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Derby 2021 Handicapping Analysis

Wednesday, April 28th, 2021

This column likely will confuse you even more than you already are, but I will try to break down the race in as many ways as I can and throw some possible wagers at you. But things change quickly and there are some bets on which I am noncommittal at this point, so I likely will be posting updates in the comments section through Saturday. My Rankings tell you who I believe are the best overall horses based on talent, pedigree, eye test, and rate of improvement. This column will focus more on wagering and finding value. Of course, in many instances they are one and the same. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Dilemma is Here, 2021 Handicapping Analysis

By Steve Haskin

 

Let’s get one wager out of the way that I have to seriously consider. With this Derby being so confusing in so many ways, how can I not box the four horses from the Week 1 Rankings who made it to the Derby – Essential Quality, Known Agenda, Medina Spirit, and Keepmeinmind. It could be a trifecta or exacta box, but an exacta will pay nothing if it’s Essential Quality and Known Agenda. These are four solid horses with a lot of back class and a strong foundation and two will be good prices, so why not? It would have been a five-horse box had Caddo River not dropped out at the last minute, but now I can save money with one less horse. More on this later.

OK, now that we got that out of the way, let’s try to unravel this puzzle. First off, how can you truly handicap this Derby when you have three horses who have made only one start this year and four horses who have made only three lifetime starts, including one horse who is going to be no worse than second choice. And you have four horses coming off 6- and 8-week layoffs. So do we really know who many of these horses are? You also have half the field trained by four trainers, three of them Hall of Famers and one potential future Hall of Famer. Add Hall of Famer Bob Baffert and future Hall of Famers Chad Brown and Doug O’Neill and you have 13 of the 20 horses trained by Hall of Fame trainers. So, good luck to Greg Foley, Robertino Diodoro, Danny Velazquez, and Vickie Oliver.

What we’re going to do is break down the race into categories. The first will be speed figures. You have seen many references to Thoro-Graph figures and some of you are still bit confused by them. So I will sort them out and list the horses I feel are on the best pattern, which is more important in many ways than how fast their numbers are. The pattern is what gives you a clue who is going to peak on Derby Day.

Another category will be works, gallops, and overall appearance. Most of these horses look great and are training great, but I will point out the ones I feel are standouts and thriving at Churchill Downs.

And finally we come to handicapping and betting, focusing on potential overlays and longshots that can possibly pull off an upset or be part of the exotics.

 

SPEED FIGURES

There are three standouts for me on Thoro-Graph. Yes, Essential Quality has the two fastest figures, but there is a question, as slight as it may be, whether he has reached his peak. His numbers last year were strong and he began this year improving to a “negative-1/2,” which is still the only negative number run this year. Remember, the lower the number the better. In the Blue Grass he ran the second fastest number, a “0,” which was a slight regression. So, can he maintain those fast numbers or was the ½-point regression a sign that he peaked early and has already reached his level? Either number is fast enough to win the Derby, so we will just have to see if he regresses slightly again, stays around those numbers, or if another horse or horses who are on an improving pattern and projected to run a career-high number can match Essential Quality’s numbers or surpass them in the Derby.

The horse I believe is on the best pattern and sitting on a peak performance is DYNAMIC ONE, who I called my “hidden gem” and “Derby sleeper” after he finished fourth in a maiden race back in January. Although four horses have run faster than him in their last race, his pattern is stronger because he ran an excellent “5” in his second career start and it is that number that provided him with a foundation to fall back on in case he made a big jump this year and you weren’t sure if he was going to regress off it. Well, he started the year off running an “8 ¾” in the aforementioned maiden race and then improved to a “5” breaking his maiden. Having already run that “5” as a 2-year-old it was pretty certain he was going to improve off it, and he did, running a “2” in the Wood Memorial thanks to a very wide trip, running 43 feet farther than the winner. With his rate of improvement, his maturing mentally, and turning in one of the strongest works we saw all week, I am projecting that he has another significant move forward in him that will put him in a position to either win at a big price or finish in the money and be part of the exacta or trifecta. On Brisnet he has run two triple-digit late pace figures, and despite his very wide trip in the Wood Memorial he still ran a solid 96 late pace figure.

The second best pattern belongs to his stablemate KNOWN AGENDA, another horse who caught my eye early, despite having won only a maiden race by head and being beaten nine lengths in the Remsen Stakes in the slop. I thought so highly of him I ranked him No. 8 in the first Derby Rankings in January. He looked to be going nowhere, running back-to-back “11” Thoro-Graph numbers and having mental lapses where he just wasn’t focused on running. Then a frustrated and desperate Todd Pletcher put blinkers on him and he romped by 11 lengths in a mile and an eighth allowance race, with his Thoro-Graph jumping from an “11” to a “3.” The question was, would he “bounce” or regress off such a big leap? Not only did he not regress he improved to a “1 ½” in the Florida Derby, which he won going away. With five weeks to the Derby and an extra furlong that he should relish, there is no reason why he shouldn’t make another move forward. He has the strongest foundation of all the starters, having already run in four mile and an eighth races.

Even looking at his Brisnet figures, he is one of only four horses to run a triple-digit number last out, along with Essential Quality, Rock Your World, and Highly Motivated. But his late pace figure of 112 in the Florida Derby is the fastest in the field, so he does have a very strong closing kick.

The third horse is HIGHLY MOTIVATED. The reason his Thoro-Graph pattern is so strong is that having started off his career running an “8 ¼” and then a “10 ¾” he jumped all the way to a “3” in the 6 1/2-furlong Nyquist Stakes on Breeders’ Cup day. Making his 3-year-old debut in the one-mile Gotham Stakes he was able to maintain that “3” with a troubled trip, which gave him a launching pad to move forward in the Blue Grass, which he did running a “1 ¼,” second-fastest in the field. Although he should improve a bit off that in this third start of the year and having gone two turns, his pedigree for a mile and a quarter is more questionable than those of Dynamic One and Known Agenda, who are bred to run all day. So he still has to prove he can stretch out in distance and maintain his fast figures, while with the two Pletcher horses there is no doubt they will appreciate the longer distance. However, he has the fastest Brisnet figures on a consistent basis, having run three consecutive 102 figures. And to show how high his cruising speed is, he ran three triple-digit middle pace figures in his first four starts, and then in the Blue Grass ran a 105 late pace figure, indicating a horse who can maintain his speed for a long period of time.

There are several horses who have made big jumps in their Thoro-Graph numbers, such as Rock Your World, O Besos, Soup and Sandwich, Bourbonic, Helium, and King Fury, but they were all in their last start, so we really don’t know in which direction they are going to go, because unlike Dynamic One they don’t have that fast number last year to fall back on. And then we have Hot Rod Charlie and Medina Spirit, whose numbers are OK, but they have not improved at all in their last three starts, remaining stagnant (3 ¾, 3 ¾, 3 ¾ for Hot Rod Charlie and 3 ½, 3 ¼, and 3 for Medina Spirit). Those numbers should not be good enough to win the Derby, so they will have to improve them several points. They both are talented enough to do it, but we’re going by pattern, so it’s pure speculation that they will make that jump after three even performances.

HOT ROD CHARLIE is the biggest enigma. I love so many things about him, including his versatility, his courage under fire, how well he closed in the Louisiana Derby on the lead, and the way he’s been training. And his last Beyer figure of 99 is the second fastest in the field. But it all depends how you interpret his Thoro-Graph numbers. Even on Brisnet, his late pace figures have been significantly slower than his early and middle pace figures. So is he a strong closer or not? Those numbers say no, but the eye test says yes. So I am going to hold off on him until I see how he’s being bet and if there is value.

There is no sense even looking at Beyer figures. All you need to know about this year’s field is that Rock Your World has the highest Beyer at 100. In the past 30 years, only once was the highest Beyer in the field as low as 100 and that was in 2010 when Super Saver beat a mediocre field at best. If you want an alarming statistic how Beyer figures or horses have gotten slower, in 13 years between 1994 and 2006 the average number of triple-digit Beyer figures in the Derby field each year was 24.4. In 13 years between 2009 and 2021, the average is 5.2. To give you another example of the contrast, this year we have one triple-digit Beyer. When Fusaichi Pegasus won in 2000 there were 33. Of the 19 starters, 16 of them had at least one triple-digit Beyer and two of the ones who didn’t were coming from Dubai. So do we really care if one horse has 100 Beyer and the others have in the mid-to-high 90s?

 

TRAINING

Well, we’re back to DYNAMIC ONE, who along with KING FURY, made the biggest impression in their final work, as described in this week’s Derby Rankings. Both works were highlighted by sensational gallop-outs, especially King Fury with the rider up in the saddle and not asking him in the slightest. He has such a smooth, fluid stride, and the way he hugs the rail on the turns you realize how athletic he is and have to consider him in your exotics despite having only one start this year. His work, without company, was one of the best I’ve seen in my 30 years covering the Derby. Dynamic One has been doing everything right since he arrived at Churchill Downs and definitely looks like a horse sitting on a peak effort.

There were a number of other terrific works; way too many to detail. ROCK YOUR WORLD turned in three powerful and identical works in California, with huge gallop-outs and has been an imposing figure on the track at Churchill Downs. And you can’t fault HOT ROD CHARLIE’S Santa Anita works as well, as he’s been his usual steady self, and his back-to-back six furlong works, in which he galloped out strongly, gave him a lot of bottom since the Louisiana Derby. He was particularly strong in his Wednesday gallop, which is typical Doug O’Neill. So he is dead-fit and has a mile and three-sixteenths race under him already.

Some of the other works at Churchill Downs that caught the eye were by O BESOS, who was extremely powerful past the wire going out a strong seven furlongs; MANDALOUN, who has been gliding over the track; and SOUP AND SANDWICH’S first work. He no doubt is maturing quickly. And no horse has made a better physical impression than MIDNIGHT BOURBON, who is flourishing at Churchill Downs and growing into a magnificent-looking horse. His coat is radiant, he’s muscled out and carrying great flesh. And in his five-furlong work in :59 4/5 it didn’t look as if he was going that fast, which is what you want to see. So if you combine physical presence and works he looks like he’s sitting on a big race.

This is not to say that others have not looked terrific working. I’m just trying to pick out a few that stood out. A quick mention must also be made that Pletcher’s longshots, SAINTHOOD and BOURBONIC have been very strong and fluid in their gallops and both are feeling good.

One final work I have to mention because no one else has was the bullet half-mile work in a sizzling :46 1/5 by (the plodder?) KEEPMEINMIND. Churchill finally showed the work several days later and you would never think he was going that fast. I mentioned in the last Derby Rankings why this horse could be a live exotics play at a monster price with the blinkers off.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS AND WAGERING

OK, we’re finished with the window dressing. Now it is time to try to make some sense of this baffling Derby. With the exception of maybe three or four horses, it would not be a shock to see any one of these horses win, that’s how little we really know about most of them and what their ceiling is. There simply are too many questions and too few starts to get a good grasp of this field.

If you’re leaning toward one of the horses with good tactical speed or one of the deep closers, remember this: in 27 of the last 30 Derbys the winner was either first or second at the eighth pole. The only three that weren’t were Animal Kingdom (3rd), Grindstone (4th), and Giacomo (6th). With the last two, the pace was :46 flat and 1:10 flat for Grindstone and :45 1/5 and 1:09 2/5 for Giacomo. So assuming we’re not going to get a pace that fast you better have a horse who has a move explosive enough to pass 18 of the 20 horse by the time they get to the eighth pole. But then again, this 2021 and I must interject the lyrics of a song from the musical The King and I:

“There are times I almost think
I am not sure of what I absolutely know
Very often find confusion
In conclusion I concluded long ago
In my head are many facts
That, as a student, I have studied to procure
In my head are many facts
Of which I wish I was more certain I was sure!
Is a puzzlement”

So, now that I have eliminated the word expert from this year’s Derby vernacular, we can proceed.

Although I can make a case for so many of them, especially to fill out the exotics, I will just try to make it as simple as possible. With that said, let’s go right to my two early Pletcher pet projects, KNOWN AGENDA and DYNAMIC ONE, who seem like old friends by now having been very high on them since January. Pletcher has started 28 horses in the Derby who were coming off victories in major Derby preps, all graded stakes. He won one, with Always Dreaming, coming off a victory in the Florida Derby. Well, Known Agenda is not only coming off a victory in the Florida Derby, he has the same owner as Always Dreaming. And as for Dynamic One, he finished second by a head in his previous start. Pletcher’s other winner, Super Saver, finished second by a neck in his previous start. So both horses fit the profile of a Todd Pletcher Derby winner. Exacta box anyone?

Here is something to ponder as meaningless as it may be. In 1997, Gary Stevens was elected to the Hall of Fame the same year he won the Kentucky Derby on Silver Charm. In 1999, D. Wayne Lukas was elected to the Hall of Fame the same year he won the Kentucky Derby with Charismatic. In 2000, Neil Drysdale was elected to the Hall of Fame the same year he won the Kentucky Derby with Fusaichi Pegasus. Well, as we all know, Todd Pletcher will be elected to the Hall of Fame next week. Just passing that along.

As I said, I can make this complicated by spewing out a whole bunch of exotic bet combinations, but I am going to start off by looking for value win bets. Although ROCK YOUR WORLD is still my No. 1-ranked horse I feel his odds will be too low to bet him to win, unless you’ve got a big bundle of money to spend, so I will save him for the exotics. Remember, this is about wagering picks and finding value more than who is the most talented horse. I still believe Rock Your World is the most talented with the higher ceiling, even though I am still against horses in the Derby with only three lifetime starts. In short, Essential Quality, Known Agenda, and Hot Rod Charlie are your AT&T, the safer and more reliable stock with a longer and solid history behind it. Rock your World is the exciting new company that is just getting started whose stock can take off at any time. But there is also the risk factor due to its lack of experience.

My main win bet has been on KNOWN AGENDA for a while for reasons I have been explaining since January and I was hoping he would be a good value bet. Before the Florida Derby Churchill Downs refused to include him in any of its Derby Future Wager fields, so I was unable to get him at a big price. Now that big price is long gone. With Rock Your World at 5-1 on the morning line and Known Agenda at only 6-1 I’m not sure where the value is with my meager means. Drawing the rail is never what you want and maybe that will push his odds up a little, along with Jim McIngvale’s $2 million win bet on Essential Quality. Maybe enough people will remember his $3.4 million bet on the Tampa Bay Bucs in the Super Bowl and figure he doesn’t lose bets like this. If Known Agenda’s odds are that low on Derby Day I will have to key him and Rock Your World in the exactas with about a dozen horses and use them prominently in trifectas, but more on that later.

As for Known Agenda’s inside post, it’s never ideal in a 20-horse field, but he did win the Florida Derby racing on the rail most of the way and easing out approaching the head of the stretch, so he’s at least shown he doesn’t mind being down on the inside and can negotiate a good trip. And it is still the quickest way around there. This is not like drawing the rail in past years. With the new single gate he will have more room to his inside and the five horses directly outside him have little or no speed, so he should not encounter any traffic problems early on as long as he breaks well. If you like him you don’t want to back off now and have him get a dream trip, so stick with him and let it play out.

I do know that I am making a pretty significant (for me) win bet on my longshot special DYNAMIC ONE and a slightly lesser bet on O BESOS. Those are my two main win bets at a big price. As of right now I likely will also put a win bet on MIDNIGHT BOURBON based on his work and how good he looks physically, and just hoping he gets the perfect trip and has used these six weeks to move forward. I just keep seeing flashes of Tiznow from a physical sense and not knowing when he is going to have that breakout performance. He is going to be much higher odds than his Louisiana Derby conqueror Hot Rod Charlie, but he needs the perfect pace scenario. I’m still trying to make up my mind whether to make a win bet on KING FURY based on his sensational work and gallops. It all depends on the price. I’d love to get at least 25-1 but preferably 30-1 or higher. He’s only had that one start, which I don’t like, and may be a bet-down horse with the buzz growing, so I will have to see how he’s being bet and will just hope for a big price. Worst case scenario is to play him underneath in the exotics, which is more logical.

Just a quick note on pace scenario: with Caddo River out there is no true speed horse, and none of the trainers of horses who do have early speed are planning on their horse being on the lead even though Rock Your World does have the early lick and the ability to run his opponents off their feet. Sadler, however, says he is looking for him to sit just off the pace. That leaves none other than Bob Baffert, who loves to use his horses’ speed and put them right in the mix up. If everyone hesitates he is more than happy to take the initiative. Even though Medina Spirit drew post 8 he is the inside speed and has to go from the start with so much tactical speed outside him. Medina Spirit’s main strength seems to be his willingness to battle in the stretch and not let horses get by him, so if he is going to win his best chance would seem to be to go to the front and try to hold off everyone.

As I said in the intro, I will be making updates through Saturday in the comments section depending on late observations and revelations over the next few days.

Those updates will include final thoughts on exotic bets because it is too early to commit to those. But in the exactas, using the safe horses Essential Quality, Rock Your World, Known Agenda, and Hot Rod Charlie on top, the horses to back them up at a good payoff will be, in addition to Dynamic One, O Besos, and Midnight Bourbon, the real bombs Keepmeinmind, King Fury, Bourbonic, Brooklyn Strong, Sainthood, Soup and Sandwich, and Super Stock. I need to see the odds on Medina Spirit to decide if it’s worth it. These are just $2 exactas for $20 or $1 exactas for $10, so you have to look for a monster payoff.

Just getting back to that Week 1 trifecta or exacta box of Essential Quality, Known Agenda, Medina Spirit, and Keepmeinmind, it’s not just a gimmick play based on the initial Derby Rankings. I think this is a pretty interesting combination of favorites, a mid-priced horse, and a huge bomb, all of whom have won Grade 1 or 2 stakes, with the shortest and longest priced horses having finished first and third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. You also have one horse who will be on or close to the pace, two horses probably around midpack, and one coming from far back. So we’ll give it a wild shot for a $1 trifecta box for $24. The key will be how Known Agenda beaks from post 1 and if he can settle into a good position without running into traffic down on the rail. I normally hate equipment changes for the Derby, especially with blinkers, but Keepmeinmind is sharp and sneaky and blinkers off isn’t as bad as blinkers on.

So I hope you’ve been able to digest all this. Right now the keys are my win bets on Dynamic One, O Besos, and Midnight Bourbon and possibly a small bet on King Fury and how much I want to bet on Known Agenda. I won’t know that until Saturday when I see his odds. And there are the four exactas with the bombs underneath, and of course the Week 1 trifecta box just for the heck of it. I am also looking at a Pletcher Oaks/Derby double of Malathaat with Dynamic One and Known Agenda. The rest will have to be sorted out, as I am totally baffled when it comes to the trifectas and may lay low on them. It could deprive me of a lifetime score, but more likely would cost me a month’s paycheck.

Good luck to everyone. It’s been quite a ride.

Final Derby Rankings: Week 15

Sunday, April 25th, 2021

Although the long road to the Derby is over and the Rankings will soon prove to be mere folly, as long as we all had a good time and made new friends it was a journey to remember. We still have a feeble attempt at handicapping on Wednesday evening and then it’s back to “Askin’ Haskin” and weekly columns about those special horses and races from the past and whatever subject pops into my head. And watch out for an interesting contest coming up before the Preakness. I want to thank everyone for all your wonderful, informative, and well-researched comments and for making this the best Derby trail I’ve been on since I started Derby Dozen 22 years ago. ~ Steve Haskin

Final Derby Rankings: Week 15, Apr. 25

Early Bird Edition By Steve Haskin

 

1. Rock Your World (John Sadler, Candy Ride – Charm the Maker, by Empire Maker)
Let’s get right down to the nitty gritty. It’s pretty obvious by now that I believe this is the most gifted horse in the race, who has true star potential. When we will see the finished product I don’t know. But before you commit big bucks to him now, be wary of two things. You don’t want him drawing an inside post, like post 5 and in, and he needs to break sharply. With Caddo River out, if he does draw inside, Rosario may have no choice but to send him to the lead. He may want to send him anyway, because he is the one horse capable of running his opponents off their feet and keep going. He is a big long striding horse and you don’t want to get him stopped early and have to get him going again. And he has never experienced kickback before. Remember, he’s only had three career starts and one on the dirt, so he is still in the learning process. This is not to say he cannot overcome these things. He is really sharp now following two strong works, including a :59 1/5 gem on Saturday with another strong gallop-out. He does have high knee action, much like Barbaro, another horse who excelled on grass and dirt. If he doesn’t break sharply he and Rosario will somehow have to find a good position quickly. The ideal trip for him is have a clean break from a decent post and get a clear trip outside horses. But that doesn’t always happen in the Derby. We don’t know what this colt is capable of overcoming, only what we have seen so far. And what we’ve seen is a horse with extraordinary talent who has accomplished things far beyond his years, whether it be on grass or dirt, six furlongs or 1 1/8 miles, or on or off the pace. He has the ability to quickly separate himself from other horses and he has several gears that can be used anywhere on the track at anytime. Just hold off until you see where he draws and how he trains over the track.

2. Known Agenda (Todd Pletcher, Curlin – Byrama, by Byron)
While we’re getting down to the nitty gritty, I’ve been on him since last fall and he is still my main win bet at what I hope will be a decent price. He is the logical third choice, but after the way some people have trashed his first work Churchill Downs and his drifting out in the Florida Derby I am hoping they will start looking elsewhere for their third choice. The fact is he has never been a great work horse, while Sainthood, who worked in company with him in both his works, has always been an excellent work horse, and it makes sense that Pletcher would pair them up to get a good sharp work into Known Agenda, which he did on both occasions. If you thought Sainthood has looked the better of the two that should not be worrisome at all. He got Known Agenda to to work five furlongs in 1:00 2/5 and then 1:01. That’s about a dozen lengths faster than he worked at Palm Beach Downs all winter. In his first work I love the way he dropped his head nearing the wire and then kept going a good clip galloping out seven furlongs in 1:27 1/5. As for the drifting out in the Florida Derby, it’s not as if he did it on his own. As soon as he turned into the stretch, Ortiz pasted him with a left-handed whip. Even when he shied away from the whip Ortiz kept hitting him left-handed. The more he hit him the more he kept drifting out. Finally after nine smacks with the whip, he stopped drifting out and actually cut back to the inside. Why Ortiz hit him the second he straightened into the stretch and kept hitting him left-handed I have no idea. All you need to know about Known Agenda is that he has been a totally different horse since blinkers were added, and instead of being immature, moody, and sometimes unfocused, he now runs like a seasoned professional and has been in complete control of his last two races even down the backstretch. In short, the boy has grown into a man.

3. Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Tapit – Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality)
He has quietly gone about his business with little fanfare, but that’s always been him. He just goes out there every race and every workout and does his job, and no one has yet figured out how to beat him. I believe his action has improved a bit and he seems smoother now, and, as I’ve mentioned several times he can beat you from anywhere on the track. If you want to look for something to nitpick, although his final work was a solid five-eighths in 1:00 1/5, he could not get by his workmate in the stretch or in the gallop-out, which was a slow :14 1/5. Sometimes works can help you and sometimes they can confuse you even more, especially when a Derby favorite does something in his final work your weren’t expecting and is the opposite of what he has shown in his races. Cox said he was on the radio telling the rider not go to go too fast after the wire. So if you like the horse, as most people do, you have to be careful not to temper your enthusiasm based on a workout, especially the gallop-out. I’m sure some people will now start looking at the Blue Grass and focusing more on how he struggled to get past Highly Motivated who was making his two-turn debut and wondering if there is a tie-in between that and not passing his workmate. Just keep in mind that Essential Quality traveled 29 feet farther than Highly Motivated. I have given preference in the Rankings to horses who I believe have stronger mile and a quarter pedigrees, but I still acknowledge him as the horse to beat and a legitimate favorite. He’s done nothing wrong and no doubt is the most adaptable horse in the race along with Hot Rod Charlie.

4. Dynamic One (Todd Pletcher, Union Rags – Beat the Drums, by Smart Strike)
As much as I have liked him, especially the rate at which he’s been improving, I like him even more since watching his final work. This time there was no late-running Bourbonic to work with him; this time he worked with the brilliant Prime Factor, whose maiden victory back in January stamped him as Pletcher’s main hope for the Derby. He wanted to go right from the start, but still had his ears up. Jose Ortiz kept him a bit wide turning for home, as the two came down the stretch together. Dynamic One was striding out smoothly flicking his ears around with the pair hitting the wire together in a sharp :47 4/5 with a final eighth in :11 3/5. Despite being on the outside, when Ortiz nudged him going into the turn he left Prime Factor behind, still flicking his ears and continued to pour it on, rattling off eighths in :12 and change to get the five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 and the six furlongs in 1:13 1/5. You normally don’t see Pletcher horses work this fast, and he did it well within himself. That was as perfect a work as you could ask for. This colt is sharp, improving at the right time, and I believe ready for a big effort.

5. Hot Rod Charlie (Doug O’Neill, Oxbow – Indan Miss, by Indian Charlie)
What might have gotten lost in his Louisiana Derby victory, which is now run at 1 3/16 miles, was that he came home his final three-sixteenths in :18 3/5 and he did it on the lead the whole way. If that odd final fraction doesn’t quite compute, think about this: it is faster than the Preakness final three-sixteenths of Seattle Slew, Spectacular Bid, one-time track record holders Nashua and Canonero, and, oh, yes, Secretariat, whose revised time shattered all the records before it. Heck, it was even faster than his own sire. So perhaps we should take the Louisiana Derby more seriously, especially when it was won by a horse who had never even been on the lead before, had never run over the track before, and had to turn back the challenge of the top-class Midnight Bourbon who was already a graded stakes winner over the track. I was never crazy about the six weeks between the Louisiana Derby and the Kentucky Derby and the fact that no Kentucky Derby winner in memory has come directly out of the Louisiana Derby. But I believe the longer distance will change that and I do like the way Hot Rod Charlie has been working and how strong he’s been past the wire, especially in his most recent six-furlong work in 1:13 3/5 before the first race. So with all that said you have to put Charlie right up there with the other betting choices, but also be aware that he has not gotten any faster since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with three straight “3 ¾” Thoro-Graph figures, which will have to improve.

6. O Besos (Greg Foley, Orb – Snuggs and Kisses, by Soto)
If you were impressed by Hot Rod Charlie’s closing three-sixteenths in the Louisiana Derby and its Preakness comparisons then you should also be aware that O Besos came home a fifth of a second faster, in :18 2/5. That’s two-fifths faster than Secretariat in his record-breaking Preakness. And O Besos was making only his second start going two-turns and actually got the fastest Thoro-Graph figure in the race, a full point faster than the victorious Hot Road Charlie. He turned in his final Derby work on Thursday and you can bet his stock will rise, as he seems to be a bit of a wise guy horse and was even before the work. Foley worked him a half-mile from the three-eighths pole to the seven-eighths pole, which is an eighth of a mile past the wire. I love seeing that with a horse like this because it teaches them to run through the wire, and O Besos is a horse who picks up steam the farther he goes, and you want him to be in full flight when he hits the wire. As mentioned with Hot Rod Charlie, the six week-gap between the Louisiana and Kentucky Derby has not been ideal, so you want to see a long stiff work to put more conditioning in them. At first glance, his half-mile work in :47 4/5 is fast, but not the lung opener you thought you’d see. However, O’ Besos’ work didn’t really begin in earnest until he hit the finish line. After flying his final eighth in :11 3/5, he kept going at a strong clip with another eighth in :11 4/5 to get the five furlongs in :59 3/5 and he still was far from finished. He went his six furlongs in 1:12 3/5 and finally pulled up seven furlongs in 1:26. That is the lung opener you want to see. Now he’s ready and you can expect him to be coming fast at the end.

