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, Mandaloun won the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford at Fair Grounds to earn 50 Derby qualifying points, and favored Rombauer got up late to win the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields, earning 10 points. There are no qualifying points preps for Derby 147 scheduled for the upcoming weekend as the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park was postponed to Feb. 27 due to inclement weather.
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Severe winter weather canceled racing at Oaklawn Park over President's Day weekend, the Southwest Stakes has been postponed to Feb. 27, delaying his return. With fellow dual Grade 1 winner Jackie's Warrior and Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes winner Keepmeinmind also expected there, last year's 2-year-old champ could get a stiff test in his 3-year-old debut.
2. Fire At Will
His seasonal debut in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park Feb. 27 should provide quick evidence if he is Kentucky Derby material. Last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Presented by Coolmore America winner won his only dirt start last year in the off-the-turf With Anticipation Stakes vs. a depleted, suspect group, though over a seven-furlong trip, shorter than his best.
3. Life Is Good
Six of the last nine Derby winners were stabled during the winter in Southern California, and he seems the current cream of the 3-year-old crop out west, having just defeated next-out Robert B. Lewis Stakes winner Medina Sprit in the Sham Stakes. He’s pointed toward the San Felipe Stakes March 6 at Santa Anita Park.
The addition of blinkers was instrumental in victory in the Feb. 13 Risen Star Presented by Lamarque Ford. Instead of jockey Florent Geroux having to drive him into contention, he took the rider there. Already a graded winner at 1 1/8 miles in the Risen Star and with impeccable bloodlines, he vaults into the Dozen, part of trainer Brad Cox's stellar group of 3-year-olds that rivals that of Hall of Famer Bob Baffert.
He stylishly took the Jan. 30 Holy Bull Stakes to win his second race at Gulfstream Park this winter. Eventual Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets winner and Derby runner-up Tiz the Law won the Holy Bull in 2020, but the last Holy Bull winner to win the Run for the Roses was Barbaro in 2006. This colt was urged more than 4-year-old workmate Creed (two-for-three lifetime) in a four-furlong breeze in :50 3/5 at Payson Park Feb. 13.
Trainer Bob Baffert's six Derby wins have understandably led owners to flood his stable with expensive prospects – so this $35,000 2-year-old purchase is a throwback. The Robert B. Lewis Stakes winner conjures a flashback to Real Quiet, a $17,000 buy that in 1998 gave Baffert his second Derby. He posted a half-mile breeze at Santa Anita in :49 Feb. 14, suggesting he came out of the Lewis in fine fettle.
7. Caddo River
With $1 million on the line in the March 13 Rebel Stakes, his next-out competition figures to be much better than the group he thumped by more than 10 lengths in the Jan. 22 Smarty Jones Stakes. After working Feb. 5 at Oaklawn Park, he came back with another drill Feb. 14 – though this time at Fair Grounds to avoid missing training due to freezing conditions in Arkansas.
8. Concert Tour
Though he ran quickly relative to the tiring nature of the Santa Anita main track in winning the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes, more demanding class tests are ahead. All five San Vicente starters were eligible to a first-level allowance, and the top-three finishers only had started once previously. His sire Street Sense won the Derby in 2007, suggesting this colt should route.
Following his 14-length maiden victory in a mile race Jan. 23 at Santa Anita, he returned with breezes Feb. 6 and Feb. 13. He seems on an upward trajectory, and he needs to be. Two starts ago while racing as a maiden in the Los Alamitos Futurity, he had the race nearly won, only to get tagged on the wire by Spielberg, a colt that subsequently finished fourth in the Robert B. Lewis.
10. Jackie's Warrior
Though this colt’s sire Maclean's Music sired 2017 Preakness Stakes winner Cloud Computing, most of his other stakes runners have excelled around one turn (i.e. Complexity, Classic Rock, Drain the Clock, and Share the Upside). If the rescheduled Southwest Stakes draws a short field, that might give this speedy colt a pace advantage – the opposite of what occurred in the TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance last fall when he chased blistering splits and ran fourth.
His connections opted to pass the Risen Star with him to await the Southwest. That is not altogether a surprise given that he has trained at Oaklawn through the winter. He acts like a colt that should relish the Derby trip of 1 ¼ miles, but his lack of early speed could place this Grade 2 winner in a challenging position against a potential short lineup in the 1 1/16-mile Southwest.
Coming off runner-up finishes in the Risen Star and Lecomte Stakes, he grabs the former Dozen position of the talented Highly Motivated, who might not be a 1 ¼-mile type. This horse has made all five of his starts in two-turn routes, and his fine pedigree suggests further upside. He ran spotty in the Risen Star – gaining position, dropping back, then threatening again. Blinkers could be in his future.