TDN Top Triple Crown Contenders

The TDN Derby Top 20 for Apr. 29

by T.D. Thornton

The last couple of anticipatory days prior to the GI Kentucky Derby can seem like a longer wait than the six-month prep season that preceded it. Here are the final TDN rankings, listed in “likeliest winner” order:

1) ESSENTIAL QUALITY (c, Tapit–Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality)

O/B-Godolphin (KY); T-Brad Cox; J-Luis Saez. Lifetime Record: Ch. 2yo Colt & MGISW, 5-5-0-0, $2,265,144.

Last Start: 1st GII Toyota Blue Grass S., KEE, Apr. 3

Accomplishments: 'TDN Rising Star', 1st GI TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile, KEE, Nov. 6, 1st GI Claiborne Breeders' Futurity, KEE, Oct. 3, 1st GIII Southwest S., OP, Feb. 27

Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 140. Post 14, 2-1.

Undefeated juvenile champ and 'TDN Rising Star' Essential Quality is the clear divisional kingpin, and he earned that status by honing his tactical aggression into a valuable asset that none of his peers have been able to match up to nine furlongs. This gray Godolphin homebred has both a high-pressure cruising gear and enough extra torque to press on relentlessly when confronted. His forceful GII Toyota Blue Grass S. win was the most impressive prep race of the season, registering a robust 97 Beyer Speed Figure and a final furlong timed in :12.53 (fastest for that stakes since Keeneland switched back to dirt). An open question, though, is whether that taxing length-of-stretch fight four weeks out from the Derby will further embolden Essential Quality or if it might have been a touch too demanding. This son of Tapit will seek another assertive stalking trip, likely on the outside from post 14, and while he looms as the horse to beat, that doesn't make Essential Quality the horse to bet in the Derby at a starting price that is sure to dip below his 2-1 morning line. Consider the historical obstacles that stand in his way: The low 2-from-36 strike rate of GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile winners repeating in the Derby. No Blue Grass winner has won the Derby in 30 years. Godolphin is 0-for-11 in the Derby, never having hit the board. You can't hold it against trainer Brad Cox for this being his first-ever start in the Derby–everyone is a newbie at one point. But Cox's 0-1-0 record from 10 starters going at least 10 furlongs on the dirt over the past five years might give you cause for pause if you're thinking of backing the Derby favorite.

 

2) KING FURY (c, Curlin–Taris, by Flatter)

O-Fern Circle Stables & Three Chimneys Farm LLC;

B-Heider Family Stables (KY); T-Ken McPeek; J-Brian Hernandez, Jr. Sales History: $950,000 Ylg '19 FTSAUG. Lifetime Record: GSW, 6-3-0-0, $262,739.

Last Start: 1st GIII Stonestreet Lexington S., KEE, Apr. 10

Accomplishments: 1st Street Sense S., CD, Oct. 25

Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 20. Post 16, 20-1.

After needing eight horses to drop out of Derby consideration just to make the qualifying cut to get into the race, smooth-striding King Fury has leapfrogged all his competitors save for one to rate as my “best value” Derby play and the horse who is most likely to outrun long odds on Saturday. This son of Curlin is a steady-going grinder, and his powerful (95 Beyer) GIII Coolmore Lexington S. romp should provide enough of a confidence infusion to negate the fact that King Fury is behind his peers, prep-wise. Although it was not by design, the Lexington was this colt's only start at age three, and the daunting 0-for-24 record of horses with just one sophomore race prior to the Derby since 1937 could amount to an uncrossable chasm. But still, the tradeoff is you'll be getting odds in the neighborhood of 25-1 on a horse whose best races aren't too far off the performances of some of the Derby favorites. King Fury has a well-balanced base of six races at 1 1/16 miles, and he's twice won over the Churchill strip. Way back on Dec. 30, in the first edition of this season's Top 12, I wrote that this colt's “early-career foundation, attractive pedigree, and the capable patience of trainer Ken McPeek all signal that King Fury should not be eliminated from top-tier contention.” Five months later, now just days out from the Derby, that's still my takeaway assessment.

 

3) 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; J-Flavien Prat. 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

Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 110. Post 9, 8-1.

