The road to Kentucky Derby 2021 wrapped up with the Arkansas Derby (G1) and it was not the result many were expecting. I tried to beat overwhelming favorite Concert Tour with Caddo River, but Super Stock rolled past them both in yet another upset in a nine furlong points race.
Now that all of the points races are complete, we are just waiting for the final field composition. There will be some shuffling as connections weigh their options. Chad Brown is expected to enter one of his two points qualifiers but not both (Crowded Trade or Highly Motivated). Caddo River is not a definite starter and neither is Concert Tour. Rombauer got an automatic berth to the Preakness with his El Camino Derby Real score, and he might wait for the second jewel. Hidden Stash is the 20th qualifier at this stage and Dream Shake needs one defection.
Kentucky Derby 2021 Points Race Recaps
Lexington Stakes (G3) – Keeneland (4-10-21)
This was an odd race every which way. The track was sloppy and the pace was electric. Stretch out sprinters Noble Reflection and Swiftsure flew early and set the table for the closers. King Fury was a decent juvenile and he rolled past them all for Hernandez Jr./McPeek. Unbridled Honor rallied to finish a clear 2nd and chased the strong fractions and was the only forwardly placed runner around at the end. Proxy was the strong favorite and the race set up perfectly for him, but all he could muster was a mild 4th, and he was 8+ clear of Noble Reflection. It’s My House and Swiftsure were next, and it was a very long way back to Hockey Dad and Besos. The latter pair seemed to detest the wet going.
Arkansas Derby (G1) – Oaklawn Park (4-10-21)
Caddo River was not going to let overwhelming favorite Concert Tour walk the dog like he did in the Rebel (G2). The former went straight to the front from post two and Concert Tour was forced to chase him this time. The pace roles were reversed and need to lead type Caddo River ran much better this time. He fought with Concert Tour all the way around the racetrack and ended up a head in front of his nemesis, but their battle was for the place. Super Stock sat in a nice spot behind the two favorites, and he moved out in the stretch and rolled on by to post a 12-1 upset for Santana Jr./Asmussen. Get Her Number raced wide and ended up a 1/2 length behind Concert Tour in 4th, and he was 10+ clear of Last Samurai. Concert Tour’s stablemate Hozier dropped back inside and was well behind the others.
Top 25 Kentucky Derby Points Leaders (thru 4-10-21)
140 Points: Essential Quality
110 Points: Hot Rod Charlie
109 Points: Super Stock
104 Points: Like the King
102 Points: Known Agenda
100 Points: Rock Your World, Bourbonic
74 Points: Medina Spirit
70 Points: Concert Tour
66 Points: Midnight Bourbon
52 Points: Mandaloun
50 Points: Highly Motivated, Helium, Caddo River
40 Points: Soup and Sandwich, Dynamic One, Crowded Trade, Sainthood
34 Points: Rombauer
32 Points: Hidden Stash
30 Points: Dream Shake
25 Points: O Besos
20 Points: Get Her Number, King Fury, Hozier, Hockey Dad
Triple Crown 2021 Races
Kentucky Derby – May 1
Preakness – May 15
Belmont Stakes – June 5
Jarrod Horak’s “Exceptional Eleven” Kentucky Derby 2021 Contenders (4-16-21)
(1) ESSENTIAL QUALITY (Tapit – Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality)
Trainer – Brad Cox
Comments: He has been my top ranked Derby contender since day one and he has yet to taste defeat after five starts. His first start as a 3-year-old was delayed twice, and when he was finally able to run in the Southwest Stakes (G3), the juvenile champion stalked outside and easily prevailed. He can win 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 that day. He completed his Derby preparations in the April 3 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, and he edged past stubborn pacesetter Highly Motivated in deep stretch to remain unbeaten.
(2) HOT ROD CHARLIE (Oxbow – Indian Miss, by Indian Charlie)
Trainer – Doug O’Neill (Leandro Mora)
Latest Workout: 5f in 1:01.20 (27/66) at Santa Anita Park on April 10.
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 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.
(3) KNOWN AGENDA (Curlin – Byrama-GB, by Byron-GB)
Trainer – Todd Pletcher
Latest Workout: 4f in 50.25 (8/11) at Palm Beach Downs on April 9.