7. Highly Motivated (Chad Brown, Into Mischief – Strong Incentive, by Warrior’s Reward)
He had a sharp half-mile work in :47 1/5 at Keeneland before moving to Churchill Downs where he looked strong working five furlongs in company in 1:00 4/5. Although he is one of a number of brilliant colts who have the same running style and could get caught up in a contentious pace near the lead, you have to love his three straight 102 Brisnet speed ratings, his improving Beyer figures, and his excellent Thoro-Graph pattern, in which he followed a pair of solid “3s” with a “1 ¼” in the Blue Grass Stakes, the second fastest number behind Essential Quality. So we know he’s fast and we know he can run big on or off the pace. It’s just a question whether he can move forward going a mile and a quarter, especially if he’s under pressure the whole way. We always have that concern with the Into Mischiefs unless they have a stamina-laden female family. Authentic did disprove that last year, but he was left alone on the lead in both the Kentucky Derby, run in September, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. How they will do on the first Saturday in May with all that early speed is something we’ll just have to wait to find out. He certainly has the talent and the speed figures so it all depends on how the race plays out and where he draws. He is one of several horses capable of setting the pace with Caddo River out.

8. Midnight Bourbon (Steve Asmussen, Tiznow – Catch the Moon, by Malibu Moon)
From a pure physical standpoint he is a standout. His coat is shining, he’s muscled out, and is carrying great flesh. It seems apparent the six weeks between races has a agreed with him, as it has given him time to grow into a magnificent-looking horse. His workout was very strong, and if this equates to performance then he has to be considered a live longshot. It’s all about strategy with the big question being can he catch horses in the stretch, something he failed to do in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby? But when allowed to control the pace on the front end he proved to be a dogged competitor refusing to let horses pass him. Trying to get the lead in the Derby is not going to be easy, so his next course of action would be to press the pace and use that Tiznow determination to keep up the pressure with the hope of tiring out the other pace horses. But if no one seems anxious to take the lead he would be the perfect horse to take the initiative, as he is the one they would probably leave alone. There is little doubt he will like the mile and a quarter. His Thoro-Graph numbers have improved steadily and if he has figured out a way to finish the job in the stretch then all those physical attributes come into play on Derby Day.

9. Medina Spirit (Bob Baffert, Protonico – Mongolian Changa, by Brilliant Speed)
I’m not sure Baffert’s confidence level is what it usually is, but I still wouldn’t ignore him, at least underneath in the exotics. He’s too tough and honest to do that. In his most recent work, he did it in his usual manner, but when asked at the wire as most Baffert horses are, the typical acceleration just wasn’t there. I don’t like to dismiss a horse because of one part of a work, especially the part after the wire, so I’m not going to make a lot out of it. But it still is something worth mentioning. I do believe he has improvement in him off his second in the Santa Anita Derby, but we’ll have to see how much and if he can show any finishing power, which has not been his strong point. Like fellow Californian Hot Rod Charlie, his speed figures have not improved. They’ve been pretty much the same every race. Could that be a reflection of the California horses with the exception of Life is Good? He is a horse you would love to be right in the mix turning for home, even somehow getting the lead, because his one stakes victory was when he was able to set the pace and battle gamely in the stretch, refusing to let Roman Centurian and Hot Rod Charlie get by him. I’m still looking for a scenario where he can win, but I don’t know what his strengths are. I do know he should be competitive enough to be in the hunt.

10. Super Stock (Steve Asmussen, Dialed In – Super Girlie, by Closing Argument)
He is sort of like Bourbonic in that he closed strongly to win one of the major 100-point preps, but no one really knows how good he is or how good a race it was, as the favorite or favorites all were disappointing and most of the speed ratings were slow, as was the final three-eighths. So neither horse is really getting much respect. Would it be a surprise if he won the Derby? Absolutely not. You cannot fault him in any way and he did close after tracking a very fast pace in the Arkansas Derby and he is a horse on the improve. There was nothing to knock in his final work, as he went a solid five-eighths in company in 1:01 1/5 and did it easily. This sounds very simple and not informative at all, but you either like him or you don’t. You can make a case either way. I went into the reasons to like him last week and you have to love his back story regarding the Asmussen family connection. He certainly is an easy horse to root for. He should be closing in the stretch and we’ll just have to see if he’s good enough.

11. Soup and Sandwich (Mark Casse, Into Mischief – Souper Soup, by Tapit)
Again, the three starts, the pace scenario, and his previous greenness is a bit of a concern, but if there is one horse who has made great strides mentally and whose engine is revved up it is this colt, who has been on go in his two works at Churchill Downs. In his most recent one he was very aggressive early wanting to go, but did settle into a good stride and again drew off from his workmate to complete the half in :50, again galloping out very strong, in what was more of a maintenance drill compared to his work last week, which was also very strong. It’s hard to imagine him not being part of the early pace that will include three brilliant sons of Into Mischief. As good as he looked in the Florida Derby I feel it was a better race than it looked and I loved the way he hung tough in the stretch despite being shoved back on to his left lead turning for home and staying there the rest of the way. He has switched leads smoothly in both his works and I feel he should be over that problem. Like with so many others I don’t know if he’s ready to win the Derby, but he is going to be right there in the stretch and could hang around a long time. With him it’s not about ability, but whether he is mature enough mentally to handle this off only three starts and just now becoming more professional.

12. Bourbonic (Todd Pletcher, Bernardini – Dancing Afleet, by Afleet Alex)
For a Wood Memorial winner and a colt with a super pedigree who no doubt is improving rapidly he gets very little respect and is being dismissed as merely a plodder who got lucky in a very slowly run race. Pletcher actually put him in front in his workout in company with Dynamic One and he clearly was second best. He then turned in some strong gallops, making a great physical appearance on the track. Pletcher then decided to give him his final work by himself and he just went around there easy going his half in :49 3/5, out five furlongs in 1:02 2/5. That’s a sneaky fast eighth in :12 4/5 past the wire. He really is a good-looking horse with a nice smooth stride and a top-class pedigree. He obviously will be pace dependent and they will use the same tactics of taking far back and making the same kind of big late run he did in the Wood. Dynamic One got far faster Thoro-Graph figures in the Wood, having to go 43 feet farther, and he is the one who looks as if he is going to get bet down in the Derby. Even if you missed Bourbonic at 72-1 you’re still going to get huge odds for a major prep winner whose sire and broodmare sire won memorable runnings of the Preakness Stakes.

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

KING FURY – A lot of people were hoping the Lexington Stakes winner would get in the Derby, especially his trainer Kenny McPeek, after his impressive victory in the slop, in which he made a long sustained run going from a dozen lengths back at the five-eighths pole to the lead turning for home before drawing away. With only one start this year I gave him little thought until I saw his work. Considering he worked alone, going five furlongs in 1:00 1/5, that was the best work I saw the past two weeks. The way he was reaching out with his neck extended and flicking his ears around, while cutting out :11 and change eighths the whole way, was pure poetry, pardon the cliché. I also loved the way he cut both corners hugging the rail, which shows how quick and athletic he is. What was most impressive about his gallop-out was that, while most horses who continue strong past the wire do it with some urging, his rider stood up at the wire and he still went out in 1:12 4/5 and 1:26 3/5 all on his own with the rider up in the saddle. Back at his barn he was “eating the bottom out of his feed tub.” This is another historical head scratcher with him having only made his 3-year-old debut three weeks prior to the Derby and at a mile and a sixteenth over a mediocre field. But he has a lot of bottom under him from last year and really developed during his 60 days at Three Chimneys Farm where he was out in his paddock almost 24 hours a day getting stronger. He did have an issue that contributed to his last two poor efforts, but after running Thoro-Graph numbers in the “8” to “12” range he returned from the farm and ran a “3” in the Lexington. I still don’t like him having one race, but after watching the Lexington again and his work, nothing he does would surprise me. He just may be that good.

KEEPMEINMIND – There is a lot more to ponder with this horse than one would think as he sneaks into the Derby at the 11th hour. First off, let’s not forget that he was one the top 2-year-olds last year and was ranked No. 2 in the first Derby Rankings, which you might want to go back and read. Since then, nothing has gone right for him, beginning with the cancellation of racing and training at Oaklawn, which means he couldn’t go to the track to train for 16 days. This happened when he was razor-sharp for his debut in the Southwest Stakes, which had to be postponed. Unfortunately, it was rescheduled for two weeks before the Rebel Stakes, for which he was also targeted. Not being able to run in both races he had to wait an additional two weeks to the Rebel and was so out of whack, having missed so much training and his scheduled debut, he showed nothing, which was uncharacteristic for such an honest and consistent horse. Instead of staying home and running in a weak Arkansas Derby he made his next start in the Blue Grass and received one of the more curious rides I’ve seen all year. Breaking from the disadvantageous outside post, instead of taking back as is his custom, he moved up with the leaders and was forced five wide going into the first turn. He then was rushed up between horses down the backstretch and was only two lengths off the lead in third, much to my shock. He still was third turning into the stretch, but finally got tired, bumping with another horse. Also, Keepmeinmind traveled 55 feet farther than runner-up Highly Motivated. Now he will race without blinkers, which I never thought he needed in the first place, and should take back and make one late run. While everyone was watching all the Derby works on Friday no one noticed him working a half in a bullet :46 1/5, fastest of 108 works at the distance, a work Churchill Downs never showed or even videoed. This is a horse who was second (without blinkers) and third to Essential Quality in Grade 1 stakes at 52-1 and 30-1 and closing fast each time. As I said, something to ponder.

BROOKLYN STRONG – Guess who’s coming to dinner? He is the guest who shows up unexpectedly just as you’e putting the food on the table. He attempted the unthinkable making his 3-year-old debut in the Wood Memorial and actually ran a sneaky-good race, finishing fifth, beaten 4 ¾ lengths. He broke sharply and jockey Manny Franco had to pull back on the reins in the first turn to try to get him to settle off the pace. He moved up steadily and then seemed to lose momentum on the far turn. But he kept coming and cut the corner turning for home and looked like he was going to be a factor. But two horses drifted in, closing up the rail and forcing Franco to steady briefly at the three-sixteenth pole. But Brooklyn Strong still kept coming and was running hard at the end in what was a terrific effort going a mile and an eighth in top company off more than a four-month layoff. He already had a lot of bottom under him with two victories at a flat mile and a courageous score in the nine-furlong Remsen Stakes. His pedigree is inundated with stamina top and bottom and it is interesting to note that his sire’s broodmare sire, Charismatic, won the Derby at odds of 31-1 and his dam’s broodmare sire, Thunder Gulch, won the Derby at odds of 24-1. To show what a weird Derby this is, I am making a huge case for the last three horses to get in the race.

MANDALOUN – Well, at least he’s looked great on the track in the morning and is acting like a horse sitting on a big race. He’s just a beautiful colt with a long fluid stride and his last two works were strong. But no horse in at least the last half-century has won the Derby off such a poor performance. So you can toss hm off that or you can toss the Louisiana Derby and chalk it up to just a bad day. Even if that race was an aberration, did he get enough out of it and can he come back six weeks later and return to his Risen Star form? There is no doubt he’s very talented and will be a top horse a bit down the road, but bouncing back to win the Derby is another matter. If you do want to make a case for him and throw out history, most horses who run bad races don’t come back in the Derby and those that do usually try to rebound in three or four weeks. Six weeks might be just the right amount of time he needs to regroup, and he has shown all the signs of a horse who is doing just that. Yet another puzzle to deal with this year.

HELIUM – If this colt had another start after the Tampa Bay Derby I believe he would be one of the favorites. What he did in that race was remarkable, but it was so long ago we tend to forget it. I certainly gushed over it. Mark Casse said in his 40 years of training he has never had a horse do what he did in the Tampa Derby and I agree that you just don’t see horses do that. Casse is well aware that what he is trying to do in the Kentucky Derby has never been done before, but he loves going against the grain and welcomes the challenge of trying to pave new ground. And if this horse proved one thing at Tampa it’s that he is capable of running a sensational race off a long layoff. But the Tampa Derby isn’t the Kentucky Derby. I have no doubt this is an extraordinarily talented colt, but before I can concede that what he is attempting is doable and will defy history I have to see it first. I will say however, watch out for this guy later in the year. I did like his last work, in which he was very smooth throughout, doing everything on his own, then was a strong on the gallop-out. Just to mention it again, he will be attempting to become the first horse to win the Derby off an eight-week layoff, off one start at 3, and never having run farther than 1 1/16 miles in over 100 years.

SAINTHOOD – The more I see of him the more I feel he could make his presence felt. Watching his last two races, he showed something you love to see and that is the determination and ability to kick into another gear when he sees the finish line and quickly accelerate. In the Jeff Ruby Steaks he did it after a terrible trip and when he was hit with a right-handed whip nearing the sixteenth pole it was as if his rider had floored the gas pedal, that’s how fast he took off. He has made a great appearance in the morning working with Known Agenda and then turning in some powerful gallops. He has just made a great impression out there. Can he win the Derby off three career stakes, with his only stakes appearance being on Polytrack? Once again, he looks like a horse to watch later on, but who really knows what he’s capable of in the Derby. Some of the experts are starting to like him to use underneath in thir exotics.

LIKE THE KING – He remains at Keeneland where he worked five furlongs in 1:01. He is another horse who is strictly a guess. If you like him you have to like Sainthood, who had a far worse trip in the Jeff Ruby Steaks and was flying at the end. There is nothing to fault with him other than having no clue how good he is or who he was beating at Turfway and how he will make the transition from Polytrack to dirt. We know he has a closing kick, but this is a whole new ballgame.

HIDDEN STASH – With no one watching he quietly worked five furlongs in 1:00 3/5, then the following day schooled at the gate. This is a really nice horse who gives his all every race and he does have a decent closing kick. He just hasn’t shown yet he’s good enough to beat these horses, and until he does he has to be considered more of an exotics filler at best. Look, in this field any horse who can close and is honest and consistent can finish on the board if they get a perfect setup and a perfect trip.

Derby Rankings: Week 14

Monday, April 19th, 2021

Well we are down to those long agonizing two weeks of just waiting, watching the training, and finally the anxiety of the post position draw. And of course hoping that everyone stays healthy. There isn’t much more to say about these horses that hasn’t been said before, so it’s now pretty much in your hands to decipher everything and try to make some sense of one of the most baffling Derbys in years with so many inexperienced horses with so many question marks. I see a lot of Travers horses in this field. So we have one more Rankings column and then our handicapping column and then most of us will be able to relate to the saying, “There is nothing like a horse to make a person feel like an ass.” ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: Week 14, Apr. 19

By Steve Haskin

 

1. Rock Your World (John Sadler, Candy Ride – Charm the Maker, by Empire Maker)
I admit, with only three starts and one on dirt there are more questions about him than the No. 2, 3, 4, and 5 horses, but his ceiling is the highest in the field. There are those who love him and those who feel he is a toss, although there are fewer of those now that Joel Rosario is on him. Because he is so polarizing, that is what makes him so intriguing. He has accomplished extraordinary things in only three starts, and the question is whether he himself is extraordinary. By ranking him No. 1 it is obvious I am banking on him being special. Yes, he is short on experience, but between his imposing physical prowess, his instant acceleration, and his monstrous gallop-outs, I am looking at him as a colt with more bottom than three starts would indicate. The Derby can easily expose horses with so few starts, but he is not really that much more inexperienced than the field as a whole. To demonstrate how much the Derby has changed, of the top 20 horses listed among the point leaders, their average number of lifetime starts is 4.8. Only two horses have as many as seven starts and of the horses still pointing for the Derby, four others besides him have had three career starts. So is he really at that big of a disadvantage, if any at all? As for his frontrunning performance in the Santa Anita Derby I don’t believe he needs the lead or is even more comfortable on the lead. I feel he went to the front only because he drew an inside post and used his natural speed to secure a comfortable position. I can easily see him rating off the pace and hopefully he will draw an outside post and get a clear trip and keep away from kickback. His speed figures as a whole are very strong, especially on TimeformUS, and he made a huge leap forward from grass to dirt on Thoro-Graph, going from an “8 ¾” to a “2 ¾” and I see another move forward in the Derby.

2. Known Agenda (Todd Pletcher, Curlin – Byrama, by Byron)
He has settled in at Churchill Downs and started off with a sharp five-furlong work in 1:00 2/5 in company with Sainthood, so he apparently likes the track. Sainthood is an up and comer with a combination of speed and grit and seemed to be a perfect workmate for him. I am a sucker for horses I had ranked in the Top 10 in Week 1, especially when they hadn’t accomplished much. But I can’t forget the courage and tenacity he showed outbattling Greatest Honour in a 1 1/8-mile maiden race last fall and I have been raving about his pedigree, especially his female family, right from the start. I have also watched him grow mentally from a quirky colt who sometimes seemed disinterested to a focused professional athlete who, with the addition of blinkers, has developed a killer instinct with the ability to crush his opponents. He is more of a grinder, and with four 1 1/8-mile races under him, there is no horse who has as strong a foundation and more stamina. All he needs is to establish a good position and just keep coming at them. And he will keep coming with that low action, his neck extended, and that great reach to his stride. And is there any jockey who is hotter right now than Irad Ortiz who is two-for-two on him since the blinkers were added? So I’ve been on him from the beginning and certainly not backing off now.

3. Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Tapit – Delightful Quality by Elusive Quality)
Sometimes it’s better to just simplify things. If you want to get a concise description of who he is, consider this: at the half-mile call of his races he has been a head back, a half-length back, 2 ½ lengths back, 7 ½ lengths back, and 9 lengths back. At the eighth pole he’s been 2 lengths in front and he’s been 2 lengths back . He has won three races off half-mile fractions of :48 and change and two races off half-mile fractions in :45 and change. In other words, what I’ve been saying all along is he can beat you from anywhere and off any kind of fractions. I better stop now before I convince myself to put him back to No. 1 where he was in Week 1. The temptation is strong, but for now I’m sticking with my two early finds and hope they live up to their promise. He knows how to win, he has the right pedigree, and he has the right trainer, so he certainly is a deserving favorite. I just feel like this is the year to be obstinate. Yes he is logical, but there has been very little about this year’s Derby trail that has been logical. He had a sharp five-furlong work at Churchill Downs in :59 3/5 in company finishing on even terms with his workmate who actually was stronger on the gallop-out as Essential Qualty went a bit wide into the turn. He doesn’t seem to paddle his left leg quite as much as he did earlier on and looked pretty smooth in his workout. In short, he hasn’t set off any fireworks on the road to Louisville, but he certainly knows his way to the winner’s circle and that’s all that counts.

4. Dynamic One (Todd Pletcher, Union Rags – Beat the Drums by Smart Strike)
By ranking a potential 25-1 shot No. 4 he obviously is my longshot pick, but I actually like him even more now after watching his first work at Churchill Downs. He is looking more and more like a horse who is peaking at the right time. Working in company with Bourbonic, the horse that nailed him on the wire in the Wood Memorial, he sat a half-length outside his workmate and was carrying his head petty high in the stretch. Although the rider on Bourbonic got down low and starting asking his horse inside the sixteenth, Dynamic One pulled away from him despite going the easier of the two. And even though he was on the outside he quickly opened six lengths on the gallop-out. That was the kind of work you want to see right before the Derby. He was back on the track Monday and was raring to go while making a great physical appearance. One of the main reasons I am so high on this horse now is the first impression he made on me back in January when he finished fourth in a maiden race. I wrote in Knocking on the Door: “As alluded to earlier, ANOTHER DUKE, coming off a third to Greatest Honour, broke his maiden at Gulfstream Saturday in fine fashion, but it was DYNAMIC ONE, second to Greatest Honour, who was much the best, going six-wide into the first turn from the disastrous 11-post and then making an eye-catching wide move on the far turn to battle for the lead four wide. He couldn’t sustain it for good reason and had to settle for fourth, beaten two lengths. This is my hidden gem of the year so far. With his amazing pedigree and explosive turn of foot I believe this could be a legit Derby horse who could even run well in stakes company next time if they decide not to bother with maiden races anymore.” This was before finding out he lost a shoe in the race and came back with mucus in his lungs. His Thoro-Graph figures show a horse who is making great progress and is ready for another career-best number.

5. Hot Rod Charlie (Doug O’Neill, Oxbow – Indan Miss, by Indian Charlie)
The main thing you can say about him is that he is rock solid. He’s run big in California, Kentucky and Louisiana, on the lead and from eight lengths off the lead, and he’s the only horse who has won at 1 3/16 miles. He’s even run well at five furlongs on the grass. So he can handle any surface and has improved big-time since being equipped with blinkers. In short there isn’t much not to like about him. Nothing against Flavien Prat but Joel Rosario really seemed in tune with this horse and was the one who wanted to send him to the lead in the Louisiana Derby and then gave him the perfect ride. But because of some odd circumstances timing-wise following the performance of Concert Tour in the Arkansas Derby, O’Neill decided to name Prat on him. He looked strong in his six-furlong work in 1:14 1/5 in company, in which he eased clear of his workmate late and continued at a good clip past the wire while drawing several lengths clear. I don’t know where he’ll be in the Derby but you can be sure he is going to be competitive.

6. O Besos (Greg Foley, Orb – Snuggs and Kisses by Soto)
Now that he is in the Derby after being as far down the list as No. 25 he must be taken very seriously based on the progress he’s made with every start and his big finish in the Louisiana Derby. What first attracted me to him were his sprint races at Fair Grounds last year, in which he made some eye-catching late runs with a smooth easy-going stride and seemed to do things effortlessly. He has continued to improve going two turns in stakes company despite coming off Lasix and you can see his progress in all the speed ratings. After running a “7 ¼ ” and a pair of “6 1/2s” on Thoro-Graph he jumped to a “2 ¾” in the Louisiana Derby. His Beyer figures have gone from a 60 to 77 to 83 to 88 to 96 and his Brisnet figures have gone from a 76 to 82 to 88 to 91 to 94, so this horse has never taken a step backward in his entire career. And what better time to win the Kentucky Derby than just weeks after his sire was sold to Uruguay. We have seen it happen before on several occasions. I have a feeling he, like Dynamic One, could wind up a wise guy horse, but he still should be an enticing price. He is worth a win bet and no way I’m leaving this guy out of the exotics. He surely is one of those who is sitting on a peak performance and will be coming in the stretch.

7. Highly Motivated (Chad Brown, Into Mischief – Strong Incentive, by Warrior’s Reward)
To be honest it’s difficult throwing any horse out in this year’s Derby and his gutsy performance against Essential Quality in the Blue Grass Stakes in his two-turn debut stamps him as another serious contender. He could go to the lead again, but we saw in the Gotham Stakes he is just as comfortable coming from off the pace. The big question with him is the mile and a quarter. I have no idea how he will handle the extra furlong with a contentious pace in a 20-horse field. He was holding off Essential Quality for most of the stretch run, but did switch back to his left lead at the sixteenth pole, so perhaps he was getting a little tired, which is understandable. In his most recent work at Churchill Downs, Brown had him on the inside of a workmate and he showed that same grit he did in the Blue Grass, pinning his ears and refusing to let his workmate get by him. I like that Javier Castellano has ridden him in all of his starts and he is another who has a great Thoro-Graph pattern. I love when horses make a huge leap and then pair off that number followed by another move forward. He went from a “10 ¾” to a “3,” ran another “3” in the Gotham, and then ran a “1 ¼” in the Blue Grass, second fastest last-out number in the field. He also has run three consecutive 102 Brisnet figures and no one in this field has run faster. He’s done it three times. So he has a lot going for him and is a smart play based on his speed ratings.

8. Medina Spirit (Bob Baffert, Protonico – Mongolian Changa by Brilliant Speed)
If courage under fire is an important attribute to have in this year’s Derby then he is a must use in most exotic bets, because you can count him battling to the wire. I don’t know if he’s fast enough to win or if he has the closing kick to win, but you have to take him very seriously. I can confidently state that there won’t be anyone in the race that has as many gutsy horses in his pedigree than this colt does, and it apparently has been passed on to him. Let’s start with his sire. If you get a chance go on You Tube and watch the 2015 Alysheba Stakes and how Protonico, after a stretch-long battle and appearing to be beaten, lunges forward at the wire to stick his nose in front. Protonico is a son of Giant’s Causeway, arguably the gamest European horse in the past quarter of a century, winning five consecutive Group 1 stakes by under a length, including three by a head. In each race he refused to let the best horses in Europe get by him. And don’t forget his gutsy performance against Tiznow in the BC Classic when his rider dropped the reins right before the wire. Medina Spirit’s broodmare sire Brilliant Speed won the Blue Grass Stakes by closest of noses; Brilliant Speed’s sire Dynaformer won two stakes by a nose and a half-length; and Dynaformer’s sire Roberto won the English Derby in the closest finish in history of the race, outbattling eventual Arc de Triomphe winner Rheingold in a finish so close his rider Lester Piggott dismounted before it was official because he thought he has lost. Finally, in Medina Spirit’s tail-female family, his third dam is by Holy Bull, out of a Forty Niner mare. Holy Bull scored one of the gutsiest victories in the history of the Travers Stakes and Forty Niner was involved in nine photos, winning the Haskell and Travers by a nose, outgaming Seeking the Gold each time. That is the family I want in a street fight.

9. Midnight Bourbon (Steve Asmussen, Tiznow – Catch the Moon by Malibu Moon)
He is one horse I think I may have ranked too low, but I’m not quite sure just where to put him. You had to love his work on Monday in which he went five furlongs in :59 4/5 in company and was just on cruise control down the stretch, galloping out six furlongs in 1:12 4/5 and pulling up seven panels in 1:26. That is what we refer to as a Derby work. He looks to be getting stronger and more filled out and it’s only a matter of when the Tiznow in him is going to come out. If he continues to train like this he likely will move up. I do know that he, along with Dynamic One and O Besos look to be my price win bets at this point. He runs hard every race and we have seen how tenacious he is when he’s in front, just like his sire. The big thing is to get him to the front, either from the start or at some point in the race. He has shown he’s not as effective having to catch horses in the stretch, so his main hope is that no one really wants the lead and he can cruise up there and then lull everyone to sleep, because they most likely will pay little attention to him. But he is not a horse you want to ignore for very long. In fact, if he continues to flourish he might not even need the lead to win. Not only is he a half-brother to Haskell and Louisiana Derby winner Girvin and Iroquois Stakes winner Cocked and Loaded, he has the much desired Rasmussen Factor on his dam’s side, being inbred to Monique Rene, who was not a top-class filly but did win 13 minor stakes and won 29 of her 45 starts, finishing in the money 37 times. Monique Rene’s sire made 56 starts and her dam 65 starts. In addition, her daughter Walk Away Rene, who is Midnight Bourbon’s third dam, produced horses who made 69, 58, and 39 starts, so we know where Midnight Bourbon gets his toughness and durability to go along with Tiznow. He is only one of two Derby horses this year to have made as many as seven lifetime starts, has never been out of the money, and has never raced under a mile, so he is the veteran of this group with one of the strongest foundations.

