Expect the unexpected.
For better or worse, that has become the tagline in recent times for the Grade I, $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. Not only has a favorite not prevailed since Peace Rules in 2003 but five of the last seven winners have gone off at odds of 8-to-1 or greater, including three that cashed at double-digits.
Parity seems ripe to showcase itself once again on Saturday as an overflow field of 14 was entered for Saturday's 90th running of Keeneland's headline Kentucky Derby prep race. While Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Bobby's Kitten was made the tepid 3-to-1 morning-line favorite, a valid winner's circle case could be made for a majority of the hopefuls slated to start in the 11⁄8-mile test.
In what will be the final edition of the Blue Grass contested over the synthetic Polytrack surface before Keeneland goes back to dirt, the race has again lived up to its reputation of attracting a diverse bunch in absence of luring some of the sexier names on the Kentucky Derby trail.
Bobby's Kitten has shown himself to be a classy individual on the turf, winning the Grade III Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont last October and taking an allowance test at Tampa Bay Downs in his season debut on March 8.
Though turf horses generally translate their form on synthetic surfaces, Bobby's Kitten will be trying the Polytrack for the first time and — more importantly — will have his ability to settle on the front end likely tested by Grade III Spiral Stakes runner-up Harry's Holiday who breaks to his inside.
"He's never really come from behind or got a lot of dirt kicked in his face," owner Ken Ramsey said of Bobby's Kitten. "But Chad (trainer Brown) thinks he can rate. We've got a really good post position, with the speed on the inside of us, so we'll set out to develop our strategy.
"I think (the strategy) is to let the other horses go on and tuck in behind them and that way we won't run those 1:09 fractions and we'll have something left for the stretch run. He's by Kitten's Joy, so we know he can get a distance of ground."
Were it not for Ramsey's We Miss Artie getting his nose down first in the Spiral, Harry's Holiday would likely be in mid-Kentucky Derby preparation instead of trying to solidify a spot in the first leg of the Triple Crown.
The Mike Maker-trainee has hit the board in three tries over a synthetic track — all at Turfway Park — but will be making his third start in six weeks this weekend.
Mark Casse-trainee Coastline is another coming out the Spiral Stakes, having run third in that race. The son of Speightstown is also packing in a lot of experience in a relative short time as the Blue Grass will mark his fourth start this year.
"My feeling was that Coastline didn't get a whole lot out of his first two races in Arkansas, so I think maybe this last race will help him move forward," Casse said. "But Coastline's had enough experience and he's had some traffic around him. He still has to prove that he can go that far. I'm not positive of that, but that's why we have racing, and I'll have more answers Saturday evening."
Horses coming into the Blue Grass after prepping at Tampa Bay Downs have had a solid history, as last year's winner Java's War can attest.
Vinceremos, owned by WinStar Farm and Twin Creeks Racing, will aim to continue that trend as the son of Pioneerof the Nile won the Grade III Sam F. Davis at Tampa on Feb. 1 and was second in the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby on March 8.
"He's a horse that always wants to put himself into the race," said Randy Gullatt, manager of Twin Creeks Racing. "He actually wants to be more forwardly placed than we would like for him to be, so I don't think post position is a big deal with this horse. Obviously, you'd hate to be four- or five-wide in the first turn but that's most likely the case. It is what is. I think he'll be fine."
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.