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 weekend, no Derby preps were held but the action picks up this weekend with three important races: the John Battaglia Stakes at Turfway Park on Friday and the rescheduled Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park and the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Saturday. The Southwest and Battaglia offer qualifying points for Derby 147 on a 10-4-2-1 basis to the top four finishers while the Fountain of Youth ups the ante with a 50-20-10-5 distribution.
Check out America's Best Racing's Triple Crown page to keep up to date with stories and statistics on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
Oaklawn Park's weather-related postponement of the Southwest Stakes until Feb. 27 delayed last year's champion 2-year-old's return but likely won't impact his preparation much toward the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. His training has gone uninterrupted at Fair Grounds. Either the April 3 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes or April 10 Arkansas Derby is likely to follow the Southwest.
2. Fire At Will
He faces an arduous task in the Feb. 27 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, shifting to dirt in his return since winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Presented by Coolmore America Nov. 6. Though dirt is not new to him – he won the off-the-turf With Anticipation Stakes last summer in the slop – he did not beat the likes of Greatest Honour and Prime Factor in that race.
3. Life Is Good
This speedster is pointed to return March 6 at Santa Anita Park in the San Felipe Stakes, a race Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has won seven times, including last year with eventual Derby winner Authentic . Promising challengers await him, such as Robert B. Lewis Stakes runner-up Roman Centurian and 14-length maiden winner and fellow Derby Dozen member The Great One.
Based at Fair Grounds, where he was third in the Lecomte Stakes before a blinkers-added Risen Star Presented by Lamarque Ford victory, he likely returns in the March 20 Louisiana Derby there. The Louisiana Derby figures to draw more out-of-state interest than the Risen Star, with California-based Robert B. Lewis third-place finisher Hot Rod Charlie among those under consideration for the 1 3/16-mile race.
The Holy Bull Stakes winner is the anticipated favorite for the Fountain of Youth, a race Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey previously won with Orb and Code of Honor – colts who would later run first and second in the Kentucky Derby in 2013 and 2019, respectively. Several of those that chased this 3-year-old across the wire in the Holy Bull are expected back, plus Fire At Will and other new shooters.
The Robert B. Lewis Stakes winner was given a stiff six-furlong workout in a bullet 1:12.40 by Bob Baffert Feb. 20 at Santa Anita. Spotting workmate Heels Up, a stakes-placed 3-year-old filly, a couple of lengths, he finished on even terms, though he came under pressure to catch up. Not as brilliant as some others in the Dozen, but his tenacity should carry him a long way on the Triple Crown trail.
7. Caddo River
When freezing temperatures and cold rolled into Arkansas earlier this month, trainer Brad Cox shipped him from Oaklawn to his division at Fair Grounds in warmer New Orleans, a move that has kept the Smarty Jones Stakes winner on schedule to start in the $1 million Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn March 13. He's posted two works at Fair Grounds while Oaklawn has been shuttered, including a bullet five furlongs in :59.60 Feb. 20.
8. Concert Tour
In contrast to Medina Spirit's in-company breeze Feb. 20 at Santa Anita, Bob Baffert gave this colt an easier half-mile solo breeze that morning, having just run Feb. 6 when taking the San Vicente Stakes. Going comfortably, he smoked the distance in :47.20. Now comes his first route test and a showdown with Caddo River in the Rebel. Preparation mirrors that of the Baffert-trained Nadal from last year.
His 14-length maiden win Jan. 23 was a beauty, an encore performance after a close second in the Los Alamitos Futurity for two-time Derby-winning trainer Doug O'Neill. The answer to whether that win was the result of improvement or a class drop should be answered in the San Felipe, where he and Life Is Good figure to be among those duking it out.
10. Jackie's Warrior
Like Essential Quality, he has been training in New Orleans toward the Southwest – meaning he dodged the cold and snow that blanketed the Arkansas track. A three-time graded winner last year at 2, he weakened to fourth around two turns in the 1 1/16-mile TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance at Keeneland Nov. 6, though with the excuse of chasing furious splits.
The Lecomte and Risen Star runner-up gives Godolphin two in the Dozen, joining top-ranked Essential Quality. This colt has a powerhouse pedigree, being by Tapit and out of Panty Raid, an Include mare so classy and versatile that she won graded stakes on dirt, turf, and synthetic as a 3-year-old in 2007. Her daughter, Micheline, has notched three stakes victories for trainer Mike Stidham, including over 1 5/16 miles on turf.
The Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes winner slips a position due to missed mid-February training caused by a snow-covered, frozen Oaklawn racetrack. As a result of lost training, trainer Robertino Diodoro is skipping the Southwest with him to await the Rebel. This colt already has 18 Derby qualifying points – should he pick up a manageable 25 points in a pair of Derby preps, he should make the Derby based on the point cutoffs of recent years.