10. Super Stock (Steve Asmussen, Dialed In – Super Girlie by Closing Argument)
The more I study the Arkansas Derby and this colt’s career the more I’m convinced his victory at Oaklawn Park was more than just having a perfect setup race. Right now I just can’t rank him any higher until I see how he trains at Churchill Downs. I just don’t know how good he is. Yes, Caddo River and Concert Tour cut out some wicked fractions, but Super Stock, coming off only one race in four and a half months, was only 1 ½ to two lengths behind them and kept coming, blowing by both of them in the final sixteenth. This is a colt who won the 5 ½-furlong Texas Breeders’ Futurity last year battling with four other horses in fractions of :22 1/5 and :45 3/5. As he has stretched out he has turned that into tactical speed, sitting comfortably behind any kind of pace. In his two-turn debut in the Breeders’ Futurity, he was too keyed up early racing on the inside and behind horses. His rider had to step on the brakes, pulling back on the reins to prevent him from running up on horses’ heels. By the time he got clear, the two leaders, including Essential Quality, had opened up three lengths. Despite getting bumped and herded in the stretch he still managed to finish third. Following a game second to King Fury in the Street Sense Stakes, he turned in a sensational work for the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes that had Asmussen all excited. But after cooling out, while they were putting up his hay and feed bucket he got loose and ran out of the stall, skinning his hind legs and suffering a puncture that required him being sent to Rood and Riddle for treatment. Because of his great disposition (he just eats and sleeps all day), and being such a smart horse, he was the perfect patient and soon was sent back to Asmussen. Two races later he is a Grade 1 winner and one of the leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby.

11. Soup and Sandwich (Mark Casse, Into Mischief – Souper Soup, by Tapit)
With only three career starts and still showing signs of greenness in his races, I don’t know if he is ready to to win the Derby, but one thing I am sure of is that this colt has extraordinary talent and is going to be a terror down the road. He has matured rapidly and showed so much grit, speed, and overall talent in the Florida Derby, you really cannot dismiss him, especially after watching his huge five-furlong work in :59 4/5 work, which was as good as any work I’ve seen so far at Churchill Downs. First off, he changed leads on cue, which is what you wanted to see from him, but the way he was striding out down the stretch on a very loose rein and just took off from his workmate was extremely impressive and convinced me he has grown up in a short period of time and has made extraordinary progress since his first two starts. If this horse had one more start in which to develop a little more mentally and gain experience he would be ranked much higher. As it is, I would not be surprised to see him run a big race in the Derby. His Thoro-Graph number did jump from a “9 ¾” to a very strong “1 ¾” in the Florida Derby, making him one of the fastest horses in the race, but was it too big a leap and can he move forward off it? The five weeks surely will help, and judging from this last work, I am seeing a different horse, one who is on a big upward spiral.

12. Bourbonic (Todd Pletcher, Bernardini – Dancing Afleet, by Afleet Alex)
Like Super Stock you just don’t know what to make of his last race as impressive as it was. Is he a horse who has made rapid improvement since running in claiming and starter allowance races or did he catch a field in which the top horses failed to fire or tired over a track that was incredibly slow? Dynamic One, who he caught on the wire, had a far worse trip and a far better Thoro-Graph number and totally dominated him in their work in company, in which Pletcher had him in front on the inside. Perhaps that is not how he is comfortable running. You have to love his pedigree and it looks as if he is finally running to it. But if he runs like he did in the Wood he is going to have to get very lucky coming from so far back and getting past so many horses. He is still a bit of a mystery horse who has a lot to prove.

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

As for the others, there are still several you can pick out of the hat and get some buzz for your buck. They just might have more question marks than the ones in the Top 12 and would be more of a reach. The most enigmatic of them all is HELIUM, who has untapped ability and has looked good working at Churchill Downs, turning in a pair of strong five-furlong works. In his last work he kept going past the wire and was still strong down the backstretch. But as I’ve been saying every week, he has so much history and common sense handicapping to overcome you just wish he had another start after his gutsy Tampa Bay Derby victory. He will have to overcome three historical factors and no horse has overcome any of them in over 100 years. So if he wins, handicapping the Derby will never again be the same.

One of the more consistent horses is the hard-trying HIDDEN STASH, who may have overcome his inability to change leads, but we don’t know that for sure. He hasn’t shown quite enough to suggest he can win the Derby but the placings are wide open and he could be capable of sneaking in there if he gets a perfect trip and does everything right, especially change leads. But he will be a huge price for sure.

The Jeff Ruby Steaks one-two finishers LIKE THE KING and SAINTHOOD both looked good in that race, but they still have to prove themselves on dirt in top-class company. So you can certainly take a shot that they will be just as effective, but they are still guesses. Like the King has more experience and has never been out of the money in six starts, while Sainthood has had only three career starts, but did make huge progress coming off a nose victory in a maiden race at Fair Grounds.

If CADDO RIVER runs, and it is looking like he will, he could very well dictate the pace, being the one true frontrunner in the field who has the speed to outrun anyone if they are determined to get him to the lead. And it is safe to say that is where he is most effective. It’s just a matter of how far he can carry it. If he doesn’t want any part of the mile and a quarter he can still provide a good pace for Essential Quality.

I have no idea what to expect from MANDALOUN. He made a nice appearance on the track working in company, but it’s very hard to excuse his last race. Horses just do not win the Derby off that poor a performance. Once again, the talent is there; we have seen it on several occasions. It just looks like they are taking a shot, hoping the last race was an aberration and he can return to his past form. But it is asking a lot.

GET HER NUMBER is getting a little buzz the way he was finishing late in the Arkansas Derby and the fact he is a Grade 1 winner. But were Caddo River and Concert Tour simply tiring coming home the last three-eighths in :39 3/5. Peter Miller is always dangerous, but he will have to really improve to be a factor. If you feel he is worth a play at a monster price you will be getting gigantic odds for a Grade 1 winner who did show big improvement in his second start back.

I didn’t think they were going to run DREAM SHAKE, but so far he’s still in there. He is another with a big future, but it looks to be down the road. Although his two stakes efforts were not bad at all, finishing third both times, he really hasn’t shown enough to suggest he is ready for this big a test.

Still waiting to get in is KING FURY, despite having made his 3-year-old debut only two weeks ago in the Lexington Stakes. As impressive as he looked winning with authority it is asking a lot to go 1 ¼ miles off one 1 1/16-mile race with so little bottom under him this year. If he does get in it will then be another two weeks to the Preakness, which looks like a more realistic target for him.

Here are the fastest last-out winners on Thoro-Graph and Beyer:

Thoro-Graph
Essential Quality 0
Highly Motivated 1 ¼
Known Agenda 1 ½
Soup and Sandwich 1 ¾
Dynamic One 2
Rock Your World 2 ¾

Beyer
Rock Your World 100
Hot Rod Charlie 99
Essential Quality 97
Highly Motivated 97
Midnight Bourbon 96
Known Agenda 94
Medina Spirit 94

Brisnet
Essential Quality 102
Rock Your World 102
Highly Motivated 102
Known Agenda 101
Hot Rod Charlie 96

 

Derby Rankings: Week 13

Monday, April 12th, 2021

Well, we thought we had all four corners of the puzzle in place just to get us started, but one of those corners got lost under the couch on Saturday, so how are we going to put it together when all the other pieces look alike? It’s too taxing on the brain. Admit it, other than three horses, maybe four, how many can you envision actually winning the Derby? In fact, how many of you can even figure out how the race is going to be run. But the strategy will unfold and someone is going to win it, so let’s at least give it a shot and see if the puzzle starts taking shape. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: Week 13, Apr. 12

By Steve Haskin

 

1. Rock Your World (John Sadler, Candy Ride – Charm the Maker, by Empire Maker)
Ranking a horse like this is similar to the NFL draft coming up in a few weeks. You can either draft a player you need to fill a position or draft the player with the most natural ability who looks like he could become a Hall of Famer. I “drafted” Rock Your World not by any logical standards, but because he looks to be the most gifted athlete of the group who has superstar potential. I intially would never have ranked a horse with only two career grass starts at No. 7 unless he showed me something extraordinary. He also seems like the kind of horse who will do whatever you ask him to. I believe the only reason he went to the lead was because the speedy Parnelli drifted out going into the turn and he just inherited the lead being down on the rail. Once he got those big strides going the wisest thing to do was just let him roll. Just when it looked like Medina Spirit was ready to make his move, Respoli let out a notch and in a flash he was almost three lengths clear, showing that same acceleration he showed in his first two races. I have no doubt he will be comfortable sitting off the pace if that’s what they want. Don Robinson, who raised the colt from birth at his Winter Quarter Farm in Lexington, Ky., said he was a “big strong quality horse from the get-go and very professional,” and referred to him as “Mr. Cool.”Although his Thoro-Graph number of “2 ¾ “ was not quite as fast as I expected, he did get big figures on Beyer (100), Brisnet (102), and especially TimeFormUS, where he earned a 124 compared to 118 by Essential Quality. And I do expect him to make another leap forward in the Derby. As a side note of interest, his full-sister was born on March 27 weighing an incredible 165 pounds. Because the mare was having trouble, she was sent to Hagyard Equine Hospital, where they had to use chains to pull her out. It looks like this is a family of beasts.

2. Known Agenda (Todd Pletcher, Curlin – Byrama, by Byron)
I admit I’m taking a shot with the unfinished, but intriguing Rock Your World, but this is the horse who will be on all my tickets. I like the fact that his Thoro-Graph numbers and his Brisnet numbers parallel each other and show an almost identical progression. His Thoro-Graph numbers jumped from an “11” to a “3 ½” to a “1 ½.” To improve in a Grade 1 stakes off such a huge leap indicates a horse who is on an upward spiral. The Brisnet figures back that up, making a big leap from an 82 to a 94 and then another big move forward to a 101. I have discussed his pedigree numerous times, especially all the European stamina influences, and there is no horse on this year’s Derby trail who is more of a sure thing to relish the mile and a quarter. And if you want a horse with a ton of bottom, how many horses can you remember going into the Derby having run 1 1/8 miles four times, winning three? What I love most about him is the dramatic change with blinkers, which has helped him go from a frustrating underachiever to a professional colt who now takes no prisoners. You have to love watching him in action as he gets down and stretches out that neck and reaches out with those long strides. I also feel a close attachment having him ranked No. 8 in week 1 despite him having won only a maiden race by a head and coming off a nine-length defeat in the Remsen Stakes. I feel he is sitting on another big race and he could very well return to No. 1 as things progress in the next few weeks.

3. Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Tapit – Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality)
His “zero” Thoro-Graph number in the Blue Grass Stakes following a “negative-1/2” in the Southwest confirms he is the fastest 3-year-old in the country based on trip handicapping. Combine that with his versatility and the ability to beat you from anywhere on the track and you have a solid Derby favorite, especially now that Concert Tour has taken a big step backward. His Brisnet pace figures are strong, indicating he can maintain a solid pace throughout and still come home strong. When you can combine good tactical speed with a a strong closing punch it makes you awfully tough to beat. The bottom line is, whether it’s a fast or sloppy track, there is no way to plot strategy against him or find a chink in his armor. So why isn’t he ranked No. 1? I can’t give a logical answer other than to say I find the top two more interesting and had them ranked high when no one knew anything about them. So call it loyalty or ego, but this is a year I am following the words of Robert Frost: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” I’m just hoping that taking the road less traveled will make all the difference, especially at the mutuel windows. Although I feel the Blue Grass Stakes was an excellent prep and just what he needed, he did look vulnerable through most of the stretch run and was all out to barely beat a horse who had never been two turns. Hey, I’m just looking for anything I can find to justify not having him No. 1.

4. Dynamic One (Todd Pletcher, Unon Rags – Beat the Drums, by Smart Strike)
With the top tier diminishing in number and the rest of them pretty much interchangeable, I just spin the roulette wheel and it keeps landing on his number, so what the heck. Everyone is throwing the Wood Memorial out, especially a horse who got caught late by a 72-1 stablemate in such a slowly run race. But if there is a “tortoise” who can catch all these hares napping it is this vastly improved colt with the outrageously strong pedigree. As for getting beat a head in the Wood, it must be noted that he ran 43 feet farther than the victorious Bourbonic according to Trakus, which is equivalent to about five lengths. So if you want to say he was five lengths better than the winner go right ahead. Let’s not forget that we held the Gotham Stakes one-two finishers, Weyburn and Crowded Trade, in high regard coming off huge speed figures and he put both of them away, one inside him and one outside him, at the eighth pole. And this was coming off a maiden race. We haven’t seen anything close to his best yet, and you could see him with his head up flicking his ears when he got the lead in the Wood and then pinning them back once Bourbonic came alongside him. He may still be a bit green and needs encouragement by the rider, at least I hope that’s the reason why Jose Ortiz hit him 19 times in the stretch. Despite the vigorous whipping he deviated only slightly off his path, which bodes well for his professionalism. In any event, he has plenty of bottom under him coming off two 1 1/8-mile races over ridiculously slow tracks, and his Thoro-Graph numbers have climbed from an “8 ¾” to a “5” to a “2,” with his Wood number being two points faster than the winner and almost a point faster than Rock Your World’s Santa Anita Derby. It is also important to note that he ran a “5” in his second career start last year, which means he has a big early number to fall back on, legitimizing the big numbers he’s running now and his steady progression. I’m not saying he’s going to win the Derby, but don’t be too quick to dismiss him, especially in the exotics. I’m already looking at a Pletcher exacta.

5. Hot Rod Charlie (Doug O’Neill, Oxbow – Indan Miss, by Indian Charlie)
He breezed five furlongs in 1:01 1/5 in company with jockey Flavien Prat aboard. It was the best I’ve ever seen him work, as he did it easily, was striding out beautifully down the stretch, and galloped out strong. He is scheduled to work at Santa Anita every Saturday up until the week before the Derby and then ship to Louisville on the Sunday before the race. Like several other California trainers O’Neill is more comfortable training at home and being assured good weather and no disruptions in his schedule. Hot Rod Charlie is one of a number of Derby contenders who have won preps wire-to-wire despite not being true speed horses, which could make it more difficult deciding who will be on the lead. In Charlie’s 94-1 breakout performance in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile he came from seventh, eight lengths off the lead, only to be run down in the final sixteenth by Essential Quality, so, like the champ, you can put him anywhere on the track. In his front-running performance in the Louisiana Derby, jockey Joel Rosario felt strongly he could wire the field and he did just that after getting the green light to send him from O’Neill. What was most impressive was not only turning back a serious challenge from the classy Midnight Bourbon but drawing clear to win by daylight. One thing to remember, however, he has not improved his Thoro-Graph numbers (3 ¾, 3 ¾, and 3 ¾) or his Brisnet numbers (100, 93, then 96) since the Breeders’ Cup, so he has not gotten any faster in the last five months. But you can count on him being right there battling at the eighth pole and we’ll see if he can finish it off.

6. Highly Motivated (Chad Brown, Into Mischief – Strong Incentive, by Warrior’s Reward)
He is another who set the pace in his last race, but is not a true speed horse. He just took advantage of a paceless race, was coming off one-turn races, and was breaking from an inside post. For him to hold off Essential Quality until the final strides was a sensational effort. Perhaps it was Highly Motivated forcing Essential Quality out several paths at the eighth pole giving him separation or Highly Motivated getting a bit tired and switching back to his left lead at the sixteenth pole or simply Essential Quality asserting his superiority and class. In any case, it was a gutsy performance from a horse who had never been on the lead and had never been two turns. All I know is that in his last three starts, at 6 ½ furlongs, one mile, and 1 1/8 miles, he has earned a lofty 102 Brisnet speed figure in all three, so it’s obvious this is a fast horse no matter what the distance. In fact, after running a “3” Thoro-Graph number in his two previous starts, he improved to a “1 ½” in his two-turn debut. Now it’s a question whether he can stretch out another furlong. If you’re looking for words of encouragement, his sire’s granddam is by Stop the Music, who sired a Belmont and Travers winner (Temperence Hill) and his dam’s granddam is by Kingmambo, who sired a Belmont and Travers winner (Lemon Drop Kid).

7. Super Stock (Steve Asmussen, Dialed In – Super Girlie, by Closing Argument)
I think I need more time to digest this Johnny come lately who looked good winning the Arkansas Derby, but had a perfect setup with the two favorites battling on the lead in :22 3/5 and :46 2/5 and then crawling home the last three-eighths in :39 3/5. By comparison, in the Oaklawn Mile with good older horses they went the opening half in :47 4/5, so this was set up perfectly for a horse sitting right behind Caddo River and Concert Tour who can close. Even 24-1 shot Get Her Number, coming off a seventh-place finish in the Rebel Stakes, closed well to be beaten only a half-length for second. Also, his Thoro-Graph numbers were pretty slow going into the race, never having run faster than a “7,” and his Beyer figure for the Arkansas Derby was only a 92. This is not to suggest Super Stock isn’t a quality colt. He has never been off the board in six stakes appearances and was beaten only four lengths by Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Futurity. And this was only his second start of the year after a decent fourth in the Rebel, although he was beaten 6 ½ lengths. In his last start at 2 in the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs he was beaten a half-length by King Fury, who won the Lexington Stakes Saturday in his 3-year-old debut. So you can take the good with the bad with him, which is why he is ranked somewhere in the middle at this time. This was not a particularly strong Arkansas Derby field, with a small field and not much depth to it. So let’s sit tight for now and add him to the many Derby dilemmas. The way the Derby is looking now, it could actually wind up being another race that sets up perfectly for his running style. We just have no idea how good he is based on this race.

8. Midnight Bourbon (Steve Asmussen, Tiznow – Catch to Moon, by Malibu Moon)
The key to this horse is whether Caddo River runs and how committed to the lead Dubai invader Panadol is. And if Caddo River doesn’t run, will Baffert just send Concert Tour, feeling that is his most potent weapon and his only shot to win? The reason those are key points is that I believe this colt is much more effective on the lead, and as I have been stating, I don’t know if he has the closing punch to take back off the pace. I do, however, feel if he can get the lead and have them ignore him, feeling he will come back to them, he could be tough to get by in the stretch, much like his sire was. His LeComte Stakes victory is the blueprint he needs to use where he can steal this race, because he can catch them napping and has the pedigree and the tenacity to hold them off once they wake up. But if Caddo River runs or if Concert Tour is determined to get the lead all bets are off, because he doesn’t have their early speed. I do think he is getting stronger and is on a good Thoro-Graph pattern and is capable of popping a big one at any time. I also loved to see him turn in a bullet five-furlong work in 1:00 2/5 at Churchill Downs. So if you’re looking for a talented, consistent, and classy horse who is working well over the track and will be ignored in the betting, he is one to consider for your exotics.

9. Medina Spirit (Bob Baffert, Protonico – Mongolian Changa, by Brilliant Speed)
He’s sort of perplexing in a way. He has as much chance to run a strong race as any of the second tier horses, but I have concerns if he’s fast enough or has the closing punch to actually win. His Thoro-Graph numbers have remained a constant “3” in his last four races and it seems that’s who he is, steady and competitive. He did get a career-high 98 Brisnet number in the Santa Anita Derby, but was he carried to that number by Rock Your World’s 102? With that said, he did have that small ulcer in his throat and was beginning to entrap after the San Felipe and had a procedure done, which meant he had to wait 16 days to have his first work back, so it’s possible he may have been a tad short for the Santa Anita Derby. He still hasn’t shown he possesses the kind of weapon it would take to win the Kentucky Derby, but has shown enough in top-class company to indicate he will be competitive. He is just another of the many pieces to the puzzle.

10. Bourbonic (Todd Pletcher, Bernardini – Dancing Afleet, by Afleet Alex)
He’s a Wood Memorial winner, he turned in by far the most explosive stretch run of the year, he’s a beautiful looking horse, and he has one of the strongest pedigrees of any 3-year-old. So why does everyone dismissing the Wood as a fluke and still consider him a huge longshot for the Kentucky Derby? It apparently is all about the slow time of the race, the fact he was 72-1, and that he was coming off a $50,000 claiming race and a starter allowance race made up of former claimers. Heck, people don’t even know how to correctly pronounce his name. So what do you make of this colt moving forward to the Kentucky Derby at a distance he should relish even more than the 1 1/8 miles of the Wood, which by the way is starting to look stronger in the grand scheme of things. If you’re into historical pedigrees, how about this: Alfred Vanderbilt, one of the most iconic breeders in the history of the sport, bred his third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth dams, with his seventh dam being a full-sister to Native Dancer. There is a saying in racing about betting a horse off a victory in which he paid a monster price and you didn’t have him: if you didn’t go to the wedding don’t go to the funeral. Well, you may have missed the big payoff, but you’re still likely to get 20-1 or higher in the Derby. It may not be the wedding, but you can still cash in on the honeymoon.

11. Concert Tour, Bob Baffert, Street Sense – Purse Strings, by Tapit)
Although he was a horse on the verge of possible Derby favoritism, I can’t rank him any higher until we know what’s going on with him. Even Baffert has no answers for his performance in the Arkansas Derby and hasn’t even committed to the Kentucky Derby until he sees how he works at Churchill Downs. Once we find out he’s definitely pointing for the Derby and Baffert is happy with him we can try to make some sense of the Arkansas Derby and move him up in the rankings. To have a 1-5 shot this highly ranked get beat in his final Derby prep is one thing, but to fail to outduel a horse for second that you just crushed the race before is reason for concern. He ran the race he was expected to, sitting right off the flank of Caddo River and pressing him the whole way. When he pulled on even terms at the head of the stretch, everyone expected him to draw clear, but he couldn’t put Caddo River away. He did get his head in front, but let him come back to get second while the winner was blowing by both of them. So this was discouraging on all fronts. Can we chalk this performance up to him having only one easy victory around two turns and being a bit short for this race? He has trained very well so it would seem he was primed for a big effort. As I mentioned in past comments, his Thoro-Graph numbers going into the race were not very fast, especially for a horse many felt was the one to beat in the Kentucky Derby, but they were far better than the winner, so figure that one out. And on top of that he may very well lose jockey Joel Rosario, who is also the regular rider of Hot Rod Charlie.

12. Soup and Sandwich (Mark Casse, Into Mischief – Souper Scoop, by Tapit)
Even though he didn’t change leads in the Florida Derby, which might not have been his fault, as his lead change looked to be disrupted when Known Agenda brushed with him, it looks as if he has become much more professional since his first two starts when he was extremely green making numerous mistakes. He is a very aggressive horse, coming out of the gate with his ears already pinned and looking for action. He tracked the early leader for a short while, but you could see he wanted the lead and after taking over, he turned back all challenges. I believe John Velazquez might have waited a bit too long to set him down and he was caught by surprise when Known Agenda eased out and showed up alongside him. But Soup and Sandwich kept battling on his left lead. He might have made it closer if Known Agenda wasn’t out in the middle of the track where he didn’t have to look him in the eye, because I believe this colt is a fighter. His main problem is that there are so many good horses who have the same running style and I’m not sure he can relax and settle into a comfortable stride. If he can then he will be dangerous.

13. O Besos (Gregory Foley, Orb – Snuggs and Kisses, by Soto)
He will move up once he gets in the field, but he needs several ahead of him in points to officially withdraw. If he does get in he is a very live longshot. For now, turn the clocks back to 1993. The Claiborne Farm stallion Polish Navy is sold to Japan and shortly after, his son Sea Hero wins the Kentucky Derby. Now here we are in 2021 and the Claiborne Farm stallion Orb is sold to Uruguay just weeks before his son O Besos is to run in the Kentucky Derby. Food for thought? Even recently we had the stallion New Year’s Day sold to Brazil and four months later his son Maximum Security finishes first in the Kentucky Derby. Of course none of that means anything unless you believe in karma. But in O Besos’ case, he is another of the vastly improved colts who is trending upward coming into the Kentucky Derby. His maiden and allowance sprint victories were both eye-catching performances, in which he exploded in the stretch and drew away under a hand ride, demonstrating a smooth, effortless stride. In his two-turn debut in the Risen Star Stakes, he was closer to the pace and raced a bit greenly, as he was late changing leads and ducked out sharply from a left-handed whip, but still finished a respectable fourth. In the Louisiana Derby, his make-or-break race to get in the Kentucky Derby, he raced at the back of the pack, rallied turning for home, then cut to the inside in midstretch and showed a good burst of speed in the final sixteenth to just miss second by a head. After running a pair of “6 ½” Thoro-Graph numbers, he jumped to a “2 ¾,” the fastest number in the race. Although his Brisnet number was a moderate 94, it has steadily climbed from a 76 to 82 to 88 to 91 to 94, which was only two points slower than the victorious Hot Rod Charlie, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t improve once again in the Derby.

14. Rombauer (Mike McCarthy, Twirling Candy – Cashmere, by Cowboy Cal)
Here is an early exacta bet for you. A fairly common scenario we’ve seen in the Derby in recent years has been having a favorite or near favorite racing on or just off the pace finish first and a big longshot, usually around 30-1, rallying from far back to get second. Maximum Security, the second choice, finished 1st and 65-1 shot Country House rallied from far back to finish second. Always Dreaming, the favorite, finished first and 33-1 shot Lookin At Lee rallied from far back to finish second. California Chrome, the favorite, finished first and 37-1 shot Commanding Curve rallied from far back to finish second. Barbaro, the third choice, finished first, and 30-1 shot Bluegrass Cat came from eighth early to finish second. Although he wasn’t a pace horse, you also had Orb, the second choice, finish first, and 34-1 shot Golden Soul rally from far back to finish second. Well, how about this exacta with a pace horse and a deep closer. Rock Your World is by Candy Ride…Rombauer is by a son of Candy Ride. Rock Your World’s maternal granddam is by Giant’s Causeway…Rombauer’s maternal grandsire is by Giant’s Causeway. Rombauer is inbred only to Mr. Prospector…Rock Your World is inbred only to a son of Mr. Prospector. Rock Your World made his first two career starts on grass and then won a Grade 1 stakes on dirt in his next start…Rombauer made his first two career starts on grass and then finished second in a Grade 1 stakes on dirt in his next start. With Rombauer running uncharacteristically close to the pace in the Blue Grass Stakes, it put just enough speed in him to now take far back, as is his custom, but this time be sharp enough to have a more explosive stretch kick. No charge for that historical exacta tip.

15. Helium (Mark Casse, Ironicus – Thundering Emilia, by Thunder Gulch)
He’s now at Churchill Downs and Casse is starting to sharpen him up for the tough task ahead, working him five furlongs in company in :59 1/5 with jockey Julien Leparoux aboard. The Tampa Bay Derby winner broke sharply with an opening eighth in :11 4/5 and came home his last quarter in :23 4/5 before galloping out six furlongs in 1:12. This is the kind of work we needed to see with him going into the Kentucky Derby off an eight-week layoff, one start this year, and never having run farther than 1 1/16 miles. I keep mentioning those three facts because they are important, considering no horse has overcome any of those obstacles in over 100 years. He is trying to overcome all three, and if he does, don’t expect to see Derby horses in action that much in the future, as he will singlehandedly turn the Derby into a race that requires hardly any foundation and any prep races. There is no doubt he is a very talented and game horse who runs well off layoffs and has a Hall of Fame trainer, and he is in a position to rewrite the book on how to prepare a horse for the Kentucky Derby.

16. Like the King (Wesley Ward, Palace Malice – Like a Queen, by Corinthian)
This colt is actually kind of sneaky. Yes, he was beaten by 7 ¾ lengths and 12 lengths in is two dirt starts, but they were early in his career and he did finish second and third in those races. He is coming off three big efforts on Polytrack, including a victory in the Jeff Ruby Steaks, but also has turned in a bullet five-furlong work in :59 4/5 on dirt at Keeneland and had two more bullet works at Keeneland last fall. As for his pedigree, he has a Kentucky Derby winner (Unbridled), Preakness winner (Curlin), and Belmont winner (Palace Malice) in his first three generations and three more Belmont winners (A.P. Indy, Easy Goer, and Bet Twice) in his fourth generation female family. In his last three starts, he’s won on the lead with a slow pace; come from fourth, two lengths back; and come from eighth, 7 ½ lengths back, so we know he is versatile enough to adapt to any pace. He recently worked six furlongs in 1:16 at Keeneland on the grass in company with two other horses. With jockey Drayden Van Dyke aboard, he broke off well behind his workmates and collared them in the stretch. His next two works before the Derby will be on the main track.

