The TDN Derby Top 12 for Mar. 2

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Greatest Honour | Coglianese

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   We're now past the unofficial “Justify cutoff” of Feb. 18, which represents the latest maiden-breaking date of any GI Kentucky Derby winner. That means it's extremely likely we've already seen the 2021 winner in action, but it doesn't necessarily mean the Derby winner is ranked within this edition of the Top 12. This list represents the top of the crop while leaving speculation open to longshot Derby dreamers inside the 10-week mark to the first Saturday in May.

1) GREATEST HONOUR (c, TapitTiffany's Honour, by Street Cry {Ire})
O/B-Courtlandt Farms (KY). T-Claude R. McGaughey III. Lifetime Record: MGSW, 6-3-1-2, $351,940.
Last Start: 1st GII Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth S., GP, Feb. 27
Accomplishments: 1st GIII Holy Bull S.
Next Start: GI Curlin Florida Derby, GP, Mar. 27

Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 60.

March opens with a new kingpin atop the sophomore totem pole. Greatest Honour edged out fellow Tapit-sired Essential Quality based on the visually arresting nature of his GII Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth score, which left the impression this long-striding colt has the potential to be scary-good at Classic distances. After losing all momentum on the far turn when his back end clipped with an outside horse, this Courtlandt Farms homebred uncorked a devastating late run despite a 1 1/16-mile configuration at Gulfstream that does not favor off-the-tailgate tactics. Greatest Honour also got pelted with kickback while pinned down on the rail for most of the race, yet finished up with authority even though he was a good five lengths behind with a furlong left.

“He didn't get anything perfect [trip-wise] and he came back and won,” trainer Shug McGaughey said Sunday, underscoring the GI Curlin Florida Derby is next. “He was doing something he didn't want to do–to run 1 1/16 miles over this racetrack with the short pole. I'm just glad I don't have to do that anymore…. Now we have longer races in front of us.”

There are some “con” points about Greatest Honour's “pro” performance that merit consideration: The pacemaker he reeled in was definitely tiring, and no one else was truly firing. And the 89 Beyer Speed Figure he earned was the same as in his last win a month ago, so no uptick there. Plus, it's always dangerous to fall in love with a closer for the Derby, because large-framed horses who make one sustained run from the back frequently need to get lucky trip-wise in a bulky 20-horse field.

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 Claiborne Breeders' Futurity, 1st GI TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile
Next Start: Uncommitted.
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 40.

After being delayed two weeks because of adverse weather, the 3-year-old debut of the undefeated juvenile champ ended up being worth the wait. This Tapit-sired 'TDN Rising Star' continues to march forward on the progression arc, and his 4 1/4-length GIII Southwest S. smackdown in the Oaklawn slop showcased the high-caliber stalking skills this homebred for Godolphin flashed last autumn en route to a GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile victory. When second favorite Jackie's Warrior (Maclean's Music) slowed down the half-mile split to :48.11, it was apparent that favored “EQ” would have to earn his win. The into-the-bit champ wanted to pull down the backstretch, but jockey Luis Saez instead schooled EQ to edge forward incrementally. You could tell this colt was “getting it” by how EQ attained and released each target before zeroing in on the distance-challenged pacemaker. He then swatted away a fresh stretch challenge in the form of late-striding Spielberg (Union Rags). Still, EQ is going to have to overcome one daunting historical obstacle: The forebodingly low 2-for-36 strike rate of Juvenile winners in the Derby. And while EQ earned a 96 Beyer for his Southwest win, that's only a one-point progression off his best 2-year-old race. In fact, 10 horses have now run back out of the Juvenile, and EQ is the only one of the top nine finishers to (barely) post an improved next-out Beyer. With the exception of the 12th- and 13th-place finishers, everyone else he beat back in November regressed, numbers-wise, signaling that race's field might not be as strong as it first seemed. The GII Toyota Blue Grass S. and the GI Arkansas Derby are next-start considerations.

3) 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.

Usually you hear about horses traveling to Oaklawn to avoid nasty winter weather and not the other way around, but 'TDN Rising Star' Caddo River is the exception. With divisions at multiple tracks, trainer Brad Cox had the flexibility to ship this Hard Spun homebred for Shortleaf Stable from Hot Springs to New Orleans Feb. 11 to avoid the freeze that cost Oaklawn 11 days of training. Cox said Sunday this front-running force will remain at Fair Grounds to train up to the Mar. 13 GII Rebel S. at Oaklawn, a race in which he figures to go off favored (with no other Top 12 contenders committed as of this writing). The ability to nimbly reach a high-cruising speed and withstand legit pace pressure are this colt's twin strengths. But Cox indicated Sunday he's already thinking a bit further ahead in terms of how many Derby qualifying points this 2-for-4 winner (by a combined 19 1/2 lengths) might need to be certain of a spot in the field.

