LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Carpe Diem seized the lead near the top of the stretch after stalking early leader Ocho Ocho Ocho and drew away to a three-length victory in Saturday's $750,000 Blue Grass, cementing his place as one of the top contenders for next month's Kentucky Derby.
The 2-5 favorite in the eight-horse field improved his lifetime record to four wins in five starts and paid $2.80, $2.40 and $2.10.
Danzig Moon finished strong for second and returned $7.80 and $5. Ocho Ocho Ocho was another 2 1/2 lengths back and paid $3.20 to show.
Carpe Diem finished the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.77 under jockey John Velazquez.
Trained by Todd Pletcher and owned by WinStar Farm and Stonestreet Stables, Carpe Diem won the Tampa Bay Derby by five lengths in his only other start this year. His only loss came in a runner-up finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita.
Carpe Diem joins two Bob Baffert trainees - Dortmund, who remained undefeated in winning Saturday's Santa Anita Derby, and American Pharaoh, running in next weekend's Arkansas Derby - as the likely favorites for the Kentucky Derby on May 2.
Carpe Diem's connections are comfortable with where they sit.
''I wouldn't trade places with anybody going to Louisville in four weeks,'' WinStar Farm president Elliott Walden said. ''He's done everything we've asked him to do and he's done it with authority.''
The $1.6 million purchase has lived up expectations from a year ago, earning $600,000 for the Blue Grass win to push his career earnings to more than $1.5 million. The win was his second Grade I after taking the Breeders' Futurity by 6 1/4 lengths in October.
It was the third Blue Grass win for Pletcher and the second for Velazquez.
Norman Casse, assistant trainer of Danzig Moon, said this year's 3-year-old crop is ''truly deep,'' but that he felt he got beat by the best.
''I think he's at the top of the list,'' Casse said.
In other stakes at Keeneland:
- Favorite Lovely Maria won the $500,000 Ashland by 3 1/4 lengths. Owned by former Kentucky Gov. Brereton C. Jones, Lovely Maria gave 40-year veteran jockey Kerwin D. Clark his first Grade I win in a key prep for the Kentucky Oaks.
- Princess Violet won the $350,000 Madison by a half-length over Stopchargingmaria, her first win in Grade I company.
- Kobe's Back, shipping from California, closed from last to win the $300,000 Commonwealth by 3/4 lengths.
- Something Extra led throughout to take the $125,000 Shakertown by a half-length in front of a crowd of 26,357.