There aren't too many knocks on Hot Rod Charlie, and his 8-1 morning-line odds offer square value on a well-drawn and consistent speed horse who does not require being on the lead to run effectively. Half a year ago, I had dismissed this two-time Fasig-Tipton sales grad as a 94-1 shot who got lucky by cashing in on a caving speed duel in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile, giving winner Essential Quality a brief scare while finishing second. His two improving races in 2021 have proven Hot Rod Charlie is no fluke though, and it's scary to think how good he could be if he fuses the raw speed of his older brother (2019 sprint champ Mitole) with the no-nonsense staying power of his sire (Oxbow, the wire-to-wire winner of the 2013 GI Preakness S.). Jockey Flavien Prat has ridden in three Derbies, placing third in 2017 aboard 40-1 Battle of Midway (Smart Strike), and crossing the wire second, but getting elevated to first via DQ aboard 65-1 Country House (Lookin At Lucky) in 2019. The fact that Hot Rod Charlie already owns a win going 1 3/16 miles is a promising accomplishment. But only two horses have won the GII Louisiana Derby and then the Kentucky Derby–Grindstone in 1996 and Black Gold in 1924.

 

4) KNOWN AGENDA (c, Curlin–Byrama {GB}, by Byron {GB})

O/B-St Elias Stable (KY); T-Todd Pletcher; Irad Ortiz, Jr. Sales History: $135,000 RNA Ylg '19 FTSAUG. Lifetime Record: 6-3-1-1, $541,700.

Last Start: 1st GI Curlin Florida Derby, GP, Mar. 27

Accomplishments: 3rd GII Remsen S., AQU, Dec. 5

Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 102. Post 1, 6-1.

For the past several months we've heard about how the addition of blinkers two starts back has helped to focus this Curlin colt, and his rail-running GI Curlin Florida Derby win (94 Beyer) underscored he can handle coming through traffic at the fence. But losing the luck of the Derby draw and getting stuck with the inside post on Saturday won't help Known Agenda's chances, and it was a factor in downgrading him from the No. 2 ranking on this list. This $135,000 RNA at FTSAUG benefitted at Gulfstream by nailing every single opening that appeared along the inside, but such smooth passage won't be as easily obtainable in the 20-horse crush of the Derby. Still, Known Agenda now has three wins at nine furlongs (no one else in the race has even started three times at that distance), and as trainer Todd Pletcher said earlier this year, “We've always had a strong feeling that added distance was going to be to his liking.”

 

5) HIGHLY MOTIVATED (c, Into Mischief–Strong Incentive, by Warrior's Reward)

O/B-Klaravich Stables, Inc (KY); T-Chad Brown; Javier Castellano. Sales History: $240,000 wlg '18 KEENOV. Lifetime Record: SW & MGSP, 5-2-2-1, $320,050.

Last Start: 2nd GII Toyota Blue Grass S., KEE, Apr. 3

Accomplishments: 1st Nyquist S., KEE, Nov. 6, 3rd GIII Gotham S., AQU, Mar. 6

Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 50. Post 17, 10-1.

If Highly Motivated and Essential Quality hook up at the head of the lane and separate themselves from their peers the way they did in the Blue Grass S., we are in for a supremely entertaining showdown that could resonate through the Triple Crown season. Just don't expect this $240,000 KEENOV buy to be on the front end from post 17 the way he was from gate three at Keeneland, because trainer Chad Brown is on record saying that he believes Highly Motivated is more effective when forwardly placed and chasing a target. Highly Motivated has come the closest of any rival yet to try and dethrone the juvenile champ. He also beat No. 4-ranked Known Agenda last September at Belmont, and his win on the Breeders' Cup undercard last November was a track-record performance that yielded three next-out winners. But Highly Motivated himself has not won since that race, a gap of nearly six months. Super Saver, in 2010, was the last horse who did not win any race at age three prior to winning the Derby.

 

6) DYNAMIC ONE (c, 3, Union Rags–Beat the Drums, by Smart Strike)

O-Repole Stable, Phipps Stable & St Elias Stable; B-Phipps Stable (KY); T-Todd Pletcher. J-Jose Ortiz Sales History: $725,000 Ylg '19 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSP, 5-1-2-0, $194,120

Last Start: 2nd GII Wood Memorial S., AQU, Apr. 3

Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 40. Post 11, 20-1.

