Under normal circumstances, Saturday’s Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes from Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington, Kentucky would have major implications on the Kentucky Derby, as the top two finishers will earn enough qualifying points (100 points to the winner, 40 points to the runner-up) to ensure themselves a spot in the starting gate the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs. This year, however, the Blue Grass Stakes takes on additional importance, as the undefeated Champion Two-Year-Old and 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Essential Quality looks to continue his winning ways and perhaps earn himself the title as favorite for the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby in Louisville on May 1.
The Most Likely Winner
Any time a Champion sets foot on the racetrack it becomes a must-see event, whether it be for a morning workout or a graded stakes race in the afternoon. Essential Quality (#4, 3/5 morning line odds) has exuded class since debuting for trainer Brad Cox at Churchill Downs on last year’s Kentucky Derby undercard, winning his debut by four-lengths. Since then, the son of Tapit has rattled off three consecutive graded stakes victories, including last year’s Breeders’ Futurity and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, both of which came over Keeneland’s dirt track. In his three-year-old debut, Essential Quality decimated a field of seven at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, winning by more than four-lengths over a sloppy racing surface. With a horse of this caliber, there is not a great deal to knock; he has run fast, he has proven he can perform well at different racetracks, he is professional, and he has the best of the best as far as human connections are concerned. The only knock would be the price one has to settle on if they are interested in betting on him, as he is likely to be closer to 2/5 odds when all is said and done. Given it is a horse race and anything can happen, that seems exceptionally short; odds of even-money or better would warrant consideration, but there is no scenario in which he goes off at that kind of price.
Trainer Todd Pletcher already has a strong hand in next month’s Kentucky Derby with Florida Derby winner Known Agenda, but the lightly raced Untreated (#2, 10/1 ML odds) presents an intriguing case in Saturday’s Blue Grass. A son of 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, Untreated stretched out to a route-of-ground in his most recent start for the first time and proceeded to smash a field of maidens, delivering an eye-catching move rounding the second turn en route to a nearly nine-length victory. Untreated is exceptionally light on experience, having raced only twice in his career thus far; having said that, he has earned speed figures that would lead one to believe that, if he were to improve again on Saturday, he would not be hopelessly overmatched. It would behoove jockey Joel Rosario to establish solid position early, as this race does not appear to feature a great deal of early speed. This may seem a bit overzealous given his brief resume, but odds of 9/2 (roughly 18% chance of victory) or better would represent fair odds on Untreated in Saturday’s Blue Grass.
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Hush of a Storm (#7, 15/1 ML odds) likely would have been the favorite in last week’s Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park, but the connections involved chose to bypass that spot in favor of Saturday’s Blue Grass at Keeneland. The son of Creative Cause had his form flattered by last weekend’s result in the Jeff Ruby, as the winner, Like the King, was soundly defeated by Hush of a Storm in the John Battaglia Memorial in late February. One of the major unknowns with this son of Creative Cause is his ability to handle a dirt surface as opposed to the synthetic surface he has recently been excelling over; combine this with his off-the-pace running style while also taking on tougher company and one has a recipe for a longshot with many questions to answer. Time will tell if it was an error by everyone involved with Hush of a Storm to skip last weekend’s race in favor of this spot, but, if nothing else, it can be interpreted as a confident move as opposed to taking a more conservative approach. He is not a likely winner, but odds of 20/1 (roughly 5% chance of winning) or better would make him appealing in the second, third or fourth positions.
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