The Road Forks: Essential Quality and Senor Buscador's Moment, HR.net's Derby Rankings

The 11th Edition of our Kentucky Derby Rankings is out! See who we think has what it takes to get to Churchill Downs and the first Saturday in May.
The 11th Edition of our Kentucky Derby Rankings is out! See who we think has what it takes to get to Churchill Downs and the first Saturday in May.

Welcome to the eleventh edition of our weekly HorseRacing.net rankings for the 2021 “Run for the Roses” - The Kentucky Derby. Each week, Turfwriter J.N., Lead Handicapper Sean, and Editor Neil will rank our current Top Ten Thoroughbreds.

This coming weekend promises to be a “game changer,” and we do not bandy that phrase around loosely. With the Grade II Risen Star at the Fair Grounds (50-20-10-5) and the 100k El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate (10-4-2-1), both on Saturday, plus the Grade III Southwest Stakes on Monday (10-4-2-1), the points shake-up is upon us. Questions abound… will Essential Quality cement his status as a top Derby contender for Brad Cox? What about Midnight Bourbon, can he defend his turf after that Lecomte (G3) win? And, what about Senor Buscador, how will he fare against some much tougher opponents? It is going to be a great set of races!   

Also, this coming weekend marks the 3rd Kentucky Derby Future Wager, and it promises to offer yet another opportunity to stake your claim. Join us along the Derby Trail! All of our Top Ten Lists can be found below...

Kentucky Derby 2021 Contenders
  • Position
  • J.N.
  • Neil
  • Sean

Position

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • Last Updated:

J.N.

  • Essential Quality
  • Hot Rod Charlie
  • Known Agenda
  • Highly Motivated
  • Rock Your World
  • Super Stock
  • Midnight Bourbon
  • Concert Tour
  • Medina Spirit
  • Mandaloun
  • 13 April 2021

Neil

  • Essential Quality
  • Hot Rod Charlie
  • Highly Motivated
  • Known Agenda
  • Medina Spirit
  • Rock Your World
  • Super Stock
  • Soup and Sandwich
  • Greatest Honour
  • Concert Tour
  • 13 April 2021

Sean

  • Hot Rod Charlie
  • Medina Spirit
  • Essential Quality
  • Rock Your World
  • Highly Motivated
  • Dream Shake
  • Concert Tour
  • Known Agenda
  • Midnight Bourbon
  • Mandaloun
  • 13 April 2021

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J.N. Campbell's Kentucky Derby 2021 Contenders...

#1 ESSENTIAL QUALITY: Next Monday, it is time for this Tapit colt who has been working nicely for Cox, to shine when he is entered in the Southwest Stakes (G3) @OP. This contest will be a true test, even with a short field. To my eye, he is the most well-bred, and classiest runner on this list. Recall, after a going 3/3 in the fall, with his last being that dominating performance mid-stretch in the BC Juvenile @KEE, he continues to look great. As I have said before, I liked this Godolphin bred and owned runner from the start. A reminder: “Big Blue” has won every elite race around the globe from Melbourne to Dubai to Royal Ascot - except the Kentucky Derby. NEXT: Southwest Stakes (G3) @OP.

#2 SENOR BUSCADOR: The Mineshaft homebred has worked well at Sam Houston Race Park, since he took jockey Luis Quinones home with a dominating late kick in the Springboard Mile 200k @RP. Now, the Todd Fincher-trained and Joey Peacock-owned colt, out of his dam Rose’s Desert, is poised for a class-elevating score. Pundits will say that he is up against it, since he will be running without Lasix for the first time, and against tougher in this Saturday’s Risen Star (G2) @FG. I will say this, after watching Buscador move over the SHRP track, and knowing the kind of trainer that Fincher is, you might never get this kind of price on him again. The stretch out to 1 1/8th will do him good. Big shot… NEXT: Risen Star Stakes (G2) @FG.