Dynamic One will be a tantalizing Derby proposition somewhere in the 40-1 range, but you have to make that bet almost entirely based on his potential to blossom and not this colt's actual performance to date. Trainer Todd Pletcher didn't hide the fact that this $725,000 KEESEP buy was “a little disappointing” when starting his career 0-for-3, but Dynamic One was also hindered by shorter distances and some outer gate draws prior to figuring things out in a nine-furlong maiden special weight win at Aqueduct and a wide-on-both bends effort in the GII Wood Memorial S., losing only on the final head bob. If you're willing to overlook the slow final times and so-so speed figures for those efforts (79 and 89 Beyers), you can craft an argument that this colt is on the cusp of stepping up to the next level. A big factor in that positive prognostication is Dynamic One's distance-centric pedigree: He's sired by Union Rags, the 2012 GI Belmont S. winner, and boasts a female family that resonates with Phipps-homebred stayers.

 

7) ROCK YOUR WORLD (c, Candy Ride {Arg}–Charm the Maker, by Empire Maker)

O-Hronis Racing LLC & Talla Racing LLC; B-Ron & Deborah McAnally (KY); T-John Sadler; J-Joel Rosario. Sales History: $650,000 Ylg '19 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GISW, 3-3-0-0, $546,600.

Last Start: 1st GI Runhappy Santa Anita Derby, SA, Apr. 3

Accomplishments: 1st Pasadena S., SA, Feb. 27

Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 100. Post 15, 5-1.

Recent history tells us to respect horses who use the GI Runhappy Santa Anita Derby as a springboard to Louisville–in the past 15 years, that prep has accounted for five Kentucky Derby winners. Rock Your World is also undefeated at three-for-three. Since 1915, 30 horses have gone into the Derby without having lost a race. Only nine exited the Derby unbeaten, but five of them managed the feat in the 21st century (six if you count Maximum Security before his DQ). This $650,000 KEESEP purchase is the product of a patient, well-orchestrated turf-to-dirt transition by trainer John Sadler. But Rock Your World's 100-Beyer Santa Anita Derby does have some cautionary strings attached: There was only one other stakes winner in that race, and every quarter-mile split set by Rock Your World on the front end clocked in slower than the one that preceded it. There is some appealing 10-furlong pedigree promise with Empire Maker as his damsire, and Sadler has noted that Rock Your World is a smooth-energy horse whose maturity is just now catching up to his large frame. This colt is going to get a fairly stern class check on Saturday, and will need all of those positive attributes to align at once if he is to peak under sustained pressure.

 

8) MIDNIGHT BOURBON (c, Tiznow–Catch the Moon, by Malibu Moon)

O-Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC; B-Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings LLC (KY); T-Steve Asmussen; J-Mike Smith. 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.

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. Post 10, 20-1.

Midnight Bourbon represents a handicapping conundrum: His overall body of work says he's not too far off the top of the crop-sophomore Beyers in the mid-90s, a firm base of eight races at a mile or longer, always in the money, plus intriguing Tiznow (out of a Malibu Moon mare) bloodlines. But what this $525,000 KEESEP colt has consistently lacked is a “seal the deal” instinct. Midnight Bourbon's only win this year was when he unexpectedly found himself on the lead of the paceless GIII Lecomte S. and coasted home unopposed. In the GII Risen Star S., he twice led between calls, but couldn't power past at the wire (despite galloping out longer and stronger than everyone after it), and in the Louisiana Derby he enjoyed a no-excuse stalking trip just behind the speed but got solidly outkicked by Hot Rod Charlie for the final 2 1/2 furlongs of the race. Sure, trainer Steve Asmussen is 0-for-21 in the Derby. But don't forget that two of his four Derby starters who hit the board later ended up getting voted Horse of the Year (Curlin and Gun Runner). His stable doesn't lack for A-list horsepower–it's just the timing that's been off when it comes to the first Saturday in May.

 

9) MEDINA SPIRIT (c, Protonico–Mongolian Changa, by Briliant Speed)

O-Zedan Racing Stables; B-Gail Rice (FL); T-Bob Baffert; John Velazquez. Sales History: $1,000 ylg '19 OBSWIN; $35,000 2yo '20 OBSOPN. Lifetime Record: GSW & GISP, 5-2-3-0, $315,200.

Last Start: 2nd GI Runhappy Santa Anita Derby, SA, Apr. 3

Accomplishments: 1st Robert B. Lewis S., SA, Jan. 30, 2nd GII San Felipe S., SA, Mar. 6, 2nd GIII Sham S., SA, Jan. 2

Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 74. Post 8, 15-1.