 

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

Although HIDDEN STASH hasn’t given any indication he can win the Derby, he has never been off the board in seven career starts and always runs hard. He had a big problem with his lead changes, but did switch to his right lead for the first time in the Tampa Bay Derby and was narrowly beaten after running off badly before the race. In the Blue Grass, just as he switched to his right lead he bumped with Keepmeinmind, knocking him back on his left lead and that’s the way he ran the rest of the way. He was unable to quicken and just ran evenly to finish a well-beaten fourth. He is a better horse than he’s shown and just needs to put everything together.

So now that MANDALOUN opened eyes with a bullet :58 4/5 work at Churchill Downs, should we simply throw out his dismal performance in the Louisiana Derby or did he just fail to stay the 1 3/16 miles? I doubt it was the distance because he was done at the top of the stretch, so he remains another of the many mysteries going into this year’s Derby.

I am not ready to rank UAE Derby runner-up PANADOL yet until he gets on the plane and we see how he travels and how he takes to his new surroundings. Plus I have no idea how good he is other than he is a solid frontrunner who was beaten by a very classy horse at Meydan. This year in particular I’m certainly not going to throw him out.

CADDO RIVER ran a much improved race in the Arkansas Derby and showed a lot of guts outdueling Concert Tour for second, but he sure looks like a live Preakness horse to me, and I have a feeling that is where Brad Cox wants to go unless owner John Ed Anthony has Derby fever and is willing to jeopardize his chances at Pimlico.

KING FURY, who needed some ankle remodeling time in December, looked great winning the Lexington Stakes coming back off a vacation at Three Chimneys Farm, where he spent every day out in a paddock for several months wearing a Rambo (turnout) blanket, coming in for only two hours to get fed and be checked out. That no doubt helped him in many ways and he came back fresh and raring to go. Although trainer Kenny McPeek says he will run in the Derby if he gets the points, that makes no sense to me, and I will still consider him a Preakness horse until they actually enter him.

In other Preakness news, BROOKLYN STRONG, who ran a good race in the Wood Memorial, finishing a solid fifth in his 3-year-old debut, will target the second leg of the Triple Crown and may use the 1 1/8-mile Federico Tesio Stakes at Laurel April 24 as a prep.

Derby Rankings: Week 12

Monday, April 5th, 2021

The big weekend of final preps that was supposed to clear up the Derby picture hardly accomplished that as we lost several of the old faces and added several new ones, including a megabomb that no one saw coming. So, now with only four weeks to the Derby here is the roster that has been assembled…with even more question marks. As you will see, I am not taking the conventional path when it comes to who reigns atop the Rankings. This is not the year to be boring. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: Week 12, Apr. 5

By Steve Haskin

1. Rock Your World (John Sadler, Candy Ride – Charm the Maker, by Empire Maker)
In the 22 years I’ve been doing Derby Dozen and Derby Rankings I have never had a tougher time deciding who to put No. 1. It all comes down to this: Essential Quality is an undefeated champion who is the most logical No. 1. Known Agenda has already had the top spot and is a horse I have been high on from day one. But despite having only three career starts, Rock Your World is the one horse who possesses freakish qualities you rarely see. I am looking at him as a horse who has had more than three starts because I have never seen a horse gallop out after a race the way he does and comes back as if he wants to go around again. He possesses a remarkable engine with numerous gears. In the Santa Anita Derby he used one gear to run his opponents off their feet early, another to quickly separate himself from the stalking Medina Spirit and Parnelli on the turn, and several more in the stretch as he kept changing leads and surging forward each time. After setting a wicked pace, he seemed to get stronger the farther he went, running through the wire and opening up at least 15 lengths on the gallop-out. After returning, jockey Umberto Rispoli had to tug hard on the reins to get him to pull up. And he still is raw, as he demonstrated when he needed Rispoli to help him change leads, and then when the rider hit him right-handed and looked back over his shoulder, he jumped back to his left lead and surged again as he did in the Pasadena. It’s as if he uses lead changes to find another gear. This horse is just different, which is why I have had him ranked so high off two starts and never having run on dirt. Physically, he is a beast and he’s doing things ordinary horses just don’t do. As I concluded in last week’s comment, “He could be special and we very well may be seeing a huge breakout performance on Saturday.” That we did. And for those who follow it, he is now the only one among the Derby hopefuls to earn a 100 Beyer this year.

2. Known Agenda (Todd Pletcher, Curlin – Byrama, by Byron)
It was tough dropping him to No. 2, but it’s almost a dead-heat. When a horse has been running Thoro-Graph numbers of “11” and makes a giant leap to a “3 1/2″ there are several factors to consider. In this case, making such a dramatic improvement you have to ask, was it due to the addition of blinkers? Was it due to the addition of Lasix? Will he regress coming off Lasix in his first Grade 1 stakes? Will he simply “bounce” off a figure that he’s never come close to running before? Well, all those questions became moot when he not only didn’t regress he took another jump forward running a “1 1/2.” So now we know this horse is on a strong upward trend. As for his pedigree, in this day and age where speed rules, he is a rarity with points in both the stamina categories of his Dosage Profile. His granddam comes from one of the strongest European sires lines of modern times, from her sire Darshaan, who won the French Derby and was a champion sire and broodmare sire in three countries to Darshaan’s sire Shirley Heights, who the English and Irish Derby and sired a French Derby winner and English Derby winner in back-to-back years to Shirley Heights’ sire, the legendary Mill Reef, winner of the English Derby, King George, and Arc de Triomphe, whose record of six consecutive Group 1 victories stood for 30 years and who sired eight classic winners and a Breeders’ Cup Turf winner. Known Agenda also is inbred to the English Derby winner Sir Ivor, and his tail-female family traces to Nijinsky II, the last horse to sweep the English Triple Crown. With Curlin on top the mile and a quarter should be a piece of cake. Think of him as Antares, one of the four white Arabians in the movie Ben Hur. The sheikh who owns him acknowledges he’s not as fast as the other three, but “he will run all day without tiring.” It is time for a resurgence of stamina on the first Saturday in May and this is the guy to do it.

3. Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Tapit – Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality)
I am fully aware it is sacrilegious to have him ranked No. 3, especially considering he is an undefeated champion and his Blue Grass victory was exactly the prep he needed for the Kentucky Derby, where he no doubt will be favored unless Concert Tour does something exceptional in the Arkansas Derby. With only one easy victory in the slop in five months he needed to have a tough race, and what made this a perfect prep is that he fought hard to beat a very good horse by a neck and most important there was a 5 1/2-length gap back to the third horse. His closing fractions of :23 4/5, :23 4/5, and :12 2/5, with a final three-eighths in :36 1/5 were very strong. The bottom line is that he is the logical and deserving Derby favorite, but this just isn’t the year I want to put a favorite on top, so I am just looking to latch onto something special and stand by my early convictions regarding the merits of the Top 2 horses. Essential Quality is still the only 3-year-old to run a negative Thoro-Graph number and I would expect to see another fast number in the Blue Grass. And as I have been mentioning all year, he has proven to be a horse you can put anywhere depending on the pace, whether on the lead, stalking the pace, or six or seven lengths back. In short you cannot plan strategy against him. But it has to be mentioned that no Blue Grass winner has won the Derby in 30 years.

4. Concert Tour (Bob Baffert, Street Sense – Purse Strings, by Tapit)
Judging from the prospective field for the Arkansas Derby he should be another going into the Kentucky Derby undefeated. He does need to continue to move forward and improve his Thoro-Graph numbers, but I doubt there is anyone who believes that won’t happen. He definitely is still a work in progress. He turned in another strong work, going six furlongs in 1:12 4/5 in the fog and working alone. He had his ears up the entire length of the stretch with the rider way up in the saddle and really poured it on after the wire, putting his ears back and picking up the pace. Baffert has always been very high on this colt and we will see how he adapts if they change tactics with the speedy Caddo River and let him roll this time. This not a horse who needs the lead and I am looking forward to seeing how he runs sitting off the pace, just as I was when American Pharoah ran in the Arkansas Derby and showed he was capable of winning that way. This is not the Derby you want a one-dimensional horse with so many tactical speed horses in there. After next week everything will be sorted out and we should have a better idea where all these horses should be ranked.

5. Greatest Honour (Shug McGaughey, Tapit – Tiffany’s Honour, by Street Cry)
Yes, he’s down to No. 5 for now, but we’re talking five-horse photo and he is still the horse I will be betting, but now as an overlay instead of a favorite. I just can’t rank him above the top 4. What I don’t understand is all the panicking over one defeat. Horses have bad days for various reasons. I mentioned last week he had run at least one race in every month since September, including a mile and eighth race last fall over a deep tiring track, and this year ran too fast, too good, too early. There was no way he could keep moving forward every race after the Holy Bull. If you believe in blessings in disguise, consider this: if he had won the Florida Derby he would have gone into the Kentucky Derby off three consecutive two-turn graded stakes victories on dirt as a 3-year-old. The last time a horse did that and won the Derby was 42 years ago and his name was Spectacular Bid. Heck, four of the last five Triple Crown winners didn’t do it. Do you know how many horses have swept the Holy Bull, Fountain of Youth, and Florida Derby? That’s correct, none. I think we need to take a deep breath and give this horse a break. I am not saying he is going to win the Kentucky Derby and I’m not saying he isn’t regressing, but losing the Florida Derby with a poor ride is not a reason to dismiss him. Does anyone remember when Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby winner Thunder Gulch finished a dull fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes as the 6-5 favorite? He also was dismissed and the result was a $51 payoff at Churchill Downs on a horse who was the Derby favorite one race earlier. As Aaron Rodgers spelled out a few years ago after the Green Bay Packers lost several games: “R-E-L-A-X.” There is a reason he was ranked No. 1 for eight straight weeks and if you liked him before you’re going to feel awful foolish if he wins the Derby at a big price and you went off him.

6. Highly Motivated (Chad Brown, Into Mischief – Strong Incentive, by Warrior’s Reward)
I’m still not positive a mile and quarter will be his strength, but he ran a sensational race in the Blue Grass Stakes in his two-turn debut, setting all the pace and holding on doggedly to make Essential Quality work like he’s never had to work before. But this was a wacky race with the first three-quarters run in 1:12 and the deep closers Rombauer and Keepmeinmind running third and fourth only two lengths off the lead. But when the pace quickened, he and Essential Quality left the others far behind. It looked like only a question of how far Essential Quality would win by as they hit the top of the stretch. But Highly Motivated wouldn’t quit. He kept battling back and switched back to his left lead at the sixteenth pole, just falling a neck short. It might have been different if he didn’t drift out from left-handed whipping forcing Essential Quality out. Instead of being inches apart with Essential Quality unable to get by him, they were now several paths apart with Essential Quality no longer having to look him in the eye. With Highly Motivated now on his wrong lead he just failed to hold off the champ, who got his neck in front right before the wire. He is another horse who I believe doesn’t need the lead, but coming off one-turn races and with no pace at all it was the right move.

7. Hot Rod Charlie (Doug O’Neill, Oxbow – Ind1an Miss, by Indian Charlie)
He breezed a half in :49 2/5, staying busy before the serious training begins. Does anyone else feel as if the Louisiana Derby was a long time ago? It’s pretty amazing how many horses who really aren’t need-the-lead types have set the pace in Derby preps, including him, Rock Your World, Concert Tour, Highly Motivated, Medina Spirit, Soup and Sandwich, and Midnight Bourbon. Who knows who is going to set the pace in the Derby? Maybe UAE Derby runner-up Panadol. This colt has proven his versatility and was 94-1 when he came from seventh and put quite a scare in Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He has proven that was no fluke, and like Essential Quality he can beat you from anywhere on the track. And his trainer has proven on more than one occasion he knows how to win the Kentucky Derby. Whether he is a true mile and a quarter horse we won’t know until the first Saturday in May, something I guess you can say about a lot of them. But he gives 100 percent every time and you know you’re in a race when you go up against him.

8. Midnight Bourbon (Steve Asmussen, Tiznow – Catch to Moon, by Malibu Moon)
He had his first work over the Churchill Downs track, breezing five furlongs in a sharp 1:01 1/5. Of the possible Derby pacesetters mentioned above, who is the one most likely to be ignored and left alone on an easy lead? It would have to be him, as his wire-to-wire victory in the LeComte Stakes has been long forgotten by most people and in his last two starts racing just off the pace he didn’t have the closing kick to get the job done. So in my opinion there is little strategy to discuss. You have to go for the lead either at the start and lull them to sleep or get the lead fairly early in the race. I have seen so many horses who cannot catch anyone in the stretch, but are hard to pass once on the lead. He is maturing physically, and being by Tiznow, his most powerful weapon appears to be tenacity and the ability to not let horses get by him in the stretch. One thing is for sure, he will be forgotten at the windows and will be a huge price for a horse who knows how to battle and has never finished out of the money in seven starts, five of them in graded stakes. He’s just a good horse to keep in the back of your mind on Derby Day.

9. Dynamic One (Todd Pletcher, Unon Rags – Beat the Drums, by Smart Strike)
You can bet he’s going to get a faster Thoro-Graph number than the winner in the Wood Memorial, which he appeared to have won, but just got nipped on the wire after losing a lot of ground on the first turn and racing wide throughout. According to Trakus, he ran 43 feet farther than the winner, indicating that with a ground-saving trip he would have won by many lengths. He still showed a good turn of foot sweeping by horses on the far turn to reach contention. He kept on determinedly, but all that ground loss eventually took its toll. And it didn’t help that the track was so ridiculously slow. That takes a lot out of a horse, which is why I believe several of the favorites ran poorly. It is not an ideal way to prep for the Derby and can very well dull a horse. Aqueduct in early April often is slow, but not this slow. As for Dynamic One, I fell in love with him off a fourth in a maiden race, in which he had a horrendous trip but showed me all the signs of a top-class horse. I was just waiting for him to get that maiden win out of the way, which he did on a similar slow track, and I felt he had a big shot to move forward several lengths in the Wood. He has a tremendous pedigree, but it’s just a question of whether he is fast enough now to win the Derby. He surely has the bottom under him and is dead fit. He may be more of a Belmont or even Travers horse, but I still feel with a good trip he can make his presence felt in the Derby.

10. Soup and Sandwich (Casse, Into Mischief – Souper Scoop, by Tapit)
He is yet another work in progress and another Into Mischief. His sons are running amok on the Derby trail and you just never know how far they want to go. Like several of the lightly raced horses this year he is doing things he shouldn’t be doing for a green horse who hasn’t figured it out yet. He showed that with his powerful runner-up effort in the Florida Derby coming off two races in which he made enough mistakes to last an entire career. But Casse got him to run much more professionally and he was able to carry his speed farther than one might have thought at that point in his career. The Derby might be a race or two too early for him, but he has to be respected. I believe once he becomes more polished we will see a very good horse who will win his share of stakes. His owner Charlotte Weber is old school and a true sportswoman and next year it will be 40 years since she finished second in the Derby with longshot Laser Light.

11. Bourbonic (Todd Pletcher, Bernardini – Dancing Afleet, by Afleet Alex)
So he was coming off of Lasix, and coming off a $50,000 claiming race and a starter allowance optional claimer for horses who had run in a claiming race and he wins the Wood Memorial at 72-1 coming from far back with an powerful stretch run after trailing the field until inside the three-sixteenths pole. Does that sound like a Todd Pletcher-trained horse to you? I believe part of it is that many of the leading contenders were spinning their wheels on that deep track and never fired, resulting in a :39 1/5 final three-eighths, the slowest mile and an eighth stakes on the card, which earned him a slow 89 Beyer speed figure. But to his credit he did come home his final three-eighths in a respectable :37 1/5. Don’t ask me what to make of this horse or this race, but one thing is certain and that is he has an amazing pedigree with a ton of class and stamina, and his sire and broodmare sire are remembered for scoring two of the most impressive Preakness victories we’ve seen in a long time. He also has improved dramatically with blinkers. Who knows, maybe he was just treading water until he was able to stretch out to a mile and an eighth. If that is the case, what is going to happen when he stretches out to a mile and a quarter? We can just envision the list of Derby winners that bore the name of Calumet Farm: Citation, Whirlaway, Iron Liege, Tim Tam, Bourbonic.

12. Medina Spirit (Bob Baffert, Protonico – Mongolian Changa, by Brilliant Speed)
He is certainly consistent and he has been running in top company all year, but he has yet to show he has enough weapons to win the Kentucky Derby. He has excellent tactical speed but not much of a closing punch, so I’m not sure what tactics he would use. But he has earned his way into the big race and deserves a shot at it, especially considering he has never finished out of the money and has proven he is a fighter on the lead. He was always in perfect position in the Santa Anita Derby, stalking a fast pace set by Rock Your World, but when the winner accelerated on the far turn he could not match strides with him, and like in the San Felipe he got the best of Dream Shake in the final furlong for second. Look, there is nothing wrong with running hard in big stakes and picking up a check each time. His victories will come; it just doesn’t have to be in the Kentucky Derby.

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

Getting back to ROCK YOUR WORLD, it has to be mentioned that his was bred by Ron and Debbie McAnally. Here is a Hall of Fame trainer who had the legendary John Henry 40 years ago and is approaching his 90th birthday with a leading Kentucky Derby contender that he bred thanks to his breeding right to the brilliant Candy Ride, who he saddled to a track record-breaking performance in the Pacific Classic. “This is so incredible to be able to breed a horse like this,” Debbie said. “But all the credit goes to my man. He picks out all the matings.” They knew this colt could be special before they sold him because he was such an imposing individual whose measurements revealed an outstanding physical specimen, as we saw on Saturday. “Even at age 89, Ron is out at the track every morning unless I’m able to lasso him in,” Debbie continued. “But it’s in his blood and keeps him young. This is all about hopes and dreams and we certainly have both.”

One other statistic regarding the Santa Anita Derby: Rock Your World set fractions of :22 3/5, :46, 1:10 3/5, and 1:36 1/5. By comparison the fractions of the Santa Anita Oaks run earlier were :24 1/5, :49 1:13, and 1:38. That those fractions took nothing out of him and he galloped out in another area code tells you all you need to know about this colt.

HELIUM – Can we call him 13A as part of the Derby Baker’s Dozen? He belongs with the others mentioned in the last five spots, but I have been saying for a while he has so much history to overcome with the eight-week layoff, having only one start at 3, and never having run farther than 1 1/16 miles He will be attempting something that has not been accomplished in over 100 years. But I do have to say I love his works, especially his most recent five-furlong drill in 1:01 2/5 at Palm Meadows in which he was strong from the beginning. He runs hard and always seems very determined, which no doubt helped him battle back in the stretch to win the Tampa Bay Derby going away. We’ll keep monitoring his works closely and leave it up to Mark Casse to figure out a way to pull this off.

MANDALOUN – Despite his dull effort in the Louisiana Derby, he is at Churchill Downs and worked a half in :49 4/5 for the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Brad Cox could offer no excuse at Fair Grounds saying he simply ran out of gas. After talking it over with the Juddmonte brass they are going to throw the race out and if he continues to train well he will run in the Derby. They have always been very high on this colt, which makes his performance even more puzzling. Might as well give him another shot with six weeks to regroup.

CADDO RIVER – While on the subject of throwing a race out, Brad Cox will also be doing it for Caddo River after his disappointing effort in the Rebel Stakes when he wasn’t asked to challenge Concert Tour for the early lead and fought his rider, eventually fading out of contention. He will get another chance in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby and certainly is still sharp, working five furlongs in company in 1:00 1/5, galloping out six furlongs in 1:13 2/5. Expect different tactics this time.

PROXY – Mike Stidham said he’s been a puzzle and he had to make a positive visual move forward to continue on to Kentucky, which he didn’t. So his inclination was to not run in the Derby. Although his Ragozin and Thoro-Graph numbers were career bests and he is progressing in his overall development, Stidham doesn’t want to force him into the Derby. He did turn in a swift half-mile work in a bullet :46 4/5, fastest of 64 works at the distance. He probably will need points if they do want to give him a shot, so watch for him to show up in Saturday’s Lexington Stakes, which would also give him one last shot to get his act together and stop lugging out in the stretch every race.

O BESOS – He looks to have little chance of getting in with 25 points. Although there is still the Lexington Stakes with enough points to possibly get him in the Derby, they have decided to sit pat, with the worst case scenario being a start in the Pat Day Mile on Derby Day as one of the favorites. Greg Foley and his son and assistant Travis were thrilled with his performance in the Louisiana Derby, where he got the fastest Thoro-Graph number in the race, a “2 3/4.” They realize he is still immature physically and growing and improving every day. He certainly belongs in the Derby off that performance, which came up a head short of putting him in the starting gate. But it’s a long year and he has a bright future.

Four horses definitely in the Derby if their connections wish to go are REBEL’S ROMANCE and PANADOL, one-two in the UAE Derby, and LIKE THE KING and SAINTHOOD, one-two in the Jeff Ruby Steaks. Panadol, who was a late Triple Crown nominee, would be the natural pacesetter.

HIDDEN STASH with 32 points continues to run well, but not quite well enough, and the same can be said of ROMBAUER with 34 points, although it was a surprise to see him so close to the lead in the Blue Grass. It was no surprise to see a brilliant but lightly raced and untested PREVALENCE struggle on that deep track in the Wood. He will move on to bigger and better things. But there seemed to be no excuse for RISK TAKING, who was never in the race. CROWDED TRADE and WEYBURN ran OK, but below expectations. Crowded Trade had every chance in the stretch, but couldn’t sustain his run. In California, DREAM SHAKE picked up another piece of the purse, but doesn’t seem quite ready to move forward in the Derby.

In addition to Concert Tour and Caddo River, the Arkansas Derby will have Rebel runner-up HOZIER along with other California invaders GET HER NUMBER and possibly ROMAN CENTURIAN, who scratched from the Santa Anita Derby. Also expected are SUPER STOCK and the Dallas Stewart-trained LAST SAMURAI, who is taking a wild shot to try to get a small piece of it.

Derby Rankings: Week 11

Monday, March 29th, 2021

Well, four of the 100-point preps are in the books and four to go. And guess what, the picture is even more unclear than it was before. We have 11 horses from this country who have completed their preps, the majority of whom are fairly secure when it comes to points. But others have to sit back and see what transpires. There no doubt will be controversy regarding the placing of the top two ranked horses, but it is all explained and will be resolved in Saturday’s Blue Grass Stakes. So here we go. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: Week 11, Mar. 29

By Steve Haskin

 

1. Known Agenda (Todd Pletcher, Curlin – Byrama, by Byron)
No, this is not a knee-jerk reaction. Everyone thought I had this horse ranked way too high at No. 4, not having accomplished much in stakes company, getting a head-scratching 82 Beyer in his 11-length win last out, and Churchill Downs refusing to put him in the Future Wager field. I can regurgitate everything I have written about him and why I have been so high on him, but the bottom line is that he finally has arrived. All you had to do was look at that low action and the way he sticks out his neck and reaches out with those huge strides to know why he’s been such a pleasure to watch run. He got himself out of a precarious spot down on the rail, where he does not want to be, which gives one confidence he can handle a big Derby field. Why Irad Ortiz hit him eight times left-handed even while he was shying from the whip and drifting out is beyond me. Despite that and then being angled in sharply he still came home his final three-eighths in a sharp :36 4/5. And that came after quarters of :24 and :24 1/5. If you don’t think the blinkers have snapped him out of his recent malaise, his Thoro-Graph figure last race catapulted from an unseemly “11” to a “3 1/2” and now here he was trapped on the rail and weaving his way out just like an old pro. As for his top ranking, he is now two-for-two against previous No. 1 Greatest Honour. Eddie Woods, who gave him his early training said he was a beautiful mover, but more importantly he was a “star mentally,” and that’s what you want to hear going into the Derby. If you want a refresher course on this colt’s amazing pedigree you can either go back to Week 1 in the archives or wait for an even more in depth look at it next week.

2. Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Tapit – Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality)
Yes, I am fully aware he should be No. 1, and perhaps should have been even before the Florida Derby. But let’s look at it this way, Known Agenda, ranked No. 4, has stamped himself as a major contender who is progressing rapidly and has a pedigree to die for. If Essential Quality somehow gets beat in the Blue Grass, which is very doubtful, he would be No. 1 for only one week. This way, let’s just wait a week for him to defeat his far inferior opponents at Keeneland and then he can have four weeks on top. Also, let’s not forget that Brad Cox has already had two major contenders run terribly, although no one expects that from this colt. From a personal perspective, I am always looking for those hidden gems and right now it’s more fun going against the grain and not being so logical, while elevating one of those hidden gems despite the derision of others. I guess I am too loyal to them, as I was when I stubbornly refused to put Justify No. 1 over Vino Rosso, who kind of reminds me of Known Agenda, so I apparently didn’t learn my lesson. With that said, Essential Quality is now the clear-cut Derby favorite and the most sensible No. 1. The Blue Grass is looking like a fairly small field at this point, with no one who appears capable of beating him. His performance also could affect what Godolphin does with their impressive UAE Derby winner Rebel’s Romance. Tune in next week when we have the real Derby picture.

3. Concert Tour (Bob Baffert, Street Sense – Purse Strings, by Tapit)
His Thoro-Graph and Brisnet speed figures need to get a bit faster, but with his first two-turn race under him and the improvement expected from a horse with only three career starts and a single two-turn race that he won under wraps, there is little doubt Baffert will have him cranked up for a career best effort in the Arkansas Derby, which like the Blue Grass looks to be coming up light, at least as of now. So, barring the unforeseen, it appears we should have a Bob Baffert — Brad Cox showdown in the Derby, and you can bet Baffert didn’t like seeing this young gun come along last year and snatching the Eclipse Award he felt he deserved, especially considering that despite his remarkable success year after year he amazingly has won only one Eclipse award in the past 21 years and that was compliments of the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. Now he has a chance to give Gary and May West the Derby victory they had taken away from them two years ago. As for Concert Tour, he does have to take another step forward and he helped his cause with an impressive looking five-furlong work in 1:00 4/5, which doesn’t sound exceptional by Baffert’s standards, but he worked alone and had his ears up the entire length of the stretch with the rider’s hands virtually motionless. Only when he was asked for a little more after the wire did he put his ears back and get down to more serious business. Baffert has always liked this horse and there was one week a while back when he was trying to tame the aggressive Life is Good and harness his speed that he said Concert Tour was his best 3-year-old.

4. Greatest Honour (Shug McGaughey, Tapit – Tiffany’s Honour, by Street Cry)
Here is a tip for today’s not so old racing fans: horses lose. They do it all the time, especially after they have won three in a row. Believe it or not, in the 19 years between 1992 and 2010, 13 Derby winners lost their previous start, including those trained by Baffert (twice), Lukas (twice), Pletcher, Zito, Shirreffs, Tagg, and Mack Miller. Sure, we’ve been spoiled in the past several years, but the recent Derby winners that have won their previous start were lightly raced and had little wear and tear. But Greatest Honour has had seven starts, five of them around two turns, and has raced every month since September without a break. He unfortunately ran too big a race in late January, all those long races have dulled him, and he has tailed off a bit; it has happened before. Fortunately, he, like the others alluded to earlier, has a Hall of Fame trainer who is very capable of using the next five weeks to get him sharp again. And let’s add that he received a very questionable ride in the Florida Derby, going four-wide into the turn, then cutting sharply to the rail for some reason and again dropping to the back of the pack. Stuck in a precarious situation, he then was asked to make a premature move down the backstretch and ran smack into a traffic jam with no way out until it was too late. Yes, he came up empty in the stretch, but this is a horse who wants to be clear on the outside, and now it’s up to McGaughey to bring back the horse we saw in the Holy Bull, who was only four lengths off a :46 4/5 half and won going away.