“Caddo River's the one that's going to have to step up in a points race and pick off some points,” Cox said.

Right now he's ranked 18th with 10 points; the Rebel offers 85 (50-20-10-5).

4) LIFE IS GOOD (c, Into MischiefBeach 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 will be heavily favored to win Saturday's GII San Felipe S. (entries Wednesday), a race that has reliably produced at least one Kentucky Derby starter from each of its last 12 runnings and in an ultra-impressive 31 of the last 32. During that time, eight San Felipe participants went on to win the Derby (Alysheba, Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Fusaichi Pegasus, Giacomo, California Chrome and Authentic), and nine others ran second or third in Louisville.

This $525,000 KEESEP Into Mischief bay has flaunted nothing but “1s” in the past performances of his two wire-to-wire lifetime wins, and the 101 Beyer Speed Figure this 'TDN Rising Star' earned in the Jan. 2 GIII Sham S. remains the only triple-digit number posted by a 3-year-old to this point in the season.

Life is Good worked six furlongs handily Sunday at Santa Anita in 1:12.20 (1/3).

“He went well,” trainer Bob Baffert said after the drill. “I'm happy. We're all set.”

5) MANDALOUN (c, Into MischiefBrooch, 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: GII Louisiana Derby, FG, Mar. 20
Accomplishments: 'TDN Rising Star', 3rd GIII Lecomte S.
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 52.

Mandaloun's Beyer Speed Figure leapt forward to a 98 with the addition of a one-inch blinker cup when winning the GII Risen Star S. at Fair Grounds (initially that represented a nine-point jump, but his GIII Lecomte S. Beyer has since been readjusted upward from an 89 to a 91).

Trainer Brad Cox is now aiming this Into Mischief-sired Juddmonte homebred for the GII Louisiana Derby, and if Mandaloun retains his newfound focus, he looms as a legit favorite. He was into the bit early and three wide on both bends in the Risen Star, then went on the prowl 7/16ths out and held sway in a prolonged stretch drive that featured a four-horse fight. This 'TDN Rising Star' needed assertive handling in the late stages of his races at age two, but part of the maturing process on the Derby trail involves teaching A-level colts to fire before all-out urging is required to finish the task.

6) 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: GII Louisiana Derby, FG, Mar. 20
Accomplishments: 2nd GIII Lecomte S.
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 24.

In this space one month ago, Proxy was flagged as the type of colt who doesn't jump out at you as an obvious top-tier contender. Even after his running-in-spots second-place try in the Risen Star, I stand by that assessment. Because based on his breeding (by Tapit out of an Include mare) and his patient connections (homebred by Godolphin and trained by Michael Stidham), Proxy has all the makings of a horse who quietly accrues qualifying points without an exclamation-point race, but then suddenly looks like a “live” wiseguy play as he rounds into peak form during Derby week.

Stidham said after the Risen Star he'd be experimenting with blinkers, and in Proxy's first work back since his last race, he bullet-breezed a half mile Friday at Fair Grounds in :47.00 (1/40).

Check out the surface versatility in Proxy's immediate pedigree: In 2007, his dam, Panty Raid, won the GI American Oaks Invitational S. at 10 furlongs on the turf, the GI Spinster S. at nine furlongs on a synthetic track, and the GII Black-Eyed Susan S. at nine furlongs on dirt.

7) 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: GII San Felipe S., SA, Mar. 6
Accomplishments: 2nd GIII Sham S.
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 14.

Overachiever Medina Spirit, a Protonico colt who sold for $1,000 at OBSWIN and $35,000 OBSOPN, was greenlighted to start in Saturday's San Felipe S. by trainer Bob Baffert. And the big news (unless you're jockey Abel Cedillo, who did an admirable job with this colt for his first three races) is that John Velazquez has committed to the mount after partnering with Baffert and Authentic to win the 2020 Derby.

