TDN Derby Top 12 for February 17

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Mandaloun jumped four spots by virtue of his Risen Star score | Hodges

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The weather-related rescheduling of Oaklawn's GIII Southwest S. to the final weekend in February will cause some havoc for downstream prep races. The GII Rebel S. on Mar. 13 will now have only a two-week spacing within the Oaklawn series and Southwest participants who figured to run back in the Mar. 20 GII Louisiana Derby also might balk at having just three weeks off between preps and then six weeks until the GI Kentucky Derby itself. But our sport has gotten quite used to unexpected schedule switches over the last year, so the caravan will roll on with everyone making the necessary adjustments. Now let's dive into the rankings:

1) ESSENTIAL QUALITY (c, TapitDelightful Quality, by Elusive Quality)
O/B-Godolphin (KY). T-Brad Cox. Lifetime Record: Ch. 2yo Colt & GISW, 3-3-0-0, $1,335,144.
Last Start: 1st GI TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile, KEE, Nov. 6
Accomplishments: 'TDN Rising Star', 1st GI Claiborne Breeders' Futurity
Next Start: GIII Southwest S., OP
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 30.

We've waited 3 1/2 months, so another small extended layoff will only add to the anticipation for the Southwest S. showdown between GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile champ Essential Quality and Jackie's Warrior, the fourth-place 9-10 fave in that race. This 3-for-3 'TDN Rising Star' by Tapit won back-to-back Grade I routes over Keeneland's short-stretch 1 1/16 miles configuration last autumn. His GI Breeders' Futurity S. win was a confident display of professional pace pressing, and this gray Godolphin homebred's late-closing Juvenile score earned the top two-turn Beyer Speed Figure (95) by any 2-year-old in 2020. Has any Kentucky Derby winner ever broken his maiden on the previous year's Derby undercard? I doubt it but could not ascertain that's never happened (input welcomed from readers with deeper historical resources). Yet the pandemic-delayed Derby of 2020 could produce that very scenario, as Essential Quality broke his maiden on the Sept. 5 undercard of the rescheduled Run for the Roses. Another bit of trivia: Did you know that 30 consecutive grays have gone to post and lost the Derby since the last gray, Giacomo, roared home first at 50-1 in 2005?

2) CADDO RIVER (c, Hard SpunPangburn, by Congrats)
O/B-Shortleaf Stable (KY). T-Brad Cox. Lifetime Record: SW, 4-2-2-0, $166,092. Last Start: 1st Smarty Jones S., OP, Jan. 22.
Accomplishments: 'TDN Rising Star'
Next Start: GII Rebel S., OP, Mar. 13
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 10.

Among the current Top 12 contenders, the trait that sets apart 'TDN Rising Star' Caddo River is his demonstrated ability over four lifetime races to fluidly reach a high cruising speed and to carry it comfortably up to a mile. He stalked and withstood serious pace pressure in two well-stocked MSW sprints over seven furlongs in New York to start his learning curve. Then he broke out with a 9 1/2-length maiden score in a one-turn Churchill mile (83 Beyer) after carving out demanding splits of :22.38 and :44.59. Caddo River cudgeled the Smarty Jones S. crew by 10 1/4 lengths on opening day at Oaklawn (92 Beyer), and trainer Brad Cox said last Thursday this Hard Spun homebred for Shortleaf Stable remains on track for the GII Rebel S. “Probably going to miss a work [because of the spate of unseasonable icy weather in Hot Springs]. But his race is not until, really, the middle of next month, so I don't feel like we're in any trouble as far as missing a race or anything.”

3) GREATEST HONOUR (c, TapitTiffany's Honour, by Street Cry {Ire})
O/B-Courtlandt Farms (KY). T-Claude R. McGaughey III. Lifetime Record: GSW, 5-2-1-2, $175,240.
Last Start: 1st GIII Holy Bull S., GP, Jan. 30
Next Start: GII Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth S., GP, Feb. 27 or GI Florida Derby, GP, Mar. 27
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 10.

