TDN Derby Top 12 for Mar. 30

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Known Agenda jumps up to No. 4 after his GI Curlin Florida Derby win | Ryan Thompson

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We're on the cusp of the one-month mark to the GI Kentucky Derby, and this Saturday marks the most important weekend of nine-furlong preps on the Triple Crown calendar, with significant stakes at Santa Anita, Keeneland, and Aqueduct. Next week, the Top 12 expands to the Top 20 as the race for qualifying points intensifies and the actual field begins to take shape.

1) GREATEST HONOUR (c, TapitTiffany's Honour, by Street Cry {Ire})
O/B-Courtlandt Farms (KY). T-Claude R. McGaughey III. Lifetime Record: MGSW & GISP, 7-3-1-3, $422,440.
Last Start: 3rd GI Curlin Florida Derby, GP, Mar. 27
Accomplishments: 1st GII Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth S., GP, Feb. 27, 1st GIII Holy Bull S., GP. Jan. 30
Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 1
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 80

Greatest Honour has not been dethroned from his top ranking despite a so-so third as the 4-5 fave in the GI Florida Derby because he's still the horse to beat over 10 furlongs with a more robust pace in front of him. Since he burst into the Top 12, I've been cautioning that it can be tactically dangerous to fall in love with a deep closer as your Derby horse because late runners are so often at the mercy of traffic. That exact scenario worked against this Tapit-sired Courtlandt Farms homebred on Saturday, when jockey Jose Ortiz tried to follow the rail trip of eventual winner Known Agenda (Curlin), but instead had his momentum halted three times when hemmed in on the backstretch and on the far turn. Greatest Honour got pelted with kickback and briefly had to pause at the heels of several rivals before tipping out for a belated rally that lacked true spark. Ortiz wisely didn't hammer on his horse when it was obvious Greatest Honour wasn't in it to win it down the lane, and we should expect to see the tightest version yet of this long-striding stayer by the time trainer Shug McGuaghey gets him to Louisville.

2) ESSENTIAL QUALITY (c, TapitDelightful Quality, by Elusive Quality)
O/B-Godolphin (KY). T-Brad Cox. Lifetime Record: Ch. 2yo Colt & MGISW, 4-4-0-0, $1,785,144.
Last Start: 1st GIII Southwest S., OP, Feb. 27
Accomplishments: 'TDN Rising Star', 1st GI TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile, KEE, Nov. 6, 1st GI Claiborne Breeders' Futurity, KEE, Oct. 3
Next Start: GII Toyota Blue Grass S., KEE, Apr. 3
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 40

The undefeated juvenile champ closed as the 4-1 favorite Sunday in Pool 5 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager. This Tapit-sired 'TDN Rising Star' and Godolphin homebred is a high-energy stalker who has demonstrated an adept level of comfort both pressing the pace and rating from farther back. But he's yet to encounter a serious, multi-pronged, deep-stretch challenge in any of his victories, and thus far he's been superior enough that jockey Luis Saez has been able to park him outside and in the clear, giving up ground so as not to encounter traffic. That strategy might not work in a crowded 20-horse race like the Derby. But then again, elite-level horses make their own breaks, and in-race agility is very much on the side of this athletic gray. As of this writing, no other Top 12 horses are listed as probables for Saturday's GII Blue Grass S., and Essential Quality figures to go off as one of the heavier prep-race favorites we've seen this spring. He's already won twice at Keeneland going long (albeit over the short-stretch configuration that ends at the sixteenth pole). But we're now going on 30 years since the last winner of the Blue Grass–Strike the Gold in 1991–parlayed that win into a blanket of roses on the first Saturday in May. In that interim, however, three horses–Street Sense in 2007, Thunder Gulch in 1995 and Sea Hero in 1993–lost the Blue Grass in their final Derby tune-up then won in Louisville.

