(Essential Quality wins the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile / Coady Photography)

From the Churchill Downs Media Team:

Derby fans from around the globe will be on the edge of their seats Saturday afternoon as a trio of Road to the Kentucky Derby Championship Series events will give a more clear picture of the field for “America’s Greatest Race.”

Saturday’s Road to the Kentucky Derby Championship Series action will start at 5:58 p.m. (all times Eastern) with the $750,000 Wood Memorial (Grade II) at Aqueduct featuring Grade III winner Risk Taking and undefeated Prevalence. Approximately 30 minutes later, champion Essential Quality headlines a field of nine in the $800,000 Blue Grass (GII) at Keeneland. Finally, graded stakes winner Medina Spirit will attempt his charge to the Kentucky Derby as the headliner in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (GI).

All three races will award the Top 4 finishers points on a 100-40-20-10 scale to the May 1, $3 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (GI). Each race will be televised on NBCSN.

With the cancellation of this year’s Sunland Derby, points boost to the Jeff Ruby Steaks (GIII) and addition of the Battaglia Memorial, there was an increase of 110.5 points from 2019’s Road to the Kentucky Derby and 68 additional points than 2018. From 2013-2019 it’s taken an average of just more than 26 points to make the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby.

 

ESSENTIAL QUALITY TO MEET EIGHT IN BLUE GRASS – Leading Kentucky Derby contenderEssential Quality tops a field of nine in Saturday’s $800,000 Blue Grass Stakes (GII) at Keeneland. The unbeaten juvenile champion will make his second start of the season, rolling to a 4 ¼-length victory in the Feb. 27 Southwest (GIII) at Oaklawn Park, and regular rider Luis Saez will be up.

The major Kentucky Derby qualifier will award points on a 100-40-20-10 basis to the top four.

A Godolphin homebred colt by Tapit, Essential Quality has shown an affinity for the Lexington, Ky. oval, posting wins in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) and Breeders’ Futurity (GI) last fall. The Brad Cox-conditioned gray sophomore will stretch out to 1 1/8 miles in the Blue Grass, and he appears to be training forwardly in preparation. Essential Quality should be a prohibitive favorite.

Highly Motivated returns to Keeneland after opening 2021 with a troubled third in the March 6 Gotham (GIII) at Aqueduct. After breaking poorly and being checked in traffic, the Into Mischief colt found his best stride late to miss by 1 ¾ lengths.

The Chad Brown trainee recorded an impressive win in the Nyquist at Keeneland last fall, garnering a 102Brisnet Speed rating for the 4 ¼-length decision, and Highly Motivated is eligible to make a serious impact if he handles the stretch out to two turns.

Longer distances have been no issue for Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) winner and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile third-placer Keepmeinmind, but the confirmed closer will need to show more after a disappointing sixth in the Southwest following a 3 ½-month layoff. David Cohen rides for Robertino Diordoro.

Rombauer invades for Michael McCarthy after a last-to-first win in the Feb. 13 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields. A rallying fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the late runner will pick up a new pilot inFlorent Geroux.

John Battaglia Memorial Stakes winner Hush of a Storm scratched from last Saturday’s Jeff Ruby Steaks (GIII) in favor of the Blue Grass. He will be tested for class and dirt form, but the improving colt has won three straight for trainer Bill Morey. Santiago Gonzalez retains the assignment.

Hidden Stash exits a pair of respectable performances in his first stakes attempts, finishing third in the Sam F. Davis (GIII) and second in the Tampa Bay Derby (GII). The Vicki Oliver-trained colt was beaten less than a length in the latter, and Rafael Bejarano guides the chestnut.

Untreated will jump to stakes competition for Todd Pletcher following an 8 ¾-length maiden win at Tampa Bay Downs. Juvenile Grade III winner Sittin On Go, unplaced in his last four outings, and Oaklawn maiden scorer Leblon round out the field. – James Scully/Brisnet.com

 

MEDINA SPIRIT LEADS FIELD OF 10 IN GRADE I SANTA ANITA DERBY – Robert B. Lewis (Grade III) winner and San Felipe (GII) runner-up Medina Spirit will be the horse to beat in Saturday’s $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (GI). He’s one of two in the 10-horse field for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who will be seeking his 10th Santa Anita Derby win.

The 1 1/8-mile race has produced 19 Kentucky Derby winners, and it’s a major qualifier awarding a combined 170 points to the top four finishers (100-40-20-10).

