Since Feb. 26, seven Kentucky Derby 2021 prep races have been run and five of those awarded 50 points to the winner. The last two winners were the most impressive. Life Is Good ran off the screen in the San Felipe Stakes (G2) on March 6, and his stablemate Concert Tour was visually impressive in a facile front running victory in the Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park on March 13. The first 100 points race is the Louisiana Derby (G2) on March 20, and Mandaloun, Midnight Bourbon, and Proxy will meet for the third time in that event.
Kentucky Derby 2021 Points Race Recaps
John Battaglia Memorial – Turfway Park (2-26-21)
Hush of a Storm has really taken to the all-weather surface at Turfway, and he was a clear winner and picked up 10 Derby points in this race. Gretsky the Great was the overbet even money favorite. He carved out the fractions but was pressured by Hush of a Storm’s stablemate Pico d’Oro. That softened him up enough to allow Hush of a Storm to roll on by and score by a length and a half. Like the King stalked from 4th and necked Gretsky the Great for the runner-up spot. Hard Rye Guy rallied from last to finish clear of the rest in 4th.
Southwest (G3) – Oaklawn Park (2-27-21)
Essential Quality is just so solid and versatile. He can beat you battling on the pace, stalking, or closing. In this event, he was content stalking from the inside post. Jackie’s Warrior was the controlling speed but a mile and a sixteenth around two turns is out of reach for him. He is very good up to a one turn mile and did not offer any stretch resistance. Essential Quality got a great ride in the slop. Luis Saez was able to smoothly ease this one out from the rail to stalk wide. He ranged up at the six furlong mark and took over the race after that. He cruised home by 4+ lengths in a wonderful start to his sophomore campaign. Spielberg was a fine 2nd. He overcame a slow start to rally nicely for the place, and he was 4+ clear of tiring front runner Jackie’s Warrior. Woodhouse took up pace pressing duties and weakened to 5th, and he was followed by Last Samurai, Santa Cruiser, and Saffa’s Day.
Fountain of Youth (G2) – Gulfstream Park (2-27-21)
Greatest Honour was not as sharp as he was in the Holy Bull (G3), but it did not matter against this group. Drain the Clock controlled the pace from the rail and it looked like he was going to steal it. Greatest Honour seemed to be languishing in 8th place and was going nowhere fast. Jose Ortiz urged him while moving out, and he finally started to gather momentum in the lane. Drain the Clock was clear throughout but was in deep water late and Greatest Honour swallowed him up and kicked clear by a length and a half. Drain the Clock ran a winning ran but was second best on this day. Papetu rallied wide from the outside post to land the show. Tarantino stalked the pace and ended up an even 4th. Jirafales, King’s Ovation, Prime Factor, Fire At Will, Tiz Tact Toe, and Sososubtle also ran.
Gotham (G3) – Aqueduct Racetrack (3-6-21)
West Coast shipper Freedom Fighter set the pace but did not really get a breather with Weyburn and Crowded Trade hounding him throughout. Freedom Fighter did not go on in the stretch but Weyburn and Crowded Trade did, and they battled all the way to the wire with the former prevailing by a nose. Weyburn paid $95.50 to win and Crowded Trade lost a heartbreaker and was a bit less than two lengths in front of clear show finisher and beaten favorite Highly Motivated. The latter may have been best. He did not have the best start and was bumped around a bit in the early going. Speed held well in this race and Highly Motivated was the only one making up any ground. Freedom Fighter weakened to 4th and was followed by The Reds, Capo Kane, Wipe the Slate, and Atlantic Road.
Tampa Bay Derby (G2) – Tampa Bay Downs (3-6-21)
My value top choice Helium was definitely best in this below par event. Sprinter Boca Boy was prominent early but did not factor into the final results. Moonlight Strike was the only forwardly placed runner around the end, but he could not hold off Helium and Hidden Stash. The former was wide every step of the way from post 10 and a decisive early move by Jose Ferrer made the difference. Hidden Stash rallied to be a menacing presence in the lane under Rafael Bejarano, but he could not get by Helium and came up a bit less than a length short. The top two were 3+ clear of Moonlight Strike, and he was clear of late mover Unbridled Honor. King of Dreams, Awesome Gerry, Sittin On Go, My Liberty, Super Strong, Candy Man Rocket, and Promise Keeper also ran. Candy Man Rocket was the beaten favorite. He stalked from midpack, moved into 3rd midrace, and came up empty in the drive.
San Felipe (G2) – Santa Anita Park (3-6-21)
Life Is Good dominated throughout from the inside post. Mike Smith was aboard the winner and he was well clear from start to finish. He drifted out through the lane but it did not matter today. He crossed the line at least eight lengths in front of his stablemate Medina Spirit. Dream Shake stalked inside and was best of the rest in 3rd. Roman Centurian was up for 4th and The Great One stalked outside and weakened to 5th. None Above The Law was next and Govenor’s Party could not keep up and eased across the line. Life Is Good was impressive again and he remains a very promising Derby prospect. His raw speed is impressive and he is still learning to harness his available energy.
