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, three major Kentucky Derby preps were held, and Rock Your World emerged as a leading contender with an authoritative win in the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby while Essential Quality won a hard-fought Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and Bourbonic upset the Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino. This Saturday, the final two Derby qualifying points races will be held: the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park offering a total of 170 points; and the Stonestreet Lexington Stakes at Keeneland offering a total of 34 points.
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Nearing the eighth pole of the April 3 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, he appeared in danger of losing for the first time in five starts, but last year's 2-year-old champion just kept finding more under Luis Saez. He ultimately wore down Highly Motivated by a neck after that rival enjoyed a favorable front-running trip. He’s already at Churchill Downs and he’s won there previously, so he will have a home-track edge over many rivals.
2. Concert Tour
Hall of Fame Trainer Bob Baffert has won the Arkansas Derby three times, and he'll be favored to pick another when this colt runs at Oaklawn Park April 10. Unbeaten in three races, including victories in the San Vicente Stakes and Rebel Stakes, he seems Baffert's best prospect for the Kentucky Derby. He turned in an outstanding solo breeze at Santa Anita Park April 3, timed in 1:12 .80 for six furlongs.
3. Known Agenda
After underachieving in two stakes in December and February, he began extending himself with blinkers. He first won an allowance optional claiming race by 11 lengths Feb. 26 and added the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill 'n' Dale Farms at Xalapa March 27, both at Gulfstream Park. He appears similar to trainer Todd Pletcher's second Derby winner, 2017's Always Dreaming, who also captured the Florida Derby.
His attempt to sweep the two-turn stakes series of Derby preps at Gulfstream fell short when he settled for third in the Florida Derby, lacking the late rally that we had seen from him in capturing the Holy Bull Stakes and Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes. Blinkers could be in his future given his history of starting slowly and periodic loss of focus. UPDATE: Trainer Shug McGaughey said on April 7 that Greatest Honour would miss the Kentucky Derby and given 60 days off to prepare for what his connections hope will be a summer campaign.
After being hustled to the lead from post 2 in the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby, he successfully transitioned from dirt after scoring twice earlier on turf. He set a strong pace, timed in :46.11 for a half-mile and 1:10.64 for six furlongs, and drew away by 4 ¼ lengths to stop the clock in 1:49.17. Horses with grass form that won the Derby this century include Barbaro and Animal Kingdom.
Following his wire-to-wire victory in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds, he resumed breezing Saturday at Santa Anita with an easy half-mile workout in :49.40 for two-time Derby-winning trainer Doug O'Neill. This colt's time in the 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby was quick – a track record 1:55.06 and much faster than Wells Bayou ran in winning last year's race in 1:56.47.
Though he ran competitively in the Santa Anita Derby to be second, beaten 4 ¼ lengths by Rock Your World, his performance as the favorite was a touch disappointing. He stalked the pace after breaking well, and his final three-eighths, timed in about :39, was slow. That point aside, he is honest, having been first or second in all five starts, and trainer Bob Baffert is a six-time Derby winner.
The Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford winner returns to the Dozen, kept on course for the Derby by his connections, who are willing to forgive his sixth-place finish as the 1.30-1 chalk in the Louisiana Derby. That was his only poor effort in five starts, and like stablemate Essential Quality, he is a winner at Churchill Downs, where he worked a half-mile in :49.80 April 3.
Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen is 0-for-21 in the Derby but has come close in the classic. Nehro (2011) and Lookin At Lee (2017) were second, and Curlin (2007) and Gun Runner (2016) were third. This colt, runner-up in the Louisiana Derby and winner of the Lecomte Stakes, recorded a team five-furlong breeze with Longines Kentucky Oaks prospect Clairiere in 1:01.20 at Churchill Downs April 4.
10. Highly Motivated
He had Essential Quality on the ropes in midstretch of the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass before caught in the final sixteenth after he swapped leads when tiring. It was a valiant try, though, after things went his way early. The Blue Grass was void of frontrunners, which allowed him to set the pace for the first time in five starts. He’s fast but has had just one two-turn race before the 1 ¼-mile Derby.
He was a bit keen early in the Florida Derby – he fought after an early scramble and held second to Known Agenda in his stakes debut. He has limited experience and was reluctant to change leads down the stretch of the Florida Derby, but the necessary talent is there. Even before his fine last-out effort, he won two races in Florida by open lengths.
12. Dynamic One
Although he was nailed on the wire by stablemate Bourbonic in the Wood Memorial Presented by Resorts World Casino this past Saturday, this runner-up excites more. Off a length slowly, he raced four wide around both turns while the hard-charging winner was never more than two wide before tipping out. That wasn't this colt's only well-rated race – he was second to Greatest Honour in a fast maiden contest this winter at Gulfstream.