Jeff Drown’s Zandon roared past favored Smile Happy approaching the sixteenth pole and drew off to a 2½-length victory to win the 98th running of the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass (G1) for 3-year-olds on a brisk Saturday afternoon at Keeneland.
All-sources handle for the 11-race card set a single-day wagering record, totaling $28,137,728 to exceed the previous record of $25,809,200 set on Toyota Blue Grass Day in 2019.
Trained by Chad Brown and ridden by Flavien Prat, Zandon completed the mile and an eighth on a muddy track in 1:50.35. It is the second victory in the race for Brown, who saddled Good Magic to win the 2018 running.
With the victory, Zandon picked up 100 points toward qualification for the $3 million Kentucky Derby (G1) Presented by Woodford Reserve to be run May 7 at Churchill Downs. With 114 points, Zandon ranks second for the race that is limited to the top 20 point earners that pass the entry box.
Picking up 40 points for second was Smile Happy to increase his total to 70 points, good for 10th place on the leaderboard. Emmanuel added 20 points for finishing third to boost his total to 25 to rank 25th, and Golden Glider picked up 10 points for fourth to bring his total to 15 to rank 33rd.
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Emmanuel, with Luis Saez aboard, grabbed the lead out of the gate and led the field through fractions of :24.04 and :48.39 while being tracked by Golden Glider with Smile Happy in the clear racing third and Zandon far back in the pack.
Toyota Blue Grass Replay
The top three remained unchanged going into the far turn as Zandon was last while racing between horses. On the turn, Prat began to weave his way through the field, while on the front end Corey Lanerie sent Smile Happy after Emmanuel.
At the top of the stretch, Smile Happy brushed with Emmanuel as he surged to the front while behind him Zandon had clear sailing in his pursuit of Smile Happy. Smile Happy maintained the advantage passing the eighth pole but could not hold off Zandon.
Mo Donegal Takes Wood Memorial
Donegal Racing’s Mo Donegal, perfectly piloted by Joel Rosario, arrived in the final strides to capture Saturday’s Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino, a nine-furlong test for sophomores at Aqueduct Racetrack. The victory provided Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher a record-tying seventh win in the Wood Memorial, joining fellow Hall of Famer “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons.
Mo Donegal picked up the Wood’s maximum points allotment, which provided 100-40-20-10 qualifying points to the top-four finishers towards the Grade 1, $3 million Kentucky Derby on May 7 at Churchill Downs.
“I thought he was on wings,” said Jerry Crawford of Donegal Racing. “I think the performance he gave today was even better than it looked to the naked eye. I’ve been here all day yesterday and today and not one horse has closed on the dirt in two days and he came from far back. So, he had to be not just the best today, he had to be much-the-best to prevail. You never celebrate ahead of time, but I was confident for the last 100 yards at least. I love that we won today, not for me, but for my partners.”
The previously undefeated Early Voting, winner of the Grade 3 Withers in February at the Big A for trainer Chad Brown, broke alertly and took command through a quarter-mile in 23.86 seconds as Rosario saved ground from the inside post aboard the slow-starting Mo Donegal in front of only Morello, the 9-5 mutuel favorite under Jose Lezcano, who missed the break and trailed.
Early Voting dictated terms down the backstretch with A.P.’s Secret pressing from second position and Barese moving comfortably in the clear in third to the outside of Golden Code as the half-mile ticked by in 47.75.
Wood Memorial Replay
Rosario, ever patient, inched his way closer to the frontrunners along the rail although the Uncle Mo colt still had only two horses beaten approaching the final turn. Early Voting kept command through the turn but Mo Donegal advanced with great energy to the inside of rivals.
Once straightened away for the stretch run, Mo Donegal easily passed to the inside of A.P.’s Secret along the rail before angling to the outside of Early Voting and taking dead aim at the leader. Early Voting dug in gamely, but could not deny Mo Donegal, who posted a neck score in a final time of 1:47.96 over the fast main track.
With his well-supported stablemate seemingly in control, trainer Tim Yakteen’s Taiba wheeled three-deep at the top of the lane and assumed command approaching the sixteenth pole in a scintillating 2 ¼ length victory in Saturday’s Grade I, $750,000 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby. Ridden by Mike Smith, Taiba, who is owned by Zedan Racing Stables, Inc., got a mile and one eighth in 1:48.67.
Taiba Earns Ticket to Louisville With Santa Anita Derby Win
The Santa Anita Derby, which has produced 19 winners of the Run for the Roses in Kentucky, provided Taiba with 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, with 40, 20 and 10 points to the second through fourth place finishers.
As expected, Richard Mandella’s Forbidden Kingdom went straight to the front, but was pressed every step of the way by Messier through early fractions of 23.23, 46.66 and 1:10.93.
A quarter mile from home, Messier, trained by Yakteen, put Forbidden Kingdom away but was no match for the winner late.
“You could have poured me out of a shot glass earlier,” said Yakteen, who took over the training of Taiba, Messier and fourth place finisher Armagnac from the recently suspended Bob Baffert. “But these two horses represented me unbelievably in this race and I’m just absolutely thrilled, floored, with the effort that Taiba put forth.”
A 7 ½ length first-out maiden winner going six furlongs March 5, Taiba was the third choice in a field of six at 4-1 and paid $10.60, $3.60 and $3.20.
Santa Anita Derby Replay
“He didn’t really (break) that very well,” said Smith, 56. “I didn’t want to get in the way. I wasn’t in a hurry. I felt the others would do the dirty work for me and it set up just fine. He showed just how special he is. He belongs with anyone. He just recovers really well. I’m not getting any younger. As I get older, I have felt that something special is going to happen. This just may lead to that. The sky’s the limit.”
In addition to Baffert being absent from this year’s festivities in Kentucky there will be added drama surrounding Taiba, as his owner experienced victory and subsequent disqualification via a positive test for a prohibited race-day medication with last year’s Derby winner, Medina Spirit.