. We’re in a good spot with him. Very happy with where he is mentally, physically. And the post is fine.”
Essential Quality is really going to be the one to beat in this one as he comes home to the Bluegrass state. He has been putting in impressive works leading up to the race, training at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.
Highly Motivated & Keepmeinmind to challenge
Essential Quality will likely face his biggest challenge from Klaravich Stables’ Highly Motivated, who hopes to take down the leader as he comes into the race off a third-place run in the Gotham Stakes (G3).
The son of Into Mischief already has one victory at Keeneland, which came in the November 6 Nyquist Stakes on the Breeders’ Cup World Championships undercard. In that event, he set a track record time after going 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14.99.
Trained by Chad Brown, Highly Motivated was the favorite going into the Gotham at Aqueduct, but he ended up falling back and finishing 1 3/4 lengths behind the winner. He will be joined by jockey Javier Castellano in this one as the rider makes a return following the Gotham.
“I like his chances of getting the mile-and-an-eighth better on a tighter track at Keeneland than at Aqueduct. He’s ready for a big race,” said Brown.
Another top name who could make things difficult for Essential Quality is Cypress Creek Equine, Arnold Bennnwith, and Spendthrift Farm’s Keepmeinmind. The son of Laoban, trained by Robertino Diodoro, has already faced off twice at Keeneland with the favorite.
He took second behind Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Futurity and third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. His last race of 2020 was a victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs.
Here is a look at the entries for the Blue Grass Stakes (G2)
Listed in order of post position with jockey:
- Hidden Stash (R. Bejarano)
- Untreated (J. Rosario)
- Highly Motivated (J. Castellano)
- Essential Quality (L. Saez)
- Rombauer (F. Geroux)
- Leblon (A. Jimenez)
- Hush of a Storm (S. Gonzalez)
- Sittin On Go (C. J. Lanerie)
- Keepmeinmind (D. Cohen)
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