Derby Rankings: Week 13

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.



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.


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