2021 Derby Trail: Three Heating Up, Three Cooling Down for April 14

Jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. celebrates on King Fury after the horse won the Lexington Stakes on a rainy April 10 day at Keeneland. (Eclipse Sportswire)

This feature provides a capsule look at three horses who are heating up on the Triple Crown trail and three horses whose chances for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve are not quite as strong as they were a week or two ago.

In this edition, the focus is the final week of prep races. As of this writing, several connections of horses sitting in the Top 20 on the Derby points leaderboard have not made a decision about whether to target the run for the roses on May 1, but others have already made plans to send their contenders to Louisville and begin training on Churchill Downs’ main track over the next couple of weeks.

Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard


Coady Photography

1. Super Stock

We talk often about breakout performances and horses on the Kentucky Derby trail improving at the right time, and Super Stock provided an example of a huge improvement leading to a career-shaping victory in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby April 10 at Oaklawn Park. While he had placed twice before in graded stakes as a 2-year-old – although he was beaten by more than four lengths in both – and won a stakes race sprinting, Super Stock was really a fringe player on the Derby trail before the Arkansas Derby. Indeed, most observers thought the 1 1/8-mile race was little more than a formality as a Kentucky Derby warm-up for Rebel Stakes winner and 3-10 favorite Concert Tour. Instead, Caddo River beat Concert Tour to the front to apply early pressure and Super Stock enjoyed the perfect stalking trip before delivering the most impressive finish of his career to win by 2 ½ lengths and punch his ticket to the Kentucky Derby May 1 at Churchill Downs. I profiled Super Stock for this week’s Making the Grade if you want a more in-depth look at this Kentucky Derby contender, but in short there are several positives and a few negatives when viewing him as a Derby win candidate. I like the way he responded on cue in the stretch and reeled in Caddo River and Concert Tour, he showed more tactical speed, and he posted career-bests with a 106 Equibase Speed Figure, a 92 Beyer Speed Figure, and a 97 Brisnet rating. On the other hand, he did get a perfect trip behind a fast pace and finished in about 39 1/5 seconds for his final three-eighths of a mile, which is … not fast. I think he has a chance to finish in the top three in the Kentucky Derby, but he’d need to take another big step up and run significantly faster on three weeks rest to win the race, and that’s a lot to ask.

Keeneland/Coady Photography

2. King Fury

From a long-term perspective, I like King Fury just a little bit better than Super Stock above, but he’s going to need six defections to qualify for the Kentucky Derby with only 20 points from winning the Stonestreet Lexington Stakes by 2 ¾ lengths April 10 on a sloppy track at Keeneland. Mostly for that reason, I slotted him in here. King Fury showed promise with a win in the Street Sense Stakes last October at Churchill Downs, a race in which he defeated Super Stock. The Curlin colt subsequently was unplaced in both the TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and was given a freshening on the farm. It appears to have done wonders for him … as he showed in his first race as a 3-year-old in the Lexington Stakes. “This has always been a really, really good horse. We were a little aggressive with him last fall,” trainer Kenny McPeek said. “I’m going to give a big tip of the hat to the [co-owner] Three Chimneys team. They said, ‘Hey, send him to us for a little while. Let’s give him a little break.’ He needed it. We tested him at the highest levels and he came back bigger and stronger.” Like Super Stock, King Fury benefitted from a fast early pace and a ground-saving trip. After switching leads on cue for jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. at the top of the stretch, he leveled off powerfully, completing the final sixteenth of a mile in 6.38 seconds. He covered his final five-sixteenths of a mile in :30.81 in a splashy performance. He earned new career-best speed figures across the board with a 103 from Equibase, 95 from Beyer, and 95 from Brisnet. There is always concern that the win might have been slop-aided –  some horses relish it while others don’t – but I think this is a legitimate 3-year-old. He’s by Curlin out of Grade 1 winner Taris, a graded stakes winner at 1 1/16 miles and Grade 1-placed at 1 1/8 miles, so distance and class should not be an issue. McPeek sure sounded like he’d relish a shot in the Derby, but with only 20 points the Preakness Stakes looks far more likely and I think he would run a big one with five weeks of rest.

