Keeneland's Blue Grass Stakes Results and Payouts for 4/9/22

Zandon rallied from last to win the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. (Coady Photography)
Blue Grass Stakes ResultsPayoffs - Win Place Show
1Zandon - $6.20; $3.20; $2.40
2Smile Happy - $3.20; $2.40
3Emmanuel - $3.60

Zandon Goes From Last to First in Blue Grass Stakes

What disappointed Zandon’s connections most when he finished third in his seasonal bow was not so much that the son of Upstart got beat, but that his chance to show his best self was lost before he even got into stride.

After breaking in the air at the start of the Feb. 19 Risen Star Stakes (G2), the Chad Brown trainee recovered to finish third, a bittersweet effort that hinted at what could be if the dark bay colt got a clean enough trip to flaunt his potential.

With classic implications on the line and top-level accolades up for grabs in the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at Keeneland on April 9, Zandon showed his team he is who they thought he was. Sitting last in the 11-horse field approaching the far turn, Jeff Drown’s colorbearer made a determined surge between horses under jockey Flavien Prat to run down Smile Happy in the lane and prevail by 2 ½-lengths, booking himself a trip to Churchill Downs four weeks from now.

The 1 1/8-miles Blue Grass Stakes offered 170 qualifying points to toward the May 7 Kentucky Derby (G1) on a 100-40-20-10 scale to the first- through fourth-place finishers. The Kentucky Derby is limited to the top 20-point earners that pass the entry box.

While his four-time Eclipse Award winning conditioner has held him in high regard, some less than fortunate luck left Zandon with only a maiden win to his credit and 14 Kentucky Derby qualifying points heading into Saturday’s test. After graduating at first asking at Belmont Park last Oct. 9., Zandon stepped into graded stakes company and finished second by a nose to Mo Donegal in the Remsen Stakes (G2) last December – a result that had some controversy as the two made contact in the lane and Mo Donegal’s jockey, Irad Ortiz, Jr., appeared to make contact while throwing crosses with his reins.

Though the Risen Star saw Zandon suffer more misfortune with his poor start, he was nonetheless flattered as race winner, Epicenter, went on to annex the Louisiana Derby (G2) in an effort that will make him among the betting favorites on the first Saturday in May. After settling well off the early pace set by Emmanuel in the Blue Grass Stakes, Zandon stated his own case to be among the top Derby choices when he split foes three-wide at the five sixteenths pole and put in a sustained run to give Brown his second career triumph in Keeneland’s signature prep race to go along with champion Good Magic’s victory in 2018.

“It was great to see him come back, he’s been training really well,” said Drown, who earned his first Blue Grass victory as an owner. “To come back and show the type of horse we thought he was all along, it’s just very gratifying. What fantastic run. Flavien was patient, he got him outside and he gave him his run. He just rode him fantastic. He waited, he knew he had the horse, and he got the job done.”

In rallying to finish as strongly as he did, Zandon showed he could be as effective coming from the back of the pack as he had been sitting off the early pace. While Emmanuel led the field through fractions of :24.04 and :48.39 over a track rated good, Prat rated Zandon third from last early on before artfully guided him through traffic to set him up for his winning drive midway down the stretch.

“He broke just OK. Then I got myself covered up so I was there with nothing I could do about it,” Prat said. “The pace was a bit slow, so I was wandering down the backside. But I was traveling super – it was just a matter of finding a gap and getting a clean run down the lane.”

Smile Happy, who had stalked the pace in third, took over command from Emmanuel in upper stretch and looked poised to do one better than his runner-up finish in the Risen Star before being collared by the victor.

“He got a little tired at the end. We will see how much water he drinks and how (tired) he is,” said Ken McPeek, trainer of Smile Happy. “This is a really good horse. This is only his fourth career start. I feel like I could win the Derby or the Preakness with this horse. The only horse I was worried about (in this race) is the one who won.”

Sent off as the second choice, Zandon covered the distance in 1:50.35 and returned $6.20, $3.20 and $2.40. Smile Happy returned $3.20 and $2.40 and finished 3 ¾ lengths in front of Emmanuel, who paid $3.60 to show.

Bred in Kentucky by Brereton Jones, Zandon improved his record to two wins from four starts with $713,000 in earnings.

“It’s a real honor to win the race here at Keeneland,” Drown said. “That’s a big deal to win the Blue Grass and have the opportunity to go to Churchill and make a run there, hopefully for the roses, and have a solid opportunity. We’re very excited.”

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