Last major Kentucky Derby preps this weekend will set field the big race

Sierra Leone, shown winning the Risen Star Stakes, is favorite for Saturday's Grade I Blue Grass at Keeneland. Photo courtesy of Fair Grounds
Sierra Leone, shown winning the Risen Star Stakes, is favorite for Saturday's Grade I Blue Grass at Keeneland. Photo courtesy of Fair Grounds

April 5 (UPI) -- The last of the major Kentucky Derby qualifying races loads and locks Saturday as Keeneland hosts the Blue Grass Stakes on its eagerly awaited opening weekend, Santa Anita features the Santa Anita Derby and Aqueduct hosts the Wood Memorial.

That will be 35 "Road to the Kentucky Derby" races in the books with only one to go -- the Lexington at Keeneland April 13. And that has only 20 points for the winner.

Going into the final round, 2023 Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Eclipse Award winner Fierceness tops the leaderboard with 136 points thanks to his smashing Florida Derby victory last weekend.

He also is the solid morning-line favorite in the final pool of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, running this weekend.

Louisiana Derby winner Catching Freedom is second with 125 points and Japanese-trained Forever Young is third, boosted into the standings with the 100 points he earned winning Saturday's UAE Derby in Dubai.

Dornoch, seen after winning the Fountain of Youth, takes on a tough field in Saturday's Grade I Blue Grass at Keeneland. Photo courtesy of Gulfstream Park
Dornoch, seen after winning the Fountain of Youth, takes on a tough field in Saturday's Grade I Blue Grass at Keeneland. Photo courtesy of Gulfstream Park

Much of the rest of the weekend action is for sprinters, on both dirt and turf.

On the international scene, the Japanese Classics season kicks off with Sunday's Oka Sho or Japanese 1,000 Guineas. The race has been won by some eventual superstars but it's a big test for most of the young fillies.

As is our wont, we commence with:

The Run for the Roses

All three weekend prep races award "Road to the Kentucky Derby" points on the 100-50-25-15-10 scale so the winner, and likely the runner-up, in each should be set to claim a slot in the 20-stall Churchill Downs starting gate even without any previous points.

The point is, upsetters jumping into the top ranks of the standings will push others down the list. And with one spot already reserved for the winner of the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby," T O Password, the "bubble" will burst for some marginal players.

Saturday's $1 million Grade I Blue Grass at Keeneland features a couple already well-placed on the "Road" leaderboard. Remsen Stakes and Fountain of Youth winner Dornoch currently is in 10th place with 60 points. Risen Star Stakes winner Sierra Leone, the Blue Grass morning-line favorite, is in 12th with 55.

Saturday's $750,000 Grade I Santa Anita Derby has a field of eight, headed by Imagination, an Into Mischief colt who's ineligible for the Kentucky Derby because his trainer, Bob Baffert, is banished from Churchill Downs and all its works and pomps.

Imagination won the Grade II San Felipe in his last start and has two win and three seconds overall. Baffert also saddles Wynstock, who won the Los Alamitos Futurity last year but produced a lemon in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn, finishing last.

Also prominent is Stronghold, winner of the Sunland Park Derby and second in the Los Al Futurity.

Saturday's $750,000 Grade II Wood Memorial at Aqueduct has a full field, including Deterministic, already 14 on the leaderboard with 50 points.

El Grande O currently is No. 21 on with 30 points and a finish anywhere in the superfecta range could get him in. This looks like a good chance for a long shot to secure a bid to Louisville.

The Lane to the Lilies

The first three finishers from the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies -- Just F Y I, Jody's Pride and Candied, go at it again in Friday's $600,000 Grade I Ashland at Keeneland. A dangerous newcomer to the party: Impel.

Five go in Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Santa Anita Oaks and two, including the odds-on favorite, Kinza, are trained by Baffert.

Kinza, by Carpe Diem, is three-for three and largely untested with the last two wins coming in the Grade III Las Virgenes and Grade III Santa Ysabel.

Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Gazelle at Aqueduct has a wide-open field of 10 with Life Talk and California visitor Where's My Ring the lukewarm favorites.

Much of the remainder of the weekend action is for sprinters:


Don't blink or you'll miss 'em in Friday's $400,000 Lafayette Stakes for 3-year-olds at Keeneland, Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Carter and $150,000 Bay Shore for 3-year-olds at Aqueduct and Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Commonwealth at Keeneland.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Vahva won her last two races in 2023 and returns as the morning-line favorite in Saturday's $600,000 Grade I Madison at Keeneland.

Also here: Saturday's $175,000 Grade III Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct and Sunday's $400,000 Grade II Beaumont for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland.

Turf Sprint

Big money is on the line here: Saturday's $350,000 Grade II Shakertown at Keeneland and $250,000 Grade III Monrovia for fillies and mares at Santa Anita

Sunday's slate includes the $250,000 Palisades for 3-year-olds at Keeneland and, at Santa Anita, the $100,000 John Shear Stakes for 3-year-olds and the $100,000 Angels Flight for 3-year-old fillies.

Filly & Mare Turf

Godolphin's Musical Act is in from Dubai to headline a tough cast for Friday's $400,000 Grade III Transylvania for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland.

Turf Mile

Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Appalachian at Keeneland is wide-open with a dozen 3-year-old fillies entered.

Already in the books: Johannes rallied from a pace-stalking trip to win Thursday's $100,000 Grade III American Stakes at Santa Anita by 1 3/4 lengths and Nadette came from last of 10 to win the companion Wilshire Stakes for fillies and mares by 2 lengths.

Around the world, around the clock:


The Japanese Classics season kicks off April 7 at Hanshin Racecourse with the 2-year-old filly champion of 2023, Ascoli Piceno, defending her perfect record in a full field in the Grade I Oka Sho or Japanese 1,000 Guineas).

Ascoli Piceno won her first start June 24 and moved right into the Grade 2 Niigata Nisai Stakes Aug. 27 and from that, to the Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies Dec. 10, which she won in a battle of closers ovcer Stellenbosch, who returns for this rematch.