3) CONCERT TOUR (c, Street SensePurse Strings, by Tapit)
O/B-Gary & Mary West Stables Inc (KY); T-Bob Baffert. Lifetime Record: MGSW, 3-3-0-0, $756,600.
Last Start: 1st GII Rebel S., OP, Mar. 13.
Accomplishments: 'TDN Rising Star', 1st GII San Vicente S., SA, Feb. 6
Next Start: GI Arkansas Derby, OP, Apr. 10
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 50

The pace scenario in the Arkansas Derby figures to be one of the more intriguing tactical matchups of the Triple Crown prep season. The last time the two likely favorites met, in the GII Rebel S., Concert Tour outbroke Caddo River and Caddo River gave up the rail and the lead to let him go, but then looked uncomfortable and rank and never engaged when asked for run on the far turn. Will the two 'TDN Rising Stars' hook up from the outset in a committed duel in the Arkansas Derby? Or will jockey Joel Rosario turn the tables and opt out of a kamikaze confrontation? Concert Tour looked pretty confident bounding along at a measured clip on the lead in the Rebel, but the style of his run didn't stamp him as a needs-the-lead type of horse. At 3-for-3 lifetime and with two of those wins in sprints, Concert Tour will still be light on experience over a distance of ground in the Arkansas Derby. But his Street Sense (out of a Tapit mare) breeding line should be stout enough to allay any concerns he'll hit a wall at nine furlongs. Favorites have crossed the finish wire first in the Arkansas Derby for five straight runnings, including split divisions in 2020 (when there was a subsequent drug positive DQ).

4) KNOWN AGENDA (c, CurlinByrama {GB}, by Byron {GB})
O/B-St Elias Stable (KY); T-Todd Pletcher. Sales History: $135,000 RNA Ylg '19 FTSAUG. Lifetime Record: GISW, 6-3-1-1, $541,700.
Last Start: 1st GI Curlin Florida Derby, GP, Mar. 27
Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 1
Accomplishments: 3rd GII Remsen S., AQU, Dec. 5
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 102

Known Agenda has now bested No. 1-ranked Greatest Honour twice in head-to-head matchups and his Florida Derby win demonstrated marked progression and an increased level of midpack stalking comfort while racing in blinkers for the second time. He now has a stamina-centric base of three victories over nine furlongs, and trainer Todd Pletcher said Sunday that this $135,000 RNA at FTSAUG “came back in great shape [with] good energy.” Known Agenda and Greatest Honour both opted for rail trips in the Florida Derby, but this colt is a touch quicker out of the gate and attained a more prominent placement, and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. was able to deftly guide Known Agenda through tight passages that closed by the time Greatest Honour attempted to follow him. A three-wide move off the turn put Known Agenda in charge through the lane; he wandered out under left-handed stickwork yet responded ably when roused (although it should be noted that the only rival he had to truly run down was a 12-1 shot who had been softened up in the pace duel and was on his left lead through the stretch). “I've been pleased with the way he's been able to get a better position in the race and improve his position going along. We've always had a strong feeling that added distance was going to be to his liking,” said Pletcher.

5) HOT ROD CHARLIE (c, Oxbow–Indian Miss, by Indian Charlie)
O-Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing LLC & William Strauss; B-Edward A Cox (KY); T-Doug O'Neill. Sales history: $17,000 Ylg '19 FTKFEB; $110,000 Ylg '19 FTKOCT. Lifetime Record: GSW & GISP, 7-2-1-2, $1,005,700.
Last Start: 1st GII Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby, FG, Mar. 20
Accomplishments: 2nd GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile, KEE, Nov. 6; 3rd GIII Robert B. Lewis S., SA, Jan. 30
Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 1
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 110

