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The road to Kentucky Derby 2021 had a stop at Fair Grounds on Jan. 16, and Midnight Bourbon went all the way in the LeComte (G3) that day. His win was solid but Caddo River outdid him in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Jan. 22. The latter set the pace and widened throughout in a 10+ length triumph. Speed rules for sure and we will see if the front running trend continues in the Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream Park and the Robert Lewis Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita Park on Saturday, Jan. 30.

Kentucky Derby 2021 Points Race Recaps

LeComte Stakes (G3) – Fair Grounds (1-16-21)

Three speed horses scratched (Beep Beep, Dyn O Mite, Manor House), and Midnight Bourbon’s rider Joe Talamo wisely went on with it from the inside post. The splits were moderate and Midnight Bourbon was in complete control. Proxy and strong favorite Mandaloun chased and those three runners dominated. They tried to pressure the early leader in the middle but he kicked clear again. The race was on again in the stretch with Midnight Bourbon in front and Proxy and Mandaloun in hot pursuit. Midnight Bourbon held on by a length and Proxy was a head in front of Mandaloun. It was more than mine lengths back to 4th place finisher Santa Cruiser. Midnight Bourbon showed class and ability as a juvenile and this was his best career effort. He did have everything his own way on the front end and never had to leave the rail. This was Proxy’s fourth route start so he clearly has a strong foundation. The horse with the most upside is Mandaloun. This was his first route and first stakes try, and he covered more ground than the top two finishers.

Smarty Jones Stakes – Oaklawn Park (1-22-21)

Caddo River was the strong favorite breaking from the outside post, and his rider Florent Geroux never left the others get in the race. Caddo River was on cruise control throughout and widened his lead to more than ten lengths when all was said and done. He passed this two turn points race test with flying colors. We will learn more about him when he faces more pace pressure and tougher company in his coming races. Cowan is a solid horse for Steve Asmussen. He was clearly second best in the Remington Springboard Mile and ran the same type of quality race in this spot. He was a decent turf sprinter as a juvenile and they have so many options going forward. Cowan’s stablemate Big Thorn edged Moonlite Strike for the show and the other three entrants were well beaten.


Kentucky Derby Points Leaders (thru Smarty Jones Stakes 1-22-21)

30 Points: Essential Quality

18 Points: Keepmeinmind

16 Points: Midnight Bourbon

12 Points: Jackie’s Warrior, Spielberg

10 Points: Brooklyn Strong, Caddo River, Capo Kane, Get Her Number, Life Is Good, Sittin On Go

8 Points: Cowan, Hot Rod Charlie

4 Points: Eagle Orb, Medina Spirit, Reinvestment Risk, Rombauer, Proxy, Smiley Sobotka, Super Stock, Ten for Ten, The Great One

2 Points: Arabian Prince, Big Thorn, Hold the Salsa, Known Agenda, Mandaloun, Parnelli, Pretuchio, Swill, Waspirant

1 Point: Civil War, Moonlite Strike, Pickin’ Time, Red Flag, Santa Cruiser, Therideofalifetime, Upstriker


Upcoming Derby 2021 Points Races

Robert B. Lewis (10-4-2-1) – Jan. 30
Holy Bull (10-4-2-1) – Jan. 30
Withers (10-4-2-1) – Feb. 6
Sam F. Davis (10-4-2-1) – Feb. 6
John Battaglia Memorial (10-4-2-1) – Feb. 6
El Camino Real Derby (10-4-2-1) – Feb. 13
Risen Star (50-20-10-5) – Feb. 13
Southwest (10-4-2-1) – Feb. 15
Fountain of Youth (50-20-10-5) – Feb. 27
Gotham (50-20-10-5) – March 6
Tampa Bay Derby (50-20-10-5) – March 6
San Felipe (50-20-10-5) – March 6
Rebel (50-20-10-5) – March 13
Jeff Ruby Steaks (20-8-4-2) – March 20
LA Derby (100-40-20-10) – March 20
Florida Derby (100-40-20-10) – March 27
UAE Derby (100-40-20-10) – March 27
Sunland Derby (50-20-10-5) – March 28
Blue Grass (100-40-20-10) – April 3
SA Derby (100-40-20-10) – April 3
Wood Memorial (100-40-20-10) –
Arkansas Derby (100-40-20-10) – April 10
Lexington (20-8-4-2) – April 10


Jarrod Horak’s “Exceptional Eleven” Kentucky Derby 2021 Contenders (1-28-21)

(1) ESSENTIAL QUALITY (Tapit – Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality)

Trainer – Brad Cox

Latest Workout: 5f in 1:01.60 (5/39) at Fair Grounds on Jan. 24.

Comments: Went a perfect 3-for-3 as a juvenile and his last two victories were G1 triumphs at 8.5f. He is wintering at Fair Grounds and got back to work on 12-20-20. He is classy and versatile and they have begun to map out his sophomore campaign. His first start of 2021 will come in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 15.


(2) CADDO RIVER (Hard Spun – Pangburn, by Congrats)

Trainer – Brad Cox

Comments: Landed the place in his first two starts at seven panels and put it all together at one mile Nov. 15. That sharp maiden victory was at Churchill Downs and he dominated throughout that day. He controlled the race from start to finish and ran away and hid in the Smarty Jones Stakes at OP on Jan. 22, and he earned a solid speed rating that day. He is fast and talented and we will find out home much stamina he has in the coming weeks and months.


(3) LIFE IS GOOD (Into Mischief – Beach Walk, by Distorted Humor)

Trainer – Bob Baffert

Latest Workout: 4f in 49.60 (47/103) at Santa Anita Park on Jan. 27.

