Brian Nadeau’s Road to the Triple Crown: The Blue Grass

Keeneland: The GII, $600,000 Blue Grass at 1 1/8 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 100-40-20-10)

by Brian Nadeau

Brian handicaps at Capital OTB and Horseplayer Now, and he’ll offer analysis and selections of Derby points races, hoping to make us all a little money as we head to the Belmont Stakes. Follow him on Twitter here.

Swiss Skydiver and Mike Smith winning the Santa Anita Oaks. Benoit photo

#1 Shivaree (8-1): Confirmed front-runner will be the inside speed at the very least and could find himself loose and lonely in the day and age of grab and hold, though there does appear to be enough pace to his outside to keep him honest. Son of Awesome of Course was a distant second to Belmont winner Tiz the Law in the GI Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park but then got fried when third in a good AOC there going one turn last month, so while it’s good to see Nicks forge on, and this draw and his speed help, this seems like a trip a bit too far; know him early, not sure about late.

#2 Finnick the Fierce (12-1): Tactical longshot has made a name for himself running underneath to some nice ones, as he was a distant third to Nadal in the GI Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park two-back, then a well-beaten third to today’s buzz horse Art Collector in an AOC at Churchill Downs last month, which means he needs to improve a bunch to threaten here. Dialed In gelding has picked up his game on the speed figure scale in his last two for Hernandez, and fans of José Ortiz will get their guy at a juicy number, but as talented a rider as he is, he’s not strong enough to lift a 1,200-pound Thoroughbred on his back to get the necessary 10 lengths of improvement this one needs; tough to endorse.

#3 Art Collector (5-1): The aforementioned buzz horse enters with the field’s lone triple-digit Beyer (100) when he wired the CD AOC over ‘Fierce, as well as runner-up Shared Sense, who won Wednesday’s GIII Indiana Derby at Indiana Grand, to further flatter this son of Bernardini’s big effort for Drury. But dig a bit deeper and you’ll notice that he beat only three that day, while absolutely walking on the lead, which won’t happen here, not to mention that the waters get a lot deeper, too, and his two closing sprint wins prior to that weren’t fast at all, yet he’ll be vastly overbet; just not buying the hype.

#4 Mr. Big News (10-1): Deep closer took advantage of a wild pace to get up in the slop in the Oaklawn Stakes when last seen in April, in an effort far and above anything he had done beforehand, which includes a modest fifth in the second division of Fair Grounds’ GII Risen Star two-back. You can try and make the case that this Giant’s Causeway colt could be coming to hand for Calhoun, and the pace may be to his liking, too, but he was all-out in Hot Springs to beat Pletcher B (C?) teamer Farmington Road, who didn’t fire in the Belmont, which doesn’t exactly enhance this one’s chances; midpack finish appears his ceiling.

#5 Man in the Can (10-1): Stretch-running Arkansas-bred is on the improve for Moquett and likes to win races, as he’s 4-for-5 lifetime and showed last time that he can play on a bigger stage, too, as he won an AOC at CD going this trip, in what was a career-best run to be sure. Can the Man colt won’t win any pedigree awards, but they run races in the afternoon for a reason, and the fact that he showed last time that he can handle this distance—he’s one of only four in here that have—says to give him a second look. And with an expected positive race flow to aid his chances, a red-hot rider in Gaffalione, and a nice price, there’s a lot to like in this corner; thinking he fires a big shot.

#6 Hard Lightning (50-1): Huge longshot shows only a sloppy one-turn MSW win at GP from four starts for Delgado, so it’s tough to think that this Hard Spun runner will be able to make any kind of dent here; easy toss.

#7 Swiss Skydiver (3-1): ML favorite will attract plenty of support, as she’s a filly facing colts while trying to earn some Kentucky Derby qualifying points, but also because she’s streaked to a trio of graded stakes wins in a row and is arguably the horse to beat. Still, this is a big step up for this daughter of Daredevil, who didn’t have a straw in her path in any of those three wins, which includes a laugher in a four-horse GII Santa Anita Oaks last time for McPeek, who deserves credit for shipping out when he saw a good spot was coming up so light. There are a lot of caution signs, too, as Smith never saw a hot pace he didn’t want to engage in, and therefore will likely have her pressing Shivaree, and there are a few others that want to at least be involved early, too, and this isn’t a group that will fold like the fillies did when the real running begins, so sure, you can golf clap for the sporting try her connections are taking, but that doesn’t mean you have to go to the window, either; quite comfortable making her prove it.

#8 Basin (8-1): Tricky read chased Charlatan around the track in the slower division of the Arkansas Derby and had a “someone had to be second” feel to him, though he gets a few bonus points for not letting anyone else pass him, either. Liam’s Map colt hasn’t really progressed from from age two to three, or showed the form that netted him the one-turn GI Hopeful in the slop at Saratoga, though it’s tough to blame Asmussen for running in this GII that has none of the big boys, as this one’s form is solid enough, but just doesn’t look like winning form; fringe player.

#9 Attachment Rate (20-1): Stalker has been in shouting distance of Mischevious Alex, Dr Post, and Maxfield this year, while not really threatening any of them, but the former alone makes him a player against a group looking to establish itself on the national scene. Romans-trained son of Hard Spun should trip out here, as he can lay off the speed and get first run on the closers, which would have him in an enviable spot off the far turn, with the blueprint being that solid second to ‘Post two-back in the Unbridled at GP. On paper he’s not good enough to win this, but this is a barn that knows how to get to the winner’s circle in this race, so you could do worse than looking him up at a nice number; exotics appeal.

#10 Rushie (5-1): California invader comes in off a fine third to heavyweights Honor A.P. and Authentic in the GI Santa Anita Derby, where he was beaten four lengths, and you’re allowed to muse aloud who in this field would be able to boast that if they were in the starting gate that day. Tactical son of Liam’s Map is in expert hands with McCarthy calling the shots, and he showed that he can ship and win when he won an AOC in smart fashion on the Arkansas Derby undercard, so flying and firing in Lexington shouldn’t be a concern. He also gives the impression that his last was just the beginning of things to come and that there’s plenty of untapped potential here, for a trainer that likes to take the patient approach, which means he may be unleashing a monster here; love his chances.

#11 Hunt the Front (30-1): Deep closer gives the Hall of Famer Zito a rare shot at a big prize these days, and this is a barn that has won this race three times, though this son of Revolutionary was a distant seventh to ‘Can in the CD AOC while facing winners, which means he’s in way too deep here; get home safely.

#12 Enforceable (10-1): Stretch-runner gets a huge jock upgrade to Rosario, who is the best finisher in racing, and that should fit this beautifully bred son of Tapit like a glove. Casse runner was up in time to win FG’s GIII Lecomte in January but hasn’t progressed since, and now hasn’t been seen since a middling fifth in their GII Louisiana Derby in March, which makes him tough to like in here; possibly for a small slice.

#13 Tiesto (15-1): Mott runner picks a heck of a spot to make his dirt debut after a quartet of turf runs that include a good second to a nice one in Vitalogy in GP’s GIII Palm Beach two-back in February. Son of Tiznow is bred for the main, and this isn’t a barn that runs them where they don’t belong, or got in the Hall of Fame by doing so, but from the parking lot, while spotting eons of experience, he seems to be in a tough spot; not seeing it.


#10 Rushie

#5 Man in the Can

#7 Swiss Skydiver

#9 Attachment Rate


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