Road to the Kentucky Derby — Blue Grass Stakes Preview And Top Win Contenders

Written By Fairway Jay on April 9, 2022 - Last Updated on April 4, 2023
Blue Grass Stakes Keeneland

The Road to the Kentucky Derby continues Saturday, April 9, with the final weekend of major Championship Series races. The opening weekend of spring racing at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington features five graded stakes on the 11-race card headlined by the $1 million Blue Grass Stakes.

While fans and horsemen are happy to be back at Keeneland, they likely won’t enjoy the weather for opening weekend. A freeze warning is in effect Friday, and Saturday could see snow showers. However, an overcast day with near-40-degree temperatures should clear before the horses go to the starting gate in the Blue Grass Stakes.

On Saturday, the final three big Derby prep races offer the last chance to qualify for the 2022 Kentucky Derby.

Here are the three key races for 3-year-olds on the Kentucky Derby Trail.

  • Blue Grass Stakes – 1 1/8 miles at Keeneland
  • Santa Anita Derby – 1 1/8 miles at Santa Anita Park
  • Wood Memorial – 1 1/8 miles at Aqueduct

Saturday’s 9-race card at Keeneland in Lexington features the $1,000,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. The Grade 1 event is race 8 at 5:10 p.m. EST and drew 12 entries, led by Smile Happy (2-1).

This year’s Blue Grass Stakes has a moderate payoff potential and is a good wagering race. It can pay off if a long shot dark horse contender like Volcanic (20-1) cashes in.

Blue Grass Stakes field and odds 2022

1Commandperformance12-1Irad Ortiz Jr. Todd Pletcher
2Fenwick20-1Paco LopezKevin McKathan
3Trademark20-1Rafael BejaranoVictoria Oliver
4Zandon5-2Flavien PratChad Brown
5Volcanic20-1Adam BeschizzaMark Casse
6Emmanuel9-2Luis SaezTodd Pletcher
7Golden Glider20-1Ricardo Santana Jr.Mark Casse
8Ethereal Road20-1Luis ContrerasD. Wayne Lukas
9Rattle N Roll8-1Ricardo Santana Jr.Kenny McPeek
10Smile Happy9-5Corey LanerieKenny McPeek
11Blackadder20-1Florent GerouxRodolphe Brissett
12Grantham20-1Tyler GaffalioneMike Maker

You can watch and wager on horse racing for all races at TVG as part of its comprehensive daily package. In addition, TVG offers new players a $300 bonus wager, and the leading online racing and betting platform covers horse racing from coast to coast and includes dozens of race tracks.

Blue Grass Stakes top win contenders

Here are the top win contenders and other horse analyses as you determine your horse racing strategieshow to bet, and which horses will win. In addition, our partners at TVG and
HorseRacingNation have added insight into the race.

  • Smile Happy
  • Zandon
  • Volcanic

Smile Happy has won 2-of-3 starts and finished second off a layoff as the favorite in the Risen Star Stakes behind an expected Kentucky Derby leading favorite, Epicenter. Smile Happy is an off-the-pace runner who won the Grade 2 last Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last November, which turned out to be a key race with multiple runners coming back to win their subsequent start. He’s already run this nine-furlong distance in the Risen Star and finished just in front of fast-closing Zandon. Smile Happy should move forward again in his form cycle, and his morning works leading up to this significant Kentucky Derby prep race have been outstanding.

Zandon should be sitting on a stronger race with solid and steady works since making a move midpack and continuing down the stretch to finish third in the Risen Star. He’s the only horse in the field that has twice raced at this nine-furlong distance.

Volcanic is the top value horse to include in exacta, trifecta and superfecta wagering. According to HorseRacingNation, Volcanic showed improved speed and balance when finishing third in the Sam F. Davis Stakes in February at half the price. Volcanic is very capable of hitting the board and outrunning his 20-1 odds.

Other long shots to watch

Another long shot to watch is Commandperformance, who will be pressing the expected front-runner and pace leader Emmanuel with a good break from the rail. Commandperformance is still a maiden searching for his first win after he got outsprinted as the 1-9 favorite on the slow Tampa Bay Downs surface by long shot Fenwick. Commandperformance finished fourth in last November’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and he’ll still need a massive move forward to compete here, but trainer Todd Pletcher knows how to bring lightly raced 3-year-olds along as they grow and mature.

Emmanuel is trainer Todd Pletcher’s top horse in this race and will inherit the pace-leading role. His balance and speed provide him with a significant pace-controlling advantage. Emmanuel slipped up at the start in the Fountain of Youth, lost ground racing wide and weakened after a mild midrace move. However, he still finished in front of closer Rattle N Roll. Emmanuel should bounce back in his second stakes start after being one of the favorites in the FOY.

Ashland Stakes

Friday’s $600,000 Ashland Stakes was won most impressively by Nest, who cruised to an 8-length win to pick up 100 points and move to the top of the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard.

Recent Blue Grass Stakes winners

There have been 19 horses to parlay a run in Keeneland’s Blue Grass into victory at Churchill Downs in the Kentucky Derby. Ten horses won both races, but none since Strike the Gold in 1991. In 2007, Street Sense finished runner-up in the Blue Grass and went on to win the Kentucky Derby. And in 2018, Blue Grass winner Good Magic recorded a runner-up finish in the Run for the Roses.

The Blue Grass Stakes was switched to a synthetic surface at Keeneland from 2007 to 2014, and the return to dirt has provided better fields and opportunities for Blue Grass runners.

2021Essential Quality3-2$3.001:48.50Pace presser1st
2020Art Collector5-1$6.601:48.11Stalking2nd
2019Vekoma7-5$4.801:50.93Pace presser1st
2018Good Magic8-5$5.201:50.18Stalking, midpack1st
2016Brody's Cause4-1$10.401:50.20Closer, far back12th
2015Carpe Diem2-5$2.801:49.77Presser, stalking1st
Photo by Shutterstock
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Fairway Jay

FairwayJay is a leading national sports and betting analyst and provides insight and information you can bet on to engage and assist the avid fan. His tee-to-green coverage and racing contributions have been provided to Churchill Downs, Twinspires, TVG, Forbes, TheLines, numberFire and PlayUSA platforms. Follow on Twitter: @FairwayJay

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