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, three Derby preps were held: the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway Park, the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park, and the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Three more are on tap this Saturday: the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs, and the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park. Each race offers Derby points to the top four finishers on a 50-20-10-5 basis.
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Although Jackie's Warrior enjoyed a tactical pace advantage in the Feb. 27 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park, that advantage wasn't enough to turn the tables on this colt. Smartly moved off the inside early by Luis Saez, Essential Quality rated a few lengths off the pace and reeled in Jackie's Warrior, winning by 4 ¼ lengths over Spielberg. He gets an A-plus for effort in improving to four-for-four in his first start at 3.
Progeny of Tapit are 1-2 in the Dozen following Greatest Honour's Feb. 27 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes triumph, in which he went from looking beaten on the final turn to an eased-up winner after rallying down the stretch. He managed this despite the short stretch in use for 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream Park, suggesting upside over the long Churchill Downs lane at 1 ¼ miles.
3. Life Is Good
This two-for-two colt continues to impress with his breezes, the most recent of which was a six-furlong move Feb. 28 in 1:12.20 at Santa Anita Park. A rematch with stablemate Medina Spirit, whom he beat by three-quarters of a length in the Jan. 2 Sham Stakes, looms in the March 6 San Felipe Stakes. So speedy and talented, he figures to be tough to beat in any race in which he can control the pace.
The Risen Star Presented by Lamarque Ford Stakes winner resumed breezing at Fair Grounds Feb. 27, his first work since that Feb. 13 victory, with an easy half-mile in :50. The March 20 Louisiana Derby is likely next, where he would face familiar foes such as Midnight Bourbon and Proxy, plus some high-class shippers, including California raider Hot Rod Charlie.
After this colt worked six furlongs in 1:11.20 in company with unraced American Pharoah half-brother Triple Tap (by Tapit) Feb. 27, six-time Derby winner Bob Baffert confirmed him for a race against Life Is Good in the San Felipe. The Robert B. Lewis Stakes winner will be ridden by John Velazquez, who teamed with Baffert over the second half of 2020 with Horse of the Year Authentic.
6. Caddo River
The $1 million Rebel Stakes March 13 at Oaklawn Park is his next target, where he could face graded stakes winners Concert Tour and comebacking Get Her Number. That should give this one a class barometer, not that the runaway Smarty Jones Stakes winner has a lot to prove. Last year at 2 he was twice in front of Greatest Honour when they both lost seven-furlong maiden races in New York.
7. Concert Tour
Although he didn't work as far or as fast as Medina Spirit Feb. 27 at Santa Anita, he left a positive impression. Breezing by himself, he clipped along with five furlongs in 1:00.20, accomplished as easily as most stakes horses breeze in 1:02. The two-turn question has yet to be answered by the Feb. 6 San Vicente Stakes winner, but that will come soon enough in the 1 1/16-mile Rebel.
While the other colts in this space come off stakes efforts, he is a rare last-out maiden winner, a 14-length victor of a Jan. 23 race at Santa Anita Park. That said, two starts ago he came within a nose of beating Spielberg in the Los Alamitos Futurity as a maiden matched against winners. Spielberg ran second to Essential Quality in the Southwest.
After a spotty race when second in the Risen Star – when he raced up close, dropped back, and then rallied – blinkers could be added next in the Louisiana Derby. He had a bullet breeze in :47 at Fair Grounds Feb. 26 for trainer Mike Stidham. Though yet to win a graded stakes, he is twice stakes-placed, previously having been the runner-up to Midnight Bourbon in the Jan. 16 Lecomte Stakes.
Frozen track conditions that closed the Oaklawn track for 11 days kept him out of the Southwest to await the Rebel. The Rebel won't lure types such as Grade 1 winners Essential Quality and Jackie's Warrior, as the Southwest did, but the presence of Concert Tour, Caddo River, and Get Her Number should give the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes winner a challenging return test.
11. Hot Rod Charlie
Although this half-brother to 2019 champion sprinter Mitole didn't race in February, he rises in the rankings, his form flattered by the Southwest victory of Essential Quality, to whom he was a close second in the Nov. 6 TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. Even his comeback third in the Robert B. Lewis looks better after Spielberg was second in the Southwest.
One race after he appeared to have been exposed as a cut below the 3-year-old leaders in an 11 ¼-length loss when fourth in the Robert Lewis, Bob Baffert has him back in the mix. Although he was outrun by 4 ¼ lengths when placing behind Essential Quality in the Southwest, to challenge after spotting the field a few lengths with a poor break has the Los Alamitos Futurity winner cracking the Dozen.