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 week on the Derby trail, Concert Tour stretched out to two turns for the first time in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park and posted an impressive gate-to-wire victory. This Saturday marks the first 170-point Kentucky Derby prep at Fair Grounds, the $1 million Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby.
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Trainer Brad Cox typically works his active stakes runners two weeks after a race, and, like clockwork, this colt was back on the Fair Grounds work tab March 13 after winning the Feb. 27 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park. He was timed in :48.20 for a half-mile. Keeneland's April 3 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes seems an appropriate final Derby prep, given the undefeated colt's past success over that strip.
2. Life Is Good
He’s remarkably similar to Authentic at this stage last year. Life Is Good is also 3-for-3, having won a maiden race, the Jan. 2 Sham Stakes, and the March 6 San Felipe Stakes. Three-year-olds stabled in Southern California during the winter have won six of the past nine runnings of the Kentucky Derby, with six-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert conditioning three over that period (American Pharoah, Justify, Authentic).
3. Concert Tour
Jockey Joel Rosario took the race to favored Caddo River in last Saturday's Rebel Stakes, and the aggressive tactics led Florent Geroux to rate the latter. Concert Tour produced in front-running fashion, handily winning by 4 ¼ lengths with 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.18. Remarkably, Baffert won the Rebel for the eighth time, all since 2010. His other representative Hozier completed the exacta.
Along with Essential Quality, Greatest Honour resumed breezing this past Saturday, covering a half-mile at Payson Park in :50.20. This followed his Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes, in which he closed from eighth to first in the final five-sixteenths, making up 8 ½ lengths against a questionable Derby lot. No other Fountain of Youth competitor is in the Dozen; runner-up Drain the Clock is pointed for shorter races, and the others did little to excite.
Mandaloun is the 8-5 morning-line favorite for the March 20 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby, where he will face familiar foes Midnight Bourbon and Proxy, whom he has already seen in two prior Derby preps at the New Orleans track. Hot Rod Charlie is the menacing new shooter in the Louisiana Derby, which, for the second straight year, will be run over the Preakness Stakes trip of 1 3/16 miles.
Jockey John Velazquez took a firm hold of Medina Spirit early in the San Felipe so as to not engage Life Is Good, which would have been counterproductive for the two Bob Baffert trainees. Later in the race, the jockey did send him after Life Is Good to no avail. In an all-out drive, he never got close, though he did show his customary heart to grab second from Dream Shake, who had passed him on the second turn.
Blinkers are added in the Louisiana Derby following Proxy's pair of seconds in the Lecomte Stakes and Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford in search of a steadier run. He ran in spurts in the Risen Star and still was beaten just 1 ¼ lengths. Based on his encouraging, reasonable works, he should like the new equipment, though sometimes racing is another story. At times blinkers can make a horse too aggressive.
This colt ran a solid third in the Jan. 30 Robert B. Lewis Stakes when edged by Medina Spirit and Roman Centurian, subsequently second and fourth, respectively, behind Life Is Good in the San Felipe. Leandro Mora, assistant to trainer Doug O'Neill, is his trainer of record for the Louisiana Derby with O'Neill serving a 10-day suspension for a lidocaine positive related to another horse at Santa Anita Park last fall.
If he can improve upon his slow-starting second in the Southwest Stakes, Spielberg could make some noise this spring. He seems a cut below Baffert's leading Derby prospects – Life Is Good, Concert Tour, and Medina Spirit – but he is a Grade 2 winner with Grade 1 placings. Lest anyone forget, Baffert has won the Derby six times – a feat matched only by the legendary Ben Jones, who racked up his total from 1938-52.
Having missed a start in the Fountain of Youth after developing a cough, Prevalence resurfaced in a one-mile allowance optional claiming race March 11 at Gulfstream Park and improved to 2-for-2 with a three-length victory. He rated while in early contention on the outside and then pulled clear. Still, this seemed a mediocre cast of rivals behind him. Runner-up Southern Passage had scored his only win in seven starts in a maiden $50,000 claimer.
11. Risk Taking
Having recorded his two victories at Aqueduct during the winter, first in a maiden race and then in the Feb. 6 Withers Stakes, this colt has not kept the challenging company of others in the Dozen. Encouragingly, both of his wins came at 1 1/8 miles. The April 3 Wood Memorial is next.
12. Brooklyn Strong
He earned high marks for running down a loose-on-the-lead favorite in Ten for Ten over a sloppy track at 1 1/8 miles in the Remsen Stakes last year. Nothing went right this winter, however, as he got sick and then had his return delayed by frozen racetracks at his home base at Parx Racing. He went five furlongs there this past Saturday, leaving enough time for two more stiff works leading into the Wood.