Comments: 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 competed at the mile and an eighth 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 all over it given his long distance pedigree and relentless galloping stride.
(4) ROCK YOUR WORLD (Candy Ride – Charm the Maker, by Empire Maker)
Trainer: John Sadler
Comments: This one seemingly came out of left field to win the SA Derby. The unraced juvenile graduated in a turf sprint Jan. 1, and stretched out on turf and scored again in the Pasadena Stakes Feb. 27. With Life Is Good out of the SA Derby, Sadler took a shot on the surface switch and boy did that ever work out. He got to the front early and kept on going in a sharp wire-to-wire victory on April 3. He heads to Kentucky with raw talent and speed on his side, but he is definitely short on experience and seasoning.
(5) 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 Cavonnier and Silver Charm and he just shows up every time and 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. He was the favorite in his final Derby prep the SA Derby and he stalked outside and ended up a solid 2nd.
(6) MIDNIGHT BOURBON (Tiznow – Catch The Moon, by Malibu Moon)
Trainer: Steve Asmussen
Latest Workout: 5f bullet in 1:00.40 (1/15) at Churchill Downs on April 11.
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. He arrived at Churchill Downs early and has breezed twice under the Twin Spires this month.
(7) 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 top 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. He stretched out in the Blue Grass (G2) and almost stole the candy, but Essential Quality was just a bit better in the late going and gamely prevailed after a spirited stretch duel. He is talented but I am not sure about his ability to navigate a mile and a quarter if the pace is honest.
(8) CONCERT TOUR (Street Sense – Purse Strings, by Tapit)
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 was 3-for-3 heading into the Arkansas Derby (G1) and he was the overwhelming favorite, but Caddo River got to the front, and he pressed outside and ended up a very disappointing 3rd. It sure looks like he has distance limitations. He will impact the Derby pace if he goes in that race.
(9) MANDALOUN (Into Mischief – Brooch, by Empire Maker)
Trainer: Brad Cox
Latest Workout: 5f bullet in 58.80 (1/28) at Churchill Downs on April 10.
Comments: This one ran his record to 3-for-4 in the Risen Star and threw in a clunker at the worst possible moment in the LA Derby. He tracked the pace outside and faded in the latter 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, and came right back to fire a bullet a week later. In a wide open Derby year, I will not completely dismiss his chances. He has a strong pedigree and ran just as fast as any of the other top Derby contenders in the Risen Star. He is flying way under the radar at this stage.
(10) CADDO RIVER (Hard Spun – Pangburn, by Congrats)
Trainer – Brad Cox
Comments: He was one of my original “Exceptional 11” members from last year, along with Essential Quality, Highly Motivated, Known Agenda, and Mandaloun. He started moving up my list after a strong front running victory in the Smarty Jones, and I gave him the heave-ho after he flopped in the Rebel Stakes (G2). The front runner failed to secure the early lead in the Rebel, and Geroux would not make the same mistake in the Arkansas Derby (G1). He set a pressure pace in the latter event and outgamed Concert Tour for the runner-up spot, and he has secured enough points to run in the Kentucky Derby. I don’t like his chances at a mile and a quarter but he will definitely impact the pace. The Preakness might be a better spot for him.
(11) SAINTHOOD (Mshawish – Lemon Hero, by Lemon Drop Kid)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Latest Workout: 4f in 48.60 (15/36) at Keeneland on April 9.
Comments: This unraced juvenile started three times in 2021 and fired each time. He started out with a head defeat in his six furlong debut at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 9. He shipped to Fair Grounds, stretched out in distance, set the pace, and graduated by a nose as the even money favorite Feb. 13. He made his stakes debut in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) and he overcame an uncomfortable trip to finish a strong 2nd. He should have won at Turfway Park and it was a good sign that the lightly raced, inexperienced colt never gave up and surged late for the runner-up spot. He has upside and is improving rapidly, but the Derby is probably too much too soon.
THE NEXT NINE: (12) Super Stock, (13) Like the King, (14) Helium, (15) Soup and Sandwich, (16) Bourbonic, (17) Dynamic One, (18) Crowded Trade, (19) Hidden Stash, (20) Rombauer
Article by Jarrod Horak