Only the top 20 horses with the most graded stakes earnings will get into the Derby starting gate and Santiva, the 3-1 morning line favorite, is currently ranked 18th with $240,254.
Santiva could use some insurance and the third-place purse of $75,000 would guarantee him a place in the Derby starting gate. The remaining 11 entrants need the first-place purse of $450,000 to run in the Derby (see chart at end of story).
Trainer Eddie Kenneally will try to score his first win in the Blue Grass when he sends Santiva to the starting gate. The race will be the second start of the year for Santiva who was a 1½ -length runner-up to Mucho Macho Man in the Risen Star Stakes (G2) in February at the Fair Grounds.
Santiva has room to improve off of his performance in the Risen Star but I am concerned about the 56-day layoff.
Going into the Risen Star, Santiva fired a bullet work out on February 12 but since the race his work outs have been lackluster and I don’t know if a sharp work out on April 9 is enough to earn him the win. If I use Santiva in my wagers it will be on the bottom of the exotics.
Three long shots I like are Crimson China (10-1), Brilliant Speed (6-1) and Joe’s Blazing Aaron (12-1). And I especially like Crimson China and Brilliant Speed as potential win candidates.
Trained by Graham Motion, Crimson China has never finished worse than second and he comes into the race with an impressive 2-2-0 record in four starts.
As a 2-year-old, Crimson China raced in England but was shipped to America and made his 3-year-old debut winning a 9-furlong allowance race on the turf at Gulfstream Park in February. Crimson China came back in March and finished a 2-length runner up to Swift Warrior in the 8½-furlong Rushaway Stakes at Turfway Park.
Here’s the chart call: CRIMSON CHINA broke slowly and was unhurried into stride, made a sweeping move circling five wide, finished full of run but was left with too much to do.
The track favored front runners that day and Crimson China, who trailed in last, was gaining in the final strides on Swift Warrior who led from gate to wire. The stretch out in the Blue Grass to 9-furlongs should be more to Crimson China’s liking and I look for him to be competitive.
Brilliant Speed struggled as a 2-year-old and finally broke his maiden on his fifth attempt winning an 8½-furlong maiden race on the turf at Tampa Bay Downs last December.
But as a 3-year-old, Brilliant Speed has shown vast improvement narrowly losing by a nose his stakes debut in the one mile Dania Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park in January. A month later at Gulfstream, Brilliant Speed suffered another narrow defeat finishing third, just a half-length shy of first, in the Hallandale Beach Stakes.
That’s the kind of improvement I like to see in a colt at this time of year and with Dynaformer as his sire, Brilliant Speed should like the stretch out to 9-furlongs.
With two narrow defeats this year, the third time could, perhaps, be the charm for Brilliant Speed to pull off the upset win in the Bluegrass and stamp his ticket to Churchill Downs.
Joe’s Blazing Aaron also struggled as a 2-year-old, breaking his maiden on his fourth attempt in a 6-furlong sprint at Calder Race Course. His 3-year-old debut was not much better when he was bumped hard in the stretch of a one mile allowance race Gulfstream Park and eased.
But since that race, Joe’s Blazing Aaron has put together two nice back-to-back wins, going gate to wire, in route races including a win in the 9-furlong Palm Beach Stakes (G3). Joe’s Blazing Aaron makes his debut for new trainer Michael Maker and picks up Garrett Gomez as his jockey.
If Joe’s Blazing Aaron runs like he did in the Palm Beach Stakes, he will be tough to beat in the Blue Grass.
Graded earnings of Blue Grass entrants:
1. Newsdad, $0
2. King Congie, $0
3. Santiva, $240,254
4. Joe’s Blazing Aaron, $90,000
5. Brilliant Speed, $0
6. Sensational Slam, $400
7. Twinspired, $47,500
8. Willcox Inn, $139,000 (may get in with 2nd place purse $150,000)
9. Wilkinson, $75,000
10. Praetereo, $0
11. Crimson China, $0
12. Queensplatekitten, $30,000