At some point in late April, jockey Joel Rosario–currently leading the continent in both earnings and graded stakes wins–is going to have to choose between two live Derby mounts, Concert Tour and Hot Rod Charlie. If Rosario opts off of this two-time Fasig-Tipton sales grad ($17,000 FTKFEB; $110,000 FTKOCT), jockey Flavien Prat could wind up with the ride. “This is the time of year where the jockeys are jockeying, literally, for their best chance to win the Derby,” Bill Strauss, a co-owner of Hot Rod Charlie, told the San Diego Union-Tribune over the weekend. He added that his partnership has been keeping contact with Prat, the runaway leader in wins and earnings at the current Santa Anita meet, and he noted that Prat rode this Oxbow colt back in September when Hot Rod Charlie was fifth, beaten 3 1/4 lengths, in a Del Mar grass MSW. “With those two, it's like, do you want [Babe] Ruth or [Joe] DiMaggio?” Strauss quipped. “You'd rather have the guy that's faced the same pitcher, though. Experience on the horse is invaluable.” So is proficiency in the Derby itself: Prat has ridden in three Derbies, placing third in 2017 aboard 40-1 Battle of Midway, and crossing the wire second but getting elevated to first via DQ on 65-1 Country House in 2019.

6) CADDO RIVER (c, Hard SpunPangburn, by Congrats)
O/B-Shortleaf Stable (KY). T-Brad Cox. Lifetime Record: SW, 5-2-2-0, $196,092.
Last Start: 5th GII Rebel S., OP, Mar. 13.
Accomplishments: 'TDN Rising Star', 1st Smarty Jones S., OP, Jan. 22
Next Start: GI Arkansas Derby, OP, Apr. 10
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 10

The Kentucky Derby is the ultimate goal for every Top 12 contender, but don't overlook the fact that the Arkansas Derby always figured to be high on the wish list of this colt's connections. This Hard Spun homebred races in the colors of Shortleaf Stable, the outfit run by Hot Springs native John Ed Anthony. Formerly racing as Loblolly Stable, Anthony has won the Arkansas Derby a record three times, with Temperence Hill in 1980, Demons Begone in 1987, and Pine Bluff in 1992 (the latter two were half-brothers). This 'TDN Rising Star' who just hit his third birthday Mar. 29 is a speed-centric threat, but after Caddo River handed the lead to Concert Tour in the Rebel S., he refused to settle and spent most of his energy fighting the rider down the backstretch before suffering a self-inflicted meltdown turning for home. That subpar performance has a “too bad to be true” aura to it though, and it's definitely not in line with the poised and professional appeal that Caddo River flashed earlier in the winter. This colt absolutely needs a qualifying points influx to make the traveling team to Louisville. Right now he's ranked 30th with 10.

7) MIDNIGHT BOURBON (c, Tiznow–Catch the Moon, by Malibu Moon)
O-Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC; B-Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings LLC (KY); T-Steve Asmussen. Sales History: $525,000 Ylg '19 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSW & GISP, 7-2-2-3, $461,420.
Last Start: 2nd GII Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby, FG, Mar. 20.
Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 1
Accomplishments: 1st GIII Lecomte S., FG, Jan. 16, 2nd GIII Iroquois S., CD, Sept. 25, 3rd GII Risen Star S., FG, Feb. 13, 3rd GI Champagne S., BEL, Oct. 10
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 66

If you like Derby contenders with ample seasoning, Midnight Bourbon should appeal to your taste. This $525,000 KEESEP colt by Tiznow out of a Malibu Moon mare has made seven starts, all at a mile or longer. Five were in graded stakes, and he's never finished worse than third while racking up Beyers of 93, 96 and 96 in starts at age three. But Midnight Bourbon has yet to unleash that breakthrough effort he seems capable of. He earned his maiden at Ellis Park in a race that yielded only one next-out winner from nine starters, and his GIII Lecomte S. score was achieved under an ideal pace scenario when Midnight Bourbon unexpectedly found himself on the lead with no pressure. This colt is a hard trier capable of digging in when challenged, but Hot Rod Charlie pasted him pretty solidly when they hooked up for the final 2 1/2 furlongs of the Louisiana Derby. Midnight Bourbon looms as a second-tier threat at this point. But if chaos reigns in the Derby, we at least know that he's fit enough to handle a distance of ground and has experienced a few stretch fights that may have toughened him up.

