A full field of 14 in a Grade 1 prep for the Kentucky Derby and a colt without too much early pace doesn’t leave too many options, so Ken McPeek didn’t fret too much about strategy. He left the outcome of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes in the hands of Julien Leparoux and that move, along with a few others, led to victory for Charles Fipke’s homebred Java’s War.
“The race is wide open, you’re going to have the trip,” McPeek said the day before the big victory, as he drove into the back gate at Keeneland just off Rice Road in Lexington. “You never know how the pace is going to unfold, with a full field more than likely they’ll be pace, but you never really know.
“So we’ll just leave it up to Julien. With the inside post he’s got the chance to save some ground going into that first turn.”
Java’s War did save ground on that first turn as the field passed the packed stands at Keeneland, the result of a poor break that is a frequent problem for the War Pass colt. Java’s War was last up the backstretch as Rydilluc, Undrafted and Uncaptured sparred up front.
Leparoux stayed patient and as Java’s War started his long, steady run they were picking off rivals after being fanned extremely wide in the lane.
Palace Malice looked like the winner inside the furlong marker as Rydilluc started to give it up, but Leparoux kept Java’s War rolling on the outside. They got up in the last strides, edging Palace Malice and fellow late runner Charming Kitten. Rydilluc settled for fourth.
McPeek wasn’t left with much time to celebrate, with Frac Daddy running in the Arkansas Derby about an hour after Java’s War’s victory.
A victory aided by the two colts working together, including a strong five-furlong breeze last Sunday at Gulfstream Park before the last of the McPeek horses left South Florida.
“Those two worked together and they worked good down there,” McPeek said. “We hopefully will improve a little bit. If [Java’s War] runs back to his last race he’ll be in the thick of it. He handled the Polytrack once before and has quite a bit of class and talent.”
Centre Court is going about as good as she could be now. She needed to be to run down Daisy Devine to win the Jenny Wiley Stakes, the middle Grade 1 between the Madison Stakes and Blue Grass, for fillies and mares on the turf. The Smart Strike filly, second in both her previous starts on the Keeneland turf, added the Jenny Wiley to her win last time out in Honey Fox Stakes at Gulfstream Park. … Last Full Measure, a winner on the Keeneland Polytrack last fall, got up in the last jump to nip Byrama (GB) to take the Grade 1 Madison Stakes going 7 furlongs. The 5-year-old Empire Maker filly wasn’t close in four prior graded stakes attempts, all on the turf, but was right when she needed to be Saturday for trainer Phil Oliver. …
Keeneland’s five-pack of stakes took on a Southern California feel at the start when Handsome Mike took the Grade 3 Commonwealth Stakes. The short field of five gave the big crowd at Keeneland and those watching via simulcast a tough time and no starter was longer than 4.70-to-1 or shorter than 2.30-to-1. Handsome Mike, fourth longest price at 3.70-to-1, won for Doug O’Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez. … Tommy and Bonnie Hamilton, who live just a bit down the Bluegrass Parkway in the small town of Springfield, raced Great Notion and celebrated when their gelding by that sire, Havelock, won the Grade 3 Shakertown Stakes for turf sprinters the race before the Grade 1s got started. …
Everybody loves an unbeaten horse and Cluster of Stars probably gained some more fans and definitely some extra credibility when she shrugged off a challenge midway through the Grade 2 Distaff Handicap Saturday at Aqueduct to run her record to 5-for-5. The New York-bred by Greeley’s Galaxy didn’t disappoint at 1-to-5 and collected her first graded stakes win for trainer Steve Asmussen and owner Turtle Bird Stable.