Rebel Stakes (G2) – Oaklawn Park (3-13-21)
Caddo River and Concert Tour were the two favorites and both had the speed and credentials to win. The start of this race figured to be critical and was it ever. Caddo River drew the rail and was expected to be sent to the lead from that post, but he did not break super sharp and that was the difference maker. Concert Tour broke like a shot and was able to sprint clear and take the rail and the early lead away from Caddo River. Florent Geroux rode the latter and he steered his charge outside and was in chase mode, but his mount was rank and uncomfortable. Concert Tour was ridden aggressively by Joel Rosario and he responded with a strong front running victory. He took the race to his main pace rival from the outside and ran Caddo River into the ground while never giving the others a chance. Bob Baffert saddled the winner and runner-up Hozier. The latter was patiently handled and got a great inside run under Martin Garcia. Big Lake stalked the pace and was best of the rest in 3rd. Super Stock got past Caddo River late to complete the superfecta. Keepmeinmind raced wide throughout and never got involved. Get Her Number and Twilight Blue trailed.
Top 30 Kentucky Derby Points Leaders (thru Rebel Stakes 3-13-21)
60 Points: Greatest Honour, Life Is Good
52 Points: Mandaloun
50 Points: Concert Tour, Helium, Weyburn
40 Points: Essential Quality
34 Points: Medina Spirit
26 Points: Midnight Bourbon
24 Points: Proxy
22 Points: Hidden Stash
20 Points: Crowded Trade, Hozier
18 Points: Keepmeinmind
17 Points: Spielberg
14 Points: Rombauer
12 Points: Capo Kane
11 Points: Moonlight Strike, Papetu
10 Points: Big Lake, Brooklyn Strong, Caddo River, Candy Man Rocket, Dream Shake
Get Her Number, Highly Motivated, Hot Rod Charlie, Hush of a Storm, Risk Taking, Sittin On Go
Upcoming Derby 2021 Points Races
LA Derby (100-40-20-10) – March 20
Florida Derby (100-40-20-10) – March 27
Jeff Ruby Steaks (100-40-20-10) – March 27
UAE Derby (100-40-20-10) – March 27
Blue Grass (100-40-20-10) – April 3
SA Derby (100-40-20-10) – April 3
Wood Memorial (100-40-20-10) – April 3
Arkansas Derby (100-40-20-10) – April 10
Lexington (20-8-4-2) – April 10
Jarrod Horak’s “Exceptional Eleven” Kentucky Derby 2021 Contenders (3-14-21)
(1) ESSENTIAL QUALITY (Tapit – Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality)
Trainer – Brad Cox
Latest Workout: 4f in 48.20 (5/85) at Fair Grounds on March 13.
Comments: Nothing seems to bother this horse. His first start as a 3-year-old was delayed twice, and when he was finally able to run, he just went out there and did his job like the professional he is, and won again for the fourth time in as many starts. The 2-Year-Old Champ can beat you from anywhere on the racetrack. If the pace is slow, he will make his presence felt throughout. If the fractions are hot, he will sit back and make you pay late, and he is just as comfortable stalking the pace. As as added bonus, he handled the wet track just fine in the Southwest. He stalked outside and pulled well clear in the lane. Life Is Good is flashier and has better speed ratings up to this point, but this one is more versatile and battle tested. As for his next start, the April 3 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland makes the most sense. He won a pair of G1 routes at that venue last year.
(2) LIFE IS GOOD (Into Mischief – Beach Walk, by Distorted Humor)
Trainer – Bob Baffert
Comments: He is unbeaten and basically untested after three victories from as many starts. In each of his victories, he won using his brilliant raw speed, and his San Felipe score looked like a paid workout. He easily spurted clear early from the inside post and was out there all by himself from start to finish. The only question remaining is his ability to face pace pressure, but there might not be another sophomore out there with the ability to match strides with him early. Changing his bit and altering his morning routine has helped him relax more in his workouts. We did not really learn much more about him in the San Felipe, and I doubt many are willing to take him on in the SA Derby. It should come as no surprise that Baffert has another strong Derby contender in his barn.
(3) MANDALOUN (Into Mischief – Brooch, by Empire Maker)
Trainer: Brad Cox
Latest Workout: 5f in 1:00.60 (4/43) at Fair Grounds on March 13.
Comments: This one ran his record to 3-for-4 in the Risen Star. His only blemish was a close 3rd in the LeComte, and he added blinkers and bounced right back four weeks later. As I said in my last Derby report, you could see a big difference in his works leading up to the Risen Star. He is tactical and continues to steadily improve. His second work after the Risen Star was a five furlong bullet on March 6 and he will have his final Derby prep in the LA Derby on March 20.
(4) GREATEST HONOUR (Tapit – Tiffany’s Honour, by Street Cry)
Trainer: Shug McGaughey
Latest Workout: 4f in 50.20 (3/21) at Payson Park on March 13.
