Vekoma Bound for Kentucky Derby After ‘Perfect’ Ride in Blue Grass

Posted on: April 6, 2019, 06:33h. 

Last updated on: April 7, 2019, 07:52h.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Vekoma got the ride his trainer wanted on Saturday. Because of that, he gets to go all the way to the Kentucky Derby.

With Javier Castellano riding him for the first time, Vekoma won the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes in strong fashion. The 3-1/2-length victory earned the colt a spot in next month’s Kentucky Derby. (Image: Keeneland)

The colt took the lead entering the final turn of the 1-1/8-mile Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and pulled away from there, as the post time favorite cruised to a 3-1/2-length victory in the Kentucky Derby prep race at Keeneland.

Going off at 7-5, Vekoma paid $4.80, $3.20, and $2.60 on $2 bets. Win Win Win paid $4.00 and $3.20, while Signalman, who got nosed out for second, paid $3.60.

With the top three betting choices and four of the top five finishing in that order, the exotics for the Blue Grass paid minimally. A $1 exacta paid just $9.30, with 10-cent Superfecta cashing only $18.95.

It ended up being a record day at Keeneland, with 34,775 in attendance. It stands as the largest crowd ever for a first Saturday of any meet. The total handle for the 11-race card ended up being $25.8 million, more than $3 million more than last year’s Blue Grass race card.

‘A Perfect Race’ for Vekoma

Racing for just the fourth time in his young career, Vekoma also got a new jockey on Saturday. With Manuel Franco racing at New York’s Aqueduct, trainer George Weaver went with Javier Castellano.

Starting from the second post, Vekoma broke clear, nestling into second place right behind Somelikeithotbrown. Vekoma stayed just on the outside of the Jeff Ruby Stakes winner on the backstretch.

Before the race, Weaver simply told Castellano to get Vekoma in a good spot at the first turn. That way they could avoid moving through traffic later in the race.

I thought he rode a perfect race,” Weaver said of Castellano’s ride. “He got him out of there. He let (Somelikeithotbrown) set the pace, and we were right there.”

Castellano got a chance to work with the colt for a couple of training sessions last week. He liked what he saw from him and that gave him confidence heading into the stakes race. He guided Vekoma to the wire in 1:50.93 on the fast track.

“I don’t want to be too aggressive early,” he said. “You have to save something for the end… Every time I asked him, he kicked on a little bit.”

Kentucky Derby Qualifiers

Vekoma earned 100 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby, more than enough to guarantee him a spot if he stays healthy.

Weaver admitted after the race that he wondered if his colt could handle the longer distance. However, he answered those. So much so, Weaver now feels confident about his chances in the 1-1/4-mile Derby next month if he’s healthy.

Win Win Win, who rallied from eighth place at the three-quarter mark to finish second, earned 40 points. He now has 50 and finds himself 14th in the points standings.

“I don’t think we necessarily have to talk about distance being a limitation for him anymore,” said Michael Trombetta, Win Win Win’s trainer. “This was only his second start around two turns, and he’s really starting to figure it out. Maybe the 1-1/4-miles in the Derby will be perfect for him.”

The top 18 or 19 colts will earn spots in the May 4 Kentucky Derby, which will accept 20 entries. One spot will go to Master Fencer, who will represent horses racing out of Japan. Another spot may go to a top European horse after the April 11 Cardinal Condition Stakes at Chelmsford City.

Win Win Win’s nose likely will cost Signalman a spot in the Kentucky Derby. After earning 20 points on Saturday, the Kenny McPeek-trained colt currently sits in 18th place with 38.

However, next week’s Arkansas Derby will also award 100-40-20-10 points to its top four finishers. Several of the horses likely to run at Oaklawn next week are behind Signalman in the standings, but they could supplant him with a top-four finish.