Gets Perfect Stalking Trip
By Dick Downey
Vekoma was placed in excellent position by Javier Castellano going into the first turn of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, helping his mount to earn a 3 1/2-length win.
Somelikeithotbrown, making his first start on dirt since his debut last July, led through fractions of 23.26, 47.03, 1:11.55 under Tyler Gaffalione, with Vekoma hounding him every step of the way in the clear from the outside.
Coming out of the second turn, Vekoma passed a tiring and led by 3 1/2 lengths with an eighth of a mile left in the race. Vekoma kept on running to win by that margin in a time of 1:50.93.
Signalman and Brian Hernandez, Jr, who were close by in fourth or fifth while saving ground throughout the early stages of the race, advanced to third entering the far turn and got by Somelikeithotbrown inside the furlong marker to be second between calls.
Win Win Win, ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr., was in 11th place, 7 1/4 lengths off the pace after the first half-mile, and he was back in fifth at the furlong marker. He advanced on the tiring Signalman and nosed him out for second. Somelikeithotbrown finished fourth, beaten 4 1/4 lengths.
Next across the finish line were Chess Chief, So Alive, Sir Winston, Admire, Moonster, Lucky Lee, Market King, Aquadini, Dream Maker and Parsimony.
Kentucky Derby points were awarded as follows:
Vekoma was awarded 100 and now has 110 total.
Win Win Win 40 (50 total)
Signalman 20 (38 total)
Somelikeithotbrown 10 (30 total)
The $1 million Toyota Blue Grass Stakes winner's share of $600,000 goes to owners R. A. Hill and Gatsas Stables.
Trainer George Weaver grew up in Kentucky and attended the Blue Grass Stakes as a child. "I'm pretty tore up," he said.
For the second time in as many Derby points races on the day, the winner was the favorite. Vekoma, at 7-5, returned his backers $4.80 to win, $3.20 to place and $2.60 to show.
For more about Vekoma's history, his connections and background, click here.
George Weaver (winning trainer of Vekoma): “The last start (third in the Fountain of Youth), there was a pretty fast pace, and I told Manny to be conservative the first half-mile. I talked to Javier before this race, and told him I wasn’t so worried about that. I wanted to know if he can go the distance. He’s got great tactical speed, put him in a spot going into the first turn and just ride him natural. He’s so talented, and he’s done things in the morning. I’ve really never had a colt like this in all the time I’ve trained. Nothing would surprise me. If he comes out of it well, we’ll go to Louisville and see what happens.
"I’m pretty tore up. I’m excited. I grew up in Kentucky and came to the Bluegrass when I was a kid, every year. Winning this race is very special.”
Javier Castellano (rider of Vekoma): “I like the way he broke out of the gate. In the first turn, I realized I didn’t want to dictate the pace. I tried to ride a smart race. I didn’t want to be too aggressive early; you have to save something for the end. So we tracked it. I liked the way he rated the first quarter mile, and I liked the way he finished. Every time I asked him, he kicked on a little bit.
“I’ve been learning about the horse. I’ve been watching his races. I really fell in love with the horse last week when I worked the horse. I was very optimistic about winning the race today.”
Michael Trombetta (trainer of Win Win Win): “I don’t think we necessarily have to talk about distance being a limitation for him anymore. 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.”
Irad Ortiz Jr. (rider of runner-up Win Win Win): “I didn’t win today, but I am so proud of this horse. He ran a great race. I got into a little traffic early, and when I finally got him clear, I asked him to run, and he started to really turn it on. I think he can keep improving for the Derby. He’s a really nice horse.”
Brian Hernandez Jr. (rider of third-place finisher Signalman): “We've been fortunate enough to work out some really good trips today; hopefully it’s all a building block on the first Saturday in May. It looks like we have enough points now to get in, so we’re excited about it. The Lewises (co-owners) are really excited, since this will be their first Derby, and it looks like we’re going in there with a live horse. (The Derby) will be his third race already in his 3-year-old career, so you’ve gotta be excited. The race track has been playing speedy all day, and horses that have been close have been holding on, so we had to use our horse a little more than he may like, but he still held on for a good third.”
Mike Maker (trainer of Somelikeithotbrown): “That’s his running style. He was fourth best today. It’s that simple. He handled the dirt well."
Tyler Gaffalione (rider of fourth-place finisher Somelikeithotbrown): “If you take into consideration the way the track’s been playing all day, I thought it (the pace) was pretty fair. In the filly race going a mile and a sixteenth (the Central Bank Ashland Stakes), they went :46 for the half. Speed held there. Speed’s been holding all day, so we tried to be a little aggressive. Just wasn’t our day.”