While he lacks the flashy pedigree and big-ticket auction price you generally see with trainer Bob Baffert's Derby entrants, this Protonico colt is a gritty, hard trier and he figures to once again exceed expectations on Saturday. While his second in the Santa Anita Derby rates only as okay, Medina Spirit has spent the last six months paired as the workmate to a number of highly heralded horses from the Baffert barn, and he's repeatedly held his own with better-bred and more expensive sophomores. Medina Spirit also matches up numbers-wise with some of the top contenders (last four races mid-90s Beyers), and it's imperative to note that he had an operation to fix an entrapped epiglottis in mid-March, which theoretically should be helping him breathe easier. Baffert quipped back in January when Medina Spirit was third- or fourth-best on the stable's depth chart that this colt reminded him of his 1997 Derby champ Silver Charm. Now this overachiever is Baffert's lone representative in Louisville. “I think we're here with a horse that's in the top 10,” Baffert said Monday. “I usually like to come in with a top-five-type horse. He's top 10. He shows up every time.”

 

10) SUPER STOCK (c, 3, Dialed In–Super Girlie, by Closing Argument)

O-Erv Woolsey & Keith Asmussen; B-Pedro & P J Gonzalez (KY); T-Steve Asmussen; J-Ricardo Santana, Jr. Sales History: $70,000 Ylg '19 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: 8-2-2-2, $804,762.

Last Start: 1st, GI Arkansas Derby, OP, Apr. 10.

Accomplishments: 2nd Street Sense S., CD, Oct. 25; 3rd

GI Claiborne Breeders' Futurity, KEE, Oct. 3; 3rd GIII Iroquois S., CD, Sept. 5. Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 109. Post 18, 30-1.

The pluses for this Dialed In colt: An eight-race foundation (five starts at a mile or longer), with every race (except one) earning improved Beyers. Strong juvenile company lines, including hitting the board behind the No. 1 and 2 contenders on this list. Super Stock also has forward momentum, with the appearance that he hardly drained his tank in his GI Arkansas Derby win. Now the minuses, chiefly related to that Oaklawn victory: The two favorites he beat essentially handed him the race by dueling each other into defeat, and both exited the race so spent that their connections opted not to press ahead to the Derby. In addition, Super Stock's winning move was launched into a tepid :26.49 fourth quarter against practically zero stretch competition, a scenario that is unlikely to replicate itself at Churchill. If you like him, demand slightly better than his 30-1 morning-line odds. The only horses to pull off the Arkansas/Kentucky Derby double since 1980 have been American Pharoah (2015), Smarty Jones (2004) and Sunny's Halo (1983).

 

11) SOUP AND SANDWICH (c, Into Mischief–Souper Scoop, by Tapit)

O-Live Oak Plantation; B-Live Oak Stud (FL); T-Mark Casse; J-Tyler Gaffalione. Lifetime Record: GISP, 3-2-1-0, $203,875.

Last Start: 2nd GI Curlin Florida Derby, GP, Mar. 27

Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 40. Post 19, 30-1.

I wouldn't structure bets around Soup and Sandwich winning, but this Live Oak homebred has the look and feel of one of those potential “bomb squad” horses you don't want to exclude from exotics just to shave a little cost off the ticket. In the Florida Derby (just career start number three), this Into Mischief colt forced the issue on the front end then gallantly stuck around late despite being stuck on his left lead through the stretch run. Casse also said Soup and Sandwich had gotten hot and bothered by shipping that day, and there's logic in the idea that he won't expend as much mental energy by running out of his home stall at Churchill. Tyler Gaffalione will be the fourth jockey for Soup and Sandwich in as many starts. He had the Derby mount for Casse aboard War of Will in 2019, finishing seventh amid the heel-clipping controversy that led to the DQ of Maximum Security.

 

12) MANDALOUN (c, Into Mischief–Brooch, by Empire Maker)

O/B-Juddmonte Farms Inc. (KY); T-Brad Cox; J-Florent Geroux. Lifetime Record: GSW, 5-3-0-1, $361,252.

Last Start: 6th GII Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby, FG, Mar. 20

Accomplishments: 'TDN Rising Star', 1st GII Risen Star S., FG, Feb. 13, 3rd GIII Lecomte S., FG, Jan. 16

Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 52. Post 7, 15-1.

Usually in any year's final Derby rankings, there are horses who are highly rated who are being “forgiven” a poor showing in a final prep race. This season it's different–the top 11 contenders all either won or ran second in their final Derby preps, and you have to drop all the way down to No. 12 Mandaloun to find a colt looking for redemption. This Juddmonte homebred will try to prove his no-spark sixth as the beaten favorite in the Louisiana Derby isn't a true indication of his talent. Mandaloun is a stalker with some seasoning and a speed-over-stamina pedigree, and he won his only start at Churchill at age two. But this colt did have to be handled very assertively for both his victories as a juvenile, and jockey Florent Geroux (who has ridden in all five starts) said even before that off-the-board finish in March that “He's never given me his full potential.”

