Crowded Blue Grass Field Presents Handicapping Conundrum

Keeneland lured a total of 16 horses (14 in the body of the field plus two also-eligibles) for Saturday’s $1 million Grade I Blue Grass Stakes (Race 10, approx. post time 6:00 p.m. EST), and each entrant has something to prove as they look ahead to next month’s Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. In fact, the lone stakes winner in the field is #6 BRODY’S CAUSE (4-1), who took the Grade I Breeders’ Futurity over this oval last fall (more on him later).

#4 ZULU was set as the 5-2 morning-line favorite, and though he doesn’t leap off the page he is a logical contender. ZULU was worn down late by the highly-regarded Mohaymen in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream last time out, which was a strong effort considering it was his first around two turns. Todd Pletcher, who won this race last year with Carpe Diem, adds blinkers to this speedy son of Bernardini, indicating that he wants ZULU to employ his natural early speed. Javier Castellano, among the best riders in the world, gets the leg up on ZULU for the first time. ZULU has shown ability on both fast and off-goings, so the amount of moisture in the track shouldn’t affect him (there’s a good chance of rain on Friday, and a lesser chance on Saturday).

#14 MY MAN SAM (10-1) drew a terrible post but has to be considered the main threat to ZULU. He showed little in his sprint debut after getting bumped at the break but stretched out with aplomb to break his maiden by eight lengths in his second start. He followed that up with a game second-place finish behind Matt King Coal, one of the favorites in the Wood Memorial that will go off about a half-hour before this race. Irad Ortiz Jr. won’t make the trip from New York, as he has the mount on favored Shagaf in the Wood Memorial, but former Eclipse Award winner Julien Leparoux will call the shots on this Chad Brown trainee. If he can find a way to save ground on this horse, watch out for him in the stretch.

#5 CRESCENT DRIVE (20-1) is a live longshot; he’s never raced on dirt but drilled extremely well over it for sharp trainer Thomas Amoss on March 16. He gets blinkers on, suggesting he’ll be closer to the pace than usual, which probably isn’t a bad thing in stacked race without a lot of early speed.

I’m tossing the aforementioned BRODY’S CAUSE, as I’ve never been his biggest fan and his comeback race in the Tampa Bay Derby was dreadful. I’m also tossing #2 DONEGAL MOON (5-1), as he doesn’t have a race that would make him competitive in here aside from a blowout win over some overmatched foes at Parx, which I don’t put much stock in.

The play: $6 exacta box 4/14, $2 exacta 4,14/5, $2 exacta 5/4,14 ($20)

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