5. Medina Spirit (Bob Baffert, Protonico – Mongolian Changa, by Brilliant Speed)
After his last race, he had a little ulcer in this throat and looked like he was starting to entrap, so they did a minor procedure on it and he’s doing great now and has since tuned in two strong works. In Sunday’s half-mile drill he worked from the 4 1/2-furlong pole and really picked it up after the wire, going out six furlongs in about 1:12, and doing it very smoothly. Let’s not forget that Life is Good is the only horse to defeat him and he has shown he can win on the lead and dig in gamely when threatened and can close from off the pace. And he is versatile enough to win at 5 1/2 furlongs and 1 1/16 miles. He likely will be the favorite in the Santa Anita Derby and with his speedy stablemate Defunded in there, it is expected he will provide a solid pace. This looks like a very competitive race on paper and should be an excellent steppingstone to the Kentucky Derby. But with his problems cleared up and Life is Good out of the way, this is his time to shine.

6. Hot Rod Charlie (Doug O’Neill, Oxbow – Indian Miss, by Indian Charlie)
I honestly don’t know what to make of the Louisiana Derby and have no idea how much this colt has improved since the Breeders’ Cup. The Louisiana Derby has fooled us many times in the past when it comes to producing Kentucky Derby horses, but you would think the 1 3/16-mile distance should set these horses up for the big race better than in past years. After he paired up “3 3/4” Thoro-Graph numbers I thought he would move forward off that, but he ran another “3 3/4,” which means he hasn’t gotten any faster since the Breeders’ Cup. And despite the fact that he won by two lengths, his Thoro-Graph number was the fourth fastest in the race, a full point slower than the third-place finisher. He has proven to be a tough competitor who never backs down from a fight, and he is another who is versatile enough to win from on or off the pace. There is a good chance he will lose Joel Rosario to Concert Tour, and Rosario will be tough to replace, so we will have to see how that plays out.

7. Rock Your World (John Sadler, Candy Ride – Charm the Maker, by Empire Maker)
I ranked him this high last week off two grass starts because they were eye-catching performances, in which he displayed a quick turn of foot and had two monster gallop-outs. I admit at first I wasn’t that crazy about his work last week, as the rider was way too busy on him tying to keep up with his workmate and had him in a full-out drive at the wire. But I saw in Sunday’s work that’s him. And boy was he rolling in his spectacular five-furlong work in a bullet :59 1/5, which not only was the fastest of 76 works at the distance, it was two full seconds faster than the average time that day of 1:01 1/5. He again was being asked in the stretch, with the rider throwing a cross on him and riding him hard at the wire. But he seems to thrive on that, coming back a week after a hard six-furlong work and working lights out like this. Sadler certainly doesn’t baby him in the morning like many trainers these days do. He has such a powerful stride with great extension and seems to get stronger the farther he goes. Just watch the gallop-outs after his two races. His pedigree is made up of several top-class horses who excelled on both grass and dirt and at all distances. As I’ve been saying the past few weeks, he could be special and we very well may be seeing a huge breakout performance on Saturday.

8. Midnight Bourbon (Steve Asmussen, Tiznow – Catch to Moon, by Malibu Moon)
The blueprint for this horse is simple if he is going to win the Derby. He has shown he just doesn’t have the desire or more likely the closing punch to pass horses in the stretch, but good luck tying to get by him if he has the lead. His sire was not the type to run down horses in the stretch, but there wasn’t a horse who could get by him. He did battle on gamely when apparently beaten to stick his nose in front of Sakhee at the wire in his second Classic victory, but he was a 4-year-old and fully battle-tested, and he was a Hall of Famer. This colt needs to find out who he is and how to use the one weapon his sire apparently has passed down to him. We know what he can’t do and we saw what he can do in the LeComte Stakes and he definitely looks like he has a lot of Tiznow in him in that he is a dogged competitor who needs to be in front to be able to use his tenacity and courage. So, here we are at the Derby. There are two scenarios for victory: he goes to the lead knowing no one is going to pay attention to him and he lulls everyone to sleep until it is time to go after him. That is when he pulls out his main weapon and dares anyone to pass him; or he sits right off a horse who is determined to get to the front and then catches him by surprise and takes over by the time they hit the top of stretch. He just needs to be in front before they turn for home. There you go, the general has spoken.

9. Soup and Sandwich (Mark Casse, Into Mischief – Souper Scoop, by Tapit)
First off, I feel this colt is probably one race short of being ready to win the Kentucky Derby, but he showed me so much more than I expected from such a green immature horse who hasn’t beaten anything that I am at least convinced he is ready to be competitive. In his first two races he was gawking at everything, was intimidated easily, ducked sharply to the inside in the stretch for no apparent reason, managed to get himself trapped in a three-horse field at Tampa Bay, and had trouble changing leads. Although he still refused to change leads in the Florida Derby, he ran perfectly straight down the stretch and was far more professional in general. He floated a bit too wide going into the first turn, but settled nicely pressing the early pace. He managed to get a short lead nearing the head of the stretch and I thought John Velazquez would set him down before the big horses closed in on him, but he just kept sitting chilly on him, and it looked as if he was caught by surprise when Known Agenda suddenly swung out and showed up right alongside him. Velazquez looked over and it was like, “Oops, where did you come from?” By then it was too late, as Known Agenda was by him. He was so close to him, possibly even brushing him that it might have impeded his lead change. He remained stuck on his left lead the rest of the way, but still hung in there and ran strong to the wire, finishing three lengths ahead of Greatest Honour. He definitely is still a work in progress and when the final product emerges we’re going to see a very exciting horse. But this was a huge step forward for him. Now all he has to do is show he can change leads.

10. Risk Taking (Chad Brown, Medaglia d’Oro – Run a Risk, by Distorted Humor)
Boy, the Wood Memorial is a tough race to figure out, with so many elements and different types of horses converging. This is a pure crap shoot. Any one of seven horses has a legitimate shot to win. I have had him ranked highest and no sense changing now. I’m not sure if he is fast enough for some of these horses, but he has made such great strides and is so tough and a relentless closer I have no choice but to stick with him knowing any one of his opponents can pop a big one and beat him, including his own stablemate Crowded Trade, who could be any kind, but like Nicky the Vest, Prevalence, and Brooklyn Strong, he has a lot of catching up to do. Risk Taking on the other hand is a seasoned, battle-tested pro with a lot of foundation. So I am just going to sit back and enjoy what promises to be a cavalry charge in the stretch and see who prevails.

11. Weyburn (Jimmy Jerkens, Pioneerof the Nile – Sunday Affair, by A.P. Indy)
He has never been two turns, but I have no doubt he will not only handle it, but probably will improve. I am also a sucker for any horse trained by Jimmy Jerkens, especially one that comes from such a strong family that has the presence of Sky Beauty, the Hall of Fame Triple Tiara winner trained by Jimmy’s father Allen, one of the truly great trainers who taught his son well. Yes, I like this horse, especially the way he bounced back from an illness that cost him valuable time to run one of the gutsiest races of the year going a tough flat mile, but more so I am confident Jerkens will get the best out of him and have him ready for a peak effort in the Kentucky Derby. But first he has to get past this tough race and we will see how he handles the two turns. All I know is that Weyburn is going to be ready for this test and the big one in five weeks when we will see a fitter and more polished colt. He had a bit of a lung opener this week, working six furlongs over the deeper Belmont training track in 1:16.

12. Helium (Mark Casse, Ironicus – Thundering Emilia, by Thunder Gulch)
There are only so many times I can go over all the historical obstacles he has to overcome, but here goes one more time.  Eight weeks to the Derby, having only one start at 3, and having never run farther than 1 1/16 miles. You know who has overcome all that in the past 100 years? No one. I admit in this day and age you never say never. We have no idea how good this horse is and he has already accomplished something he never should have, so he may be special. But with so many lightly raced horses this year and such mass confusion after the top five or six horses you have to draw some kind of line somewhere. If he pulls this off don’t expect to see future Derby horses compete very often. I did love his latest work, a half in :49 1/5 in company. Even working with another horse you can see how determined this horse is and how much he loves competition. I expect soon we will see some longer works to put some bottom in him.

13. Dynamic One (Todd Pletcher, Union Rags – Beat the Drums, by Smart Strike)
This is another Pletcher horse on which I have gone out on a limb, way more than with Known Agenda. Obviously I have been much higher on Known Agenda, but this horse really grabbed my attention in a fourth-place finish in a maiden race. There were so many things I liked about him and reasons why that race was a throwout. Now that he finally broke his maiden going 1 1/8 miles in fine style there is no telling how far he can move forward. Nothing fancy here. I just like what I’ve seen and absolutely love his pedigree, both of which I have already written about. He will be a big price in the Wood and a second would be huge. Although he needs a fairly big jump forward off his “5” Thoro-Graph number it is doable. He is a must bet for me for a very minimal wager even if he is up against it and doesn’t look as fast and as classy as the others. Like with many of these I’m just taking a wild shot that there is a top-class colt lurking in there just waiting to bust out. But I admit that more likely will come later on.

14. O Besos (Gregory Foley, Orb – Snuggs and Kisses, by Soto)
Hopefully he won’t turn out to be the heartbreak story of the Derby trail, missing by a head of getting in the Derby. That head separating him from second in the Louisiana Derby could cost him dearly, as his connections can only sit back and wait to see if 25 points will get him in. And that normally doesn’t, and the Florida Derby and Jeff Ruby Steaks didn’t help with four horses shooting past him. They can thank Churchill Downs for buying Turfway Park and increasing the Jeff Ruby winning points from 20 to 100. And we still have to wait to see what happens in the four big remaining preps and if anyone comes from Japan or Europe, and if either of the top two finishers of the UAE Derby come. He deserves to get in, but as Clint Eastwood said to Gene Hackman, “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.” He has really improved and what makes it even more frustrating was that he was gaining fast on runner-up Midnight Bourbon, just coming up inches short. He also got the highest Thoro-Graph number in the race, a “2 3/4,” which puts him right up there in the in the top five fastest 3-year-olds. He would have been ranked higher if his status wasn’t so precarious.

15. Roman Centurian (Simon Callaghan, Empire Maker – Spare Change, by Bernardini)
There are so many horses you can bet in the Santa Anita Derby, but if the price is right I would probably bet a few bucks on him along with Rock Your World because I believe he could be a huge overlay, having come within a head of Medina Spirit off a maiden win that was so impressive and pleasing to the eye I had him ranked in the Top 12 in Week 1, and I very rarely if ever rank a horse off a maiden victory. Too many maiden winners look great but regress when they face winners. He justified the ranking with his huge effort in the Robert Lewis, in which his Thoro-Graph numbers went from a “13” and a “6” to a “3 1/4.” He had no shot in the San Felipe with Life is Good controlling the pace and then having the field get way too strung out on the turn for him to threaten. He was going to skip town to run in the Wood Memorial, but now it looks like he’s staying home where he should get plenty of early pace. If he can rebound with another big effort he would be a very serious horse, especially with his breeding.

16. Dream Shake (Peter Eurton, Twirling Candy – Even Song, by Street Cry)
He definitely is bettable in the Santa Anita Derby after his solid third in the San Felipe off one six-furlong victory, but I have a feeling he is going to get bet, quite possibly down to second choice. There has been a buzz surrounding this horse ever since his eye-catching debut when he came from off the pace and blew away the field that included the highly touted Bezos. I’m still not convinced he can be ready for a winning effort in the Kentucky Derby off the two races in which he has run, but I will admit his first race was awfully impressive and he ran quite well in the San Felipe considering who he was thrown in against being so inexperienced and with so little foundation under him. He could do anything on Saturday and it wouldn’t surprise me, because as I have said ad nauseam I have no idea how good these horses are.

 

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

UNTREATED – Just found out he is running the Blue Grass Stakes. Watch out for this colt. In his last start he demonstrated the most impressive turn of foot and explosive burst of speed I’ve seen all year, going from seventh to first in a matter of seconds and then absolutely crushing his field, while not drifting an inch off his path. He is one race short of being ready for this kind of test but his connections say they can only play the cards they’ve been dealt. They are taking a shot with no idea how’s going to do. But if you’re looking for a fresh new face you know nothing about to burst on the scene, this colt could be the one if he can duplicate that devastating move we saw at Tampa Bay. He is the long lean type who looks as if distance will be no problem and is another whose talent and class is unknown, but who has shown enough to suggest he is one to keep an eye on. With Essential Quality in there, it’s a tough spot, but they would be be thrilled with a second. It’s just whether or not he’s up to this test being one race away from top form.

PREVALENCE – I have no doubt this is an exceptional colt, but I just want to see more than I saw in his three-length allowance victory beating a $50,000 claimer. I know he did miss time with a fever, but he is far superior to those horses. Like many this year I don’t know if he will be ready to go a mile and a quarter in five weeks, but he obviously is extremely talented, and no doubt all eyes will be on him. He did turn in a sensational half-mile work in :47 3/5 in company and breaking off in front on the inside. He was very smooth down the stretch, but with powerful strides, and blew the doors off his workmate. If that’s the Prevalence we’re going to see on Saturday it sure will make things interesting.

REBEL’S ROMANCE – So what does Godolphin do? They should have a clearer picture after the Blue Grass and Wood Memorial depending on how Essential Quality and Prevalence do. And they already have Proxy in the starting lineup. But this gelding sure looked impressive putting in a powerful stretch run to put away a tough classy frontrunner in the undefeated PANADOL, who had wired his field in the Al Bastakiya, the second leg of the UAE Triple Crown, and is a U.S.-bred son of Flatter. Godolphin has been trying to win the Derby with a horse trained in Dubai since the ‘90s, but have come up empty. Rebel’s Romance’s two grandsires are Dubai Millennium, who was Sheikh Mohammed’s pride and joy, and Street Cry, who had a big chance to give him his Derby victory until he got hurt a little over a week before the race. Both Dubai Millennium and Street Cry went on to win the Dubai World Cup. Dubai Millennium sired only one crop before dying from grass sickness at age 5. But in that crop was Dubawi, the sire of Rebel’s Romance. Street Cry sired two of the greatest mares in history, Zenyatta and Winx, before his premature death in Australia at the age of 16. How special would it be for Sheikh Mohammed to finally win the elusive Kentucky Derby with a grandson of Dubai Millennium and Street Cry. Trainer Charlie Appleby didn’t seem overly enthusiastic after the race about him going, but realizes it will be Sheikh Mohammed’ decision. If I knew he was running he would be ranked in the Top 10.

LIKE THE KING – The Jeff Ruby Steaks winner does have a second on the dirt in his career debut, but has been racing on synthetic since. He came from far back, made a big sweeping move on the far turn and was widest of all turning into the stretch before powering home to win by a length. His sire Palace Malice won the Belmont Stakes and his third dam is by Belmont winner Bet Twice, so there is plenty of stamina top and bottom with the addition of Curlin, Unbridled, and Easy Goer.

SAINTHOOD – I you want an up-and-coming star who had an unbelievable trip in the Jeff Ruby, you have to keep an eye on this Todd Pletcher-trained son of Mshawish. Coming off a narrow maiden victory in only his second career start, he broke sharply and found himself on the lead briefly before settling back in second. Down the backstretch he was passed by several others and dropped six lengths off the pace. He made his move on the inside rounding the turn, but again lost ground, falling back to sixth. He was swung to the far outside nearing the top of the stretch, but ran right into the winner who blocked his way and who then shoved him back in and behind a wall of horses forcing jockey Gerardo Corrales to steady briefly looking for an opening. He finally got him to the outside, but Like the King was long gone by then. Corrales gave him one right-handed whip at the sixteenth pole and Sainthood exploded, tearing into the winner’s lead in the final yards, but fell a length short. It’s difficult to gauge a horse’s true talent on a synthetic course, but he was incredibly game in his maiden victory at Fair Grounds, re-breaking and battling back to win by a nose. He’s in the Derby if they want to move forward with him.

I don’t even know where to begin with the others. If there is one improving horse who could make his presence felt against Essential Quality, at least to finish second, it likely would be HIDDEN STASH, who might have won the Tampa Bay Derby if he didn’t get freaked out by a female lead pony and run off for a long way hugging the rail and throwing his head around wildly. He finally was reined in by the outrider and still went out there and finished a good second, running a career-high “4” Thoro-Graph number. Two others who bear watching are HIGHLY MOTIVATED stretching out to two turns and possibly KEEPMEINMIND, who may wind up waiting for the Arkansas Derby. We may also see TARANTINO wheel back in a week after his disastrous start in the Jeff Ruby Steaks, in which he was outdistanced and just loped around the track. It looks as if the Blue Grass could get California invader ROMBAUER and he certainly has a shot to come flying late to get a piece of it. John Battaglia winner HUSH OF A STORM passed the Jeff Ruby Steaks to prep on the dirt in the Blue Grass.

In the Wood, BROOKLYN STRONG will be making his 3-year-old debut in a desperate attempt to get in the Derby and I have no idea what to expect with him not having run since his Remsen victory in November. And can CROWDED TRADE repeat that huge performance in the Gotham? He is another we don’t much about, but that was an exceptional performance and we are going to find out if he is just as effective going two turns.

Three horses trying to bounce back big-time in the Santa Anita Derby off poor efforts are THE GREAT ONE, who has been impressive working long and trying to return to the Rankings, PARNELLI, who will get blinkers and has been working super in them, and GET HER NUMBER, who didn’t have the best of trips in the Rebel Stakes. Any one of these can rebound and return to their earlier form. We’re talking Doug O’Neill, John Shirreffs, and Peter Miller, so you cannot dismiss any of them.

So here are the horses who have completed their preps and next stop Kentucky Derby: Known Agenda, Greatest Honour, Soup and Sandwich, Hot Rod Charlie, Midnight Bourbon, O Besos, Proxy, Mandaloun, Helium, Like the King, and Sainthood. Possibles: Rebel’s Romance, Panadol, and let’s call Mandaloun a possibility.

Don’t look now but that’s more than half the field already and we still have four major preps remaining and the last gasp Lexington Stakes, and who knows if anyone will be coming from Japan or Europe.

Derby Rankings: Week 10

Monday, March 22nd, 2021

Is it possible this crop isn’t as deep as we once thought or is it we have weeded out many of the pretenders and are about to welcome a new wave of talented lightly raced horses? We have lost a big name from the top, the Fair Grounds horses have not lived up to their promise, and we have had two highly ranked Brad Cox horses run terribly for no apparent reason. Let’s hope things start going smoother and we can finally get a clear picture just how good this crop really is. Right now we have the Big 3 and then everyone else. For those who wish to discuss Saturday’s Florida Derby, handicap the race together and talk about the Derby Rankings and share your Derby opinions, you can still join me on my virtual forum this Saturday at 3 p.m. as part of the Secretariat Birthday Celebration. We can even talk about the morning’s Dubai World Cup and UAE Derby. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: Week 10, Mar. 22

By Steve Haskin

 

1. Greatest Honour (Shug McGaughey, Tapit – Tiffany’s Honour, by Street Cry)
He will have a huge class advantage over his opponents in the Florida Derby, and although it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he finishes a fast-closing second, it would have to be to an extraordinarily talented horse and he would have to have a less than ideal trip. He certainly can’t give himself as much to do as he did in the Fountain of Youth. He should be in contention at the head of the stretch and he also has an advantage returning to the regular finish line and a longer stretch. With the recent impressive victories by Baffert’s Life is Good and Concert Tour, he had fallen to No. 4 on most Derby rankings before Life is Good’s injury, but I still haven’t seen any reason to drop him from the top spot that he has occupied for so long. Another impressive victory on Saturday and he likely will retain that spot the rest of the way regardless of what the others do. As McGaughey said, “It’s fun to watch him run.” He has been giving him nothing but half-mile breezes between :50 and :51 most of the winter, but it has proven to be successful, so he’s not changing anything now. In his last work in :50 2/5 in company, he came home his final quarter under no urging at all in :23 and change.

2. Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Tapit – Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality)
Well, there is no doubt the champ is ready after his sensational five-furlong work in a bullet :59 flat, fastest of 25 works at the distance. With him it’s all about ability and we know he has plenty of that to go along with his versatility and adaptability. And he does still have the fastest Thoro-Graph number and has shown that speed in his works. Unlike most of the others, you just can’t plan strategy against him because he can counter anything you throw at him. According to Godolphin’s Jimmy Bell he has been uncomplicated from day one and never went through any awkward stages. Niall Brennan, who gave him his early training, had him pegged as a top prospect right from the beginning. And it took only one breeze at Keeneland to convince Cox this was the real deal. He has had a willing attitude ever since and always gives everything in his works and in his races. So, as I’ve been saying, good luck trying to figure out a way to beat him.

3. Concert Tour (Bob Baffert, Street Sense – Purse Strings, by Tapit)
I have to admit his speed figures are nothing to get excited about, with his Thoro-Graph number improving ever so slightly from a ”5 1/2″ to a fairly moderate “4 1/2,” which he probably will have to improve at least three points to set him up for the Kentucky Derby. But I believe we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg with him, as he still has a great deal of room for improvement, having just made his two-turn debut. Let’s see what he does at 1 1/8 miles before we form an opinion on how fast he is, and, remember, he did win the Rebel under wraps so he certainly could have run faster. He clearly is Baffert’s big Derby horse now and one who will handle the longer distances. What excited Baffert was how much he reminded him of American Pharoah down the backstretch of the Rebel, the way he was striding out so smoothly with his ears pricked. That is enough praise for any horse. Baffert knows we haven’t seen anything close to his best and is looking forward to stretching him out another furlong. With his first two-turn race behind him, don’t be surprised to see him rate off the pace this time, just like American Pharoah did coming off the Rebel.

4. Known Agenda (Todd Pletcher, Curlin – Byrama, by Byron)
I have stuck with him through the ups and downs since day one, even excusing his 13-length defeat in the Remsen Stakes when John Velazquez had to go to three right-handed whips on the backstretch to wake him up. I attributed that to his dislike of the slop, but when he went into snooze mode again early in the Sam F. Davis Stakes I began thinking it was him, which totally contradicted his extremely gutsy victory over Greatest Honour going a mile and an eighth prior to those races. And now coming off that sensational 11-length romp last time out with blinkers and Lasix added we finally should find out in the Florida Derby who the real Known Agenda is. Pletcher worked him five furlongs and he went off a slow quarter in :14 1/5 and then came home in a quick :48 1/5 to complete the work in 1:02 2/5. I still believe this colt has a lot of untapped ability and I’m looking for another big race. You can’t say this horse doesn’t keep you guessing, but all the guessing could be over on Saturday night. With all those European Derby winners in his pedigree and one of the all-time great classic sire lines in his female family he’s just waiting for a mile and a quarter for everything to make sense.

5. Hot Rod Charlie (Doug O’Neill, Oxbow – Indan Miss, by Indian Charlie)
He actually had the best Thoro-Graph pattern going into the Louisiana Derby, having paired up his career best figure of “3 3/4″ in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, and that is the main thing I look for because pairing up a career best number proves it is legitimate and is the perfect launch pad to move forward, which he obviously did. You certainly can’t doubt this colt’s courage and his willingness to get in a street fight. He loves to battle and almost won the Lewis despite being only 75% ready for the race and getting bounced around between horses the length of the stretch. Being a half-brother to sprint champion Mitole and a great-grandson of sprint champion Smoke Glacken you wouldn’t think he’d relish 1 3/16 miles, but he pays no attention to family and just does his own thing. When he sold at the Fasig-Tipton October yearling sale, Sean Feld, who was selling him and three other yearlings with his brother Bob, contacted Dennis O’Neill and told him he had an Oxbow half-brother to Mitole he liked who wasn’t getting any action. So he sent him photos of the colt and a video of him walking and Dennis fell in love with him, buying him for a bargain $110,000. And the colt has been a joy ever since. He does everything right and is very easy on himself, constantly sleeping in his stall. Even though he had never been on the lead, Joel Rosario called Doug O’Neill the morning of the race and told him he wanted to go to the front, all but assuring him he’ll go wire to wire. He got the green light and Charlie did the rest. Dennis remembers the day Doug told him following the colt’s neck maiden victory with blinkers added that he is a completely different horse now and he’s going to run him in the BC Juvenile. Dennis thought he was crazy, but he nearly pulled it off at 94-1 and is the only horse to get close to Essential Quality. If you’re going to have six weeks to the Derby, this is exactly the kind of race you want, and at this distance.

6. Risk Taking (Chad Brown, Medaglia d’Oro – Run a Risk, by Distorted Humor)
He breezed five furlongs in 1:01 4/5. Brown has finalized his plans with his three Klaravich Stable Derby hopefuls. Risk Taking and Gotham runner-up Crowded Trade will both run in the Wood Memorial and Highly Motivated, third in the Gotham, will head for the Blue Grass Stakes. As much promise as Crowded Trade and Highly Motivated have shown, Risk Taking gets the higher ranking because he is far more advanced and has already proven himself at 1 1/8 miles and will be looking to score his third straight victory at nine furlongs. With a huge Thoro-Graph leap from a “10 1/2” to a “3 1/4” in the Withers Stakes, it would seem a wise decision to wait for the Wood Memorial to avoid a possible “bounce.” Now we will just have to see whether he can continue to improve enough to set himself up a for a peak performance in the Kentucky Derby. I keep saying this colt seems like a throwback type. He’s tough, he’s sound, and he runs hard. And he has shown he can be put under pressure early and be able to sustain his run a long way. We will also see if he’s even the best horse in his own barn as he takes on the lightly raced but rapidly improving Crowded Trade. Check out the probable Wood field that is shaping up in Knocking on the Door.

7. Rock Your World (John Sadler, Candy Ride – Charm the Maker, by Empire Maker)
Just like that he likely will be one of the favorites in the Santa Anita Derby, and those Derby points look a lot more reachable. His connections have never been afraid to take on the giants, as we saw when they ran Accelerate against Arrogate. Owner Kosta Hronis said the plan all along was to take on Life is Good at home. That’s how much they think of this horse, who, as we said last week, could be special if he handles the dirt the same as the grass. And his pedigree and his works say he should. We may have gotten a sneak preview in his last work, in which he went five furlongs in 1:00 flat. Rock Your World has shown in his two starts on grass that he has early speed, can engage other horses and withstand pressure, but also has quick-fire acceleration and can burst clear of horses in a flash. If he possesses those same weapons on dirt, watch out. There is just something about this colt I find very intriguing, even with only two starts. As I mentioned, if you watched him gallop out after both those races, you knew they had big plans for him.

8. Weyburn (Jimmy Jerkens, Pioneerof the Nile – Sunday Affair, by A.P. Indy)
He had an easy half-mile breeze in :50 4/5 in his first work since his gutsy victory in the Gotham Stakes. Jerkens said he had a hard race in the Gotham and he’s not the heaviest horse in the world, so he really didn’t need anything quicker or more strenuous. With his Thoro-Graph leap from a “9” to a “3” he is pretty much in the same position as Risk Taking, only the Chad Brown-trained colt will have more time between races going into the Wood. With Crowded Trade coming off only one maiden sprint victory in the Gotham, you have to wonder if he’s pretty exceptional in his own right, actually running a faster Thoro-Graph number than the winner, or does that detract at all from Weyburn’s performance. Right now, the feeling here is that they both are very good colts, as is third-place finisher Highly Motivated. One thing you can be sure of is that this colt has a ton of improvement left in him, especially stretching out to two turns, and if he makes it to Churchill Downs, Jerkens will have him ready to go a mile and a quarter.

