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Looking at the Blue Grass Stakes

Added on: May 2, 2013

Perhaps the biggest and most significant prep race on the road to the Kentucky Derby that actually takes place IN the state of Kentucky is the Blue Grass Stakes, which has produced many three-year-old champions. It is held at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, and is run over the synthetic Polytrack surface. For some that might not be ideal preparation for the dirt at Churchill Downs, but the Grade I designation and the $750,000 purse are a great attraction.

Although the Derby is a race that goes for a mile and a quarter, the Blue Grass Stakes is a race at a mile and an eighth. The first Blue Grass Stakes was held back in 1911, but it has not continued every year since. And in fact, the race was actually held at Churchill Downs in 1945 as part of a "Keeneland-at-Churchill" meeting. Of course, Kentucky is known as the Bluegrass State, which is where the race essentially gets its name. It is currently sponsored by Toyota, which has the naming rights.

There have obviously been many highlights through the years. Northern Dancer won this race in 1964, before proceeding to win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. Arts and Letters won the race in 1969 before losing in two terrific battles in the Derby and Preakness to Majestic Prince. Riva Ridge was the 1972 winner, and then went on to win the Derby and the Belmont. Alydar, who won in 1978, finished second to Affirmed in all three Triple Crown races. Strike the Gold, trained by Nick Zito, was the 1991 winner, and is still alive today. Stately Victor, who won the Blue Grass in 2010, was owned by Jack Conway, who was the state's attorney general.

The fastest time ever for this race was set in 2012 by Dullahan, who then went on to finish third in the Kentucky Derby. Many jockeys have won this race two years in a row, but Bill Shoemaker has ridden the winner an incredible six times, spanning a period from 1959 to 1982. There is a four-way tie for most wins by a trainer between Ben A. Jones, Woody Stephens, LeRoy Jolley and Nick Zito.