8) PREVALENCE (c, Medaglia d'OroEnrichment, by Ghostzapper)
O/B-Godolphin (KY); T-Brendan Walsh. Lifetime Record: 2-2-0-0, $52,800.
Last Start: 1st Allowance/Opt. Clm., GP, Mar. 11
Accomplishments: 'TDN Rising Star'
Next Start: GII Wood Memorial S., AQU, Apr. 3
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 0

'TDN Rising Star' Prevalence wowed in his 89-Beyer maiden debut on the GI Pegasus World Cup undercard (other next-out starters collectively 1-for-8), then got a useful allowance tightener at 1-10 odds when coasting home when under light encouragement in a Mar. 11 one-turn mile at Gulfstream. Now this Godolphin homebred will hit the road in search of Derby qualifying points in Saturday's GII Wood Memorial S. at Aqueduct, where he'll be making both his two-turn and stakes debuts while foregoing Lasix for the first time. “He's a very nice, quiet, easy-going horse and I don't think the travel will affect him at all,” trainer Brendan Walsh said. “We'll see how he handles the track. He hits me as a horse who can handle any kind of surface.”

9) 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, 4-2-2-0, $165,200.
Last Start: 2nd GII San Felipe S., SA, Mar. 6
Next Start: GI Runhappy Santa Anita Derby, SA, Apr. 3
Accomplishments: 1st Robert B. Lewis S., SA, Jan. 30, 2nd GIII Sham S., SA, Jan. 2
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 14

At 2-for-4 with a stakes win to his name, Medina Spirit's overachieving SoCal form looked pretty good in and of itself for a horse who twice sold at public auction for relatively short money ($1,000 OBSWIN and $35,000 OBSOPN). Then came last week's revelation from trainer Bob Baffert that this Protonico colt was discovered to have a slightly entrapped epiglottis and has recently had surgery to correct it. “Pretty impressive he still ran that well,” Baffert told DRF.com. “We scoped him after [the GII San Felipe Mar. 6]. Gave him a few extra days for it to clear up.” Medina Spirit has since twice worked well, firing one training bullet. His GIII Lewis S. wire job was notable for the way he took heat on the lead through swift splits, then never let another horse by him in a three-way fight that had him a neck in front at the wire. That performance took on added significance when third-place finisher Hot Rod Charlie wired the Louisiana Derby with a 99 Beyer next time out. Medina Spirit's only two losses were seconds behind now-sidelined stablemate and 'TDN Rising Star' Life Is Good (Into Mischief), who had been ranked as high as No. 2 on the Derby Top 12 through mid-March.

10) REBEL'S ROMANCE (IRE) (Dubawi {Ire}–Minidress {GB}, by Street Cry {Ire})
O/B-Godolphin (IRE). T-Charles Appleby. Lifetime Record: GSW-UAE, 5-4-0-0, $549,879.
Last Starts: 1st G2 UAE Derby, MEY, Mar. 27
Next Start: Uncommitted
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 100

Rebel's Romance (Ire), a Godolphin homebred by Dubawi (Ire), has a Kentucky Derby berth if his connections opt to ship the UAE Derby winner (currently fourth in qualifying points with 100). This is a big gelding known as a slow breaker, and he at first looked out of touch at the back of the pack while careening six paths off the fence through the first turn at Meydan. Rebel's Romance settled on the backstretch run, then methodically began picking off half the pack with an outside swoop. Always making headway, he responded to rousing down the long home straight to win easily by open lengths. “He is still very much a work in progress and he looked much better tonight than he did in Saudi Arabia,” said trainer Charlie Appleby. “I think the biggest attribute to him today is that he was going to stay. We were always confident he was going to stay. Stepping up in trip was going to be his forte.”