Medina Spirit appears to be training forwardly, recording a five-furlong bullet workout (:59) in preparation, and two-time Kentucky Derby winner John Velazquez will be in to guide the Florida-bred Protonico colt.

Baffert will also be represented by Defunded, who faces a serious class and distance check following a six-furlong maiden special weight victory on March 6. Mike Smith rides Dialed In gelding.

Dream Shake was outfinished by Medina Spirit in the latter stages of the March 6 San Felipe, winding up more than 10 lengths behind the now-sidelined Life Is Good in third, but the Peter Eurton-trained Twirling Candy colt was making only his second start. A sharp debut maiden scorer in early February, Dream Shake is eligible to show more after his initial stakes experience, and leading rider Flavien Prat picks up the mount.

Roman Centurian failed to make an impact when fourth in the San Felipe, but the impressive maiden scorer ran well when posting a head second in the Robert Lewis two starts back, edging third-placer Hot Rod Charlieby a nose. That rival came back to win the TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (GII), and Roman Centurian is a rebound candidate for Simon Callaghan on Saturday.

The Great One figures to be a pace factor from post 9 following a weakening fifth in the San Felipe. The DougO’Neill-trained colt earned back-to-back 101 Brisnet Speed ratings for a nose second in the Los Alamitos Futurity (GII) and a 14-length maiden win. The son of Nyquist will try to show more with Abel Cedillo.

Rock Your World will try dirt after opening his career with a pair of turf wins, including a 2 ¼-length triumph in the Feb. 27 Pasadena. Umberto Rispoli will be up for John Sadler. Sham Stakes (GIII) third Parnelli adds blinkers following a disappointing fifth in the Robert Lewis.

Ottothelegend invades for Steve Asmussen after a convincing maiden special weight at Oaklawn Park in early March. The Uncle Mo colt relished the stretch out to two turns in his second career outing, and Mario Gutierrezwill take over the reins. Law Professor is another last-out maiden winner trying stakes competition, graduating by a 2 ½-length margin on March 5, and Kent Desormeaux picks up the mount for Michael McCarthy.

Expected longshot Back Ring Luck completes the lineup. – James Scully/Brisnet.com

 

RISK TAKING, CROWDED TRADE GIVE BROWN SOLID ONE-TWO PUNCH IN WOOD MEMORIAL – Following a one-year absence from the calendar, the $750,000 Wood Memorial (GII) at Aqueduct on Saturday packs quite a punch. The 1 1/8-mile Road to the Kentucky Derby prep has attracted arguably its most interesting field in years, and the Chad Brown-trained Risk Taking and Crowded Tradecould both play a big role.

The proven router of the two at this stage, Risk Taking has won back-to-back races over the Wood’s track and distance, including the Feb. 6 Withers (GIII) by a decisive 3 ¾ lengths. The less-experienced Crowded Trade, though, displayed great promise when dueling Weyburn to a nose in the one-mile Gotham (GIII) last month in only his second lifetime start.

Godolphin has the current Kentucky Derby (GI) favorite in juvenile champion Essential Quality, and could have yet another entry for the classic after Saturday if the similarly undefeated Prevalence steps up in his stakes debut. The son of Medaglia d’Oro, who belatedly debuted at Gulfstream in late January, has been a facile winner of both starts by a combined margin of 11 ½ lengths.

“He’s quick, so with that kind of speed, he should be prominent in the race,” trainer Brendan Walsh said. “He hits me as a horse who can handle any kind of surface.”

The aforementioned Weyburn was a game, 46-1 upset winner of the Gotham in his first start in three months and outside the maiden ranks. The son of Pioneerof the Nile was produced from an A.P. Indy mare, so the colt has the pedigree to handle the extra furlong rather well on Saturday. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens is on record thinking Weyburn perhaps a stronger candidate for the Belmont Stakes (GI) in June rather than the Kentucky Derby.

Brooklyn Strong, who captured the track-and-distance Remsen (GII) in December, has dealt with several setbacks over the winter that have prevented him from starting since the Remsen. However, the New York-bred has won three of four for Parx-based trainer Danny Velazquez.

Candy Man Rocket, who captured the Sam F. Davis (GIII) at Tampa Bay Downs in February, looks to rebound from an awful run in the Tampa Bay Derby (GII) in which he finished 11th of 12 as the 8-5 favorite. Trainer Bill Mott won the last running of the Wood in 2019 with Tacitus.

Todd Pletcher, who has won the Wood five times since 2010, will saddle the longshot duo of Dynamic Oneand Bourbonic. The field is rounded out by another Parx shipper, recent allowance winner Market Maven.