 

13) HIDDEN STASH (c, Constitution–Making Mark Money, by Smart Strike)

O-BBN Racing LLC; B-Rhineshire Farm LLC (KY); T-Victoria Oliver; J-Rafael Bejarano. Sales History: $50,000 Ylg '19 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: 7-2-1-2, $231,062.

Last Start: 4th GII Toyota Blue Grass S., KEE, Apr. 3.

Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 32. Post 13, 50-1.

Hidden Stash is quite capable of making one sustained run from the back of the pack, and he capped his 2-year-old season with an encouraging long-drive win over the Churchill dirt on the juvenile showcase day there last November. But this $50,000 KEESEP colt by Constitution has been stuck at the 82-83 Beyer plateau in three sophomore starts, and he was out of his league when a distant fourth behind Essential Quality and Highly Motivated in the Blue Grass S. after twice hitting the board at Tampa against softer foes. Hidden Stash could provide bang for the buck underneath in exotics, perhaps giving jockey Rafael Bejarano his first in-the-money finish in his 11th Derby.

 

14) BOURBONIC (c, Bernardini–Dancing Afleet, by Afleet Alex)

O/B-Calumet Farm (KY); T-Todd Pletcher; J-Kendrick Carmouche. Lifetime Record: 6-3-1-0.

Last Start: 1st GII Wood Memorial S., AQU, Apr. 3.

Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 100. Post 20, 30-1.

At 72-1 odds, Bourbonic closed from last into a pedestrian pace (fourth quarter :25.78 and final eighth :13.73) to win the slowest-ever (1:54.49) edition of the Wood Memorial by a well-timed head bob. But don't let the long odds and slow timing obscure the legit positives this Calumet homebred brings to Louisville. Bourbonic has improved his Beyers in four consecutive races and he's partnered well with jockey Kendrick Carmouche, who previously managed to coax a narrow win out of this Bernardini colt when pressing the leader in second, so it's not like they have to be parked far back. A faster pace to chase in the Derby should help Bourbonic's chances, but it's been decades since the road to roses ran through New York: Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000 was the last Wood winner to capture the Derby, and before that the most recent Wood/Derby winner was Pleasant Colony in 1981.

 

15) O BESOS (c, Orb–Snuggs and Kisses, by Soto)

O-Bernard Racing LLC, Tagg Team Racing, West Point Thoroughbreds & Terry L. Stephens; B-L. Barrett Bernard (KY); T-Greg Foley; J-Martin Pedroza. Lifetime Record: 5-2-0-1.

Last Start: 3rd GII Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby, FG, Mar. 20.

Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 25. Post 6, 20-1.

This homebred son of Orb is the only member of this year's field to be sired by a Derby winner. His dam brings an admirable dose of tenacity to the equation, as Snuggs and Kisses compiled a 12-2-7 record from 32 lifetime starts as a minor stakes victress and starter-allowance stalwart. O Besos himself shows a five-race Beyer pattern on an upward arc, topping out at 96 when just missing second in the Louisiana Derby. But you have to wonder if this habitual slow breaker who often gets fanned wide on the turns is doing himself any favors by having to work so hard to overcome all the ground he concedes. The lack of a two-turn victory also makes him a tough win bet.

 

16) SAINTHOOD (c, Mshawish–Lemon Hero, by Lemon Drop Kid) O-CHC Inc. & WinStar Farm LLC; B-Edward Taylor & Springland Farm (KY); T-Todd Pletcher; J-Corey Lanerie. Sales History: $100,000 Ylg '19 KEEJAN; $90,000 RNA Ylg '19 KEESEP; $62,000 Ylg '19 OBSOCT. Lifetime Record: 3-1-2-0, $91,900.

Last Start: 2nd GIII Jeff Ruby Steaks S., TP, Mar. 27.

Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 40. Post 5, 50-1.

With a May 15 foaling date, the one-for-three Sainthood will be the only Derby entrant this year not to have yet reached his third birthdate. Although exact foaling date records are sketchy prior to 1940, 11 known May foals have won the Derby dating to 1875, including Authentic in 2020 (a May 5 foal who won a Sept. 5 Derby) and Country House in 2019 (a May 8 foal who got put up via DQ). In addition to being the youngest entrant, this Mshawish colt is lightly seasoned in terms of race experience, having never won beyond the maiden ranks. Yet he was game despite traffic in the roughly run GIII Jeff Ruby Steaks S. at Turfway, earning second as the only rival gaining on the winner.