Medina Spirit initially outworked more expensive and better-bred horses when he first arrived at the Baffert barn, and even though highly ranked Life Is Good bested him as expected in several morning moves, Medina Spirit was not disgraced, and even rallied to finish just three-quarters of a length behind that 1-5 favored stablemate in the GIII Sham S.

Medina Sprit rebounded off that try to win a length-of-stretch brawl in the GIII Robert B. Lewis S. after taking heat on the front end and prevailing by a neck in a three-way photo, prompting Baffert to quip “That reminded me a little bit of Silver Charm,” Baffert's 1997 Derby winner who similarly was not an overly expensive OBS-sold colt ($16,500 OBSAUG yearling, $100,000 OBSAPR).

8) 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. Sales History: $190,000 RNA wlg '18 KEENOV; $70,000 RNA yrl '19 KEESEP; $250,000 2yo '20 OBSAPR. Lifetime Record: GSW, 3-2-0-0, $144,824.
Last Start: 1st GIII Sam F. Davis S., TAM, Feb. 6
Next Start: GII Tampa Bay Derby, Tam, Mar. 6
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 10.

Candy Man Rocket will headline the GII Tampa Bay Derby for trainer Bill Mott based on the colt's 85-Beyer win in the GIII Sam F. Davis S. Feb. 6. This three-time auction entrant–RNA'd for $190,000 (KEENOV) and $70,000 (KEESEP) prior to hammering for $250,000 (OBSAPR)–breezed a bullet half mile at Payson Park Sunday in :48.60 (1/36).

“He was on his own, he went well and I'm very pleased with him. He looked as smooth as silk,” Mott said. “He is a good work horse anyway, but I liked the way he did it. The [Tampa Bay Derby] has been on our minds since he won the Sam F. Davis. Any time you get a horse that runs well over that racetrack, you have to give it consideration.”

But an affinity for Tampa's sandy, banked-turn surface does not always translate to success in Louisville. In the 40-year history of the track's signature race, the only horse to parlay the Tampa/Kentucky Derby double was Street Sense in 2007; Super Saver, third in 2010, was the only other Tampa Bay Derby starter to win the Kentucky Derby.

9) SPIELBERG (c, Union RagsMiss Squeal, by Smart Strike)
O-SF Racing LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables LLC, Golconda Stables, Siena Farm LLC, & Robert Masterson. B-G Watts Humphrey Jr (Ky). T-Bob Baffert. Sales history: $1,000,000 yrl '19 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSW & MGISP, 8-2-3-1, $413,200.
Last Start: 2nd GIII Southwest S., OP, Feb. 27
Next Start: Uncommitted.
Accomplishments: 1st GII Los Alamitos Futurity, 2nd GI Runhappy Del Mar Futurity, 3rd GI American Pharoah S.
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 17.

Spielberg's second at 7-1 behind champ Essential Quality in the GIII Southwest S. was a decent enough effort to give him some momentum and confidence going into the nine-furlong territory of the Derby trail. This $1-million KEESEP colt by Union Rags was unprepared and ducked out at the break, then got nudged four wide on the clubhouse bend while relegated to last.

“I put him in the race [and] just followed the winner every step. When I asked him, he went, but the winner was already being asked. I think my horse will be better at 1 1/8 miles,” said jockey Martin Garcia.

Spielberg had been an enigma prior to the Southwest, alternating wins and fourth-place finishes since Nov. 1. His long drive won the GII Los Alamitos Futurity by a nose, but he was all out to reel in a tiring 33-1 maiden. He subsequently finished 11 lengths behind the stretch-battling trio that photo'd for the win in the GIII Robert B. Lewis S. Still, this colt now has eight races of experience under his girth and stands a shot at moving up on Baffert's depth chart depending on how the barn's three other Top 12-ranked contenders fare in this Saturday's stakes.

10) 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: Uncommitted.
Accomplishments: 'TDN Rising Star'
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 0.

Prevalence missed some February training after spiking a fever, but was back on the work tab Saturday, breezing a half-mile in :48.40 at Palm Meadows (5/73). This Medaglia d'Oro-sired 'TDN Rising Star' won his Jan. 23 Gulfstream debut by 8 1/2 geared-down lengths after sparring through a five-way fight for the lead in a “loaded” seven-furlong MSW, but he's now a touch under the gun in terms of Derby preparedness after missing his shot at either an allowance race or a start in the GII Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth S.