The Wood Memorial’s top four finishers will earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points of 100-40-20-10, respectively. – Vance Hanson/Brisnet.com

 

PAST PERFORMANCES

 

Brinset.com Kentucky Derby Contenders Past Performances

https://bit.ly/3p728Wp

 

Wood Memorial Past Performances

https://bit.ly/3cEEmxK

 

Blue Grass Past Performances

https://bit.ly/3sUn19G

 

Santa Anita Derby Past Performances

https://bit.ly/3fKTvzR

 

NEXT STOP

 

After this weekend’s action, the Road to the Kentucky Derby Championship Series will conclude Saturday, April 10 with the $1 million Arkansas Derby (Grade I) and the $200,000 Lexington (GIII).

The Arkansas Derby is worth a total of 170 points, 100 of which goes to the winner while the Lexington is worth 34 points with the winner receiving 20.

 

DERBY DETAIL

 

MANDALOUN, MIDNIGHT BOURBON, O BESOS ARRIVE AT CHURCHILL DOWNS –Juddmonte Farm’s Mandaloun, Winchell ThoroughbredsMidnight Bourbon and Bryan Bernanrd, TaggTeam Racing and West Point Thoroughbreds’ O Besos were the first Kentucky Derby contenders to arrive at Churchill Downs.

All three horse are scheduled to train up to the first Saturday in May. Midnight Bourbon’s 66 points andMandaloun’s 52 points put them comfortably in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. However, O Besos’ 25 points will put him on the bubble for making the field.

Mandaloun is scheduled to work Saturday for the first time since his disappointing sixth-place finish in the $1 million Louisiana Derby (GII).

 

DOWN THE STRETCH – Trainer Shug McGaughey III reported Florida Derby (GI) third-place finisherGreatest Honour may add blinkers for his start in the Kentucky Derby following his disappointing effort as the heavy favorite. … All Kentucky Derby Week stakes races will close Saturday, April 10. For more information, visit www.churchilldowns.com/horsemen or contact Dan Bork at (502) 638-3806.

 

SCULLY’S DERBY REPORT

 

Known Agenda didn’t meet expectations early in the season, but the Curlin colt returned to stakes competition with a convincing 2 ¾-length victory in Saturday’s Florida Derby (GI).

He punched his Kentucky Derby ticket by earning a 100-point prize in the major qualifying race.

His 3-year-old season took a detour after a fifth as the favorite in the Sam F. Davis (GIII) at Tampa Bay Downs in early February. The chestnut added blinkers and dropped down into an entry-level allowance three weeks later, recording a confidence-building, 11-length romp at Gulfstream Park, and Known Agenda will head to Churchill Downs on the upswing for two-time Kentucky Derby winner Todd Pletcher.

“He’s made a lot of progress in his last two starts,” Pletcher told the Gulfstream press office. “I think the addition of blinkers has been part of it, and part of it is he’s getting more experienced and more comfortable in those scenarios when he’s behind horses and inside of horses and taking some dirt.”

Along with regaining some lost luster, Known Agenda added to Pletcher’s Florida Derby mark (six wins), and he provided jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. with a record-setting 138th win of the Gulfstream Championship meet.

The Jeff Ruby Steaks (GIII) at Turfway Park has been added as a major qualifier, and Like the King stepped forward with his first stakes win. Sainthood also notched a Kentucky Derby berth on the Tapeta track, and he’s one to follow after a troubled runner-up effort in his stakes debut.

Rebel’s Romance sprung a minor upset for Godolphin in Saturday’s UAE Derby (GII), which offered a combined 170 points to the top four finishers, but the Kentucky Derby may not be in his plans. Godolphinalready has a strong stateside contingent, led by unbeaten champion juvenile Essential Quality.

Top contenders will square off this weekend in the Blue Grass Stakes (GII), Santa Anita Derby (GI) and Wood Memorial (GII).

 

Florida Derby

 

Known Agenda broke his maiden the second-time out at nine furlongs, and the Florida Derby marked his third win at the 1 1/8-mile distance. After failing to make a serious impact in his first two stakes appearances, the St. Elias Stable homebred has been able to race closer to the pace with blinkers, settling in midpack during the early stages.

Known Agenda launched his bid leaving the far turn, rolling into a clear lead by upper stretch, and continued to draw off while drifting in the latter stages. He netted a career-best 101 Brisnet Speed rating.

Soup and Sandwich was no match for Known Agenda, but he easily saved second in his stakes debut. By Into Mischief, the gray colt forged his way to front entering the backside while under a snug hold from John Velazquez, and never quit trying despite racing on the wrong lead through the stretch.

