BloodHorse associate editor Byron King presents his latest Derby Dozen presented by Spendthrift Farm with a look at his leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 1.
Last Saturday, the final two Derby qualifying points races were held: the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park and the Stonestreet Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. With the schedule complete, connections of Derby contenders are now focusing on getting their horses as ready as possible to be at their best for Derby 147 at Churchill Downs.
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Trainer Brad Cox has won 21 Grade 1 races, all since 2018, including seven Breeders' Cup races, and is now just weeks away from having his first starter in the Kentucky Derby. Art Sherman (California Chrome, 2014) was the last trainer to win the Derby with his first starter. Cox has the firepower. Unbeaten in five starts and the champion 2-year-old male of last year, Essential Quality has all the qualifications.
2. Known Agenda
He breezed a half-mile in :50.25 April 9 at Palm Beach Downs for two-time Derby winner Todd Pletcher, the colt's first work since winning the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill 'n' Dale Farms at Xalapa March 27. That performance earned him a 112 Equibase Speed Figure and a 7- Ragozin Sheets figure. He’s scheduled for two Churchill Downs works after arriving in Louisville April 12.
Though he won on the lead in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds, look for him to revert to stalking tactics in a speed-laden Derby. This colt has twice run when leaving his home base in California – in the Louisiana Derby and when second to Essential Quality in the TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance last fall at Keeneland. His trainer, Doug O'Neill, is also a two-time Derby winner.
He answered the question of whether he could handle dirt when moved from grass with a front-running win in the April 3 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby. Perfect in three starts, he is talented, but his limited experience could result in him getting rattled after traveling and then racing in a 20-horse Derby. Rock Your World earned a 9 on the Ragozin Sheets in the Santa Anita Derby, a few points behind the 6+ posted by Essential Quality in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes.
Following Concert Tour's disappointing third at 3-10 in the Arkansas Derby, this colt moves just past his stablemate in the Dozen rankings for six-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert. The first two of his winners, Silver Charm (1997) and Real Quiet (1998), both ran second in the Santa Anita Derby, just as this colt did earlier this month to Rock Your World. He’s similar to Real Quiet in that he was a modestly-priced purchase at auction.
6. Concert Tour
He ceded the lead to a hustled Caddo River in the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby and pressed hot fractions of :46.51 and 1:11.25. Leaving the second turn, he took command and was perhaps a half-length in front between calls in the stretch. Then he yielded to finish third, behind perfect-trip winner Super Stock and runner-up Caddo River, who he had passed in early stretch. Based on his earlier Rebel Stakes win, this colt seems more effective on the lead.
A second Brad Cox trainee, he is reminiscent of War of Will, who shined in New Orleans during the early part of his 3-year-old year in 2019, before going off form in the Louisiana Derby and finishing unplaced. War of Will still was a Triple Crown threat, finishing a hampered seventh in a rough Kentucky Derby before winning the Preakness Stakes and running ninth in the Belmont Stakes. This colt won Churchill at age 2, just as War of Will did.
He was a path wider than Hot Rod Charlie around both turns in the Louisiana Derby, ground loss that might have made the difference in his two-length defeat. Regardless, he needs a more robust finish to win the Derby. Not asked until the stretch of the 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby, he came up a little empty. He’s one of many that should be a part of the early scrum.
9. Super Stock
Trips don't come much better than the one he had in the Arkansas Derby. He drafted behind two dueling leaders and pounced on his fatigued rivals in the lane. He is improving at the right time of year and should get another hot pace to aid his Derby rally, but enthusiasm is tempered by him having no other exacta finishes in graded races.
10. Highly Motivated
As fast as he is – winning the 6 ½-furlong Nyquist Stakes as a 2-year-old at Keeneland in a track record 1:14.99 and running second in the Blue Grass to Essential Quality – a glance at his form still gives one pause when pondering him at 1 ¼ miles in the Derby. Four of his five starts have come around one turn, leaving the Blue Grass, when he controlled things in a paceless race, as his lone two-turn Derby prep.
The Florida Derby runner-up arrived at Churchill Downs April 7 with stablemate Helium and turned in his first local drill with a half-mile in :48.80 April 11 for trainer Mark Casse. Having made just three starts, he is short on seasoning. A little keen early in the Florida Derby, he may need to settle better to have something left late going 1 ¼ miles.
12. Dynamic One
Circling wide to take command, he might have made the lead in the stretch a little too quickly in the Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino, only to idle somewhat. That may have left him vulnerable to the late rally of stablemate and 72.25-1 longshot Bourbonic. The Wood runner-up has shown promise but is prone to slow starts and losing ground. Those traits have contributed to his 1-for-5 record. He’s the best prospect of last-out starters in New York.