9. Collaborate (Saffie Joseph, Into Mischief – Quiet Temper, by Quiet American)
He had his final tuneup for the Florida Derby, working five furlongs in a solid 1:01 flat. Like many lightly raced horses who have demolished weaker fields we can only speculate how good a horse he really is and how he will perform against far more talented and classier horses. What makes this colt stand out is how easily he does things and how much faster he’s going than it looks because of his humongous stride. Even early on he was considered remarkably athletic for such a big horse with a smooth, easy-going stride. Yes his one victory came in a maiden race, but he crushed his opponents by 12 lengths looking as if he was two-minute licking in the morning. Obviously we won’t know he good he is until he takes on Greatest Honour, Known Agenda, and Spielberg, who have far more experience in graded stakes. But for now we just have to go by the eye test and see if he can take that big step forward. Of course he will need to finish no worse than second, and we saw what happened to O Besos, just missing second by a head after rallying from last in the Louisiana Derby, and that head could very well cost him a spot in the Derby.

10. Medina Spirit (Bob Baffert, Protonico – Mongolian Changa, by Brilliant Speed)
He lost a week of training after getting sick following his second-place finish in the San Felipe Stakes, but he’s back on track and will step in and replace Life is Good as Baffert’s Santa Anita Derby hope. Although he has been living in Life is Good’s shadow all year trying in vain to catch him and was beaten badly by him in the San Felipe, he did come closer than anyone in the Sham Stakes and received a big boost when Hot Rod Charlie, who he defeated in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, came back to win the Louisiana Derby impressively. Now he finds himself as the likely favorite in what promises to be a wide-open Santa Anita Derby. But he won’t be the barn’s only representative, as Baffert is planning on running Defunded, who is coming off an impressive maiden victory going six furlongs in which he rallied in the stretch to win going away in 1:09 4/5. Medina Spirit has shown he can close from off the pace and can win on lead, and that he is a tough competitor the way he dug in and held off Roman Centurian and Hot Rod Charlie in the Lewis after it looked as if they had him measured at the top of the stretch. He clearly was Baffert’s third best Derby hopeful, but he has moved up to No. 2 and we’ll see if can stamp himself as a legitimate contender in the Santa Anita Derby.

11. Helium (Mark Casse, Ironicus – Thundering Emilia, by Thunder Gulch)
Casse said the plans to go straight to the Derby haven’t changed. As much as it goes against history on so many counts and is a monumental task for any horse, you can make a case that with his Thoro-Graph number jumping from an “8 1/4″ to a “3,” there was risk of having him go backwards with another race. But the fact is eight weeks to the Derby, having only one start at 3, and never having run farther than 1 1/16 miles are three obstacles that have not been overcome since the early 1900s. Casse feels that getting that “3” Thoro-Graph figure “puts him with the big boys.” As skeptical as I am about Helium accomplishing this, Casse seems confident he is doing the right thing and I have to admire his confidence in not only his horse’s ability, but his own, getting him there fit enough, seasoned enough, and sharp enough to handle 19 opponents going a mile and a quarter with only two seven-furlong races on Polytrack last year and a 1 1/16-mile race this year under him. So why in the world is ranked in the Top 12? Because there was no way he was supposed to do what he did in the Tampa Bay Derby, and when a horse has shown he can do something he’s not supposed to do you have to give him and his trainer some benefit of the doubt.

12. Dynamic One (Todd Pletcher, Union Rags – Beat the Drums, by Smart Strike)
Although he has frustrated his connections in the past, I thought his fourth-place finish in a maiden race that he was expected to win, was a super performance considering he had to go six-wide on the first turn, run five-wide the entire race, and displayed a powerful turn of foot sweeping by horses on the final turn, It was not surprising he couldn’t sustain his run in the stretch. Then it was learned he lost a shoe in the race and came back with mucus in his lungs. Since that race I have been waiting for him to break his maiden so he could put himself on the Derby trail. He was shipped to Aqueduct for a mile and an eighth race and despite coming from Gulfstream and running on a very slow track he was able to stalk the early pace and draw off to a 5 1/2-length victory. He won’t have an easy time of it in the Wood Memorial, but he does have the bottom, he’s very professional, and he has one of the strongest pedigrees of any 3-year-old. Now it’s just a question of whether he’s good enough to handle proven stakes horses.

13. Nicky the Vest (Jonathan Thomas, Runhappy – Tazarine, by Cat Thief)
Can a horse coming off only two New York-bred races in his life find happiness in the Wood Memorial and go on to be one of the leading contenders in the Kentucky Derby? This year anything is possible and this is the time to latch on to a few of these lightly raced horses who have shown potential and hope to catch lightning in a bottle. He’s definitely sharp enough, as indicated by his bullet five-furlong work in 1:00 1/5. As I’ve been saying, with him it’s been about the eye test and he passes on all counts. To simplify things, he just looks like a flat-out runner, even if it has been against New York-breds. The only reason he is just below the Top 12 is that he hasn’t been two turns. He has beautiful action, gets down low, and has great extension to his stride. And his victory in the Gander Stakes was one of the most visually impressive performances I’ve seen all year. Can he duplicate it against far classier horses? That’s what we can’t wait to find out.

14. Midnight Bourbon (Steve Asmussen, Tiznow – Catch to Moon, by Malibu Moon)
Well, he’s the last one standing from the Fair Grounds big three. There is no doubting his honesty and consistency and never having been out of the money in seven starts, all of them at a mile or longer. He has the pedigree and you can see he’s been developing physically. He can run on the lead or off the pace, but he still hasn’t figured out a way to catch horses in the stretch. Running on his home track and being in a perfect position the whole way, he was unable to get by Hot Rod Charlie and even let him open up and win by two lengths. He’s always going to be a factor, but if he’s going to have any chance to win the Kentucky Derby he is going to have to take advantage of the six-week layoff by continuing to develop physically and find a weapon he can use to finish off his opponents. With Life is Good gone, he might be an excellent candidate to set the pace in the Derby and keep going. Many times horses who have a reluctance to pass horses in the stretch are themselves very hard to pass on the lead.

15. Roman Centurian (Simon Callaghan, Empire Maker – Spare Change, by Bernardini)
This is one horse you don’t want to give up on, He had no chance to threaten Life is Good in the San Felipe the way the race was run. His second in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes was very encouraging and it was announced he will head to Aqueduct for the Wood Memorial, as trainer Simon Callaghan said that race and the new surface should set up for him well. But with the defection of Life is Good, will they change plans and stay home? As of Sunday he is still in the Wood. Perhaps Hot Rod Charlie had the right idea skipping the San Felipe and not having to chase Life is Good. Don’t forget, I thought enough of him after his maiden victory to rank him in the top 12 in the Week 1 Rankings, which I normally would never do. But with his strong pedigree and look of a true distance horse, I can’t get too down on him based on a 1 1/16-mile race with a small field and a top Derby contender alone on the lead who strung out the field. He had a visually impressive half-mile breeze in :50 2/5, in which he was kept wide turning for home and had a very strong gallop-out and I believe he will be tough wherever he runs.

16. Spielberg (Bob Baffert, Union Rags – Miss Squeal, by Smart Strike)
After finishing a strong second to Essential Quality in the Southwest Stakes despite a terrible start, he is heading to Gulfstream for the Florida Derby. Baffert said he came out of the Southwest in great shape and just needs to break well this time. As expected, he has him razor sharp, working him five furlongs in :59 2/5. He has had an up and down career, but what he has going for him are the excellent performances of the California shippers so far. On his best day he is a formidable opponent and we’ll see how he stacks up against the top Florida-based 3-year-olds. And his “1” Thoro-Graph number in the Southwest equaled Greatest Honour’s fastest number. He is a seasoned veteran with eight career starts who has been ridden by five different jockeys and has never been off the board. He showed a totally new dimension in the Southwest and looked like a serious threat to Essential Quality turning for home after having to come from last following his awkward start. Baffert rarely ships to Florida, so when he does you have to take him seriously.

 

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

ROMBAUER – They had been putting off announcing his next start, but after working five furlongs in :59 1/5 and the defection of Life is Good he will now go in the Santa Anita Derby. You can expect him to be closing late, but he needs to put himself in contention earlier to give him a legitimate shot to win. This isn’t the Tapeta surface at Golden Gate against lesser rivals. But if the pace is contentious and honest enough he definitely has a shot, as do most of the horses in this field, which has no real standout anymore.

DREAM SHAKE – Now, if you’re looking for fast workouts how about his sizzling five furlongs in a bullet :58 1/5 in company, fastest of 75 works at the distance. With his two-turn debut in the San Felipe out of the way and a decent third-place finish behind runaway winner Life is Good, there is no reason why we won’t see a big performance in the now very wide-open Santa Anita Derby. We still have no idea how good this horse is.

PREVALENCE – It wasn’t a good week for Thoro-Graph figures, as he actually regressed from his career debut from a “3 1/4″ to a “5 1/2,” which does not bode well for him being competitive enough in the Arkansas Derby or wherever he attempts to earn his way into the Kentucky Derby, unless he makes a big turnaround. With Proxy’s disappointing effort in the Louisiana Derby, it seems more likely now they will pursue the Derby.

KEEPMEINMIND – There was some concern about hs Thoro-Graph figure in his victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, in which he earned only a so-so “6” following his “5 3/4″ in the his third-place finish in the BC Juvenile. So, here he is finally making his 3-year-old debut following two postponements and missing 16 days of training. Although he finished a disappointing sixth, beaten eight lengths, in the Rebel Stakes, he actually earned the same “6” he got winning a Grade 2 stakes. That isn’t that far off Concert Tour’s winning number, so if you believe Concert Tour can improve several points in the Arkansas Derby, why can’t Keepmeinmind, who certainly had a reason to come up short in this race? But the bottom line is he needs to get faster.

THE GREAT ONE – It has been decided to give him more time between races, so the original plan of going to the Florida Derby has been scrapped and he will now point for the Santa Anita Derby. With a Thoro-Graph regression from a “1” to a “7 1/4,” after a huge “bounce” he is another who needs to make a pretty dramatic turnaround and improve at least four or five points. His connections have no clue why he ran so poorly in the San Felipe. His blood was good after the race and he looks great physically, so they are just hoping he had a bad day. He worked a half in :49 1/5 breaking off behind a workmate. He finished up strong under no urging at all and galloped out even stronger.

SOUP AND SANDWICH – Watching his first two races I have no doubt this is a talented colt with a bright future. The big question jumping up in the Florida Derby is whether he has matured enough to make his presence felt considering how green he’s been. He’s been able to win in spite of it, but against far weaker competition than he’s going to face on Saturday. He had a nice half-mile tuneup in :48 2/5 and we’ll just have to see how much progress he’s made.

HIDDEN STASH – He went an easy five furlongs in 1:04 at Payson Park and could show up next in the Blue Grass Stakes. As I’ve mentioned, his second in the Tampa Bay Derby can be excused after he ran off before the race throwing his head wildly, which has been attributed to his reaction to a female lead pony. Now that we know he can change leads, we’ll just see how he does wherever he runs.

O BESOS – He is improving at the right time and made big run up the rail to get third in the Louisiana Derby, but by just missing to catch Midnight Bourbon for second he may have cost himself a spot in the Derby. He does have 25 points so all is not lost. It all depends on how things play out from here.

PROXY – It’s not that he ran poorly in the Louisiana Derby, he just didn’t perform up to expectations, especially with blinkers added. Yes. He did get squeezed at the start and was taken out of his game plan, and then rallied wide at the top of the stretch, but at that point you had to feel he should have at least been able to finish in the money. However, he had little punch in the stretch, so now I don’t know here he stands.
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MANDALOUN – As successful as Brad Cox has been it hasn’t been a good two weeks on the Derby front with the inexplicably poor efforts from Caddo River and now Mandaloun, who had no apparent excuse and just called it quits at the top of the stretch after tracking the leaders in third. We’ll just have to see if we learn any more about both horses.

PARNELLI – He’s been totally forgotten after two bad efforts, but don’t ignore him in the Santa Anita Derby. He is a horse I once had high hopes for and was prepared to rank him very high on the Derby Rankings. In his second and third starts at one mile he was beaten a neck each time, first by Hot Rod Charlie and then by Spielberg. In his third start, again at a mile, he looked fantastic winning off by almost six lengths under a hand ride. But then in the Sham Stakes and Robert B. Lewis Stakes he was beaten badly each time. John Shirreffs gave him time off and put blinkers on in the morning and the colt has looked sensational, working five furlongs in :59 4/5 and 1:00 2/5, and on Thursday worked seven furlongs in a powerful 1:26, in which Shirreffs said the rider was blowing a lot harder than Parnelli. This is a horse who has shown a tendency to get intimidated down on the rail and in the Lewis he was tight quarters between horses and was forced to steady, then tried to rally along the rail, but quickly called it a day. If the blinkers help in the Santa Anita Derby and if he can get to the outside this could be a wake-up race for him. The talent is there.

BROOKLYN STRONG – He hasn’t even run this year after several setbacks, but he is at least extremely sharp right now, working five furlongs in a bullet :59 3/5, fastest of 16 works at the distance. Debuting in the Wood Memorial is asking a lot, but they obviously want to get in the Derby so they’ll take a shot. At least he’s a Grade 2 winner at 1 1/8 miles.

MOONLITE STRIKE – I’m not sure how far he wants to go, but he ran an excellent third in the Tampa Bay Derby at 34-1 and is coming off a pair of sharp half-mile works in a bullet :47 2/5, fastest of 87 works at the distance, and :47 3/5. With Saffie Joseph running Collaborate in the Florida Derby he could show up in the Blue Grass or Arkansas Derby.

In other works of note, HIGHLY MOTIVATED drilled a sharp half in :48, fourth fastest of 156 works at the distance. The puzzling and frustrating SITTIN ON GO, whose career has taken a major plunge since winning the Iroquois Stakes, worked a half in a bullet :59 1/5 at Gulfstream, making him even more puzzling. His stablemate SMILEY SOBOTKA, another disappointment this year, worked five furlongs in 1:00 3/5. You know Dale Romans is going to keep persevering with both of them.

Here is the way the Wood is shaping up: Weyburn, Risk Taking, Crowded Trade, Roman Centurian, Nicky the Vest. Dynamic One, Overtook, and Brooklyn Strong. Possible starter is Prevalence. This is a fascinating group, as six of these horses have been ranked, so something has to give.

Meet Steve Haskin virtually this upcoming weekend and participate in his informative Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby Rankings Preview as part of the festivities during the March 27, Secretariat Birthday Celebration

Derby Rankings: Week 9

Monday, March 15th, 2021

This is it. Nothing left but the big 100-point races that will make or break the Derby dreams of many trainers and owners. Right now they all have a chance, but it’s time to separate the contenders from the pretenders. Lots of intriguing new faces on the Rankings this week as we take a shot and try to uncover some hidden stars. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: Week 9, Mar. 15

By Steve Haskin

 

1. Greatest Honour (Shug McGaughey, Tapit – Tiffany’s Honour, by Street Cry)
He still has the strongest Thoro-Graph pattern and appears to be heading for a peak performance on the first Saturday in May. Although some feel he might be at a disadvantage having to come from far back, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Yes, he was five lengths back at the eighth pole in the Fountain of Youth, but that was an aberration because he likely was a little dull the first part of the race coming off a huge effort and fast Thoro-Graph number in the Holy Bull Stakes. The fact is, in his five previous starts, the average distance he was behind at the half-mile call was 4 1/2 lengths (two lengths in his two-turn races), and the average distance behind at the three-quarter call was only three lengths (1 1/2 lengths in his two-turn races), so this is a horse who has enough tactical speed to be within striking range and still come home fastest of any 3-year-old with huge Brisnet late pace figures of 110, 106, and 105. The thought of him and Essential Quality hooking up at the head of the stretch surely is something to look forward to.

2. Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Tapit – Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality)
Despite Life is Good’s San Felipe romp and 107 Beyer figure, Essential Quality still is the only 3-year-old to run a negative Thoro-Graph number. When he runs next in the Blue Grass Stakes it will be interesting to see if he actually runs faster, pairs up that number, or regresses slightly. We have mentioned about the recent historic impact of the Blue Grass on the Kentucky Derby, and it should not be forgotten that the last Blue Grass winner to capture Derby was Strike the Gold 30 years ago. The fact that Essential Quality already has two Grade 1 victories at Keeneland, it is going to be very tough to beat him there. You can’t even plan strategy against him because he has shown he can beat you from anywhere on the track. He took advantage of a slow pace in the Breeders’ Futurity, battling head and head on the lead; took advantage of a fast pace in the BC Juvenile, coming from nine lengths back; and sat two to three lengths back through a moderate pace in the Southwest Stakes. And he’s won in the slop and has shown sprint speed, rallying to win at six-furlongs in 1:09 4/5 in his career debut. So good luck trying to beat this horse.

3. Concert Tour (Bob Baffert, Street Sense – Purse Strings, by Tapit)
I am ranking him ahead of Life is Good based mainly on pedigree and professionalism. Life is Good is freakishly fast but quirky. Remember, owner and breeder Gary West kept this colt and put Life is Good, who he also bred, in the sale. A lot of that was based on whose pedigree looked more geared to a mile and a quarter and who looked more appealing to buyers at the sale. Now it looks like they are on a collision course, like right out of the movies. Winning his two-turn debut is important enough, but outrunning the favorite and likely pacesetter Caddo River, then winning by 4 1/4 lengths geared down with his ears pricked and Rosario looking back three times and still coming home his last sixteenth in :06 2/5 was something no one could have predicted. The best thing to happen to this horse was having that tough race against Freedom Fighter in the seven-furlong San Vicente. So, if he does hook up with Life is Good, he is the one who is battle-tested and has shown he can win from off the pace. When he was at Nelson Jones Training Center in Ocala, trainer Jorge Villagomez started him off slowly like all the others, but when they began to get serious with him they had to keep working him with better horses each time because no one could keep up with him and his riders would come back saying, “Wow, what a horse!” Finally, he just ran out of competition. Now he is undefeated at three different distances at both ends of the country. Yes his Beyer figure was 13 points slower than Life is Good’s, but we’re talking 1 1/16 miles, and back on Febuary 20, Baffert texted, “This is my Real Quiet.” Well, we all know what happened when Real Quiet faced his far more brilliant stablemate Indian Charlie in the Derby.

4. Life is Good (Bob Baffert, Into Mischief – Beach Walk, by Distorted Humor)
Since his runaway victory in the San Felipe he actually has become a polarizing figure on the Derby trail, as odd as that may seem. When his lofty Beyer speed figure of 107 was announced and he then closed in the latest Derby Future Wager at an absurd 2-1, it was assumed he was the new Derby darling, replacing Essential Quality. To demonstrate the wide chasm between the two, $62,000 was bet on Life is Good compared to $27,000 on Essential Quality. Although the 2-year-old champ held on to his No. 1 spot on the National Turf Writers’ poll, the gap was narrowed considerably, 369 points to 360 and 20 first-place votes to 17. Then some of the other speed ratings were released. Life is Good earned a solid 103 on Brisnet, but Weyburn actually ran a point faster in the Gotham. Life is Good then was a given a “zero” Thoro-Graph figure, which was excellent, but not as fast as Essential Quality ran the week before. And of course there was the drifting out from the top of the stretch to past the finish line, which bothered a number of people. So there are some who think he is the second coming and all but has the Derby wrapped up, and others who still have their doubts. Everything should be much clearer after the Santa Anita Derby, as Baffert likes to wait until the final Derby prep to show what his top horses are really capable of stretching out to 1 1/8 miles. That is when he unveils the true product he is sending to Churchill Downs.

5. Mandaloun (Brad Cox, Into Mischief – Brooch, by Empire Maker)
He continued his sharp works, drilling five-eighths in 1:00 3/5. Two weeks ago, I mentioned a potential Derby gods angle regarding Juddmonte Farms and the deaths of its founder Khalid Abdullah this year and one of its greatest stars Arrogate last year. Now we learn of the death at age 20 of one its top broodmares, Kind, dam of the great Frankel and champion and dual Group 1 winner Noble Mission. If Mandaloun can emerge victorious in Saturday’s Louisiana Derby, he would join Greatest Honour, Essential Quality, Life is Good, and Concert Tour as the Fab Five of Kentucky Derby contenders. And he might just have the attention of the Derby gods. But getting back to reality, it will be interesting to see if he can separate himself from his two antagonists Proxy and Midnight Bourbon or if they remain glued to him like barnacles on a ship. Who knows, maybe it will be one of them who separates himself from the other two. The record of the Louisiana Derby as a Kentucky Derby prep has been abysmal, in good part to the six-week gap between races and not enough time to squeeze in another race. But with the distance lengthened to 1 3/16 miles this year, that trend could change, as it should give the horses a stronger foundation and not have to stretch out quite as far on the first Saturday in May.

6. Known Agenda (Todd Pletcher, Curlin – Byrama, by Byron)
OK, this is reaching, but when everything to say about a horse you’ve already said you look for any kind of new angle. So, here goes. In his last start he demolished Top Gun Tommy by 11 lengths. In Top Gun Tommy’s previous start he had beaten a horse named Southern Passage by 10 1/2 lengths. This past Thursday, Southern Passage was flying at the end of a one-mile allowance race to finish second, beaten only three lengths by the unbeaten sensation Prevalence at odds of 32-1. What does that mean in the grand scheme of things? Probably nothing, but for fans of Known Agenda you’ll take any kind of building block no matter how small and any handicapping angle no matter how trivial. This colt, after outgaming Greatest Honour last year going 1 1/8 miles, in which the future Withers runner-up Overtook finished 21 lengths back in third, he for some reason went to sleep in his next two races, earning a dismal “11” Thoro-Graph number. A frustrated Pletcher tried blinkers in his next start and that’s when he romped by 11 lengths, looking like a totally different horse and jumping all the way to a “3 1/2” Thoro-Graph number. This colt’s pedigree is crying out for a mile and a quarter and I feel that is where we will see him at his best. The eye test says this is talented colt and we got a glimpse of that talent in his last start.

7. Proxy (Mike Stidham, Tapit – Panty Raid, by Include)
With him, it’s very simple. If the blinkers help keep him focused and prevent him from racing erratically in the stretch, which very well could have cost him the LeComte and Risen Star Stakes, then he is going to be very tough to beat in the Louisiana Derby. His grinding style and the way he surged late in those two stakes to snatch second should make him even more dangerous stretching out to 1 3/16 miles. Watch him coming down the lane. If he’s not shying from the whip or drifting out on his own then expect to see him right there at the finish. This will be his second start under John Velazquez, so Johnny V should be much more familiar with him. Now, we’ll just have to see if he can turn the tables on his two conquerors Midnight Bourbon and Mandaloun, both of whom he has already finished ahead of. He tuned up for the race with a half-mile breeze in :49 3/5

8. Risk Taking (Chad Brown, Medaglia d’Oro – Run a Risk, by Distorted Humor)
He worked five furlongs in 1:02 at Belmont as he continues to prepare for the Wood Memorial, where he will attempt to win his third straight mile and an eighth race. Because of the spacing between races he hasn’t gotten a lot of buzz, but he looks to be one of those blue-collar horses that just goes out there and does his job, running hard every step of the way without a lot of fanfare. We’ve been saying all along he is like a throwback to those sound, hard-knocking horses of the past. He still needs to step up in class, but his Thoro-Graph jump from a “10 1/2″ to a “3 1/4″ indicates he has made great strides and will appreciate the time off between races. He’s an easy horse to overlook, but do so at your own peril.

9. Weyburn (Jimmy Jerkens, Pioneerof the Nile – Sunday Affair, by A.P. Indy)
All we can do is wait until they make him a late nominee for the Derby and then officially announce he will run in the Wood Memorial. Jerkens, like his father, is conservative in his approach, but when he decides to tackle a classic or Breeders’ Cup race you better take his horse very seriously. And this colt showed in the Gotham he is not one to be taken lightly. No he hasn’t been two turns yet, but with his pedigree that is not going to be a problem. In fact, he should improve the farther he goes. Let’s remember however, that he had to battle back to beat a horse with only one lifetime sprint. But we really have no idea how good Crowded Trade is, and there were some awfully talented horses behind him, including Freedom Fighter, who was coming a narrow defeat to Concert Tour, and Crowded Trade’s more accomplished stablemate Highly Motivated. And Weyburn’s jump from a “9” to a “3” Thoro-Graph number gives him room to move forward in the Wood Memorial.

10. Helium (Mark Casse, Ironicus – Thundering Emilia, by Thunder Gulch)
I have to admit I am in a quandary as to what to make of this colt and where to rank him. As I mentioned in great detail last week, I loved everything I saw in the Tampa Bay Derby, especially when horses do something they are not supposed to do. And what he did could only have been done by an extraordinary horse. With that said, I have all the faith in the world in Mark Casse’s decision making, as he knows his horse, but to go eight weeks to the Derby, having only one start at 3, and having never run farther than 1 1/16 miles, history is screaming at me not to get too carried away with him and look at him logically. Even ignoring the fact that only two horses have won the Derby with only three career starts in the past century, which is something I can live with in this new era of Thoroughbred racing, I still can’t help but be skeptical when none the other three factors I mentioned have been accomplished since the early 1900s. His Thoro-Graph progression is excellent, going from an “11” to an “8 1/4,” both on synthetic, to a “3” in the Tampa Bay Derby, which is a huge move forward, but ideally you want to go into the big race with a better number than that. So unless there is a change of heart, I will still be a big fan of this horse, but he will have to remain a dilemma.

11. Midnight Bourbon (Steve Asmussen, Tiznow – Catch the Moon, by Malibu Moon)
His victory over Mandaloun and Proxy in the LeComte Stakes seems like ages ago and he has sort of been forgotten. One of the reasons is that he was able to control the pace in the LeComte when everyone let him cruise uncontested on the lead, which enabled him to hold off his two antagonists. But when he was forced to sit off the pace in the Risen Star Stakes he was unable to find a closing punch and had to settle for a so-so third. We really don’t know how he wants to run and if he can be effective coming from behind. He has never finished out of the money in six career starts and his Brisnet figures have pretty much improved with every start. The Louisiana Derby should identify who this horse really is, and you have to take into consideration that the Tiznows normally get better as they get older. If he is going to be a legitimate Derby contender this is the time to show it.

12. Rock Your World (John Sadler, Candy Ride – Charm the Maker, by Empire Maker)
This is going to come from left field, but it is time to put some new exciting faces into the Derby picture. As much as I am against horses running in the Derby with only three career starts, there is something about this colt I find extremely intriguing. Both of his starts have been on grass and both left an indelible impression. In his career debut going six furlongs, he battled on the lead with two other horses and put them away on the turn with one quick burst, opening a clear lead, which can often take its toll on grass. But he won off in hand in 1:08 1/5 with the rider looking back twice in the final furlong. Stretching out to a mile in the Pasadena Stakes, he tracked the early pace, and it looked as if he was going to be in for a battle with co-even-money favorite Cathkin Peak. But when Cathkin Peak tried to come inside him he bumped with Rock Your World, causing him to jump back to his left lead and then burst clear with a devastating turn of foot. Why his having only three races doesn’t bother me as much is because in both his races he just kept going at a rapid click after the wire and was still going strong well into the backstretch. He just exudes class, has a regal air about him, and comes back in a strong gallop as if he hadn’t even run. As far as not having run on dirt, his sire Candy Ride was a superstar on grass and dirt, setting a new track record in the Pacific Classic; his maternal great-grandsire Giant’s Causeway nearly knocked off Tiznow in the BC Classic in his dirt debut, and his tail-female family traces to Majestic Light, who won the Man o’ War Stakes, Bernard Baruch, Cinema Handicap and was second in the D.C International, Canadian International, and Turf Classic all on grass and won the Monmouth Invitational, breaking the track record, the Amory Haskell Handicap, Swaps Stakes, and Washington Park Handicap all on dirt. In short, I am banking on this colt being special.

