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, Life Is Good solidified his status as a leading Kentucky Derby contender with a blowout win in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park, while Helium and Weyburn posted upset victories in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs and the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, respectively. This Saturday, the focus shifts to Oaklawn Park for the $1 million Rebel Stakes, where 85 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby are up for grabs.
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Though Life Is Good (110 Equibase Speed Figure) ran faster in winning the March 6 San Felipe Stakes than Essential Quality did (105) in taking the Feb. 27 Southwest Stakes, last year's champion 2-year-old male holds the top spot, owing to a pair of Grade 1 wins and victories at multiple tracks, specifically Oaklawn Park, Keeneland, and a rather important one – Churchill Downs.
2. Life Is Good
Following his front-running romp in the San Felipe Stakes, he closed as the 2-1 favorite in Pool 4 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, the shortest-priced individual March favorite in the 23-year history of the KDFW. His lone miscue in the San Felipe was drifting out in the stretch – which jockey Mike Smith attributed to his eyeing the infield monitor. The April 3 Santa Anita Derby is next.
He dips a spot this week following the overpowering performance from Life Is Good in the San Felipe. The way this colt finished over the short stretch at Gulfstream Park in the Feb. 27 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes lets you dream what he might accomplish down the quarter-mile lane at Churchill that concludes the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
Along with barn mate Essential Quality, he is a proven commodity at Churchill, having won there in the fall. Since adding blinkers and winning the Feb. 13 Risen Star Presented by Lamarque Ford Stakes, he has stayed on a steady work schedule at Fair Grounds, recording a bullet five-eighths there in :59.20 March 6 preparing for the March 20 Louisiana Derby.
5. Caddo River
A showdown with Concert Tour and Keepmeinmind is on deck in the March 13 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn, the first $1 million race for 3-year-olds in North America for 2021. Racing earlier this year in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn, this son of Hard Spun blew away Cowan and Moonlite Strike – subsequently second and third, respectively, in the Saudi Derby and Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby.
6. Concert Tour
Readying for a stretch out in the Rebel, trainer Bob Baffert gave him a fast six-furlong work in a bullet 1:11.40 March 6 at Santa Anita. Spotting workmate Dark Prince some 10 lengths, he reeled him in down the stretch and another horse on the gallop-out. Freedom Fighter, whom he defeated by a half-length in the San Vicente Stakes, did not flatter him with a fourth in the March 6 Gotham Stakes.
Of the six 3-year-olds that chased Life Is Good in the San Felipe, he was the only one to finish within 10 lengths, officially eight lengths back. Bob Baffert was not keen to run the two together but felt they needed the racing experience and preferred it to shipping one out of town. The Santa Anita Derby or the April 10 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park is to follow, according to Baffert.
He has been a New Orleans regular this winter, going 2-2-0 in four races at Fair Grounds and with another start looming in the Louisiana Derby. His only other race came last fall when he debuted with a second-place finish at Monmouth Park. All of his races have been routes – trainer Mike Stidham has been confident in this colt's stamina all along. Stidham is likely to add blinkers next out.
The late-running Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes winner recorded his final tune-up for the Rebel with a five-furlong breeze at Oaklawn March 5 in 1:02.20. Trainer Robertino Diodoro said he wanted an easy move. The colt's best races might come beyond 1 1/16 miles. So he might need Caddo River and Concert Tour to set a fast pace to catch up in the Rebel.
10. Hot Rod Charlie
Two-time Derby-winning trainer Doug O’Neill likes the spacing between the Jan. 30 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, the Louisiana Derby, and the Kentucky Derby. As a half-brother to 2019 champion male sprinter Mitole , that relation makes you wonder about the 1 ¼-mile trip of the Derby. His sire Oxbow possessed stamina, winning the 2013 Preakness Stakes and running second in the Belmont Stakes.
No shame losing to Essential Quality by 4 ¼ lengths in the Southwest, particularly after spotting the field a few lengths at the start. The Los Alamitos Futurity winner has run hot and cold over his career, but if can get his gate sharpness together, he has further upside, just as Improbable improved as an older horse last year for Bob Baffert. He seems the least imposing of Baffert's prospects.
An 8 ½-length debut winner Jan. 23 at Gulfstream going seven furlongs, he missed an intended start in late February due to illness. Now he is favored in an allowance optional claimer at Gulfstream on March 11 going a one-turn mile. A victory could lead to one of the final Derby stakes preps in early April, though even if he runs 1-2 there and secures enough qualifying points, he would have just a single two-turn race heading into the first Saturday in May.