DYCHE | Can Carpe Diem seize Keeneland's Blue Grass Stakes?
John David Dyche
By John David Dyche WDRB Contributor
It is another big weekend in horseracing. Keeneland is open in Lexington and hosts the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes for three-year old Kentucky Derby hopefuls and four other fine stakes races on an outstanding Saturday card.
Two other 1-1/8 mile Derby preps, the Wood Memorial in New York and the Santa Anita Derby in California, will help define the field for the first Saturday in May at Louisville's Churchill Downs.
Last weekend saw two new Derby prospects burst on the scene. In the UAE Derby in Dubai, a colt called Mubbtahij and owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al-Maktoum, turned in a dazzling victory over a new dirt track that some trainers compared to Churchill's.
In the Florida Derby, a lightly raced Todd Pletcher trainee, Materiality, impressed in victory over favorite Upstart, although some scribes were quick to downplay that win.
In between those contests, the favorite International Star won again by capturing the Louisiana Derby for owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey. This horse looks like a better bet for their first Derby win than did their last year's entry, Vicar's In Trouble, which won the same prep.
The favorite for the Blue Grass is 5-Carpe Diem, which won with style over the restored dirt surface there last fall. Another of Pletcher's plentiful prospects, Carpe Diem, is under the great John Velazquez, who also guided Materiality first across the finish line for the top trainer last Saturday.
The late, great Robin Williams popularized the Latin expression meaning "seize the day" in the movie The Dead Poet's Society. This is the first Derby since Williams's death, and for some superstitious horseplayers, that is probably enough to prompt a wager on the beautiful $1.6 purchase by WinStar Farm and Stonestreet Stables.
But the son of Giant's Causeway still struggles for respect from some experts. They say he was a well-beaten second in last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, which is true, but he benefited from experiencing a tough trip. Others question his final fractions while winning the Tampa Bay Derby, but others have triumphed in Louisville off of similar efforts.
Carpe Diem simply exudes class. Perhaps the Blue Grass will be run over a wet track, or maybe competitors like the little Ocho Ocho Ocho, last seen disappointing in a tough San Felipe Stakes trip, or Team Valor's 4-Unrivaled, tapped by top handicapper Ellis Starr (aka the Übercapper), will have their day.
It is a fine field, as is to be expected now that Keeneland is back to a dirt surface, and runs this outstanding event a week earlier than in years past. But Carpe Diem is the best of the bunch, should handle the distance, and even if he loses in Lexington, it is worth remembering that the magnificent Alysheba took the Run for the Roses after finishing third in the Blue Grass.
In the other preps, 5-El Kabeir, a proven commodity, will confront some decent adversaries in the Twinspires.com Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. One of them, 6-Daredevil, intrigues. The Tapit-sired 4-Frosted, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin and coming off a controversial fourth in the Fountain of Youth, travels north from Florida in hopes of getting back south to Louisville. Top trainers Bill Mott (1-Tiz Shea D), Dale Romans (2-Toasting Master), and Chad Brown (3-Lieutenant Colonel) always merit respect. Brown's horse carries the talented Irad Ortiz, Jr. after a disastrous last place finish under Kendrick Carmouche in the Gotham.
At Santa Anita, the topper of many Derby lists, Bob Baffert's 1-Dortmund, a horse so huge that he seems a different species from Ocho Ocho Ocho, drew the inside post. Some wonder about his running style, and the one he must beat in the six-horse field is probably 5-Prospect Park.
When it comes to wagering this weekend's Derby preps, this non-expert will play one favorite, one strong non-favorite, and one longshot.