The Mark Casse runner was making only his third start, graduating at first asking in late January and winning a two-turn, entry-level allowance at Tampa Bay Downs a month later. Soup and Sandwich appears to be early in the developmental process, and he’s eligible to add to the early pace in the Kentucky Derby.

Greatest Honour offered a mild bid on the far turn before flattening out in the lane, winding up 5 ¾ lengths back of Known Agenda in third. Winner of the Fountain of Youth (GII) and Holy Bull (GIII), the Tapit colt didn’t experience the best trip, saving ground most of the way, and Shug McGaughey said he may add blinkers for the Kentucky Derby. Jose Ortiz probably will try to keep Greatest Honour outside next time.

 

Jeff Ruby

 

Like the King overcame a less-than-favorable trip to post his first stakes victory, rallying to score by a length in the 1 1/8-mile race on Tapeta. A maiden turf winner last September, the Wesley Ward-trained colt has come on since moving to Turfway this winter, recording a pair of comfortable wins and a runner-up in the John Battaglia Memorial

His improving form also coincided with a change in run style. Like the King raced more forward earlier in his career, but the son of Creative Cause has learned to make one run, rating in eighth after the opening half-mile of the Jeff Ruby.

An imposing task awaits him in the Kentucky Derby. His 94 Speed rating will be one of the lower last-out numbers in the field, and Like the King didn’t run fast in a pair of dirt starts last year. We’ll be watching to see how the M Racing Group colorbearer trains at Churchill Downs in preparation.

Sainthood is proven on dirt, breaking his maiden two starts back at Fair Grounds. Unraced at age two, the inexperienced colt was poised to make a serious impact before being stopped in the stretch of the Jeff Ruby, closing powerfully for second after regaining his momentum too late.

By Mshawish, Sainthood appears well-suited for longer distances. His Speed numbers must keep improving, and the Kentucky Derby may be too much too soon for the lightly-raced colt, but he remains a promising 3-year-old for Pletcher.

Up Next

 

Bet down as the 4-1 choice in the fifth and final pool of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, Essential Quality will make his final prep in the Blue Grass at Keeneland. The Brad Cox-trained Tapit colt tops a field of nine that includes Highly Motivated, Keepmeinmind, and Rombauer.

The Santa Anita Derby could also have serious ramifications, and Grade III victor Medina Spirit has stepped into the favorite’s role for six-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert. He exits a runner-up finish to sidelinedLife Is Good in the March 6 San Felipe (GII). Dream Shake could not sustain his run in the San Felipe, winding up third, but he’s eligible to keep advancing after making only his second start last time. Robert B. Lewis (GIII) runner-up Roman Centurian will try to get involved late.

Risk Taking and Weyburn, the respective winners of the Withers (GIII) and Gotham (GIII) at Aqueduct, rate as legitimate win contenders in the Wood Memorial, and unbeaten Prevalence will receive plenty of support in his initial stakes appearance. – James Scully/Brisnet.com

 

OAKS UPDATE

 

The Road to the Kentucky Oaks will conclude Friday and Saturday with five championship series events from across the nation.

Starting on Friday, the $150,000 Beaumont (GIII) at Keeneland attracted a field of seven 3-year-old fillies where sparkling debut winner Slumber Party was made the 2-1 morning line favorite. The race will award the top four finishers 10-4-2-1 points toward the April 30, $1.25 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI).

Action will heat up Saturday with a quartet of stakes, each awarding a total of 170 points to the top four finishers.

In the $250,000 Gazelle (GIII) at Aqueduct, the Chad Brown-trained duo of stakes winners The Grass Is Blue and Search Results top a field of eight in the 1 1/8-mile event. The Gazelle goes as Race 9 at 5:20 p.m.

Ten minutes later, at Keeneland, Grade I winner Simply Ravishing along with graded stakes winners Malathaat and Will’s Secret headline an ultra-competitive running of the $400,000 Ashland (GI). Run at 1 1/16 miles, the Ashland goes as Race 9.

At Santa Anita, Grade III winner Beautiful Gift heads a compact field of five in the $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks (GII). Run at 1 1/16 miles, the Santa Anita Oaks has an approximate post time of 5:30 p.m. as Race 6.

The action will continue about 80 minutes later at Oaklawn where graded stakes-placed fillies Pauline’s Pearland Sun Path are the co-headliners in the $600,000 Fantasy (GIII). The 1 1/16-mile race is carded as Race 11 at 6:54 p.m.