The TDN Derby Top 12 for March 9


Life Is Good moves from four to two on this week's TDN Derby Top 12 | Horsephotos


This week's edition represents the most movement within the Top 12 all season. But brace yourself: the nine-furlong preps are next, and so are the juicier qualifying points opportunities. The GI Kentucky Derby forecast is for continued–but intriguing–volatility.

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.

If Greatest Honour continues on his path to prominence, one of the more intriguing storylines of Derby 147 will be how Courtlandt Farms privately bought dam Tiffany's Honour in foal to Tapit after she RNA'd for $2.3 million in at Fasig-Tipton November in 2015. The foal she delivered was a striking individual, but the tale took a tragic twist when that colt was later killed in a paddock accident. Tiffany's Honour had already been bred back to War Front, but the following year Courtlandt mated her with Tapit again. The result is Greatest Honour, and you can read in a more detailed TDN column by colleague Chris McGrath how even as a yearling, Greatest Honour resonated as “the 'whole package'–a big, leggy, scopey, rangy horse; correct, well-made, good bone, everything.” Greatest Honour competed in a trio of “loaded” New York MSW races, then punched through to the elite level with a trio of emphatic victories (two of them stakes) at Gulfstream. All of those wins were at 1 1/16 miles, which trainer Shug McGuaghey has described as too short for this distance-centric deep closer. Yes, you can argue that Greatest Honour hasn't posted any elite-level Beyer Speed Figures to legitimize the visually impressive nature of his wins. That could be a concern moving forward, as no fewer than 27 performances by 3-year-olds on dirt so far in 2021 have earned Beyers above Greatest Honour's career-best 89. But it won't stop this powerhouse colt from going off legitimately favored in the GI Florida Derby.

2) 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: MGSW, 3-3-0-0, $274,200.
Last Start: 1st GII San Felipe S., SA, Mar. 6
Next Start: GI Santa Anita Derby, SA, Apr. 3.
Accomplishments: 'TDN Rising Star', 1st GIII Sham S., SA, Jan. 2
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 60.

Front-running phenom Life Is Good has now paired two daunting triple-digit Beyers (101 and 107). But the most astounding number associated with this 'TDN Rising Star' is the 2-1 favoritism he earned in Sunday's Pool 4 of the Derby Future Wager. This marked only the fourth time in 19 years that the pari-mutuel field of “All Other 3-Year-Olds” did not close as the March chalk. Saturday's win in the GII San Felipe S. was nothing short of scintillating. This $525,000 KEESEP purchase colt broke alertly from the rail, then bounded confidently onto the backstretch while intent on his work, but not keyed up about it. He maintained a three-length cushion through robust splits (:46.83 and 1:10.55), and when the closest three competitors all came under drives three-eighths out, jockey Mike Smith kept his mount in hand yet still managed to increase the gap. Life Is Good got momentarily distracted sailing solo through the stretch while drifting out (Smith said it was the video board) but won comfortably by eight lengths without ever having to give his all. Baffert acknowledged post-race his colt is “still green,” but quickly reminded that so, too, was 2020 Derby champ Authentic at this time last year. I'm still not quite ready to drape a blanket of roses around Life Is Good's broad, bay shoulders, though. He's raced just three times (twice against only four overmatched rivals), and none of the horses he's trounced is currently ranked as Top 12 contenders.

3) ESSENTIAL QUALITY (c, Tapit–Delightful 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.

Tapit-sired 'TDN Rising Star' Essential Quality seamlessly bridged the gap between his juvenile championship season and his first start age three with one of those athletic, high-cruising, multiple-geared performances that have evolved as his hallmark over a 4-for-4 career. This Godolphin homebred colt's 4 1/4-length GIII Southwest S. score showed that racing in the slop is not a problem, and “EQ” has already won once (albeit sprinting) over the Churchill surface, which is another plus on his Derby progression checklist. He matches well with jockey Luis Saez, who very calmly executed an important lesson in patient rating when EQ was into the bit and initially wanted to pull about five furlongs out in the Southwest. Having said all of that, one box that remains unchecked is how EQ will fare once he gets his first taste of serious in-race adversity. In all three of his stakes wins, EQ's athleticism and tactical prowess have enabled Saez to pick outside positions well clear of potential trip trouble. And in no races has EQ had to deal with multiple waves of top-caliber closers. The four horses who chased him home for second and third in his two Grade I wins last autumn were 94-1, 52-1, 30-1 and 10-1, and none is a Top 12 contender.

4) 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.

'TDN Rising Star' Caddo River will start favored in Saturday's GII Rebel S. based on his ability to quickly reach a high cruising speed and sustain it under pressure while never seeming to get anxious about it. Probables listed by Oaklawn suggest a likely field of eight, and the main competition for this Hard Spun homebred for Shortleaf Stable figures to be Concert Tour (Street Sense), a fellow 'Rising Star' trained by Bob Baffert (who has won the Rebel seven times in its previous 12 runnings), and Keepmeinmind (Laoban), the deep-closing 80-Beyer victor of the GII Kentucky Jockey Club S. at Churchill. Trainer Brad Cox told Horse Racing Nation last week that among his three Derby candidates–No. 3 Essential Quality and No. 5 Mandaloun (Into Mischief) are the others–Caddo River is “probably the fastest of the three, just based off how they breeze.” Cox added that despite that breakaway nature, “Caddo River is definitely the most laid back of the three.” Caddo River's company line from his blowout win in the Jan. 22 Smarty Jones S. upticked slightly on Saturday when fourth-place Moonlite Strike (Liam's Map), came back to run third at 34-1 in the GII Tampa Bay Derby.

