What horse is the greatest Blue Grass Stakes winner in history?

March 30th, 2021

It's just about April in Kentucky, and April in Kentucky means one thing — Keeneland!

The highlight of opening weekend is the Blue Grass (G2), a race that always helps bring the Kentucky Derby (G1) picture into sharper focus.

Before we look ahead at the 2021 edition of the Blue Grass, let's look back.

Who is the greatest Blue Grass winner in history?

Bull Lea (1938)

In addition to winning the Blue Grass, he won a handful of other stakes at age three, and Hialeah's Widener H. at four.

However, in the stud barn, he led Calumet's ascent to greatness. His first crop featured 1943 co-champion two year old fillies Durazna and Twilight Tear. Twilight Tear was named Horse of the Year in 1944. He sired 1947 Horse of the Year Armed, 1948 Blue Grass winner (and 1949 co-Horse of the Year) Coaltown, and 1948 Triple Crown winner (and Horse of the Year) Citation. In 1952, he sired both the Kentucky Derby winner (Hill Gail) and the Kentucky Oaks winner (Real Delight).

He was a five-time leading sire, a four-time leading damsire, and an all-time great stallion.

Round Table (1957)

He achieved his most important early wins on the Keeneland dirt, in the 1956 Breeders' Futurity, as well as the Blue Grass.

Though he only ran third to Bull Lea's son, Iron Liege in the Kentucky Derby, that hardly hampered him. He raced at the top level all over the country through his five-year-old year and won 43 of his 66 races.

He was named champion turf horse at ages three, four, and five. He was Horse of the Year and champion male handicap horse in 1958 and co-champion male handicap horse in 1959.

He became an important sire, as well, with sons King's Bishop and Poker.

Northern Dancer (1964)

He may have started his career in a Canadian-bred maiden race at Fort Erie, but he rose to stardom both on the track and in the stud barn.

The Blue Grass served as his final prep for a successful Triple Crown season that included wins in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, and he was the first Canadian-bred to win the Derby. He also became the first horse to win both the Kentucky Derby and Canada's most important three-year-old race, the Queen's Plate.

Though a bowed tendon the month after the Queen's Plate ended his racing career, he became a worldwide phenomenon at stud. Almost half his first crop won stakes, including Canadian Horse of the Year Viceregal. Nijinsky II, a member of his second crop, won the English Triple Crown in 1970. He sired important stallions around the world, like Danzig, Lyphard, Northern Taste, and Sadler's Wells.

Spectacular Bid (1979)

He raced from ages two through four and was a champion all three years he raced.

He prepared for the Kentucky Derby  with wins in five consecutive stakes, the Blue Grass last among them. The grey then won the first two legs of the Triple Crown by open lengths.

Though either a safety pin, a lack of affinity for a mile and a half, or some combination on the two dashed his connections' Triple Crown dreams, he finished third in the Belmont Stakes.

He still went on to win four more races that year, including the Marlboro Cup H. (G1). At four, the Bid was sublime, as he won all nine of his starts (including five Grade 1 races) en route to Horse of the Year honors. One of those races, his career-ending victory in the Woodward, was a testament to how imposing he was — he won in a walkover.

Holy Bull (1994)

He was a very good two year old, and scored a game win in the Futurity (G1), over the previously undefeated Dehere, but he became a star at age three.

Though his win in the Blue Grass didn't lead to Triple Crown success, the talented and versatile grey took an unorthodox route to champion three year old and Horse of the Year honors in 1994.

His five Grade 1 wins that year included a pair of victories against older horses, in the one-turn Metropolitan H. and the two-turn Woodward. He also won three against his own age group — the Florida Derby, the Haskell, and the Travers.

Though a tendon injury in the 1995 Donn H. (G1) cut his career short, his 13 wins displayed his brilliance, and he went on to produce 2000 champion two year old Macho Uno.

Looking back to last week's poll about which international racing event you're most excited about... Though the Melbourne Cup got a significant amount of attention, there was a tie at the top. The Dubai World Cup got 40% of the vote — but so did Royal Ascot!

Those of you looking forward to Royal Ascot don't have to wait too long. The two and a half months before the royal meeting will pass before you know it!