Eclipse Sportswire

3. Rombauer

I dabbled with placing the runners-up of the Arkansas Derby and Stonestreet Lexington Stakes (both April 10) here, but I really don’t think Caddo River wants any part of 1 ¼ miles and Unbridled Honor isn’t under consideration for the Kentucky Derby after capitalizing on a fast pace to run second on a sloppy track at Keeneland in the latter. So, I went with Toyota Blue Grass Stakes third-place finisher Rombauer who, with two defections Monday, cemented a spot in the 20-horse field for the Kentucky Derby. The Twirling Candy colt was well-beaten in the Blue Grass when 5 ¾ lengths behind winner Essential Quality, but he did post his top Equibase Speed Figure (100), Beyer Speed Figure (88), and Brisnet speed rating (96). I’d like to see him drop a little bit farther back in the Kentucky Derby than the stalking trip he got in the Blue Grass and try to make one big run like he did in winning the El Camino Real Derby Feb. 13, but he’s improving steadily and I think trainer Mike McCarthy will have him ready to run a big one in his third start of the year. I’m not viewing him as a serious win candidate, but I’ll definitely use Rombauer at a big price to spice up the exacta, trifecta, and superfecta. An intriguing Derby longshot.

Honorable Mention: With a disappointing effort from Concert Tour in the Arkansas Derby, perhaps no horse benefitted more than Essential Quality. The unbeaten champion looks even more formidable now and rates a cut above the rest of the field coming off a hard-fought win in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t fire on Kentucky Derby day. Essential Quality is elite and that separates him from this class of 3-year-olds at this point in time. Others could step up, but right now he’s hands-down the one to beat. … Caddo River really showed me something in the Arkansas Derby when he fought back after being headed by Concert Tour in the stretch to edge that one by a head for second behind Super Stock. He showed me some tenacity that I’d not seen from him before and posted his best Equibase Speed Figure (102), but I have always had my doubts about stamina with this Hard Spun colt. I just don’t see him excelling at 1 ¼ miles. … Unbridled Honor improved from his fourth in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby to finish second in the Stonestreet Lexington Stakes. He’s a deep closer who benefitted from a fast pace, but I think he’s talented enough to make some noise again later in the spring or summer. He doesn’t have the points, however, to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.


1. Hozier

The runner-up from the Rebel Stakes turned in an absolute clunker in the Arkansas Derby April 10 at Oaklawn Park, where it seemed like a pace duel up front between stablemate Concert Tour and Caddo River would set up Hozier’s closing kick. He was probably much nearer to the fast pace than ideal, but Hozier faded really badly late and finished last of six, beaten by 19 ¾ lengths by winner Super Stock. He dipped from a 99 Equibase Speed Figure in the Rebel to a 76 for the Arkansas Derby and is on the outside looking in for the Kentucky Derby. Even if he did sneak in with multiple defections, that’s not the type of race you want to go into the Kentucky Derby coming out of … and I’d be surprised if Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is even still considering him for the race.

Eclipse Sportswire

2. Concert Tour

Concert Tour didn’t run a bad race in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby April 10 at Oaklawn Park, but he did fail to meet the expectations of a 3-10 favorite and a leading candidate for the 2021 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. I, like many others, thought he would establish himself as a clear second choice behind Essential Quality for the first jewel of the Triple crown with a runaway win in the Arkansas Derby. But Caddo River beat Concert Tour to the lead and took the race to him. I’m not sure if that led to the somewhat disappointing performance, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert send him to the lead and see how far he can take the field in the Kentucky Derby. From a betting perspective, if you stick with Concert Tour you will get MUCH better odds now in the Kentucky Derby. In fact, I might be more inclined to use him in my exacta and trifecta bets now that he’ll be 15-1 or 20-1 rather than 5-1. Still, as a win candidate you never like to see a 3-year-old regress, even slightly, in his final prep for the most important race of his career.

3. Proxy

Proxy’s connections brought him back on three weeks of rest after finishing fourth in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby to try to qualify for the run for the roses with a big effort in the Stonestreet Lexington Stakes April 10 at Keeneland. He ran a disappointing fourth as the 2.40-1 second choice in the Lexington Stakes, beaten by six lengths, and no longer is under consideration for the first jewel of the Triple Crown. With seconds in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes and Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford earlier this year, Proxy still has a bright future. His connections are doing the right thing by pointing him elsewhere as he’s just not good enough right now to beat the best of the 3-year-old division.

Of note: Gotham Stakes winner Weyburn also was removed from consideration for the Kentucky Derby following a fourth-place finish in the Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets April 3 at Aqueduct. He was only beaten by three lengths in the Wood Memorial and did not run a bad race, but trainer Jimmy Jerkens typically is pretty cautious with his horses and he knows he has a good one in Weyburn. They will find an easier spot for the promising 3-year-old.

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