Greatest Honour was back on the Payson Park work tab Saturday, two weeks after his smashing late run in the GIII Holy Bull S. stamped him as the horse to beat in the Florida preps. In an under-wraps maintenance breeze for both sophomores, trainer Shug McGaughey worked him to the inside of the 2-for-3 Creed (Honor Code), and both were credited with the same :50.60 (29/58) half-mile clocking even though Creed pulsed ahead by a neck at the wire. This Courtlandt Farms homebred by Tapit isn't light on experience. He has five lifetime races (including two at 1 1/16 miles and a MSW at nine furlongs) and has never been out of the money, so there's no big push to get him ready for the Feb. 27 GII Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth S. if the Mar. 27 GI Florida Derby ends up being a better fit, timing-wise. One shining aspect of Greatest Honour's past-performance cut is that twice now as a 3-year-old he's won closing from well off the tailgate at 1 1/16 miles, which at Gulfstream is configuration that usually plays to the advantage of early speed because the start is close to the turn and the finish is at the sixteenth pole.

4) LIFE IS GOOD (c, Into Mischief–Beach Walk, by Distorted Humor)
O-CHC Inc & WinStar Farm LLC. B-Gary & Mary West Stable (KY). T-Bob Baffert. Sales History: $525,000 yrl '19 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSW, 2-2-0-0, $94,200.
Last Start: 1st GIII Sham S., SA, Jan. 2
Next Start: GII San Felipe S., SA, Mar. 6
Accomplishments: 'TDN Rising Star'
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 10.

'TDN Rising Star' Life Is Good retained his 7-1 favored status among the 23 individually ranked horses in Derby Future Wager Pool 3 that closed on Sunday (the “all others” field was 3-1). The West Coast's top-ranked Triple Crown threat breezed five furlongs at Santa Anita in 1:00.80 (4/33) Monday in preparation for a scheduled start in the Mar. 6 GII San Felipe S. Trainer Bob Baffert had noted after a bullet move the previous week that this $525,000 KEESEP Into Mischief bay is “starting to mature and fill out; he just floats over the ground.” The winning prep sequence of the GIII Sham S. and San Felipe is the same blueprint Baffert used last spring to get Authentic ready for the Kentucky Derby. But, of course, Authentic's non-traditional path to the Derby winner's circle also included the benefit of four additional months of seasoning because the pandemic rescheduled the Derby from May to September. Baffert has said that, like Authentic at this stage of his career, Life Is Good needs to relax and learn to leverage his main weapon (raw speed) in a manner that will be effective over 10 furlongs. Can this colt manage to figure that out before the first Saturday in May? A schedule that includes the San Felipe and (presumably) just one nine-furlong Grade I (Apr. 3 Santa Anita Derby or Apr. 10 Arkansas Derby) leaves little room for error.

5) JACKIE'S WARRIOR (c, Maclean's MusicUnicorn Girl, by
A. P. Five Hundred)
O-J Kirk & Judy Robison. B-J & J Stables (KY). T-Steve Asmussen. Sales History: $95,000 ylg '19 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: MGISW, 5-4-0-0, $502,564.
Last Start: 4th GI TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile, KEE, Nov. 6
Accomplishments: 1st GII Saratoga Special, 1st GI Runhappy Hopeful S., 1st GI Champagne S.
Next Start: GIII Southwest S., OP
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 12.

