By Dick Downey
Java's War went from worst to first to win the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes after a thrilling stretch run. He got up in the final strides to defeat Palace Malice.
Fourth with 100 yards to run, Java's War was timed in 1:50.27 for the 1 1/8 mile.
Rydilluc, the 7-2 post-time favorite, and Undrafted contested the early pace in fractions of :23.81 and :48.04. After six furlongs, Rydilluc was 1 1/2 length on the lead in 1:12.76 -- and Java's War was last, where he'd been from the start.
Rydilluc maintained the advantage on the turn while Palace Malice and Garrett Gomez, fourth after a half-mile, picked up a couple of horses on the rail to loom second.
Turning for home, Gomez swung out Palace Malice to challenge the leader and got by him as they approached the sixteenth pole. But Java's War and Julien Leparoux were making a furious late run and got up by a neck at the finish. According to Trackus, Java's War ran 52 feet further than Palace Malice, which, according to the service's metrics, means he ran six lengths further than the runner-up.
At 9-2 post time odds, Java's War returned backers $11.20, $5.60 and $4.00.
Charming Kitten, sent off at 22-1 odds, got up for third with a significant late run himself. He was tenth after six furlongs and was beaten only a half-length for it all. Rydillic finished fourth, 1 3/4 length in arrears of Java's War. Another 2 1/4 lengths back of Rydilliuc in fifth was Charming Kitten, who was sent off at 36-1 odds.
Sixth was Balance the Books, followed by My Name Is Michael, Channel Isle, Dynamic Sky, Uncaptured, Tesseron, West Hill Giant, Undrafted and Footbridge.
With the win, Java's War picked up 100 Derby points and now has 122. Palace Malice made it into the Kentucky Derby -- he got 40 points and now has 50 total. Charming Kitten and Rydilluc, who were without points going in, now have 20 and 10 respectively.
Uncaptured has 30 points after not gaining any in the Blue Grass, but that was good enough to keep him in sixteenth place on the Derby points leaderboard -- pending the running of the Arkansas Derby. However, trainer Mark Casse said he would take both Uncaptured and Dynamic Sky back to Toronto and prepare them for the Queen's Plate.
Charles Fipke is the owner-breeder of Java's War, who's by War Pass. The colt is out of the British-bred mare Java, by Rainbow Quest, and was bred in Kentucky.
Winning trainer Ken McPeek: “This isn’t about me. Mr. Fipke puts a lot of money in this game. He breeds a lot of really quality mares. He really studies it. He bred a really nice horse, and we’re fortunate to have it in our hands. Yeah, it’s fun for me, but listen he’s the one who put up the dough and I’m thrilled for him.”
On Java’s War’s slow break: “I wasn’t worried. That’s his running style. He’s not a horse that’s quick out of there. He’s a big, long-striding colt. If you try to force him away from there, you’re just going to make it worse. Julien did the right thing, and he got him there. It was thrilling."
On the decision to race in the Toyota Blue Grass: “It was a no-brainer. He’d run well on this track already. The distance and the surface were good, and the timing was good. Who doesn’t want to win at Keeneland, anyway? Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the next three weeks go well.
“We didn’t know coming into his three-year-old year whether he was a turf horse or a Polytrack horse, but obviously he’s running over about anything we put him on. That race at Tampa (second to Verrazano in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby on March 9) gave us the idea that, OK, we really do fit. Today’s race was huge.
“Mr. Fipke deserves all the credit. The man breeds quality horses. He puts a lot of energy and money into it, and I’m happy for him. He deserves it.”
Julien Leparoux (rider of Java’s War): “He didn’t really break, but he traveled very nice for me. At the three-eighths pole, I tried to catch up a little bit, and he ran big the whole way through the stretch. I didn’t really ask him big time at the three-eighths pole. I just ask him to start going a little bit.”
On what winning his first Toyota Blue Grass means to him -- “It means a lot. I love this track. I love Kentucky. This is big for me. Every time you get one in the Kentucky Derby, it’s definitely a lot of fun.”
On how he thinks Java’s War will handle the 11/4-mile distance of the Kentucky Derby -- “I think he’ll be fine. The way he relaxes the first part, I think he’ll be fine for the mile and a quarter.”
Todd Pletcher (trainer of second-place finisher Palace Malice and third-place finisher Charming Kitten): “Both horses ran extremely well. I am proud of both of them but disappointed at the same time. I will talk to Mr. Campbell first (about going to the Derby with Palace Malice), but that was our game plan coming in. We are happy to get that part accomplished.
“This is his first start on Polytrack, but we thought he would handle it because he worked so well on it at the (Keeneland 2-Year-Olds in Training) sale. But until you run on it, you never really know. We were concerned about coming back in two weeks on short rest, but his energy level was good, and he seemed to bounce out of the race real well. We were feeling good about coming into this race.”
On Charming Kitten’s next race -- “I would say Mr. Ramsey would be very enthusiastic about running in the Derby.”
Cot Campbell (president of Dogwood Stable, owner of Palace Malice): “What he did today was an accomplishment. I would say it is 80% to go to the Derby. It is a pleasure to run in it; it is the gold ring that everyone is looking to grab. The older I get, the more I think about it.”
Garrett Gomez (rider of second-place finisher Palace Malice): “He did everything good. Todd wanted to see if I could get him closer. I warmed him up by himself -- kinda got his blood going and hopefully that would get him keyed up a little bit. He hopped away pretty well and got himself up in the race, traveled beautiful the whole time. I kinda let him inch up throughout the race. I ended up right behind Prado (on Rydilluc), and I was happy with that decision. I actually followed him all along the fence, popped him out turning for home, told him when to go get him, and he tried to go get him, He put his head down and went by him, but he just couldn't hold off (Java’s War). He ran good though."
Joe Bravo (rider of third-place finisher Charming Kitten): “I really liked this horse going into the race, and he ran the way I thought. It's just a shame that the horse outside of us (Java's War) was really kicking on the way he did. I was very proud of what Todd did with the horse, and he's getting bigger and stronger with every start.”
Gary Contessa (trainer of fourth-place finisher and beaten favorite Rydilluc): “He ran good. That shows us we’re keeping him on the turf. He came back really blowing and hard. That’s a sign he didn’t handle the track. I thought we were home free, but he really ran great.”
Edgar Prado (rider of Rydilluc): “He ran good. He tried hard. The post position didn't help too much. But I was able to drop to the rail and save some ground. He was comfortable there. When I asked him to run, he kicked in. He just got outrun the last part.”
Mark Casse (trainer of ninth-place finisher Dynamic Sky): “He just kinda went around there. I'm a bit disappointed in him. We will take them (Dynamic Sky and Uncaptured) back to Toronto. They are both nominated to the Queen’s Plate.”
Miguel Mena (rider of 10th-place finisher Uncaptured): “My horse broke good. I was stalking, great position, no problems at all. The horse was traveling nice around the three-eighths pole, and then at the quarter-pole I didn't have anything to finish with.”
Mark Casse (trainer of Uncaptured): “I thought Mena rode him great and had great position. He just had nothing down the lane. I asked him about the Derby. I will talk to Mr. Oxley, but I can’t see him going to the Derby off that performance."