By the nature of its spot on the calendar and its $300,000 purse, Keeneland's Grade II Coolmore Lexington Stakes has often been considered the last proving ground for Kentucky Derby hopefuls.
This year's edition could be a deviation. Only one contender in the 12-horse field can crack the top 20 in graded earnings with a win Saturday.
While results might not have implications two weeks from now, the Lexington does have a handful of runners that could be players in the 3-year-old division later on down the road.
Graded stakes winner Connemara will aim to add to trainer Todd Pletcher's months-long domination in Kentucky Derby prep races when he faces 11 others in the 11⁄16-mile Lexington.
With $138,500 in graded earnings, Connemara is the only horse in the Lexington field that could make the 20-horse cutoff for the Kentucky Derby should he earn the $180,000 first-place check.
Considering Connemara has never started on dirt and would be coming into the Derby off a two-week turnaround, a trip to Louisville would still be a bit of a long shot for the colt. Still, a victory on Saturday would reaffirm the talent Connemara displayed earlier this season.
Connemara won three of his first four career starts, including a 11/4-length victory in the Grade III El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields on Feb. 20.
During the Grade II Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park on March 27, however, he was forced six-wide and finished third, beaten 53/4 lengths by winner Dean's Kitten.
In addition to Connemara, Pletcher — who won last year's Lexington with Advice and the 2008 running with Behindatthebar — also will send out Exhi. In his first start over a synthetic surface, Exhi won the Rushaway Stakes at Turfway Park on March 27 going the same 11⁄16-mile distance he'll be traveling on Saturday.
Unlike Pletcher's duo, 4-1 morning-line favorite Uptowncharlybrown will be running over a synthetic surface for the first time and comes into the race off a fifth-place effort behind Odysseus in the Grade III Tampa Bay Derby on March 13.
A victory by Uptowncharly brown on Saturday would produce an emotional celebration after his trainer, Alan Seewald, died suddenly Monday at the age of 62.
Two contenders who could challenge the top picks are the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Krypton and the gelding Bushwhacked, trained by Jonathan Sheppard.
Both Krypton and Bushwhacked are coming off wins in 7-furlong sprints at Keene land. Krypton won by 61/4 lengths on the meet's opening day and Bushwhacked got a 11/2-length maiden victory on April 3.
"It's a big step up for him but we like Keeneland and he ran well over the track," Sheppard said. "We know we're sticking our necks out a bit, but nothing ventured nothing gained. These horses might be more seasoned than him but I think he is a stakes-caliber horse."