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

'TDN Rising Star' Mandaloun's past performance cut alone is impressive enough to merit inclusion among the A-list sophomores. He's 3-for-4 with Beyers that have ascended in every race, and his only loss was a third-place try, beaten only a length, in his stakes and two-turn debut. But as the 4-to-5 fave in that GIII Lecomte S. loss, this Into Mischief homebred for Juddmonte couldn't seal the deal in an unfocused effort. Even after Mandaloun rebounded with a blinkers-on GII Risen Star S. win, jockey Florent Geroux said, “He's never given me his full potential.” Mandaloun will hit his third birthdate two days before his next expected start in the Mar. 20 GII Louisiana Derby, so maybe he's not that far off from stepping it up, maturity-wise. With 52 points, he's currently third on the qualifying list to start in Louisville, so it's not imperative that he produce an over-the-top effort in his final Kentucky Derby prep. Right now it might be best to consider Mandaloun the highest-ranked “work in progress” horse within the Top 12–with the expectation that his production needs to catch up to his potential within the next 7 1/2 weeks.

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.

Proxy has never been worse than second in five lifetime outs, but you have to go back to a Dec. 19 N2L allowance win at Fair Grounds to find the performance that indicates how this colt is capable of controlling a race. Backed to 7-10 favoritism in a four-horse field, Proxy brushed the gate, confidently assumed command, conceded the lead between calls, then re-rallied to fight off a two-pronged stretch attack. Trainer Mike Stidham has been working this Tapit homebred in blinkers in preparation for the Louisiana Derby, with an eye on improving upon two runner-up efforts in which Proxy didn't always seem fully engaged. This colt's older sister, Micheline (Bernardini), another Godolphin homebred trained by Stidham, just won her first graded race on Saturday in the GII Hillsborough S. at Tampa. She had started her career 1-for-4, but after Stidham added blinkers late in her 2-year-old season, Micheline blossomed into a much-improved 4-for-9 streak, with three of those wins in grass stakes, plus a near-miss second against Grade I company at Keeneland. If the addition of blinkers has the same effect on little bro Proxy, look out.

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, 6-2-1-3, $261,420.
Last Start: 3rd GII Risen Star S., FG, Feb. 13.
Next Start: GII Louisiana Derby, FG, Mar. 20
Accomplishments: 1st GIII Lecomte S., FG, Jan. 16, 3rd GI Champagne S., 2nd GIII Iroquois S.
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 26.

Midnight Bourbon resurfaces within the Top 12 after getting leap-frogged the last several weeks. The more I look at him, the more I now agree with trainer Steve Asmussen that he could be setting up nicely for a rebound race. When this $525,000 KEESEP colt wired the Lecomte S., he set a moderate, unchallenged pace and won with plenty in the tank, earning a Beyer that subsequently got revised upward from a 91 to a 93. When third next out in the Risen Star S., Midnight Bourbon twice led between calls (midway on the far turn and again at the eighth pole), then galloped out longer and stronger than the top two finishers. The imposingly long 1,346-foot stretch at Fair Grounds is often thought of as an advantage to closers. Yet the last three Louisiana Derbies have been won by speed-centric horses, including a wire job in last year's renewal, which was the first at the race's newly elongated distance of 1 3/16 miles. A son of Tiznow just now getting tight in his third start off the layoff for a trainer who has won this race three times? Sounds like a mild upset in the making.

8) 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.

With eight starts under his belt, Spielberg is not your typical million-dollar yearling (KEESEP) that trainer Bob Baffert might nudge along the Derby trail with only a handful of well-spaced starts. After running second and third as a maiden against Grade I stakes company last September (favored in one of those races), this Union Rags colt is being given every opportunity to prove he belongs as a late bloomer at age three. His two wins were in a Del Mar MSW at a mile by a neck (in which the jock lost the whip) and in the GII Los Alamitos Futurity by a nose (when Spielberg was all out to reel in a 33-1 maiden). But the best race on his resume is his most recent effort, a second-place try in the Southwest S. behind champ Essential Quality. Racing in the slop for the first time, Spielberg was unprepared and ducked out at the break, then ran along well late to earn a credible second (despite no real chance to catch the winner because of how far behind he put himself at the start). Considering his sire won the 1 1/2-mile GI Belmont S., longer distances could be his launch pad.

9) 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: 5-2-1-1, $104,600.
Last Start: 1st GP allowance, Feb. 26.
Next Start: Possible for GI Curlin Florida Derby, GP, Mar. 27
Accomplishments: 3rd GII Remsen S., AQU, Dec. 5
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 2.

