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, three horses 170-point prep races were run – the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill 'n' Dale Farm at Xalapa at Gulfstream Park; the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park; and the United Arab Emirates Derby Sponsored by Emirates NBD at Meydan Racecourse. This Saturday, three more prestigious 170-point races will be held: the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland; the Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct; and the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park.
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.
The current Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve favorite runs in the April 3 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, where this colt twice won Grade 1s last fall. According to Churchill Downs publicity records, the Blue Grass has produced 23 Derby winners, but none since Street Sense ran second in the Blue Grass in 2007. Like Street Sense, Essential Quality is Kentucky-based and was a champion at 2.
2. Concert Tour
Perfect in three starts, capped by a blowout victory in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in his first route, he rates as six-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert's top prospect. Judging from an effortless five-furlong workout in 1:00.80 at Santa Anita Park March 27, the trip to and from Oaklawn took little out of him. Look for him to reappear in the April 10 Arkansas Derby.
3. Known Agenda
He is the top mover in the Dozen, vaulting from last week's 11th following his win in the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill 'n' Dale Farm at Xalapa March 27 – his second straight victory since adding blinkers. The Florida Derby winner has won the run for the roses seven times since 1995, most recently in 2017 with Always Dreaming. (Maximum Security could have been another, but stewards disqualified him for interference in 2019.)
The closer dips a position following a third in the Florida Derby. Slow to secure position, he made progress on the backstretch and then lacked his usual strong rally. Some speculated that was due to being inside, though the alternative – a wide trip around a turn – means ground loss. He holds fourth in the Dozen due to the strength of his Holy Bull Stakes and Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes victories.
With plenty of spacing between starts, he should be a fresh horse for the Triple Crown. Two-time Derby-winning trainer Doug O'Neill gave him seven weeks off between a third-place finish in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, and now this colt will have six weeks between winning the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby and the Kentucky Derby. His versatility is another plus, having shown he can run well from just about any running position.
With Life Is Good sidelined, he is Bob Baffert's lead player in the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby – a race the Hall of Fame trainer has won nine times. Though no match for Life Is Good when second in the San Felipe Stakes, losing by eight lengths, he still outran some fine 3-year-olds. Earlier this winter, he beat Hot Rod Charlie in the Lewis and was also a close second to Life Is Good in the Sham Stakes.
Though he weakened late in the Louisiana Derby to be second, two lengths behind Hot Rod Charlie and just outlasting a rallying O Besos, his performance still encouraged. He didn't get the early lead, seemingly his preferred running style, and he still stuck around. He’s consistent, having hit the board in all three of the Derby preps at Fair Grounds, winning the Lecomte Stakes.
Though an allowance optional claiming victory March 11 at Gulfstream Park may have been a bit workmanlike, his final workout before the April 3 Wood Memorial Presented by Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct was not. Breezing March 28 at Palm Meadows Training Center, this 2-for-2 colt caught workmate Samaronti and left him at least four lengths behind after a half-mile in :47.60.
9. Risk Taking
A class test is on deck in the Wood after this stayer won the Feb. 6 Withers Stakes by 3 ¾ lengths at the Wood distance of 1 1/8 miles. Since the Withers was extended in trip and repositioned on the calendar in 2012, the best Derby finish from a Withers participant was Revolutionary 's third in 2013. Max Player ran fifth in last year's COVID-19 postponed Derby.
10. Brooklyn Strong
He returns from a four-month layoff in the Wood, his first race since winning the Remsen Stakes Dec. 5. That was not how his connections initially envisioned his Derby preparations, but this winter this gelding got sick and then his training was delayed by frozen tracks. The Danny Velazquez trainee has responded with a couple of bullet drills at Parx Racing, breezing six furlongs in 1:13.42 there March 27.
11. Dream Shake
He came up empty late in the San Felipe, tiring to third, beaten 10 ¼ lengths, though that was just his first two-turn race. He is eligible to move forward in the Santa Anita Derby. Knowing he trains an inexperienced, lightly-raced 3-year-old, trainer Peter Eurton worked him between two other horses in a March 27 breeze at Santa Anita, and the colt covered five furlongs in :59.80 with an energetic gallop out.
12. O Besos
He rallied in the Louisiana Derby to grab third, an improved effort in his second route after previously fourth in the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford. With trainer Greg Foley based each spring at Churchill Downs, this colt became the first Derby prospect to arrive in Louisville on March 28. Since he has only 25 qualifying Derby points, he is not certain to make the field if the Derby oversubscribes.