The Essential Quality-Jackie's Warrior rematch will be the closest thing we've had to a real rivalry so far this season. Yes, they've only met once previously, but that Breeders' Cup clash amounted to the season championship and neither has raced since, so the Southwest S. takes on more gravitas. I'm prognosticating an edge to “Jackie” over the speed-leaning Oaklawn surface at 1 1/16 miles, but longer distances later could swing the advantage in “EQ's” direction. How have horses from last year's Juvenile fared in their next races? So far eight have started, but only Keepmeinmind (Laoban) and Rombauer (Twirling Candy) were next-out winners; both ran Beyers lower than what they had earned in the Juvenile. In fact, six of the eight Juvenile run-backs failed to increase their Beyers the next time they started, which is not a promising sign of that race's strength. This $95,000 KEESEP colt was 4-for-4 in one-turn races at age two, and his immediate pedigree is a fascinating study in length-of-career contrasts: Sire Maclean's Music (like Jackie, also trained by Steve Asmussen) wired a Santa Anita sprint in his debut by 7 1/4 lengths. He earned a 114 Beyer—the highest debut Beyer ever—yet never raced again after being retired over complications related to a fractured splint bone. Dam Unicorn Girl, conversely, was a robust starter-allowance stalwart who raced 54 times with a 19-7-8 record over seven seasons on the mid-Atlantic circuit.

6) PREVALENCE (c, Medaglia d'OroEnrichment, by Ghostzapper)
O/B-Godolphin (KY); T-Brendan Walsh. Lifetime Record: 1-1-0-0, $25,800.
Last Start: 1st Maiden Special Weight, GP, Jan. 23
Next Start: Possible for GII Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth S., GP, Feb. 27
Accomplishments: 'TDN Rising Star'
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 0.

The Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth S. (FOY) has been identified as a likely next-race target for 'Wowza!' maiden-breaker Prevalence, but trainer Brendan Walsh also noted the Godolphin homebred's team could call an audible and instead opt for a nine-furlong allowance/optional claimer two days earlier at Gulfstream as Plan B. This Medaglia d'Oro-sired 'TDN Rising Star' won his Jan. 23 debut by 8 1/2 geared-down lengths after sparring through a five-way fight for the lead in a “loaded” seven-furlong MSW (beating Justify's half-brother and a $1.05 million KEESEP buy). “I thought he was a good horse before he ran, but did I expect him to do what he did? Absolutely not, especially one of mine first time out,” Walsh said. “They generally improve, so I would like to think that this guy has some improvement in him. We won't get too carried away. We'll move on to the next one, and he'll be given plenty of chances to prove himself as we go forward … If we go to the FOY or the allowance race, he'll probably [work] Friday or Saturday and that should set him up right.”

7) MANDALOUN (c, Into Mischief–Brooch, by Empire Maker)
O/B-Juddmonte Farms Inc. (KY). T-Brad Cox. Lifetime Record: GSW, 4-2-0-1, $351,252.
Last Start: 1st GII Risen Star S., FG, Feb. 13
Next Start: Possible for GII Louisiana Derby, FG, Mar. 20
Accomplishments: 'TDN Rising Star', 3rd GIII Lecomte S.
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 52.

Mandaloun was facing a make-or-break point in his Derby campaign Saturday when favored to win the GII Risen Star S. at Fair Grounds. Trainer Brad Cox had said pre-race he was not wild about running back so soon off a subpar showing in the Jan. 16 GIII Lecomte S., but he felt the need to “push him along a little more.” Cox then equipped this Into Mischief-sired Juddmonte homebred with a one-inch blinker cup for the first time and the result was not only a 1 1/4-length victory but a nine-point jump in Mandaloun's career-best Beyer to a 98. Mandaloun was three wide on both turns while stalking in third, and he wore down two duelers and the running-in-spots closer Proxy (Tapit) to register a workmanlike victory. “He's always been a little funny down the lane,” said jockey Florent Geroux, citing the blinkers as a help. “He's never given me his full potential. We had the same kind of trip we had in the Lecomte, but when I pushed on the gas, he responded right away. Last time I feel like he wasn't giving me his best. He was a little more focused.” Cox said post-race the GII Louisiana Derby “is definitely going to be in play.”

8) PROXY (c, Tapit–Panty Raid, by Include)
O/B-Godolphin (KY). T-Michael Stidham. Lifetime Record: MGSP, 5-2-3-0, $187,700.
Last Start: 2nd GII Risen Star S., FG, Feb. 13
Next Start: Possible for GII Louisiana Derby, FG, Mar. 20
Accomplishments: 2nd GIII Lecomte S.
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 24.

