The road to Kentucky Derby 2021 is getting serious now. A trio of 170 points races were run last Saturday and Todd Pletcher’s resurgent colt Known Agenda is in the Derby starting gate after a stalk and pounce victory in the Florida Derby (G1). Three more 170 points races are on tap for April 3 including the Santa Anita Derby (G1).
Kentucky Derby 2021 Points Race Recaps
UAE Derby (G2) – Meydan (3-27-21)
I don’t know if this event will end up producing a Derby starter, but winner Rebel’s Romance was much the best. The inside seemed to be best at Meydan on Dubai World Cup Day and the 2-3 finishers in the UAE Derby were prominent throughout. As for Rebel’s Romance, he raced wide at the back of the pack. He made nice progress throughout, caught up to the early leaders in the stretch, and powered on by to win by 5+ lengths. Godolphin’s gelded son of Dubawi, out of the Street Cry mare Minidress, picked up 100 Derby qualifying points and is guaranteed a spot in the gate on the first Saturday in May if that is what his connections desire. Panadol was 2nd and Saudi Derby show finisher New Treasure occupied that same spot in this event.
Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) – Turfway Park (3-27-21)
Jeff Ruby hero Like the King is likable but he probably should have been 2nd. This race had a strange beginning when post time favorite Tarantino broke in a tangle and was completely eliminated. Moonlite Strike established a clear early lead and he had a host of pursuers including Sainthood, Gretsky the Great, and Hockey Dad from the outside post. The latter made a wide middle move and Sainthood stalked inside. Eventual winner Like the King got the trip that Greatest Honour needed in the Florida Derby. He saved ground early, moved to the two path, and angled out wider around the turn. Sainthood was moving at the same time but Like the King was a big quicker and stole his spot, and the former was forced to steady at a critical point. Like the King was able to forge clear from an outside lane in the stretch and Sainthood regathered momentum and surged late. In the end, it was Like a King by a length and Sainthood finished willingly and edged Hockey Dad for the place. Hard Rye Guy made a menacing wide move around the far turn but flattened out and was clear of the rest in 4th. Gretsky the Great, Moonlite Strike, Dyn O Mite, Awesome Gerry, King’s Ovation, and Smiley Sobotka were next. Tarantino never got out of a gallop and walked off.
Florida Derby (G1) – Gulfstream Park (3-27-21)
Tactical speed and trips made all the difference in this event. Nova Rags set the pace from the inside post and Soup and Sandwich chased from 2nd. Known Agenda sat a perfect stalking trip and strong favorite Greatest Honour was buried inside at the back of the pack. Soup and Sandwich gained a narrow advantage after four panels and remained in front until upper stretch. At this point Known Agenda angled out and confronted Soup and Sandwich, and the former gradually edged clear and scored by a bit less than three lengths. Soup and Sandwich clearly held 2nd over Greatest Honour. The latter got the wrong setup and wrong trip. Jose Ortiz wanted him to get outside around the first turn, but there was just no reasonable path so the only thing he could do was to tuck in at the back of the back. He does his best running outside and never seemed comfortable. He chugged along for 3rd in a better than appears effort. Nova Rags weakened to 4th and it was 7+ back to Collaborate. Southern Passage passed tired runners and was followed by Papetu, Spielberg, Quantum Leap, Jirafales, and Sigiloso.
Top 20 Kentucky Derby Points Leaders (thru Florida Derby 3-27-21)
110 Points: Hot Rod Charlie
104 Points: Like the King
102 Points: Known Agenda
100 Points: Rebel’s Romance (IRE)
80 Points: Greatest Honour
66 Points: Midnight Bourbon
52 Points: Mandaloun
50 Points: Concert Tour, Helium, Weyburn
40 Points: Essential Quality, Panadol, Sainthood, Soup and Sandwich
34 Points: Medina Spirit, Proxy
25 Points: O Besos
22 Points: Hidden Stash
20 Points: Crowded Trade, Hockey Dad, Hozier
Upcoming Derby 2021 Points Races
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 (4-2-21)
(1) ESSENTIAL QUALITY (Tapit – Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality)
Trainer – Brad Cox
Latest Workout: 5f in 1:00.40 (3/18) at Fair Grounds on March 27.
Comments: He has been my top ranked Derby contender since day one and nothing seems to bother this animal. His first start as a 3-year-old was delayed twice, and when he was finally able to run in the Southwest Stakes (G3), he just went out there and did his job like the professional he is, and that was his fourth victory in as many starts. The 2-Year-Old Champion can beat you so many different ways. 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 last time. He stalked outside and pulled well clear in the lane in that race. He completes his Derby preparations in the April 3 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and he is the strong morning line choice in that affair. He won a pair of G1 routes at Keeneland last year and if he wins the Blue Grass he will head into the Kentucky Derby with a perfect 5-for-5 record.
(2) CONCERT TOUR (Street Sense – Purse Strings, by Tapit)
Latest Workout: 6f bullet in 1:12.80 (1/4) at Santa Anita Park on April 3.
Trainer – Bob Baffert
Comments: He was excellent in the Rebel Stakes (G2) on March 13. He showed a quick burst of speed out of the gate and took over immediately, and he seemed to catch race favorite Caddo River completely by surprise. He is now a perfect 3-for-3 for Baffert and horses with high cruising speed have been dominating the Kentucky Derby recently. He has worked twice since his Rebel victory and will return to Oaklawn Park for the Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 10.
(3) HOT ROD CHARLIE (Oxbow – Indian Miss, by Indian Charlie)
Trainer – Doug O’Neill (Leandro Mora)
Latest Workout: 4f in 49.40 (42/67) at Santa Anita Park on April 3.
