2022 Kentucky Derby berth goes to Zandon after Blue Grass Stakes win

LEXINGTON — Asked how many horses he owns, Minnesota businessman Jeff Drown laughed as his wife and five children stood nearby.

“I don’t say enough,” Drown said. “My wife says too much.”

The number could soon increase after Saturday’s breakthrough, as Zandon rallied from the back of the pack to win the $1million Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland and give Drown his first Kentucky Derby horse in addition to two decades of thoroughbred racing.

The Blue Grass hasn’t produced a Kentucky Derby winner since Street Sense in 2007, but Drown is excited about Zandon’s chances on the first Saturday in May.

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“Next month will obviously be very exciting,” Drown said. “Having not experienced it, I cannot say for sure. Chad Brown has great manual training, so he’ll set the training schedule and get Zandon on the right track, I’m sure.

Ridden by Flavien Prat, Zandon covered the 1 1/8 miles on a good dirt road in 1:50.35 and paid $6.20 on a winning $2 bet.

Zandon, with Flavien Prat, wins the Blue Grass Stakes on Saturday April 9, 2022 at Keeneland Racecourse.

Smile Happy, the favorite trained by Kenny McPeek, was 2 ½ lengths in second and is also safe in the field for the May 7 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Third-placed Emmanuel, coached by Todd Pletcher, sits 25th on the Derby points list and would need several no-shows to qualify.

Zandon set the pace early and was last of 11 horses after three quarters of a mile as Emmanuel set splits of 24.04 seconds for the quarter mile, 48.39 seconds for the half mile and 1: 12.72 for three quarters.

Prat said he was “hidden” and worried he had lost too much ground early on.

“The pace was a bit slow so I was walking around the back,” Prat said. “But I was traveling great. It was just a matter of finding a gap and getting a clean run on the lane.

Prat had maneuvered Zandon into second after the far corner and only had to catch Smile Happy heading for home.

“When I left home I really thought I had won the race,” said jockey Corey Lanerie of Smile Happy. “(Zandon) came up to me and committed me, and I couldn’t hold him back. The track was a little heavy today, so hopefully we get a lot out of it and move on.

Smile Happy trainer Kenny McPeek said he was looking forward to moving his horse to Churchill, where he won the Kentucky Jockey Club in November.

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“It was a heavy running track; I think that played a bit for the closures,” McPeek said of the Keeneland surface. “Churchill’s surface is entirely different to this in my opinion, and that colt won there as well. We’re going to get into the starting grid. That’s what excites me.”

Brown started the day without some Kentucky Derby qualifiers, but now has two after Zandon’s win and Early Voting second place at Wood Memorial in Aqueduct. Brown is 0 of 6 in the Kentucky Derby, his best finish with Good Magic (second) in 2018. Good Magic also won the Blue Grass.

Good Magic only had five races under his belt to enter the Kentucky Derby, and Zandon will only have four. He won his first race at Belmont in October, finished a nose behind Mo Donegal in the Grade 2 Remsen on December 4 at Aqueduct and opened his 3-year-old season with a third place finish behind Epicenter and Smile Happy in the Grade. 2 Risen Star on February 19 at Fair Grounds.

Zandon jumped off the start of the Risen Star, which cost him first place.

“He’s trained very well and to come back and show the type of horse we thought he was from the start, it’s very rewarding,” Drown said. “What a fantastic race.”

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Jason Frakes: 502-582-4046; jfrakes@courier-journal.com; Twitter: @KentuckyDerbyCJ.