It's difficult to get a true read on the one-two performances by Mandaloun and Proxy in the Risen Star S. because of the drying-out nature of the Fair Grounds track on Saturday. Quick times and big winning margins dominated speed-favoring races early in the day, but the track appeared to slow down and play more evenly to horses rating from farther back by the time the stakes races rolled around (overall there were five dirt wire winners, two pace pressers, two stalkers, and two closers). Proxy was a midpack fourth at the rail for most of his trip under new rider John Velazquez, then seemed to lose steam when nudged along seven-sixteenths out. But the colt sparked back to interest when Johnny V. swung him widest for the drive, and although this Tapit homebred for Godolphin only ran along in spots down the lane, he continued his four-race trend of upping his Beyer number every time out, clocking in with a career-top 97. “He's inching in the right direction,” said trainer Michael Stidham.

9) HIGHLY MOTIVATED (c, Into Mischief–Strong Incentive, by Warrior's Reward)
O/B-Klaravich Stables, Inc (KY). T-Chad Brown. Sales History: $240,000 wlg '18 KEENOV. Lifetime Record: SW, 3-2-1-0, $124,050.
Last Start: 1st Nyquist S., KEE, Nov. 6
Next Start: GIII Gotham S., AQU, Mar. 6
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 0.

If current prep-race schedules hold (and they seem to change every few days lately thanks to Mother Nature), this $240,000 KEENOV Into Mischief colt figures to be the last horse among the Top 12 to debut at age three if he goes in the GIII Gotham S. Mar. 6. Highly Motivated hasn't raced since winning the Nyquist S. on the Breeders' Cup undercard on Nov. 6, meaning he'll have a 121-day gap between starts. He set a track record for 6 1/2 furlongs in what later turned out to be a key race (three next-out winners), but that “record” designation has to be considered in the context of five other Keeneland main-track records also being established on a speed-centric surface; plus Keeneland's small sample of main-track records only dates to the autumn of 2014, when synthetic got changed back to dirt. Assuming Highly Motivated runs well enough in his next prep to remain on the Derby trail, he's still going to be challenged by having only one (likely) true route race under his belt by the time May 1 arrives, because the Gotham is a one-turn mile.

10) MEDINA SPIRIT (c, Protonico–Mongolian Changa, by Briliant Speed)
O-Zedan Racing Stables. B-Gail Rice (FL). T-Bob Baffert. Sales History: $1,000 ylg '19 OBSWIN; $35,000 2yo '20 OBSOPN. Lifetime Record: GSW, 3-2-1-0, $105,200.
Last Start: 1st GIII Robert B. Lewis S., SA, Jan. 30
Next Start: Uncommitted
Accomplishments: 2nd GIII Sham S.
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 14.

As the least expensive Top 12 candidate ($1,000 OBSWIN, $35,000 OBSOPN), this Protonico colt out of a Brilliant Speed mare has earned underdog rooting status for the tenacious way he took pressure on the lead through swift fractions in the GIII Lewis S., then never let another horse get by him in a three-way, length-of-stretch fight that had him a neck in front at the wire. Private clocker and bloodstock agent Gary Young, who purchased the Florida-bred for owner Amr Zedan, told the Santa Anita notes team that Medina Sprit “was OK, but he wasn't going to be the sales topper or anything … He had worked three-eighths in :33 flat which was decent time, but he had a nice rhythm and a stride like a route horse.” Young added that prior to the colt's debut win at Los Alamitos in December, he was “outworking more expensive and better-bred horses and definitely holding his own.” Young said Medina Spirit's connections are still mulling whether to plot a one- or two-prep race plan to get to the Derby, but he also emphasized that the colt is likely more effective chasing a target (like in his Sham S. second behind Life Is Good) rather than setting the pace like he did in the Lewis.

