Charles Fipke’s Java’s War overcame a slow start to catch Palace Malice in the final yards to win the 89th running of the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at Keeneland on Saturday.
Java’s War won by a neck before a crowd of 37,161.Saturday’s attendance is the second largest in track history, surpassed only by the 40,617 on hand for last year’s Toyota Blue Grass Stakes.
It was trainer Ken McPeek’s second victory in the race, having won the 2002 edition with Harlan’s Holiday. It was the first Toyota Blue Grass victory for jockey Julien Leparoux.
“This isn’t about me. Mr. Fipke (breeder and owner Charles E. Fipke) puts a lot of money in this game,” said McPeek. “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.”
Java’s War, a homebred son of War Pass out of the Rainbow Quest mare Java (GB), completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.27 over the fast main track.
“He didn’t really break, but he traveled very nice for me.,” said Leparoux. “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.”
In addition to the $450,000 winner’s check, Java’s War received 100 qualifying points toward the 139th running of the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) on May 4 at Churchill Downs. Now with 122 points, Java’s War is guaranteed a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate, that is limited to the top 20 point earners that pass the entry box.
Dogwood Stable’s Palace Malice picked up 40 points for running second to boost his total to 50, which should be enough to make the Derby field.
Java’s War improved his career record to 7-3-1-1 and increased his earnings to $672,091.
Favored Rydilluc, breaking from post position 13 under Edgar Prado, and Undrafted jockeyed for the lead the first time past the finish line as Java’s War was last in the field of 14 after walking out of the gate.
After a first quarter-mile in :23.81 from Undrafted, Prado put Rydilluc on the lead and opened a daylight margin with internal fractions of :48.04 and 1:12.76.
Meanwhile, behind Rydilluc, Palace Malice was getting a dream run under Garrett Gomez. Palace Malice slipped inside of a tiring Undrafted and turned into the stretch with a clear shot at Rydilluc. At that juncture, Leparoux had Java’s War moving widest of all and began picking off horses.
Palace Malice finally put Rydilluc away past the eighth pole and just failed to hold off Java’s War. Charming Kitten closed fast to finish third, another neck back.
Java’s War returned mutuels of $11.20, $5.60 and $4. Palace Malice paid $6 and $4.60 with Charming Kitten, ridden by Joe Bravo, returning $11.20 to show.
Rydilluc finished 1¼ lengths back in fourth and was followed in order by Fear the Kitten, Balance the Books, My Name Is Michael, Channel Isle, Dynamic Sky, Uncaptured, Tesseron, West Hills Giant, Undrafted and Footbridge.