LEXINGTON, Ky. - Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of Closing Argument, was explaining how his horse ended up in the Blue Grass Stakes.
He bruised his foot before the Florida Derby and missed that race, McLaughin said, "so we had to go to Plan B - the Arkansas Derby or the Blue Grass. This looks like an easier spot, so we stayed here."
For a moment, those attending the Blue Grass post-position draw yesterday remained silent. Then they burst out laughing, realizing that McLaughlin had cracked a joke - and a good one. The Blue Grass is anything but an easy spot.
Seven 3-year-olds entered the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes that will be run Saturday at Keeneland. The field includes the top four horses in the Daily Racing Form's "Derby Watch," which ranks the 25 leading Kentucky Derby contenders.
Of course, the latest "Derby Watch" came out last Friday, a day before Bellamy Road scored his jaw-dropping, 17 1/2 -length victory in the Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct.
That was probably enough to make Bellamy Road the favorite in the Kentucky Derby. But if there's a horse who can challenge Bellamy Road for favoritism, then he's in the Blue Grass.
Mike Battaglia, the Keeneland oddsmaker, made High Limit the 9-5 morning-line favorite and Sun King the 2-1 second choice. Ramon Dominguez, the Maryland jockey, will ride High Limit for trainer Bobby Frankel.
High Limit is the only horse with a chance of running in the Derby undefeated. He has won all three of his races by dashing into the lead and never looking back. High Limit has never trailed a horse in a race, winning by 4, 7 3/4 and 10 3/4 lengths.
He won his first two starts last year for trainer Tony Dutrow at Delaware Park. Then he was transferred to Frankel for his Derby preparation. In his first start for the Hall of Fame trainer, High Limit cruised to a four-length victory in the Louisiana Derby.
Sun King is one of trainer Nick Zito's five Derby candidates and, until Bellamy Road's romp in the Wood, Sun King was the stable's star. He still is in Zito's eyes.
"I love this horse, his personality," Zito said. "There's always got to be a captain in the group."
Zito calls Sun King "Elvis" or "Captain King." He said he hasn't given nicknames to any of his other Derby hopefuls.
Consolidator was listed at 7-2 and Bandini at 4-1. Fresh from a 6 1/2 -length win in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park, Consolidator has already proved he likes the sometimes quirky Keeneland track. He captured the Grade I Breeders' Futurity last fall here.
Like Closing Argument, Bandini missed the Florida Derby because of a foot bruise. Bandini hasn't raced since finishing second in the Fountain of Youth Stakes on March 5 at Gulfstream Park.
Closing Argument, 10-1 in the morning line, hasn't raced since winning the Holy Bull stakes on Feb. 5 at Gulfstream.
At a glance
What: Blue Grass Stakes
Where: Keeneland, Lexington, Ky.
Post time: Saturday, 5:45 p.m.
TV: ESPN, 4:30-6 p.m.
Grade, purse: I, $750,000
Distance: 1 1/8 miles
Field for Blue Grass Stakes
PP Horse Trainer Jockey Odds
1 Mr Sword Jennifer Pedersen Jerry Bailey 30-1
2 Closing Argument Kiaran McLaughlin Cornelio Velasquez 10-1
3 Spanish Chestnut Patrick Biancone Gary Stevens 15-1
4 Consolidator D. Wayne Lukas Rafael Bejarano 7-2
5 High Limit Bobby Frankel Ramon Dominguez 9-5
6 Sun King Nick Zito Edgar Prado 2-1
7 Bandini Todd Pletcher John Velazquez 4-1