11) KEEPMEINMIND (c, Laoban–Inclination, by Victory Gallop)
O-Cypress Creek LLC & Arnold Bennewith. B-Southern Equine Stables, LLC (KY). T-Robertino Diodoro. Lifetime Record: GSW & MGISP, 4-1-2-1, $394,320.
Last Start: 1st GII Kentucky Jockey Club S., CD, Nov. 28
Accomplishments: 2nd GI Claiborne Breeders' Futurity,
3rd GI TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile
Next Start: GIII Southwest S., OP
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 18.

Keepmeinmind was entered but scratched out of the Risen Star S. three days prior to last Saturday's Fair Grounds race, but trainer Robertino Diodoro's desire to “run him out of his own stall” at Oaklawn has yet to come to fruition because the date of the Southwest has now been moved three times. This is an off-the-pace specialist (and a grandson of stay-all-day Victory Gallop) who might not fire his best shot going 1 1/16 miles over a speed-friendly surface like Oaklawn's, but he bears watching for the day down the road when he can more comfortably uncoil over a longer distance–ideally with several early-pace types setting up the fractions to his advantage.

12) CANDY MAN ROCKET (c, Candy Ride {Arg}–Kenny Lane, by Forestry)
O-Frank Fletcher Racing Operations Inc; B-R S Evans (KY). T-Bill Mott. Lifetime Record: GSW, 3-2-0-0, $144,824.
Last Start: 1st GIII Sam F. Davis S., TAM, Feb. 6
Next Start: Uncommitted
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 10.

Candy Man Rocket's 85-Beyer win in the GIII Davis S. Feb. 6 represented a decent step up for a colt who had just broken his maiden in start number two and had never faced winners nor raced around two turns. But the fact that he's trained by the very patient but realistic Bill Mott is what truly edges him into this week's Top 12, because Mott doesn't bother with the Derby trail if he doesn't believe his horses truly belong. This colt RNA'd for $190,000 (KEENOV) and $70,000 (KEESEP) prior to hammering for $250,000 (OBSAPR), and his connections acknowledged in a detailed TDN profile last week that Candy Man Rocket still needed seasoning when he debuted seventh at Churchill Nov. 22. But this colt sure was ready for prime time in start number two, a 9 1/4-length Gulfstream blowout, and in the Davis he got first run at a pacemaker who set legit splits. Mott said the GII Tampa Bay Derby is a possibility, although owner Frank Fletcher is an Arkansas native and has indicated he wouldn't mind seeing his top soph race at Oaklawn.

On the Bubble (in alphabetical order):

Concert Tour (Street Sense): 'TDN Rising Star' scored a 94-Beyer stalking win in the GII San Vicente, but this 2-5 fave had a bit more tussle than expected getting by stablemate Freedom Fighter (Violence) in the stretch.

Dream Shake (Twirling Candy): You don't see too many 20-1 winning firsters earning 'TDN Rising Star' status. Big confident march past leaders in 96 Beyer Santa Anita romp. But that race did feature a hot 3-5 firster who never fired, so the quality of that field is in question until we see more from this intriguing prospect.

Fire At Will (Declaration of War): GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf victor will make 2021 debut on dirt in the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream. “He won on [the main track] at Saratoga, even though it was muddy and against a short field,” trainer Mike Maker said.

Freedom Fighter (Violence): Ran a better race than winning 2-5 stablemate Concert Tour when second in the San Vicente S Feb. 6. Fast from gate, took pace heat, wouldn't quit in stretch. Gotham S. at Aqueduct likely next.

Midnight Bourbon (Tiznow): Slips out of the Top 12 after so-so third in Risen Star. Trainer Steve Asmussen, however, believes third time off layoff will be the charm for this $525,000 KEESEP colt in the Louisiana Derby.

Risk Taking (Medaglia d'Oro): Advanced when ready off a comfortable midpack stalk to reel in tiring pacemaker in 89-Beyer GIII Withers over nine furlongs.

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