11) HELIUM (c, 3, IronicusThundering Emilia, by Thunder Gulch)
O-D J Stable LLC; B-Teneri Farm Inc &
Bernardo Alvarez Calderon (KY); T-Mark Casse. Sales History: $55,000 Ylg '19 FTKOCT. Lifetime Record: GSW, 3-3-0-0, $287,763.
Last Start: 1st GII Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, TAM,
Mar. 6. Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 1
Accomplishments: 1st Display S., WO, Oct. 18
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 50

Stabled at Palm Meadows in Florida and training up to the Kentucky Derby, the 15-1 winner of the GII Tampa Bay Derby had his first breeze since that victory on Saturday, going a half mile in :49.25 (17/58). This $55,000 FTKOCT (and subsequently privately purchased) first-crop Ironicus colt owns a 3-for-3 record while displaying a versatile running style, winning on the lead, while stalking, and from closing farther off the pace. At Tampa, Helium was four wide on both turns, got first run at the tiring pacemaker, then gamely held off a fresh closer late in the lane. While Helium will go eight weeks between starts, the third- fifth- and sixth-place horses who ran behind him in the Tampa Derby ran back on Saturday in stakes at Turfway and Gulfstream; two ran sixth, the other was eighth. Only one horse has ever parlayed wins in the Tampa/Kentucky Derbies—Street Sense in 2007. But Helium's maternal grandsire, Thunder Gulch, was the 1995 Derby winner, and Helium's odds in this year's Run for the Roses probably won't be too far off grandpa's juicy 24-1 price.

12) RISK TAKING (c, 3, Medaglia d'OroRun a Risk, by Distorted Humor)
O-Klaravich Stables Inc; B-G Watts Humphrey Jr (KY);
T-Chad Brown. Sales History: $240,000 Ylg '19 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSW, 4-2-0-0, $182,530.
Last Start: 1st GIII Withers S., AQU, Feb. 6
Next Start: GII Wood Memorial S., AQU, Apr. 3
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 10

The 2-for-4 Risk Taking was committed to the Wood Memorial soon after he won the GIII Withers S. when trainer Chad Brown articulated a desire to keep this $240,000 KEESEP bay racing over a track and distance at which the colt has demonstrated ability. But over the past 10 days or so, the list of probables for the Wood has morphed from a relatively shallow stakes to a fairly deep lineup that now includes No. 8-ranked Prevalence, a pair of Aqueduct stakes victors, the beaten fave in the Tampa Bay Derby, and maybe a West Coast invader. After Risk Taking won the Withers with a sweet stalking trip, Brown said “everyone that's touched the horse has commented about how classy he was, the ability that he has, and how he will get better with time and distance.” On Saturday, we'll find out.

On the Bubble (in alphabetical order):

Candy Man Rocket (Candy Ride {Arg}): Winner of the GIII Davis S. but beaten fave in the Tampa Bay Derby rerouted from Arkansas Derby to Wood Memorial on Saturday at Aqueduct.

Defunded (Dialed In): Impressive MSW sprint layoff winner for Baffert could resurface in Saturday's Santa Anita Derby.

Hush of a Storm (Creative Cause) This New York-bred winner of the Battaglia S. scratched out of the GIII Jeff Ruby Steaks in favor of Saturday's Blue Grass S. at Keeneland.

Like the King (Palace Malice): Big, rangy colt with affinity for turf and Tapeta survived foul claim to win the Jeff Ruby Steaks.

Soup and Sandwich (Into Mischief): Fought the pace battle and gallantly stuck around late in the lane despite being on his left lead through the stretch of the Florida Derby. Trainer Mark Casse also reported this gray got “a little worked up” shipping over from Palm Meadows. “He'll run a lot better out of his stall at Churchill Downs.”

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