Comments: From a speed figure perspective he is one of the fastest Derby hopefuls, but the caution signs were flashing after his Sham Stakes (G3) victory. As I said in my recap of that race, he was goofy, green, and lugging out in the stretch. His final quarter took almost 26 seconds and the clear runner-up was definitely getting to him. He really looks like a miler at this stage, but 2020 Sham hero Authentic appeared to have distance limitations as well after the SA Derby (G1) and Haskell (G1), and Baffert worked his magic and got him to win a pair of G1 races at a mile and a quarter in September and November last year (Kentucky Derby, BC Classic). I want to watch his upcoming workouts closely to see if he is able to ration his speed better. The March 6 San Felipe Stakes is the logical next step.


(4) MANDALOUN (Into Mischief – Brooch, by Empire Maker)

Trainer: Brad Cox

Comments: Another well-bred colt trained by Brad Cox, and this one is 2-for-3. The Juddmonte Farms runner overcame a troubled trip to capture his Keeneland debut at 6.5f, and stalked outside and got better as the race wore on in an extended sprint at Churchill Downs second time out Nov. 28. He stalked tepid fractions from the outside post in the LeComte and ended up just missing the place in a solid effort. He figures to add blinkers in his next start, which is likely to come in the Risen Star Stakes at FG on Feb. 13.


(5) NEVER SURPRISED (Constitution – Tiz Dixie, by Tiznow)

Trainer – Todd Pletcher

Latest Workout: 5f in 1:01.25 (1/2) at Palm Beach Downs on Jan. 22.

Comments: Won both of his turf starts in 2020 including the Central Park Stakes at Aqueduct Nov. 28. He is spending the winter in Florida and had his first work at Palm Beach Downs on Dec. 17 (half-mile bullet). I like his early-pressing speed and he earned solid speed ratings in both starts. He also owns an encouraging dirt route pedigree. At this time it looks like he will remain on turf, and the Kitten’s Joy Stakes at GP on Jan. 30 is the next race on his dance card.


(6) KEEPMEINMIND (Laoban – Inclination, by Victory Gallop)

Trainer (Robertino Diodoro)

Latest Workout: 5f in 1:02.00 (11/22) at Oaklawn Park on Jan. 26.

Comments: Landed the place in his special weight debut in a one mile race at Churchill Nov. 2, and that was the only time he raced in the maiden ranks. In his second career start, he stretched out to two turns and rallied for the place in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1), and he was along for the show in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He broke through with his first career victory in a last-to-first triumph in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs Nov. 28. He racked up 18 Derby points last year. He lacks early speed but the solid late runner has plenty of stamina. He fired a bullet at Oaklawn Park on Jan. 19 and is slated to begin his sophomore campaign in the Southwest Stakes (G3) at OP on Feb. 15.


(7) KNOWN AGENDA (Curlin – Byrama-GB, by Byron-GB)

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Latest Workout: 5f bullet in 59.85 (1/13) at Palm Beach Downs on Jan. 23.

Comments: Was clearly second best behind Highly Motivated in his sprint debut Sept. 27, and stretched out to 9f, stalked the pace, and beat well-bred Shug McGaughey runner Greatest Honour by a head Nov. 8. He stalked wide and earned a strong late pace rating in his maiden win, and caught a wet track and was best of the rest in 3rd place in the Remsen (G2). I am not sure how good he really is but he has stamina and I want to give him a chance to rebound on a fast track next time. He relocated from Belmont Park to Palm Beach Downs and had his first work in Florida on Dec. 27.


(8) GREATEST HONOUR (Tapit – Tiffany’s Honour, by Street Cry)

Trainer: Shug McGaughey

Latest Workout: 4f breeze in 50.80 (16/27) at Payson Park on Jan. 24.

Comments: I profiled this one as a hot prospect in my Jerome/Sham video. He finished in the trifecta in all four starts and overcame some trouble from off the pace in his winning dirt route maiden victory at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 26. He has a classy pedigree and appears to want more ground. He makes his stakes debut in the Holy Bull (G3) at GP on Jan. 30.


(9) THE GREAT ONE (Nyquist – Little Ms Protocol, by El Corredor)

Trainer – Doug O’Neill

Comments: This one was a bit slow to develop as a juvenile. He was unplaced in his first three starts, and seemingly out of the blue he almost upset Spielberg in the Los Al Futurity (G2) Dec. 19. He throughout dusted three opponents in his flat mile maiden win at Santa Anita Jan. 23. He won that race by 14-lengths and has shown tremendous progress in his last two starts. These Derby trail runners can get good in a hurry and this one is definitely headed to a points race in the not too distant future.


(10) HIGHLY MOTIVATED (Into Mischief – Strong Incentive, by Warrior’s Reward)

Trainer: Chad Brown

Latest Workout: 4f in 51.00 (25/26) at Payson Park on Jan. 23.

Comments: Earned a strong number in the Nyquist Stakes Nov. 6 and that was the best speed rating of any juvenile during the 2-day Breeders’ Cup World Championships. We know he is a talented sprinter and I am sure they will give him a chance to route this year. He returned to the worktab in Florida Jan. 16.


(11) MIDNIGHT BOURBON (Tiznow – Catch The Moon, by Malibu Moon)

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Latest Workout: 4f in 51.00 (50/63) at Fair Grounds on Jan. 25.

Comments: Graduated at 8f at Ellis Park second time out and picked up some Derby points in a runner-up finish in the Iroquois (G3) and a distant 3rd in the Champagne (G1). He returned in the LeComte (G3) at FG Jan. 16 and he controlled the pace from the rail and held on by a length. He earned an improved speed rating last time and might continue to progress. His next start will likely come in the Risen Star (G2) at FG on Feb. 13.

Jarrod Horak

Jarrod Horak posts stakes recaps from Del Mar and Santa Anita Park, along with full card recaps and free stakes picks from Southern and/or Northern California.