This son of Curlin has the distinction of beating the current No. 1 kingpin on this list in an Aqueduct MSW back in November. But while Greatest Honour then went on a three-race win tear to vault him into the No. 1 spot, Known Agenda stalled for two starts before righting himself with a rip-roaring 11-length, blinkers-on win in a nine-furlong allowance-optional claimer at Gulfstream Feb. 26. Perhaps this $135,000 RNA at FTSAUG didn't care for the sealed and sloppy track when he got bumped off stride at the start of the GII Remsen S., and his 3-2 favored loss when fifth in the GIII Sam F. Davis S. might just be a case of not liking the sandy (and often quirky) Tampa track. But this chestnut attacked with metronomic precision after stalking a three-way duel in his Gulfstream comeback, unleashing a confident far-turn move before pouring it on in deep stretch. With two wins already at 1 1/8 miles, trainer Todd Pletcher is now considering the Florida Derby. But in addition to blinkers, Known Agenda also got a dose of Lasix for the first time in that allowance win, and he'll have to forego that medication in the Florida Derby as per new phase-out rules that now prohibit Lasix in the nation's top stakes.

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

Not everything has gone as planned in trainer Mark Casse's preparations for Helium. Yet now this $55,000 FTKOCT (and subsequently privately purchased) first-crop colt by Ironicus is 3-for-3 after a 15-1 win in Saturday's Tampa Bay Derby (84 Beyer). After starting his career at Woodbine, a planned November stakes race there got cancelled. Casse then shipped Helium to Fair Grounds to try the Derby preps there, but Casse told last week that the colt wrenched an ankle, so he sent him to his farm in Ocala. As Helium progressed, the Tampa Derby looked convenient from both a timing and close-to-home perspective. And now, for the fourth year in a row, that stakes has been won by a long shot. Helium was four wide while unhurried into the club turn, stalked midpack about six paths off the rail down the backstretch, then emerged from a far-turn logjam to get first run on a caving pacemaker. He had enough left to fight back when hooked in deep stretch by a fresh closer who had outside momentum, and deftly repulsed that bid. Although Helium is not currently a Triple Crown nominee, D J Stable racing manager Jon Green told TDN right after the win that this colt will be supplemented for $6,000 by the March deadline.

11) 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.
Last Start: 1st GIII Withers S., AQU, Feb. 6.
Next Start: GII Wood Memorial S., AQU, Apr. 3.
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 10.

Risk Taking, who just celebrated his third birthdate Mar. 7,  is the only Top 12 horse currently wintering in New York. This $240,000 KEESEP Medaglia d'Oro colt also stands out as the rare Derby contender (along with Known Agenda) to boast two wins already at nine furlongs—a crucial distance that many Derby aspirants have yet to even attempt. His 89-Beyer Withers win was the result of a comfortable midpack stalking trip followed by a powerful move to collar a fading leader, and it gave the impression of more in the tank. Trainer Chad Brown has indicated he'll opt for two months between starts and aim for the GII Wood Memorial S. so he can keep Risk Taking at the distance and track over which the colt is 2-for-2.

12) 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: Allowance/optional claimer, GP, Mar. 11.
Accomplishments: 'TDN Rising Star'
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 0.

'TDN Rising Star' Prevalence will see action in Thursday's eighth race at Gulfstream, an allowance-optional claimer at a one-turn mile. He's a touch under the gun timing-wise after missing some February training because of a brief fever, but the plan for this Godolphin homebred still leaves room for a required start in a qualifying points stakes prep to try and garner entry into the Derby. This son of Medaglia d'Oro soared home by 8 1/2 lengths his Jan. 23 debut. That seven-furlong MSW appeared very deep on paper at the time, but six horses have now run back out of that race and only one was a next-out winner.

On the Bubble (in alphabetical order):

Concert Tour (Street Sense): This 2-for-2 Gary and Mary West homebred and 'TDN Rising Star' is on trainer Baffert's traveling team, shipping to Oaklawn for Saturday's Rebel S.

Hidden Stash (Constitution): One-run closer is a bit farther off the Derby radar than most, but this colt was the only one gaining in the stretch of the Davis, then mounted the only serious stretch challenge in the Tampa Derby after running off in the pre-race warmups.

Keepmeinmind (Laoban): Prepping for the Rebel S., jockey David Cohen said this late-running colt's most recent work featured a “nice, long gallop out, with nothing too rapid. I was very happy with the way he broke off. He has a tendency to get real tough. He did it really relaxed.”

Medina Spirit (Protonico): Baffert-trained overachiever, who hammered for just $1,000 at OBSWIN and $35,000 at OBSOPN, was second behind stablemate Life Is Good on Saturday but is clearly not in the same league. “He's a good horse and we needed to run first or second to continue on” with Derby preps, Baffert said, adding that the Santa Anita Derby of GI Arkansas Derby are possibilities.

Weyburn (Pioneerof the Nile): This 46-1 upsetter of the one-turn-mile GII Gotham S. racked up a big-league 95 Beyer. He's not Triple Crown nominated, but trainer Jimmy Jerkens said he will likely be supplemented for $6,000. No next-race commitment yet.

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