 

17) HELIUM (c, 3, Ironicus–Thundering Emilia, by Thunder Gulch) O-D J Stable LLC; B-Teneri Farm Inc & Bernardo Alvarez Calderon (KY); T-Mark Casse; J-Julien Leparoux. 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.

Accomplishments: 1st Display S., WO, Oct. 18.

Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 50. Post 12, 50-1.

This $55,000 FTKOCT buy is testing the grain of historical convention by attempting to win the Derby off an eight-week break. Only two horses have won the Derby off at least that long a layoff, and both were more than a century ago. But training patterns are evolving, and it's worth noting that Authentic won the pandemic-delayed 2020 Derby with seven weeks between wins. Even though he's never lost, the three-for-three Helium is still comparatively light on experience; the Kentucky Derby will be just his second race in 7 1/2 months. That's a tall task, but one potential advantage could be Helium's versatility. He's won on the lead, stalking, and while rating from farther back. His most recent win, in the GII Tampa Bay Derby, yielded only an 84 Beyer, which puts him at a competitive disadvantage against the division's heaviest hitters.

 

18) KEEPMEINMIND (c, Laoban–Inclination, by Victory Gallop)

O-Spendthrift Farm LLC, Cypress Creek LLC & Arnold Bennewith. B-Southern Equine Stables, LLC (Ky). T-Robertino Diodoro; J-David Cohen. Lifetime Record: GSW & MGISP, 4-1-2-1, $394,320.

Last Start: 5th GII Toyota Blue Grass S., KEE, Apr. 3.

Accomplishments: 1st GII Kentucky Jockey Club S., CD, Nov. 28.

Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 18. Post 4, 50-1.

Keepmeinmind's lone career win was an 80-Beyer, off-the-tailgate effort in the GII Kentucky Jockey Club S., a race in which he went off favored despite being a maiden on the strength of twice finishing in the money behind Essential Quality in Grade I stakes. This Laoban colt collared a tiring leader that day, but he still hasn't truly progressed off that effort, running sixth and fifth in two starts this season (beaten a combined 24 lengths). Maybe getting back to the scene of his only lifetime score will help. Seeing the stout stayer Victory Gallop as his maternal grandsire is a plus.

 

19) LIKE THE KING (c, Palace Malice–Like a Queen, by Corinthian) O-M Racing Group LLC; B-Horseshoe Racing LLC (KY); T-Wesley Ward; J-Drayden Van Dyke. Sales History: $28,000 Wlg '18 KEENOV; $170,000 Ylg '19 OBSOCT. Lifetime Record: 6-3-2-1, $200,680.

Last Start: 1st GIII Jeff Ruby Steaks S., TP, Mar. 27.

Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 104. Post 2, 50-1.

This rangy chestnut has never been off the board in six lifetime tries, but his 86-Beyer Jeff Ruby score has to be considered as the product of a “chaos race.” The favorite was eliminated at the start, and the stretch run featured plenty of shifting and drifting while this son of Palace Malice sailed home largely trouble-free. Don't be scared off by seeing Belterra Park in Like the King's past performances-trainer Wesley Ward annually stables some decent juveniles in Ohio. The true concern is that this colt was beaten a combined 19 3/4 lengths in his only two dirt attempts.

 

20) BROOKLYN STRONG (g, Wicked Strong–Riviera Chic, by Medaglia d'Oro) O-Mark Schwartz; B-Cheryl Prudhomme & Dr.Michael Gallivan (NY); T-Daniel Velazquez; J-Umberto Rispoli. Lifetime Record: 5-3-0-1, $225,000. Sales History: $330,000 Wlg '18 FTNMIX; $42,000 RNA Ylg '19 SARAUG; $6,000 RNA '19 Ylg OBSOCT; $5,000 2yo '20 OBSAPR.

Last Start: 5th GII Wood Memorial S., AQU, Apr. 3.

Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 10. Post 3, 50-1.

This New York-bred gelding upset No. 4-ranked Known Agenda in the GII Remsen S. at Aqueduct back in December, but was a non-threatening fifth in the slowly run Wood Memorial, his only start in 2021. A spate of late defections cleared the way for Brooklyn Strong to come under consideration for the Derby only on Sunday. “I'd like to say it went just as planned,” said trainer Danny Velazquez. “But none of this has been planned.”

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