Comments: I have liked this one for a long time. He has made excellent progress from age 2 to 3 and he ran his 2021 record to 3-for-3 with another strong late running victory in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2). He is just getting warmed up at a mile and a sixteenth and I cannot wait to see what he can go as distances increase. He has a very classy pedigree and Shug McGaughey knows him to get a horse ready for the Kentucky Derby. He had his first Florida Derby work on March 13 and will breeze again next weekend.
(5) CONCERT TOUR (Street Sense – Purse Strings, by Tapit)
Trainer – Bob Baffert
Comments: Emphatically leaps into my Top 5 after a scintillating performance in the Rebel Stakes (G2). He showed a quick burst of speed out of the gate and took over immediately, and he completely humiliated race favorite Caddo River. He is now a perfect 3-for-3 and gives Baffert a powerful 1-2 punch along with Life Is Good. Horses with high cruising speed have been dominating the Derby recently and this one sure is fast and talented.
(6) RISK TAKING (Medaglia d’Oro – Run a Risk, by Distorted Humor)
Trainer: Chad Brown
Latest Workout: 5f in 1:02.10 (4/16) at Belmont Park (dirt training) on March 13.
Comments: This colt has gotten good in a hurry. He was no threat in his first two career starts last fall, and he returned to dirt, added blinkers, stretched out to a mile and an eighth, and smartly graduated from a stalking position at Aqueduct on 12-13-20. He jumped into the stakes ranks in the Withers (G3) at 9f Feb. 6, and he rallied from off the pace to easily take that one. He is 2-for-2 at 9f and is steadily improving for Chad Brown, and he can stalk and finish. He is suddenly a very interesting player on the Derby trail. Brown is training him up to the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 3.
(7) MEDINA SPIRIT (Protonico – Mongolian Changa, by Brilliant Speed)
Trainer – Bob Baffert
Comments: He is not your typical expensive yearling purchase with a flashy pedigree for Baffert. This overachiever has a big heart like Silver Charm and he keeps battling all the way to the end. His stablemate Life Is Good was in complete command in the Sham (G3) but this one kept chipping away and made it close at the end. In the Robert Lewis Stakes (G3), he set the pace and put away the early challengers, and held off a stalker and a closer to hold on by a determined neck. He met Life Is Good again in the San Felipe but never got close to that one in a distant runner-up finish. I am not sure how far he wants to go but there is no doubt that this street fighter has a winning spirit.
(8) HIGHLY MOTIVATED (Into Mischief – Strong Incentive, by Warrior’s Reward)
Trainer: Chad Brown
Comments: Earned a strong number in the Nyquist Stakes on 11-6-20, and that was the best speed rating of any juvenile during the 2-day Breeders’ Cup World Championships. He made his much anticipated sophomore debut in the Gotham Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct on March 6, and in that one mile race around one turn, he did not have the best beginning and had some other early trouble as well. Speed was strong in that race and he rallied for the show in a better than appears effort. I am not sure how far he wants to go but he deserves a chance in an upcoming 9f points race.
(9) PROXY (Tapit – Panty Raid, by Include)
Trainer – Michael Stidham
Latest Workout: 4f in 49.60 (45/85) at Fair Grounds on March 13.
Comments: Fired exacta shots in all five starts and exits back-to-back runner-up finishes in the LeComte (G3) and Risen Star (G2). He has been so solid and I really like his versatility. He rallied from 7th to miss by a neck in his career bow, and he carved out the fractions and won his next two starts. He stalked and hung around throughout in both stakes tries. All of his races were over a route of ground and he will add blinkers for the LA Derby on March 20.
(10) MIDNIGHT BOURBON (Tiznow – Catch The Moon, by Malibu Moon)
Trainer: Steve Asmussen
Latest Workout: 5f bullet in 1:00.60 (1/18) at Fair Grounds on March 8.
Comments: You have to admire his consistency and his speed ratings improved in a pair of 2021 starts. Joe Talamo gave him a great ride and he was able control the pace from the rail in a one-length victory in the LeComte on Jan. 16. In his next start in the Risen Star, he tracked the pace and grabbed a short lead, but Mandaloun wore him down and Proxy got past him for the place. I like his pedigree and early-pressing versatility, but he will need to take another step forward in his next start in the LA Derby on March 20.
(11) HOT ROD CHARLIE (Oxbow – Indian Miss, by Indian Charlie)
Trainer – Doug O’Neill (Leandro Mora)
Latest Workout: 5f in 1:00.00 (14/121) at Santa Anita Park on March 14.
Comments: This one was a bit slow to develop as a juvenile and really turned things around with the addition of blinkers. He graduated at one mile on dirt in his fourth career start at SA October 2020, and followed that up with a good rallying 2nd from an outer post in the BC Juvenile (G1). He made his 2021 bow in the Robert Lewis Stakes (G3) at SA on Jan. 30, and he rallied to finish 3rd by a neck. He has worked five time since his last race and will ship to Fair Grounds for the LA Derby (G2) on March 20.
THE NEXT NINE: (12) Prevalence, (13) Collaborate, (14) Weyburn, (15) Crowded Trade, (16) Helium, (17) Dream Shake, (18) Known Agenda, (19) Spielberg, (20) Hush of a Storm
Article by Jarrod Horak