For so long the Blue Grass Stakes was a truly great Kentucky Derby prep race. I mean, Northern Dancer won the freaking thing! Recently, though, a synthetic track at Keeneland robbed the race of virtually any meaning at all. The dirt is back, though, and with it, hopefully, the glory of this race. It only makes sense that it should be great - what better place to prep for the Kentucky Derby than just 80 miles down the road. So, will Brody's Cause, the 2016 winner, be the one that turns the tide and makes the race important and legendary again? Or will we still be waiting for another year?
Last race: Brody's Cause is a deep closer, and he won the Blue Grass Stakes by doing what he does best. He started towards the outside of the gate and showed no interest in improving his position early. He sat 11th in the 14-horse field, just loping along and looking to avoid trouble. He started to move around the final turn and launched his bid as he entered the stretch. When he had to move he did it with authority, taking the lead like it was easy and holding it with little effort. It was a powerful and impressive performance. You can't help but question what the win means, though - the Blue Grass did not set up as a stellar race. It was a huge field but not a quality one - Brody's Cause had won two prior Grade 1 races, but no other horse had a graded stakes win of any kind. He also won with a relatively modest Beyer speed figure of 91 -his career high but well below what he would need to post to win the Derby. So, Brody's Cause was clearly the best, but was the rest good enough to prove anything?
Prior experience: When handicapping a major race you have to be on the lookout for horses that shine on certain courses. That could be the case here with Brody's Cause. The Blue Grass was his third race at Keeneland - all Grade 1 stakes. He won the Breeders' Futurity at the start of October and then was a strong third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at the end of that month. So, he is 2-0-1 there. That leaves him with just a maiden win and a seventh- and eighth-place finish elsewhere. He loves Keeneland. Of some comfort, that maiden win was at Churchill Downs, so he likes the track he is heading to now as well. The eighth-place finish was in his debut and counts for nothing - he didn't respond and wasn't ready to run yet, but he improved dramatically with more training. The seventh was just odd - he was given a break from the Juvenile in October until the Tampa Bay Derby in early March. The layoff did not suit him - he was very flat in the Tampa Bay Derby, totally failing to fire as the favorite. That was an interesting race as it turned out, though. Not only did he come out of it to win a major prep, but so did second-place finisher and Wood Memorial winner Outwork. Winner Destin is training straight through from that race to the Derby.
Trainer: Dale Romans is based in Kentucky and would love nothing more than to take down his hometown race. He has not won the race, but he did win the Preakness in 2011 with Shackleford. He has had some decent Derby results in limited tries - Shackleford was fourth, and Dullahan and Paddy O'Prado both finished third. He's a capable trainer who knows the track well and is going to have his horse ready. It just remains to be seen if he has enough horse here.
Jockey: Luis Saez took over the mount for the first time in the Blue Grass, taking over from Corey Lanerie. That's a big upgrade in my eyes - Saez is an elite jockey at this point, and Lanerie has the habit of developing brain cramps in big spots. Saez doesn't have Triple Crown success under his belt, but he is riding very well right now. He is sixth in the country in earnings after finishing seventh last year. He obviously fits well with his mount as well, so the horse is in good hands.
Breeding: Brody's Cause has a decidedly European background - something you don't see often in this race. His sire is Giant's Causeway, who was the European horse of the year in 2000. He only ran once on dirt - a strong second in the Breeders' Cup Classic to Tiznow. He has been a very strong stud - three times the top sire in North America. He adds piles of stamina to his offspring and is a good asset here. Brody's Cause's damsire is an odd one - Sahm. This is a stallion who died before he had a chance to really establish himself. Most of his success came in Europe - and that success has been somewhat limited. He has class, but doesn't add a lot from the dirt perspective. All in all this breeding, while atypical, is solid enough to think that the horse will probably be fine with the Derby distance.
Odds: Brody's Cause is at +1050 to win the Derby at BetOnline. That makes him the current fifth choice in the field. Nyquist is heavily favored at +280 followed by Exaggerator, Cupid and Destin.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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