13. Collaborate (Into Mischief – Quiet Temper, by Quiet American)
Here we go again with another horse who will have only three career starts. The reason this colt is different, besides his easy 12-length maiden romp going a mile, is that he is a physical beast with a humongous stride who dwarfs his opponents. Not only did he weigh an outrageous 154 pounds at birth and stand 42 1/2 inches tall, but to show how tough his dam is, she delivered him standing up, which is difficult with a foal that size. He naturally grew up to be a big imposing colt, but he was remarkably athletic and had a smooth easy stride for such a big horse. The first thing Ian Brennan, who broke him, noticed was how fluid his stride was. He may be a physical brute who dwarfs his opponents, but his dam was said to be extremely kind and gentle around people and other horses. Now all this is not going to win him the Kentucky Derby, but it does set him apart from other horses, and watching him bound away from his opponents as if he were in a gallop with those long fluid strides, who knows what we’re dealing with? For a horse his size to go out this weekend and work a half in a bullet :47 flat, fastest of 51 works at the distance, and come home the last quarter in :22 4/5 is pretty remarkable. Like with Rock Your World, I’m just taking a wild shot and looking for horses who are different and might just be special. If it doesn’t work out in their respective Derby preps, then you just move on to someone else. Such is life on the Derby trail. But for now both these horses get the juices flowing.

14. Hot Rod Charlie (Doug O’Neill, Oxbow – Indan Miss, by Indian Charlie)
With the Rebel Stakes in the book, here is a chance for the California horses to really assert themselves. They already have had Bob Baffert destroy the Oaklawn horses and his fourth best horse finish second to Essential Quality, and now Hot Rod Charlie can dampen the hopes of what looks to be a strong Fair Grounds home team. Although he ran a gutsy race getting jostled between horses in the furious stretch run of the Robert B. Lewis, the quality of that field is in question after Life is Good demolished Medina Spirit and Roman Centurian in the San Felipe Stakes. But let’s remember his huge effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile getting beat three-quarters of a length by Essential Quality at 94-1. After pairing up a “3 3/4″ Thoro-Graph number in his last two starts there is no reason why he shouldn’t move forward off that, and he is already faster than most of the Fair Grounds horses and less than a point off Mandaloun’s career high “3.” He tuned for his final Derby prep with a sharp five-furlong drill in 1:00 flat.

15. Dynamic One (Todd Pletcher, Union Rags – Beat the Drums, by Smart Strike)
How about yet another new face? In Week 2 I called him my “hidden gem” when he was still a maiden coming off a fourth-place finish, beaten only two lengths despite going six-wide on the first turn and then making a huge five-wide move on the far turn, in which he demonstrated a powerful turn of foot. I then discovered he lost a shoe in the race and returned with mucus in his lungs and obviously loved him even more. In Week 5 when he was still a maiden I called him my “megabomb sleeper,” Well, since then he finally broke his maiden impressively going 1 1/8 miles over a very deep track at Aqueduct. Now he steps into the big-time in the Wood Memorial along with stablemate Overtook. He certainly doesn’t have to win this race, just run well enough to get into the Derby. He has a pedigree to die for and has as strong a female family as you will ever see. All the pieces are in place and he just has to step up. You can bet he is a huge price in the future book.

16. Nicky the Vest (Jonathan Thomas, Runhappy – Tazarine, by Cat Thief)
Here is the third of our horses who aren’t supposed to win the Derby off three lifetime starts but have made it on the rankings anyway. With these horses you have to go by gut feeling and what you see out on the racetrack. Although this colt’s two starts have been against New York-breds I like everything I’ve seen, mainly his powerful running style, his flawless action, his professionalism, and his ability to overcome adversity. He is by a sprint champion who wasn’t bred to be a sprinter, out of a very strong and classy female family and there is no reason to think he won’t appreciate longer distances. In his career debut going a flat mile, he broke sideways from the rail and came out of the gate dead last. In a matter of seconds he was fighting for the lead and just opened up on his field without being asked and coasted home by 3 1/4 lengths. In the one-mile Gander Stakes against Todd Pletcher’s unbeaten Rego Park Stakes winner Perfect Munnings, he broke sharply, stalked the early pacesetter and in the blink of an eye was three in front nearing the quarter pole, then simply outdistanced his opponents, winning off by nearly 12 lengths. What I love most about this horse is his flawless mechanics and his ability to completely ignore the unnecessary use of the whip by his rider in the Gander and keep a perfectly straight path the entire length of the stretch. He is just a pleasure to watch run and now just has to show the same strengths against far better competition. Being a May 11 foal he has a lot of room for improvement.

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

PREVALENCE — He got the job done, extending his mini unbeaten streak to two, but he didn’t have quite the “wow” impact he had in his debut, being pushed along late to win by three lengths over a former claimer. It was good to see him rate off the pace, which bodes well for the future, and his second quarter in :22 1/5 was strong, as were his final two eighths in :12 2/5 and :12 3/5. This was a good experience for him, and at this point the Wood Memorial is being mentioned as his next possible target. With Essential Quality and Proxy hot on the Derby trail Godolphin certainly doesn’t need to rush this promising colt and try to stretch him out to a mile and a quarter at this stage of his career. But inexperience no longer is a deterrent on the Derby trail, especially this year, so it looks as if they are going to give him every opportunity to earn his way in.

RUN CLASSIC — If you’re looking for yet another fresh new face to possibly make a big splash at a price in the Louisiana Derby, here is what I wrote in Week 5: “One horse who made a big impression in a maiden race at Fair Grounds Saturday was the Bret Calhoun-trained Runhappy colt Run Classic, who was stretching out to a mile and a sixteenth off a rough trip going six furlongs. Rating nicely in third, he took over at the head of the stretch, changed leads on cue, and drew off impressively. He kept building up momentum with long fluid strides and galloped out very strong, still hugging the rail. His time of 1:44 1/5 was a full second faster than Sainthood ran in the other division, three-fifths of a second faster than a strong allowance race on the same card, and a full second faster than the Rachel Alexandra Stakes. And you had to be impressed with his closing fractions of :24 and :06 1/5, which were significantly faster than the closing times of the other maiden race and allowance race.” Should be interesting.

HIDDEN STASH — There was some concern the way he ran off before the Tampa Bay Derby and was so out of control. But it appears it was in reaction to a female lead pony, so he can be forgiven. His second-place finish after seemingly having the race won was actually a big effort considering the energy he wasted before the race. And the winner did come out and brush him a couple of times. He has the pedigree top and bottom, he’s consistent, he’s improving with very start, and he’s already won at Churchill Downs. He did have a problem changing leads in his first five starts, but did finally change in the Tampa Derby, so one would think he has no place to go but up.

CROWDED TRADE – He actually received a faster Thoro-Graph number in the Gotham than the winner, jumping from a solid “7” in his career debut to a “2 1/2,” so he certainly looks like a colt with a bright future, but still has yet to go two turns. Just another of the many guesses this year.

HIGHLY MOTIVATED – He rounds out the Chad Bown trio of Derby hopefuls. As we said that week, his third-place finish in the Gotham Stakes was much better than it looked considering the trip he had coming off a layoff. The big question with him is how far he wants to go. He also hasn’t been two turns so he will have a lot to prove next time out.

BIG LAKE – After nearly blowing a six-length lead in his previous start he ran a big race to finish third in the Rebel Stakes and probably would have finished second had he not gotten wiped out in the stretch by Caddo River and knocked into Get Her Number. He’s a big good-looking horse who definitely is on the Improve. If you want a horse with a strong Kentucky Derby influence, his sire won the Derby, his grandsire was second in the Derby, his great-grandsire was second in the Derby, and his great great-grandsire won the Derby. That’s just his sire’s line. On his female side, his great-grandsire won the Derby, his great great-grandsire was second in the Derby, and his fourth dam is a full-sister to a Derby winner.

MEDINA SPIRIT and SPIELBERG – Although they are not in the same class as Baffert’s top two Derby hopeful they still are extremely productive and can hold their own with most of the others. It’s just a question of where Baffert runs them. He could even go straight to the Derby with Medina Spirit after three straight two-turn stakes.

CADDO RIVER – What was disappointing other than his performance was the way Geroux fought him down the backstretch, almost standing up on the horse trying to keep him off Concert Tour, when in my opinion he would have been better off engaging him, considering Caddo River had more experience and was more seasoned, and Concert Tour was the horse to beat. You just do not let Bob Baffert horses get an uncontested lead. By the time he finally let the horse go he was empty and couldn’t even keep a straight course in the stretch.

KEEPMEINMIND – With all the setbacks in his racing and training schedule you can forgive a defeat in the Rebel Stakes, but the fact that he came up completely empty in the stretch is a reason for concern. But he does deserve another chance.

ROMBAUER – He is a consistent closer and handles all kinds of surfaces, and has run well in top company. But he needs to get faster and put himself in contention earlier and not leave himself with so much to do. We’ll see if they go back to the dirt or stick with the synthetic track in the Jeff Ruby Steaks.

DREAM SHAKE – Let’s not forget he was able to finish third in the San Felipe Stakes coming off only one sprint victory in which he received an amazing “1” Thoro-Graph number. It was no surprise he regressed off that, and now he is in position to take another step forward.

THE GREAT ONE – He has a lot of rebounding to do in the Florida Derby after his dismal effort in the San Felipe coming off Lasix and a huge Thoro-Graph number. All his connections can hope for is that he simply had a bad day and can bounce back at a new track against different competition.

OVERTOOK – As mentioned earlier Todd Pletcher will run him and Dynamic One in the Wood Memorial. Both have the same ownership and if Dynamic One falters he should be running late. He has already established his class with his fast-closing second in the Withers Stakes.

SOUP AND SANDWICH — He turned in a bullet half-mile work in :47 3/5 at Palm Meadows, fastest of 39 works at the distance. He is no doubt gifted, but still green, and if he can get his act together in the Florida Derby who knows what he’s capable of.

As you can tell from this week’s Rankings, the three starts to the Derby trend has taken off, as brilliant horses are making their career debuts later and later for whatever reason and then hope they can make a mad late dash into the big event. At the present time we have at least a dozen talented 3-year-olds who could attempt to get in the Derby off three career starts. We will go over them in detail next week.

Side note: Talk about horses getting a late start, too bad for American Pharoah’s brother TRIPLE TAP the Derby isn’t in September again this year. He is a beautiful mover who gets down low and covers a lot of the ground with great extension to his stride. He definitely is one to watch later on.

Derby Rankings: Week 8

Monday, March 8th, 2021

With the top three separating themselves from the pack and the rest of them fairly equal at this time with a few new twists thrown in, it is best to expand the rankings again to a Sweet 16 until we know the true depth of this crop. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: Week 8, Mar. 8

By Steve Haskin

 

1. Greatest Honour (Shug McGaughey, Tapit – Tiffany’s Honour, by Street Cry)
Let’s look at the numbers this week. As I mentioned before the Fountain of Youth I was afraid that his “1” Thoro-Graph number in the Holy Bull might have been too fast too early and I wouldn’t have been discouraged at all by a slight regression. As it turned out he actually got another “1,” which was exactly what you want to see. By pairing up it showed that the Holy Bull didn’t take anything out of him. If he continues to follow his pattern of never taking a step backwards and pairing up a fast career best he will move forward in the Florida Derby and then just needs to maintain that number at Churchill Downs as he did in the Fountain of Youth. He wasn’t as sharp early as he was in the Holy Bull, which was understandable, and had to use an explosive closing kick to get the job done after looking hopelessly out of it. So we know from his last few races that he can engage in a stretch-long battle and won’t back down, he can run off from his opponents, and he can launch a huge late run. In other words, he can beat you in different ways.

2. Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Tapit – Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality)
Let’s continue looking at the speed ratings. His negative-1/2 in the Southwest on Thoro-Graph makes him the fastest 3-year-old so far and the only horse to run a negative number. Although his Brisnet figure of 98 was three points slower than his BC Juvenile, it was a big number to start off the year following a four-month layoff, and his triple-digit late pace figure shows that he can come home. I admit the most logical move was to rank him No. 1, but I am going to give Greatest Honour the edge on pedigree, partially because Essential Quality’s dam was a pure sprinter and his broodmare sire, with the exception of his freakish son Smarty Jones, is still a speed influence. As an old schooler I feel one of the problems with today’s bloodlines is too much inbreeding, and Essential Quality’s pedigree lights up like a Christmas tree of inbreeding. Not only is he inbred to five stallions, he is inbred four times to Mr. Prospector, three times to Secretariat, three times to Northern Dancer, and is also inbred to Fappiano and In Reality. Is that going to stop him from winning the Kentucky Derby, along with his paddling motion? Absolutely not; he definitely is the real deal. But for now I will give the slightest edge to the horse with the classic pedigree who has more bottom under him.

3. Life is Good (Bob Baffert, Into Mischief – Beach Walk, by Distorted Humor)
It’s very simple, this horse is just too fast for those horses and Baffert has been trying to harness his speed by working him alone and never asking too much of him. Once Medina Spirit took himself and The Great One out going wide into the first turn and Life is Good was able to quickly open an easy three-length lead from the rail the race was over. Even on cruise control, he still went the three-quarters in 1:10 2/5, which was two full seconds faster than they ran in the Big Cap. The only thing we need to see now is for him to realize these races are supposed to be competitive and he can’t have his mind wandering and be distracted so that he either falls asleep in the stretch, like in the Sham Stakes, or he drifts out to the middle of the track like he did in the San Felipe. He runs with his head high and as he began to get out turning for home his stride got just a tad sloppy for a second. But once he straightened out he just powered away all on his own to win by eight widening lengths and continued to open up past the wire despite drifting the entire length of the stretch and winding up closer to the outside rail than the inside galloping out. The question is, with only three career starts, can he get tougher mentally by the first Saturday in May and how will he react if some horse eyeballs him early or even outruns him, which I admit doesn’t seem likely? When a horse runs this fast this easily his opponents better hope he doesn’t want to go a mile and a quarter.

4. Mandaloun (Brad Cox, Into Mischief – Brooch, by Empire Maker)
After an easy half-mile breeze in :50 last week, he got back to serious works, drilling five furlongs in a bullet :59 1/5, fastest of 36 works at the distance. Last week we mentioned his strong Juddmonte Farms breeding, but when looking for stamina to go with Into Mischief on top, look no further than his having the strong classic/stamina influence His Majesty three times in his pedigree. If you’re not familiar with His Majesty, he is a full-brother to Graustark, both by the legendary Ribot, and a half-brother to Hall of Famer and two-time champion Bowl of Flowers winner of the Coaching Club American Oaks and Spinster Stakes. His Majesty was the leading sire in North America in 1982 and sire of 1981 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Pleasant Colony, who also is a strong classic/stamina influence. Considering we have already seen Into Mischief sire a Kentucky Derby winner from a female family with not nearly as much stamina as Mandaloun, a mile and quarter should not pose any problem at all. And he has already looked strong going a mile and an eighth.

5. Known Agenda (Todd Pletcher, Curlin – Byrama, by Byron)
Eddie Woods, who gave him his early training at 2, remembers him as being a very classy colt who always showed potential. He didn’t have much speed but was a beautiful mover with a good mind. Going into his last race, a mile and an eighth allowance at Gulfstream, he had frustrated Pletcher with his recent disappointing efforts after showing so much promise. After running a decent “8” Thoro-Graph figure when he outgamed Greatest Honour going a mile and an eighth at Aqueduct last fall over an extremely slow track, he regressed to an “11” in his next two starts in the Remsen and Sam F. Davis Stakes. In the latter he inexplicably took himself completely out of the race and decided to run after it was way too late to even finish in the money. So a desperate Pletcher added blinkers and Lasix for his next start and he ran off the screen, winning by 11 lengths. To show that was no fluke, his jumped all the way to a “3 1/4″ Thoro-Graph number, putting himself right in the hunt. That was pretty much the same number that Mandaloun and Risk Taking ran in their stakes victories and faster that Derby contenders Caddo River, Medina Spirit, Proxy, and Midnight Bourbon. Now he just has to build on that and not go backwards again.

6. Risk Taking (Chad Brown, Medaglia d’Oro – Run a Risk, by Distorted Humor)
After this past weekend, Brown now has a trio of top-class 3-year-olds, but he still is the only one who has excelled going two turns and has a much stronger foundation under him. The big question with him is whether he is fast enough to compete with the horses we’ve seen the past two weekends. Although his Thoro-Graph numbers leaped from a “10 1/2” to a “3 1/4” in the Withers Stakes, his Brisnet speed figure dropped from a 98 to a 92. So you will just have to decide which one makes more sense. Also, the horse he ran down in the Withers, Capo Kane, who finished a strong third, was beaten more than 19 lengths in the Gotham Stakes. So you can see the questions that surround him. The reason he still is ranked high is his powerhouse pedigree, his toughness, and his ability to sustain a long run. I also liked how quickly he opened up in the last sixteenth to draw off by nearly four lengths. I am looking for continued improvement with two mile and an eighth races under him already.

7. Caddo River (Brad Cox, Hard Spun – Pangburn, by Congrats)
He turned in his third consecutive strong five-furlong work at Fair Grounds, this time in 1:00 1/5. Now that he has gotten accustomed to his new home and obviously has taken a liking to the track, someone needs to tell him he has to return to Oaklawn for next week’s Rebel Stakes, where he will be facing graded stakes winners Concert Tour and Keepmeinmind and Sam F. Davis runner-up Nova Rags. With his natural speed and his ability to run his opponents into the ground, this will be a real test, trying to outrun the speedy Baffert-trained Concert Tour and holding off the late-closing Keepmeinmind. He has paired up a “4 1/4″ Thoro-Graph number in his last two starts after a five-point jump, so now he has to move forward several points to put him up there were some of the faster horses. If he wins this race and then stablemate Mandaloun wins the Louisiana Derby the week after, that will be three major Derby prep victories in four weeks for Cox, and he will go into April with one of the strongest Derby contingents in years.

8. Proxy (Mike Stidham, Tapit – Panty Raid, by Include)
If you like Mandaloun it’s hard not to like this horse, assuming the blinkers in which he has been working so sharply moves him up in the Louisiana Derby and helps him stay focused and keep a straight course in the stretch, something that may very well have cost him victories in the LeComte and Risen Star Stakes. Also, the new mile and three-sixteenths distance of the Louisiana Derby should help him. So with him it is all about projection and what we’re going to see on March 20. What you do have to like about him is the way he battled back in the final yards of his last two races to snatch second from Mandaloun and then Midnight Bourbon, finding his best stride after his erratic running in the stretch. If the blinkers do help as much as I believe they will, there is a good chance we’re going to see a different horse next time out.

9. Helium (Mark Casse, Ironicus – Thundering Emilia, by Thunder Gulch)
This has nothing to do with being a prisoner of the moment. The truth is I am totally in awe of what this colt did in the Tampa Bay Derby and I am fascinated, yet torn about his immediate future. In a year like this with three standouts on top, everyone else looks pretty similar except this colt because of the mystery surrounding how good he is and how much meaning you can put in his freakish performance. Here is a horse who had never gone two turns, had never run on dirt, and hadn’t run in 4 1/2 months due to Woodbine canceling because of snow, then Covid closing the track, and then suffering a wrenched ankle while pointing for a return at Fair Grounds. Now in a Grade 2 race, he is forced six-wide going into the first turn, is still six-wide around the turn and down the backstretch, makes a huge sweeping move five-wide on the far turn, going from 10th to the lead, cuts the corner beautifully, dropping down to the rail, gets caught by the 3-1 second choice Hidden Stash inside the eighth pole, and battles back to actually draw clear to win by three-quarters of a length. Even Casse wasn’t expecting anything like this. He said in his 40-plus years of training he has had few “Wow” moments, but this definitely was one of them. On top of that he said the colt didn’t take a deep breath after coming back. So what are we dealing with? What I am torn about is that I’m not sure what he was beating and Casse said he is leaning toward going straight to the Kentucky Derby, bucking history on several counts (what else is new?). If you’re concerned about his low Beyer speed figure, remember that does not take into account ground loss and he easily had to run a mile and an eighth. So I need to let all this sink in and see what we’re dealing with.

10. Weyburn (Jimmy Jerkens, Pioneerof the Nile – Sunday Affair, by A.P. Indy)
Here is another head scratcher regarding a horse who did something he shouldn’t have done. I commented in Week 1 that this horse, with his pedigree, is going to improve big-time going two turns, but to do what he did in a tough Gotham field was pretty extraordinary considering he had his whole schedule disrupted by hoof problems and then was supposed to run in an allowance race on the Gotham undercard only to have the race not fill. So Jerkens had no recourse but to throw him to the wolves going a flat-mile against several proven stakes horses. To battle back in the stretch the way he did to stick his nose in front at the wire was pretty impressive. In his first three generations alone he has three Kentucky Derby winners, two Preakness winners, three Belmont winners, three Breeders’ Cup Classic winners, a Kentucky Derby runner-up, and an Alabama winner who produced a Filly Triple Crown winner and Hall of Famer. Going into his fourth generation you will find an American and English Triple Crown winner. What makes this pedigree so special is that Jerkens’ father, the legendary Allen Jerkens, trained the aforementioned Filly Triple Crown winner Sky Beauty, who Jimmy was around and knows very well. This horse assuredly will be made a late nominee to the Triple Crown, and as I said in Week 1, I can’t wait to see what this colt can do going two turns.

11. Keepmeinmind (Robertino Diodoro, Laoban – Inclination, by Victory Gallop)
All he needs is a fast-closing second in the Rebel to move back up the rankings. We finally are going to get to see the Kentucky Jockey Club winner’s long-awaited debut after two postponements of the Southwest Stakes. With no training at Oaklawn because of track conditions, Diodoro opted to wait two more weeks for Rebel. He tried to make Keepmeinmind feel good by telling him, “You should be happy; now you just have to run down Caddo River and Concert Tour instead of trying to outrun Essential Quality, so it’s not all bad.” Keepmeinmind went out and worked five furlongs in 1:02 1/5, coming home his final eighth in :12 2/5 before galloping out three-quarters in 1:16. Diodoro just wanted jockey David Cohen to keep him relaxed early because he can get a little tough and he did just that. With eight works this year, you can’t say he won’t be fit. Right now, I just want to see that patented late run and for him be close at the finish and then he can be ready for a big performance in the Arkansas Derby.

12. Midnight Bourbon (Steve Asmussen, Tiznow – Catch the Moon, by Malibu Moon)
His big hope right now is that, like his his sire, he is going to keep getting better. Whether he will be near his peak in the Kentucky Derby is another matter, as Tiznow didn’t develop until later in his 3-year-old campaign. But this colt is more precocious, breaking his maiden at a mile last August, and has never been out of the money in six career starts. He is on a very similar Thoro-Graph pattern as Caddo River, pairing up an “8” and then basically pairing up a “5.” He will need to improve four or five points in the Louisiana Derby to put himself in position to win the Kentucky Derby. There is not much separating him, Mandaloun, and Proxy.

13. Highly Motivated (Chad Brown, Into Mischief – Strong Incentive, by Warrior’s Reward)
I don’t know how far he wants to go, but in my mind he turned in the most under-the-radar performance of the week. Following a four-month layoff, he had a dreadful trip in the Gotham Stakes. He was crowded at the start with Wipe the Slate constantly coming in on him and actually forcing him off the straightaway and onto the turn at the gap. He had to steady and regroup and then was boxed in most of the way. He finally was able to fan five wide turning for him, but shied from a left-handed whip, moving out several paths and losing some of his momentum. Once he came back in, he leveled off and was striding out well in the final sixteenth, while narrowing the margin on the first two. He is another who hasn’t been two turns yet, so his next start will tell us all we need to know about him.

14. Concert Tour, (Bob Baffert, Street Sense – Purse Strings, by Tapit)
We’ll know for sure what we’re dealing with when he ships to Oaklawn for Saturday’s Rebel Stakes and his two-turn debut. He turned in a monster work, breaking about 10 lengths behind a workmate, cut to inside turning for home, and drew away to finish three lengths in front before galloping out strong, completing the six furlongs in a bullet 1:11 2/5. Baffert has been saying for a while he is one of his best 3-year-olds despite having had only a pair of sprints in his career. He is bred for distance, so we should expect a big performance from him in the Rebel.

15. Hidden Stash (Victoria Oliver, Constitution – Making Mark Money, by Smart Strike)
On the surface it looked like he had Helium measured in the Tampa Bay Derby and should have gone by him, but couldn’t finish the job and let him come back and beat him. But he gets a pass because he was a total run off before the race and was out of control tearing around there along the rail throwing his head around wildly. He finally had to be grabbed by the outrider. That had to take a lot out of him, so he can be excused for not finishing off Helium, especially with the winner coming out twice and brushing with him. The negative aspect of running off is that he did it, and you have to wonder why. You certainly don’t want to see that again, especially on Derby Day. The fact is he has been on the board in all six of his races with his only fourth coming in his career debut last August. He did finally change leads, which is encouraging, so we’ll give him another chance.

16. Medina Spirit, (Bob Baffert, Protonico – Mongolian Changa, by Brilliant Speed)
Well, at least you can say he’s the only horse ever to get close to Life is Good. You have to wonder now how good the Robert B. Lewis Stakes was, with him and Roman Centurian getting trounced by Life is Good. He’s still a hard-knocking consistent colt who tries all the time and will win his shares of races. The problem Baffert has is figuring out where to run him next. I would doubt he’ll try the “beast” again. If he goes out of town at least he’ll be able to run his own race. But Baffert says he’s a lightly made colt, so we’ll have to see how he handles shipping.

 

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

On several occasions I have mentioned DYNAMIC ONE as my hidden gem and my super maiden sleeper. Well, he finally got that maiden win out of the way, but he’s still my sleeper. Granted, he didn’t beat much and they ran very slow over a deep and tiring track, but he trudged his way through it to defeat a highly touted Chad Brown colt by 5 1/4 lengths, and his final fractions of :24 4/5 and :13 were good enough on that track. His time for the mile and an eighth was a sluggish 1:55 1/5, but let’s remember that Greatest Honour and Known Agenda went in 1:55 4/5 last fall at Aqueduct, and he just shipped up to New York from Florida and was not used to such a dramatic change in surfaces. He certainly will get fit after this race. He already demonstrated his explosive turn of foot in his last race, in which he was six-wide on the first turn, lost a shoe, and came back with some mucus in his lungs. So this was a piece of cake and should springboard him to bigger and better things. If you are a fan of the Phipps breeding, how about this colt’s tail-female line having Easy Goer, Personal Ensign, Numbered Account, Buckpasser, My Flag, Storm Flag Flying, Relaxing, and Private Account.

Dynamic One wasn’t the only impressive maiden winner for Todd Pletcher over the weekend. He also sent out the Nyquist colt UNTREATED, who destroyed his field at Tampa Bay Downs, winning off by 8 3/4 lengths going two turns for the first time. Racing four-wide into the turn, he settled back in seventh and when jockey Luis Saez asked him he demonstrated an explosive turn of foot and was in front in a flash. He continued to draw away under a hand ride and could not have kept a straighter path the length of the stretch. He keeps his legs under him perfectly and has the look of a classy, professional colt and we’ll just have to see what he does against far better horses. But visually this was a flawless performance. Who knows, maybe he’ll be my sleeper. Pletcher doesn’t have any big names so far, but he sure has several who could burst on the scene in a hurry. This colt sold for $550,000 as a yearling and raced in one sprint for Chad Brown and the Estate of Paul Pompa, showing little. Shortly after he was sold at the Pompa dispersal and went for only $300,000 to Team Valor, which could turn out to be quite a bargain thanks to that poor debut. Watch out for this guy.

