Luis Saez sits atop Essential Quality in the winner’s circle after they won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile horse race at Keeneland Race Course, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
- Saturday’s Blue Grass Stakes will be the final Kentucky Derby prep for Run for the Roses favorite Essential Quality
- Essential Quality doesn’t need to win in order to qualify for the main event in a month
- Where can we find betting value if in fact Essential Quality isn’t fully geared up?
Last Saturday Greatest Honour was a heavy favorite in the Florida Derby, and considered among the top candidates for the Kentucky Derby. He didn’t need to win to make the field at Churchill Downs, and his lackluster effort now puts into question how viable he will be on the first Saturday in May.
In losing, Greatest Honour might be viewed differently, but his ambitions and opportunity remain the same. This weekend Essential Quality is in the same position at Keeneland running in the Blue Grass Stakes. He looks great, seems poised to be the chalk in a month, but in no way needs to win.
Whether you are all in on Essential Quality or not, looking closely at the field can help determine where we can find the most betting value.
2021 Blue Grass Stakes Odds
|Hush of a Storm||+1500|
|Sittin On Go||+1500|
Odds as of Mar 31
With a purse of $800,000 and 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points on the line, the Blue Grass has attracted a solid field.
While champions like Spectacular Bid and Riva Ridge won both in Lexington and a month later in Louisville, nobody has won the Blue Grass and Kentucky Derby since Strike the Gold in 1991.
Post time for the mile-and-an-eighth trek is scheduled for 6:35 pm EST. NBC Sports Network provides television coverage.
Essential Quality looks like the co-favorite in the latest Kentucky Derby odds, but this weekend should put into focus where the Run for the Roses stands. He doesn’t have to win, but a strong performance would cement his status as the road to the Derby moves towards Churchill Downs.
Essential Quality was two-for-two in his career and the second choice in the wagering when he entered the starting gate in November’s Breeders Cup Juvenile.
It would reason that the two-year-old champion would be among the chalk at the Kentucky Derby. However, since the Breeders Cup began in 1984, Street Sense and Nyquist are the only two horses to capture the Juvenile and go on to win the Roses.
Essential Quality backed up the BC victory with a romp in February’s Southwest Stakes.
He is undefeated and certainly looks the part. However, he doesn’t need to win on Saturday, and how does that factor into the training and riding?
There’s not much to knock on the resume of Highly Motivated. After a runner-up performance in his debut at Saratoga in August, he broke his maiden at Belmont Park in September. He took a major step forward with a stakes victory to wrap up 2020 at Keeneland and opened this year with a decent third despite encountering some trouble in a stakes race at Aqueduct last month.
Highly Motivated was coming late in New York last time out, and that was a one-turn race. His style, second off a layoff, and going two turns should be a benefit.
Keepmeinmind has won just once in five tries, but his level of competition has been very strong. He followed up a third-place performance in the Breeders Cup, with a stakes victory three weeks later at Churchill Downs.
He didn’t run well last time out. Keepmeinmind was sixth in March’s Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
Untreated is untested. Trainer Todd Pletcher didn’t debut the Team Valor owned son of Nyquist until January. He didn’t run well that day at Gulfstream Park, but he returned to impress on March 6 at Tampa Bay Downs.
Untreated has never faced winners, nevermind stakes horses. That said, he sure was impressive last time out, and the pedigree is solid.
Hush of a Storm was going to be among the favorites last week in the Jeff Ruby Stakes at Turfway Park. He was scratched from that event and now faces a much tougher field. Is trainer Bill Morey trying to prove something? Hush of a Storm has three wins in four starts, but all have been on the synthetic surface at Turfway, and now he runs on dirt.
Hush of a Storm was flattered in the Jeff Ruby when Like the King won, a horse he had beat previously. If he takes to the dirt, there is some intrigue at a nice price.
Blue Grass Stakes Best Bet
Essential Quality is the likely winner, but his odds are probably about right. There is minimal value. Keepmeinmind is the second most accomplished horse in the field despite rarely winning. If Essential Quality doesn’t give his top effort, Keepmeinmind should be coming late.
Dave Friedman has covered professional and college sports for two decades. From ESPN to the Associated Press, Regional Sports Networks, Metro Networks, and many local outlets, he has written about and broadcast major and minor events throughout the country.