This Godolphin homebred will also have to come off of Lasix if he is to enter a Derby-qualifying stakes after racing on it in his 89-Beyer debut. How have Derby aspirants coming off of Lasix fared so far in 2021 under the new system prohibiting that drug's use in points-eligible sophomore stakes? Through 13 prep races since Jan. 1, horses giving up Lasix after using it in their most recent start are a collective 3-for-30 (with three other runners finishing second).

11) FREEDOM FIGHTER (c, ViolenceCanadian Ballet, by City Zip)
O-SF Racing LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables LLC, Golconda Stables, Siena Farm LLC, and Robert Masterson. B-Mr & Mrs Troy Reed (Ky). T-Bob Baffert. Sales History: $120,000 yrl '19 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSP, 2-1-1-0, $73,000.
Last Start: 2nd GII San Vicente S., SA, Feb. 6
Next Start: GIII Gotham S., AQU, Mar. 6.
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 0.

The final two horses within the Top 12 share similarities in that neither has raced beyond one turn and both will meet in Saturday's GIII Gotham S. Mar. 6 at Aqueduct, which is another one-turn affair (mile). This Violence colt out of a City Zip mare ($120,000 KEESEP), really caught the eye when running a better race than winning 2-5 stablemate and 'TDN Rising Star' Concert Tour (Street Sense) in the GII San Vicente S. He blitzed out of the gate, withstood early pressure, then wouldn't quit in the stretch run of his first race since a debut win Aug. 1 at Del Mar. Separated by half a length, the top two both earned 94  Beyers.

Over the past five years, trainer Bob Baffert has sent five shippers to Aqueduct, compiling a 1-2-1 record.

12) 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.

A track-record-setting and key-race winner when last seen on the Breeders' Cup undercard at Keeneland, this $240,000 KEENOV Into Mischief colt will vie with Freedom Fighter for favoritism in Saturday's GIII Gotham S. at Aqueduct.

Klaravich Stable bred Highly Motivated after racing his dam (likewise trained by Chad Brown), the seven-furlong black-type stakes winner Strong Incentive. But this colt ended up going through the auction ring because Klaravich was buying out a partner who co-owned the weanling.

Authentic's powerhouse wins in the Derby and GI Breeders' Cup Classic last season shored up questions about the ability for Into Mischief's progeny to carry aggressive speed up to 10 furlongs. But this colt's dam-sire, Warrior's Reward, made his mark as a sprinter, registering his lone stakes win at seven furlongs in the 2010 GI Carter H.

On the Bubble (in alphabetical order):

Concert Tour (Street Sense): 'TDN Rising Star' will ship to Oaklawn to contest the GII Rebel S., a race that his trainer, Bob Baffert, has won seven times in the previous 12 runnings (including split divisions in 2019). But prior to Nadal's win in 2020, Baffert had saddled the beaten fave in four straight runnings.

Jackie's Warrior (Maclean's Music): After starting his career 4-for-4 with commanding displays of speed in one-turn races, this colt has now tasted defeat in two route tries despite advantageous trips in both. He slowed down the pace on the front end of Saturday's GIII Southwest S., but called it a day by the quarter pole, relegating him outside the Top 12.

Keepmeinmind (Laoban): After going back and forth several times over which February prep race to enter, this colt's connections eventually decided to skip races at both Oaklawn and Fair Grounds and instead wait for the GII Rebel S. This deep closer (formerly ranked No. 12) won the GII Kentucky Jockey Club S. with a tepid 80 Beyer, but he'd probably enjoy a tactical advantage if a speed duel percolates on the front end of the Rebel.

Known Agenda (Curlin): Big rebound race on Friday, winning by 11 lengths in a nine-furlong allowance-optional claimer at Gulfstream after a blah fifth in the Feb. 6 GIII Sam F. Davis S. at Tampa. Trainer Todd Pletcher now says the Florida Derby is “definitely in play.”

Midnight Bourbon (Tiznow): Could be the GII Louisiana Derby sleeper. His winning Beyer in the Lecomte S. has subsequently been revised upward from 91 to 93. And did you notice that he galloped out longer and stronger than everyone else after battling to hold third in the Risen Star?

Risk Taking (Medaglia d'Oro): Trainer Chad Brown has a colt who's already won twice over nine furlongs at Aqueduct and remains stabled in New York. He sees no reason to mess with that formula, so this $250,000 KEESEP grad will aim for the 1 1/8-miles Apr. 3 GII Wood Memorial S.

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