Comments: He really turned things around with the addition of blinkers in dirt routes. 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 shipped to Fair Grounds for the LA Derby (G2) and was a sharp prominent throughout winner. Doug O’Neill knows how to prepare a horse for the Kentucky Derby and this one seems to be getting good at the right time. He is back in California and had his first work since the LA Derby on April 3.
(4) RISK TAKING (Medaglia d’Oro – Run a Risk, by Distorted Humor)
Trainer: Chad Brown
Latest Workout: 4f breeze in 49.95 (50/173) at Belmont Park (dirt training) on March 27.
Comments: This colt has stamina and is proven at 9f. 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 now 2-for-2 at 9f and is steadily improving for Chad Brown, and he can stalk and finish. Brown is training him up to the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 3. He is the morning line favorite for the Wood and he should get pace help.
(5) GREATEST HONOUR (Tapit – Tiffany’s Honour, by Street Cry)
Trainer: Shug McGaughey
Comments: Ran his 2021 record to 3-for-3 with a solid late running victory in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2). He appeared to be just getting warmed up at a mile and a sixteenth and I was expecting his best races to be ahead of him at longer distances, but the Florida Derby (G1) at 9f went wrong from the outset. It appeared as though his rider Jose Ortiz wanted him outside and within hailing distance heading into the first turn, but he just could not quicken enough early and had to alter plans and move inside while settling at the back of the pack. Greatest Honour is known for not liking to run inside while getting kickback, but that is exactly the trip he was forced to endure. Florida Derby winner Known Agenda worked out the right inside/out trip and Greatest Honour followed him but did not get off the rail until it was too late. He ended up an okay 3rd and now he has five weeks to the first Saturday in May. The Florida Derby was not his best race but it was not a terrible effort either. He has a Derby winning trainer, a nice closing kick, and a strong long distance pedigree. He is capable of winning the Kentucky Derby if he gets pace help and is able to work out a decent trip in a bulky field. It looks like they will add blinkers in upcoming works and he will wear them in the Derby if everything goes well.
(6) MEDINA SPIRIT (Protonico – Mongolian Changa, by Brilliant Speed)
Trainer – Bob Baffert
Latest Workout: 4f bullet in 48.00 (13/64) at Santa Anita Park on March 28.
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. He is the favorite in the SA Derby and he should make his presence felt throughout.
(7) KNOWN AGENDA (Curlin – Byrama-GB, by Byron-GB)
Trainer – Todd Pletcher
Comments: An old friend is back in the hunt. He was one of my original “exceptional 11” Derby contenders when I started my list in 2020, but I dropped him off after a disappointing effort in the Sam F. Davis (G3). He added blinkers and romped in a 9f optional claimer at the Gulf Feb. 26, and followed that up with a sharp stalk and pounce score in the Florida Derby (G1). The main reason I liked him to begin with was his stamina. He defeated Greatest Honour by a head in a 9f maiden event at the Big A last fall. Actually, he has now completed at the 9f distance four times with three wins, and blinkers have helped him focus while getting into the race earlier. If he does not win the Derby, look for him to skip the Preakness and point to the Belmont Stakes. The latter Triple Crown race has him name written all over it.
(8) HIGHLY MOTIVATED (Into Mischief – Strong Incentive, by Warrior’s Reward)
Trainer: Chad Brown
Latest Workout: 4f in 48.95 (15/173) at Belmont Park (dirt training) on March 27.
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 had a bit of an uncomfortable trip from off the pace. 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 ultimately wants to go but he deserves a chance to route in an upcoming 9f points race, and that start will occur in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland on April 3. There is not much pace in the Blue Grass paper race and he should make his presence felt throughout.
(9) PREVALENCE (Medaglia d’Oro – Enrichment, by Ghostzapper)
Trainer: Brendan Walsh
Latest Workout: 4f bullet in 47.60 (1/30) at Palm Meadows Training Center on March 28.
Comments: Sharp winner in both starts around one turn (7f, 8f) at Gulfstream Park. He graduated Jan. 23 and briefly got sick in February while missing some training and an allowance start. He recovered rather quickly and won comfortably March 11. He will get one chance to quality for the Kentucky Derby in the Wood Memorial, and an exacta finish would get him into the starting gate on the first Saturday in May.
(10) MIDNIGHT BOURBON (Tiznow – Catch The Moon, by Malibu Moon)
Trainer: Steve Asmussen
Comments: You have to admire his consistency and his speed ratings improved in a trio 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 (G3) on Jan. 16. In his next start in the Risen Star (G2), he tracked the pace and grabbed a short lead, but Mandaloun wore him down and Proxy got past him for the place. He was in the hunt throughout and finished 2nd in the LA Derby (G2). I like his pedigree and early-pressing versatility but he does seem a bit one-paced.
(11) MANDALOUN (Into Mischief – Brooch, by Empire Maker)
Trainer: Brad Cox
Latest Workout: 4f in 49.80 (32/61) at Churchill Downs on April 3.
Comments: This one ran his record to 3-for-4 in the Risen Star (G2), and threw in a clunker at the worst possible moment in the LA Derby (G2). He tracked the pace outside and faded in the later race, and that is not the way you want to wrap up Derby trail preparations. There will be many sharp horses heading into the first Saturday in May and he is not one of them. It is a shame because I have always liked this one and he seemed to have all the tools to make a run at the Derby prior to his last. He is at Churchill Downs and had his first workout under the Twin Spires April 3.
THE NEXT NINE: (12) Weyburn, (13) Crowded Trade, (14) Helium, (15) Dream Shake, (16) Like a King, (17) Sainthood, (18) Soup and Sandwich, (19) Keepmeinmind, (20) Proxy
Article by Jarrod Horak