CROWDED TRADE – Coming off only one six-furlong sprint in his career, he either is an exceptional colt to run that big a race in the Gotham or that was not a strong race in general. The 95 Beyer suggests it likely is the former. But this is a year with so many huge performances by lightly raced horses we really don’t know what to make of it all. Times indeed are changing.

DREAM SHAKE – He ran well to finish third in the San Felipe, but really had little chance coming off one maiden sprint. He should build on this and we can look forward to bigger and better things from him. If you’re looking for another positive, Law Professor, who he beat by 18 lengths in his maiden win, came back to break his maiden by 2 1/2 lengths going a mile at 20-1. The horse who finished second to Law Professor, Harbored Memories, had previously finished second to Dream Shake, so two horses have come out of that maiden race to run big.

HOT ROD CHARLIE – He also is coming off the Robert Lewis, so all we can do is wait for the Louisiana Derby to see just where he fits. He did take all the worst of it in that race so he still may have a say in the Derby picture. He did turn in a solid six-furlong work in 1:14.

ROMAN CENTURIAN – He never had a prayer in the San Felipe and all he could do was plod home for fourth and just wait now for the distances to stretch out and get some speed up front to use his staying power and late kick.

THE GREAT ONE — As mentioned earlier, any chance he had to run with Life is Good early was taken away when Medina Spirit carried him wide going into the first turn. But even so, his 16 3/4-length drubbing was puzzling to his connections. You always have to wonder how a horse will react coming off first-time Lasix, a 14-length win, and a monster Thoro-Graph jump. So we’re back to square one as to how good he really is. He will get another chance in three weeks when he ships to Gulfstream for the Florida Derby.

OVERTOOK – He had a brief stay in the Top 12, but with all the action since his Withers second he must earn his way back up there and show everyone he’s not just a plodder. He just had an easy half-mile breeze this week in :50 3/5

ROMBAUER – He is a consistent closer and handles all three surfaces, but his Thoro-Graph numbers were the second slowest of the 23 horses in the Future Wager, so he will need to get faster in a hurry. I did like is five-furlong work in a sharp 1:00 flat.

As if Godolphin doesn’t have enough good horses in the U.S., they added another potential Derby horse when their homebred HIGHLAND AVENUE won the Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions Stakes over the Polytrack at Kempton Race Course in England. The son of Dubawi, who is bred for the grass, now has two victories and a second in three career starts. The next European Derby prep was Friday’s Patton Stakes at Dundalk Race Course in Ireland, which is also on an all-weather track. That turned out to be a an unexpected result when the Joseph O’Brien-trained 5-4 favorite Messidor was upset by stablemate MY GENERATION, a Kentucky-bred Speightstown filly with only a third-place finish in a maiden race to her credit. Not only did she win at odds of 11-2, she drew off in the final furlong to score by five lengths. Did we possibly find an Oaks filly hiding in a Derby prep?

One performance in the Fountain of Youth that got overlooked was the fourth-place finish of TARANTINO, who got shoved out going into the first turn and lost a ton of ground, then raced wide for most of the race, but kept battling and was beaten only 5 1/4 lengths. Trainer Rudy Brisset said he came out of the race in good shape and with two victories and a nose defeat on grass he will now point for the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park and try the Polytack, as many grass horses do.

Another under-appreciated performance that day was by SPIELBERG, whose fastest Thoro-Graph number had been an “8,” with his previous race being a “9.” Whether it was the slop or just finding a track he loved, his number in the Southwest catapulted to a “1,” which was the second-fastest of the year behind only the victorious Essential Quality. That can be attributed to his terrible start, dropping back to last, and racing very wide into the first turn and wide on the second turn. He’s been up and down his entire career, and we’ll see what Baffert has planned for him next.

The spectacular maiden winner PREVALENCE, who was forced to miss the Fountain of Youth when he came down with a bug and was forced to miss his final work, had his second work back, drilling a sharp five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 on Friday. Needless to say things are getting desperately tight if he is to have any bchance of making the Derby even with only three career starts. If trainer Brendan Walsh can’t get a race in him in the next week would Godolphin, who already has two major Derby contenders, push this promising colt to try to make the race with such little foundation under him when he has such a bright future?

Last week we touted two lightly raced colts who have shown a great deal of promise. One of them, SOUP AND SANDWICH, did not get a strong Thoro-Graph figure in his last start, running a “ 9 3/4″ following a strong “6” in his debut. But part of that can be attributed to his greenness, ducking in and changing leads three times. I have no doubt he will get faster as he matures, but will it be fast enough to be competitive in the Florida Derby? On the other hand, NICKY THE VEST went from an “8” in his debut to a “4” in the Gander Stakes, and he should continue to improve based on everything we’ve seen so far. I don’t care that he’s been facing New York-breds, this colt is a flat out runner.

American Pharoah Stakes winner GET HER NUMBER continues to impress in his long workouts, as he drilled six furlongs in 1:12 2/5 at San Luis Rey Downs for his 3-year-old debut in the Rebel Stakes. BROOKLYN STRONG continues to work, breezing a half in :48 4/5 at Laurel. Even in today’s racing, he just seems too far behind to make the Derby without doing something totally unconventional and illogical.

Derby Rankings: Week 7

Monday, March 1st, 2021

The Derby picture got a lot clearer, at least at the very top, when Greatest Honour and Essential Quality separated themselves from the others, at least until next weekend’s San Felipe Stakes, which will be accompanied by the Gotham and Tampa Bay Derby. Stay tuned for another busy weekend on the Derby trail. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: Week 7, Mar. 1

By Steve Haskin

1. Greatest Honour (Shug McGaughey, Tapit – Tiffany’s Honour, by Street Cry)
At the half-mile pole of the Fountain of Youth Stakes, he had lost his No. 1 ranking to Essential Quality. Less than a minute later he had it back, as he somehow managed to make up a ton of ground, despite the shortened Gulfstream stretch to blow by the pace-setting Drain the Clock in the final yards to win going away by 1 1/2 lengths. The truth is, I was expecting him to take a slight step backward after his brilliant score in the Holy Bull, in which I thought he may have run too fast too soon, as reflected in his big jump to a “1” Thoro-Graph figure and a 103 Brisnet figure. I would have taken a fast-closing second, but he has emerged as a truly exceptional colt. He probably did regress just a bit on Saturday, but was good enough to pull this one out with a furious closing kick. I feel this performance sort of leveled him off after that monster effort and should be a perfect steppingstone to the Florida Derby. We’ll see if that is backed up by his Thoro-Graph number. But what is most important is that this colt continues to show new dimensions, a will to win, and he always fires. With three 1 1/16-mile races and a gut-wrenching stretch battle at 1 1/8 miles in less than four months, he will appreciate the five-weeks off after the Florida Derby.

2. Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Tapit – Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality)
Well, he still paddles that left leg, but who cares? He just keeps winning and I feel he and Greatest Honour are nose and nose for the top spot. He obviously is the more versatile of the two and can be placed anywhere on the track. And give him a load of credit for turning in this strong a performance after having the race postponed twice, shipping to Oaklawn, and running on a tiring sloppy track. So far, this colt has shown he can do it all, and as the 2-year-champ likely will be No. 1 on most Derby rankings and deservedly so. But of the two sons of Tapit, Greatest Honour gets our nod because he has a stronger mile and a quarter pedigree, although Essential Quality should have no problem with the 10 furlongs. To be honest neither horse beat the toughest field, with Greatest Honour running down a horse making his two-turn debut and Essential Quality beating Spielberg, who lost all chance at the start when he ducked sharply to the outside, dropped to the back of the pack, and then lost ground into the first turn. Essential Quality’s main threat, Jackie’s Warrior, had no excuse and was done by the quarter pole. But all in all you couldn’t have asked for a better result from both horses.

3. Life is Good (Bob Baffert, Into Mischief – Beach Walk, by Distorted Humor)
OK, no more comments about his consistently sensational works and his flawless mechanics and how we haven’t seen a more beautiful moving horse since American Pharoah. It is finally time for all the morning praise to be replaced by equally strong accolades for his actions in the afternoon. Oh, OK, one more. He turned in yet another strong work on Sunday, going six furlongs in 1:12 1/5. Perhaps Baffert is right when he calls him “a beast.” Now we wait for Saturday’s loaded San Felipe Stakes, which will determine Southern California’s leading Derby contender. It is still only a mile and a sixteenth, so there is a lot of ground to cover before these horses get to a mile and a quarter. The question with him, and many of the Into Mischiefs, is whether he will be as effective stretching out to 10 furlongs. Although Life is Good’s female ancestors were sprinters tracing back to the swift Woodward filly Court Circuit, there is plenty of stamina from the males, and Court Circuit was versatile enough as a broodmare to produce the top-class late-running sprinter Honorable Miss, winner of the Fall Highweight Handicap twice, and her full-brother Bailjumper, winner of the Dwyer and Saranac, who is the grandsire of Skip Away and broodmare sire of Medaglia d’Oro. It is just a question of whether the sires or dams in his female family will prove dominant.

4. Known Agenda (Todd Pletcher, Curlin – Byrama, by Byron)
There is a reason I had him ranked No. 8 in the first Derby Rankings and kept him ranked until his baffling race in the Sam F. Davis Stakes when he pretty much fell asleep and didn’t wake up until the eighth pole when it was way too late. So a frustrated Pletcher added blinkers and Lasix for a mile and eighth last gasp allowance race Friday, and he certainly ran back to that initial high ranking with a powerful 11-length romp in a solid 1:50 2/5. Despite his being shoved four-wide into the first turn, you could tell down the backstretch this was a different horse, as he was striding out beautifully with great extension and was just biding his time. When it was time to go he quickly pounced on the leaders after a testing third quarter in :23 2/5, put the talented Top Gun Tommy, winner of his last two starts, away and bounded clear, winning in hand with his ears pricked and running perfectly straight down the stretch. One of the reasons I loved this horse from the start, in addition to his gutsy victory over Greatest Honour going nine furlongs, is the great European sire line on the dam side, which you can read about in Week 1’s rankings. I am going to assume it was the blinkers that woke him up and not the Lasix, and based on what I know he’s capable of, I am banking on this being the real Known Agenda and that we’re going to see a heckuva rematch between him and Greatest Honour in the Florida Derby. For now, welcome back to the Top 12.

5. Risk Taking (Chad Brown, Medaglia d’Oro – Run a Risk, by Distorted Humor)
He has run back-to-back mile and an eighth races, and you have to go back to the days of the Everglades, Flamingo, and Florida Derby to find a horse who went into the Kentucky Derby off three straight mile and an eighth races. That is another reason why I call this colt a throwback. He has that “hickory” look to him in that he is tough, sound, and runs hard. With all the speedy lightly raced horses pointing for the Derby we need horses like him. With Medaglia d’Oro and Forty Niner in his pedigree and being inbred to both Damascus and Buckpasser, you’re not going to find bloodlines with tougher, sounder horses. We really don’t know yet how talented he is, but he did defeat two pretty good horses in Overtook and Capo Kane in the Withers Stakes and did it the right way. And he’s only going to improve off that. Bad weather and poor track conditions in New York made a workout too risky, but there is plenty of time to the Wood and he is dead fit, so Brown has no concerns at all putting the work off.

6. Mandaloun (Brad Cox, Into Mischief – Brooch, by Empire Maker)
He had his first work since his Risen Star victory, breezing an easy half in :50. Nothing to do now but wait for the Louisiana Derby where he will be stretching out to a mile and three-sixteenths. Let’s do something different this week and look at the Derby gods angle. Of course, this is a far cry from Mrs. Genter or the Sunshine Boys, Paul Mellon and Mack Miller, but what better time for one of racing’s great institutions, Juddmonte Farms, to get their first Derby winner after second-place finishes by Aptitude and Empire Maker. This would be the perfect year to celebrate the racing life of owner Khalid Abdullah, who passed away in January. Juddmonte bred Mandaloun’s dam, second dam, and third dam; bred his second dam’s sire Dansili; and bred Mandaloun’s broodmare sire, Empire Maker, and his dam Toussaud. The Derby is one of the few classics Juddmonte has not won. They have captured 13 classics in England, six in Ireland, and eight in France, plus five Arc de Triomphes. In America, they won the Belmont Stakes with Empire Maker, six Breeders’ Cup races, and won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Dubai World Cup, Travers, and Pegasus World Cup with Arrogate, who died at the age 7 last June. We’ll see if the Derby gods are watching.

7. The Great One (Doug O’Neill, Nyquist – Little Ms. Protocol, by El Corredor)
He turned in a strong six-furlong work in 1:12 2/5 in company for Saturday’s San Felipe Stakes. It is time to find out once and for all if he is worthy of his name and the person after whom he is named. Wayne Gretzky played several years as a King and a victory would make his namesake the king of California and among the top three early favorites for the Kentucky Derby. This is a big step up from a maiden victory, even if he did win by 14 lengths. But let’s remember he did get beat a nose in a Grade 2 stakes before that and has been a different horse since the addition of blinkers. Spielberg, who beat him in a near dead-heat in the Los Alamitos Futurity, ran a huge race to be second to Essential Quality in Saturday’s Southwest Stakes despite a horrendous trip and on his best day is a classy formidable opponent. As we’ve mentioned, The Great One’s last-out Thoro-Graph figure makes him the co-fastest 3-year-old in the country and Brisnet backs that up with his back-to-back triple-digit numbers, so he does have the credentials to suggest a possible star in the making. He will back that up if he can knock off Life is Good, Medina Spirit, and Roman Centurian on Saturday. If Life is Good is as special as he’s looked, then a solid second-place finish will still propel him into the ranks of leading Derby contenders.

8. Keepmeinmind (Robertino Diodoro, Laoban – Inclination, by Victory Gallop)
It’s difficult to put this any other way, but his schedule is totally messed up. There is nothing wrong with giving a horse two preps for the Derby, such as the Rebel and Arkansas Derby, but this horse was working lights out and was fit and sharp and ready for his debut in the Southwest Stakes. Then it was postponed a week and then another week, during which time he was unable to train; that’s three weeks with no works and two weeks with no training. Rather than run in the Southwest as planned off no training, he is now forced to wait another four weeks for the Rebel on top of the two weeks with no training. Can he still win the Kentucky Derby? Of course he can, but Diodoro is going to have to take a finely tuned athlete primed and ready for a race and start all over again. Even his first work back wasn’t ideal, as it came up sloppy for his five-furlong breeze in 1:03 1/5. So all we can do now is wait and see how he continues to train and how he looks going into the Rebel.

9.  Caddo River (Brad Cox, Hard Spun – Pangburn, by Congrats)
He remains sharp, working five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 at his new home base at Fair Grounds, where he has been stabled since Oaklawn Park closed down for racing and training due to prolonged horrible weather conditions. What looked like a possible thin field for the Rebel Stakes now appears to be a very competitive race with Baffert sending the undefeated Concert Tour; the addition of Keepmemind, who had to finally give up his attempt at the Southwest Stakes; and the 3-year-old debut of American Pharoah winner Get Her Number. This will be the test we need to see for this colt, who has been outdistancing lesser competition, but looking very good doing it. He has had an interesting Thoro-Graph pattern, pairing up a 9 1/2 in his first two starts, and then pairing up a 4 1/4 in his next two starts. So he should move up several points in the Rebel. His Brisnet figures show a steady progression of 87, 89, 94, and 96, and another move forward will make him very formidable, regardless of who he is running against. His strength is his mid-race speed, which has run his opponents off their feet allowing him to open up and cruise home from there. All we need to see now is for him to use more of his speed in the last part of the race when better horses will be testing him.

10.  Roman Centurian (Simon Callaghan, Empire Maker – Spare Change, by Bernardini)
OK, if you bet this colt in the last Future Wager at 41-1, this is your opportunity to put that ticket in a safe place and guard it with your life, because it is going to be a valued commodity if he runs big in the San Felipe, considering he is only going to get better going a mile and an eighth and a mile and a quarter. And with two Baffert beasts in there as well as the vastly improving The Great One, he doesn’t have to win this race going a mile and a sixteenth, just like he didn’t have to win the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, in which he came out of his blanket third-place finish smelling like roses, while earning a faster Thoro-Graph number than the winner. If he is closing again and is right there against theses horses then you can expect bigger and better things to come. He tuned up for the race with a sharp half-mile work in :48 1/5. Look for him to take the outside route again and come charging late. He did have every chance in the Robert Lewis, but considering the wider trip and coming off a maiden race, there is no reason to think he won’t improve off that effort.

11. Medina Spirit (Bob Baffert, Protonico – Mongolian Changa, by Brilliant Speed)
Baffert has been in a dilemma trying to figure out where to run him. He already has horses confirmed for the San Felipe, Gotham, and Rebel Stakes. With no Sunland Derby this year there simply is no place to run him without doubling up. So after a so-so work last week, Baffert wanted to see how he worked on Saturday before confirming him for the San Felipe. As it turned out he worked “great” according to Baffert after his sharp six-furlong drill in a bullet 1:11 1/5, so we now have a rematch to look forward to, but this time you can bet Life is Good and Mike Smith are not going to fall asleep at the wheel and will have their foot on the gas all the way to the wire. Medina Spirit also will be ridden by john Velazquez, replacing Abel Cedillo who rode the colt in his first three starts. Medina Spirit has a sneaky good pedigree despite his little known sire and broodmare sire. There are plenty of class and stamina influences and his dam traces back to the Rokeby Stable owned and bred Leap Lively, who placed in the Epsom and Yorkshire Oaks and produced the dam of Blue Grass Stakes winner High Yield.

12. Proxy (Mike Stidham, Tapit – Panty Raid, by Include)
Although there have been small pockets of gold so far, you can’t help but feel it’s only a few more feet down before Stidham strikes the mother lode. He keeps digging but he may have finally found the right vein when he put blinkers on the colt for his last work and he sizzled a half in a bullet :47, fastest of 40 works at the distance. If ever a horse looked like he needed blinkers it’s this guy, who just has to learn to keep a straight course to go from being a good solid horse to a leading Derby contender. It is for that reason that he returns to the Top 12. After back-to-back “5” Thoro-Graph numbers, which is just OK, I fully expect him to improve several points with the blinkers and stretching out to a mile and three-sixteenths in the Louisiana Derby. With names like Broad Brush, Damascus, and Ack Ack in his female family, we know where he gets his toughness. Now we’ll see if he can use his five doses of Raise A Native and Mr. Prospector, along with the blinkers, to bring out his speed. We have seen how he manages to dig in and get up for second in his races. Now he has to take it one step further and get up for the win. That’s where we feel the blinkers will help.

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

HOT ROD CHARLIE – Because he won’t be running for another three weeks, he has, for now, slipped just under the Top 12 until we can sort out the 3-year-old picture following next weekend’s three big stakes. We also need to sort out Doug O’Neill’s contenders, two of which will be running next Saturday. He is keeping busy, working five furlongs in 1:01 1/5. He’s still a very live contender and has proven to be a classy hard-knocking horse, so let’s see where he stands after next week.

OVERTOOK – He also has slipped from the No. 12 spot and we will know more once it is decided where he goes next. It was initially assumed he would remain in training New York and point for the Wood Memorial. He still may target that race, but has been shipped to Florida to train in better weather. He breezed a half in :50 at Palm Beach Downs in company with Dynamic One, and we’ll see where they decide to go with him.

CONCERT TOUR – He is sitting just below the Top 12 waiting to jump aboard with a victory in the Rebel Stakes, but we’ll have to wait two weeks to see if Bob Baffert’s praise for him is warranted. If he can beat the likes of Caddo River and Keepmeinmind in his two-turn debut after only a pair of sprints then we will know for sure he is the real deal and he will catapult up the rankings.

SENOR BUSCADOR – This year’s Cinderella story is over, at least as the Derby is concerned. The colt suffered a strained ligament and if off the Derby trail, just as his brother was three years ago. Hopefully there will other chapters to write for this talented horse.

To show just how dominant Greatest Honour and Essential Quality were in their own way on Saturday, there is not another horse coming out of the Fountain of Youth and Southwest Stakes that can be considered a serious Derby horse. That either says a lot about the two winners or more about the quality of horses they were beating. DRAIN THE CLOCK ran his heart out on the front end in his two-turn debut, but going longer distances certainly is a major question mark. He had every chance to win this race, controlling the pace and opening a clear lead at the eighth pole. SPIELBERG on his best day is a formidable opponent, but still is ranked No. 4 in the Baffert barn, although he did run big considering his horrible start. PAPETU, who actually had some decent Thoro-Graph numbers going into the Fountain of Youth, showed enough promise coming from far back to finish third to suggest that he could move forward in his next race and put himself into the mix. The obvious big disappoints were PRIME FACTOR, who surprisingly was farther back than expected and never fired, and FIRE AT WILL, who it is assumed will return to the grass. As for JACKIE’S WARRIOR, it looks like one turn will be his game unless the sloppy track simply was too tiring for him.

As much as I don’t like horses going into the Kentucky Derby off only three career starts (only freakishly talented horses like Justify and Big Brown have been successful in less than stellar fields), there are several horses apparently heading in that direction that have left a very strong impression and are worth following closely despite the task they will be undertaking. I am now resigned to the act that yesterday’s rules and trends no longer apply in these abbreviated career times. We really don’t know any of these horses going into the Derby anymore, so we’re all guessing.

The first horse who caught my eye was the New York-bred NICKY THE VEST, who like Tiz the Law is a New York-bred in name only. In his first start going a mile, he broke last and then made a dramatic move to take the lead on his own. He eased clear and won for fun by 3 1/4 lengths. In the one-mile Gander Stakes, he broke sharply and contested the early lead before again opening up on his own nearing the quarter pole and extending his lead through the stretch, winning by nearly 12 lengths, with Todd Pletcher’s undefeated Rego Park Stakes winner Perfect Munnings finishing third. What impressed me about this colt was his professionalism, especially for a May 11 foal; his smooth action, and how perfectly balanced he was, never deviating off his path in the stretch.

His paternal grandsire is a Kentucky Derby winner and his maternal grandsire is a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and he is inbred three times to the great Nijinsky. By Runhappy, he has a strong Paul Mellon (Rokeby Stable) influence in his female family and you don’t get much classier than that. In the just the bottom half of his female family are four Travers winners – Java Gold, Key to the Mint, Damascus, and Sword Dancer. And his fifth dam, Quill, was champion 3-year-old filly and the dam of top-class stayers One For All and Caucasus and the granddam of champion grass horse Run the Gantlet, winner of the Washington D.C. International, Man o’ War, and United Nations. Instead of running in the Gotham at one mile again, he will wait for the Wood Memorial. Expect to hear from this colt come April.

And then we come to SOUP AND SANDWICH, one of the most intriguing and fun horses we’ve seen all year. This striking gray son of Into Mischief has toyed with his opponents in his two starts despite not having a clue what he’s supposed to be doing. He breaks to the inside, gawks at everything, loses focus, and has no idea what he’s doing when it comes to his lead changes. We don’t know what he was beating in his maiden win at Gulfstream and allowance score at Tampa Bay going two turns, but he’s just out there having fun and goofing around. In his first start going 6 1/2 furlongs he just cruised to the lead on his own and drew off with ease to win by 7 1/4 lengths in a sharp 1:16 4/5 without changing leads until 30 yards from the wire and constantly looking at the grandstand. After returning he stood for a while just staring into the infield and had to be coaxed into turning around to head to the winner’s circle.

In his next start against only two opponents, he threw his head in the air as if intimidated when a horse started drifting in towards him. Then he managed to get himself boxed in down the backstretch in a three-horse field. But when the rail opened up he just burst to the lead while still under a hold. This time he changed leads inside the eighth pole, but ducked sharply to the inside for no apparent reason, jumped back to his left lead, then immediately back to his right lead. I mention this horse in depth because I don’t believe we have seen anything even close to his best, and who knows what’s in store once he figures it all out? Even trainer Mark Casse says he is clueless, but extremely talented. Casse said he didn’t even take a deep breath after this last race. He and owner Charlotte Weber, who surely does not wear rose-colored glasses, think so highly of him they are going to throw him right into the Florida Derby. When this horse figures it all out we could see something special. I just don’t know when that will be.

And to add one more, we had yet another freakish Into Mischief pop up and run off the screen when Three Chimneys Farm homebred COLLABORATE demolished his field in a one-mile maiden race at Gulfstream, winning wire to wire under wraps by 12 1/2 lengths for Saffie Joseph in his second career start. His breeder Three Chimneys Farm sold him as a yearling for $600,000 to Bob Edwards and stayed in for part ownership. He had a few niggling physical problems that delayed his debut, but he showed enough promise for his owners to be patient with him. But that patience might be over, as Joseph is so high on him he is considering a jump into a major stakes race in order to possibly pick up enough points to get in the Derby. We’ll have to see if he becomes another late starter to try to get in the Derby off three career starts.

No, we’re not done quite yet. This past weekend we also saw a huge performance in the Pasadena Stakes by ROCK YOUR WORLD, who is now undefeated in two starts on the grass. The son of Candy Ride has mainly dirt influences in his pedigree and he showed he can rate off the pace and rocket home in the final furlong. But when I saw how strong he galloped out and how far he went at such a rapid clip it was time to find out if there was a major Derby prep in his immediate future. Sure enough, the plan is to run in one of the preps to get Derby points but it will be up to trainer John Sadler to decide which prep to use. And so we have another one to start following.

CAPO KANE, who will be cutting back to a mile in the Gotham, turned in a sharp five-furlong drill in 1:00 1/5 at Parx. The one-mile race looks to be the proverbial barn burner with the Baffert-trained FREEDOM FIGHTER, who just worked a bullet five furlongs in :59 1/5, fastest of 53 works at the distance; the brilliant HIGHLY MOTIVATED, who will be making his 3-year-old debut; and another California shipper, WIPE THE SLATE, who worked six furlongs in 1:11 3/5 and will race without blinkers after getting too speed crazy early in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. Previously he had run second to Life is Good before breaking his maiden impressively.

The exciting maiden winner PREVALENCE, who was forced to miss the Fountain of Youth after spiking a fever, returned to the work tab, breezing a half in :48 2/5 in company and on the inside with the rider’s hands motionless throughout. CANDY MAN ROCKET worked a sharp half-mile in :48 2/5 at Payson Park, which is fast time over that track. He will try for a stakes double in the Tampa Bay Derby. HIDDEN STASH, who still needs to learn how to change leads, tuned up for the Tampa Bay Derby with a five-furlong breeze in 1:02 at Payson Park.

American Pharoah winner GET HER NUMBER is starting to get serious, working six furlongs in 1:13 at San Luis Rey Downs. Trainer Peter Miller says he’s not ready for the San Felipe, so they will wait for the Rebel Stakes for his 3-year-old debut. El Camino Real Derby winner ROMBAUER, whose next start is still to be decided, stayed sharp with a half-mile work in :48 flat.

My super duper Derby maiden longshot DYNAMIC ONE is scheduled to try one more time to get back that “W” he should have gotten in his last start when he goes in a mile and a eighth maiden race next Sunday. He worked a half in :50 in company with the newly arrived Overtook. This obviously is his last chance to catapult himself into the Derby picture and one of the major final preps. Remsen winner BROOKLYN STRONG finally made it back to the work tab after a series of setbacks, blowing out three furlongs in :36 4/5. With the Wood Memorial or Arkansas Derby mentioned as possible first starts back, that would be the ultimate in Derby fever.

In the John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park, HUSH OF A STORM made it three-for-three on Polytrack with an impressive come from behind victory, in which he rallied from eighth to win going away by 1 1/2 lengths despite trying to lug in. Unfortunately, his only start on dirt in his career debut was a dismal effort.