#3 GREATEST HONOUR: The Derby Trail would not be the Derby Trail without a Shug McGaughey participant. Well, here he is. This colt out of Tapit was incredibly sharp 2-back in a MSW contest at Gulfstream Park. Then he followed it up with a rousing victory against heavily bet Prime Factor in the Holy Bull Stakes (G3). After running well at each of the NYRA tracks, it appears he has found a home in S. Florida. That late burst of speed, plus getting Jose Ortiz aboard as pilot, will make him a powerful force as we head towards final “tries” for Derby points. Shug knows how to prepare a horse for early May, and this one is near the top of my list when it comes to who I want to see run next @GP. Are we looking at the best dirt router that Courtlandt Farms has ever owned? We shall see… NEXT: Fountain of Youth (G2) or Florida Derby (G1), both @GP.

#4 MEDINA SPIRIT: Some of the water cooler talk around the tracks of America says that this Bob Baffert runner is the real deal, since that Bob Lewis (G3) performance in the stretch @SA was gritty. The scuttle is that he wanted to keep going… a Florida-bred? Well, it appears the video evidence is proof - he was more than game, outlasting Roman Centurian. There is no doubt that this son of Protonico can stretch out and that makes him truly special. The fact of the matter is the Lewis has probably been the most competitive race to date on the Trail. Since Baffert’s colt was best at the wire, that means he has the most promise moving forward. What is going to be interesting is how does the HOF trainer manage his entries? If there is anyone that can work out a solution, it is Mr. Baffert. He will have his hand firmly on the wheel. NEXT: San Felipe (G2) @SA or Santa Anita Derby (G1) @SA.   

#5 CADDO RIVER: Of all the members of this esteemed list, none of them announced their presence with authority more than Brad Cox’s No. 2 ace. The Smarty Jones 100k field was left in the dust. Go watch that video, and it was though everyone else was in slow motion. The question is, do you think that is enough to fully back this colt against a better field, or do you need to see more? It is difficult to know how to interpret that performance. My sense is, based on what I know about Cox, that he knows precisely what this son of Hard Spun can handle. If I had to back a Round 3, KY Derby Future Wager this coming weekend, Caddo River might be the best deal. That Rebel S., if he enters, is going to be a titanic race. NEXT: Rebel Stakes (G2) @OP, or Arkansas Derby (G1) @OP.

#6 LIFE IS GOOD: My compatriots, Neil and Sean, continue to think highly of Life Is Good. LIG, as he is becoming known, has skill and might be headed for a match race with Medina Spirit. One of these two is going to the San Felipe (G2), that is for sure. It is just a matter of who. Going back to the Sham Stakes (G3) @SA, it seemed like LIG was running low on fuel. That may be why pundits were so keen to see Medina Spirit run again. You know Winstar is brimming with hope, as the ownership looks to get back to Churchill. Whatever happens, it is going to be a fascinating situation that develops. This is specifically why Bob Baffert is simply the best at managing the Kentucky Derby Trail. Nothing springs eternal like this road! NEXT: San Felipe (G2) @SA or Santa Anita Derby (G1) @SA.  

#7 KEEPMEINMIND: That outing in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) by Keepmeinmind at Churchill Downs was stellar. Watching the replay, you will see pure acceleration and power - two Derby traits needed for the 1¼. I am still in awe of how trainer Rob Diodoro and jockey David Cohen put together a nice fall. I standby that their combo has the potential to be one of the best in the sport. As for the son of Laoban, his conditioner is still mulling over whether it is going to be Oaklawn’s Southwest Stakes (G3) or the Fair Grounds Risen Star (G2), as his colt’s next stop. Personally, I would not want to tangle with that FG field. It looks big and salty. The OP race, which cards Thursday, is a much shorter bunch, and though it will probably include Essential Quality and Jackie’s Warrior, it will give his colt a better shot. The weather is a major issue. Either way, can Diodoro’s runner power off the bench. We will know every soon…  NEXT: Southwest Stakes (G3) @OP or Risen Star Stakes (G2) @FG.

#8 FIRE AT WILL: Mike Maker has proved he belongs among the elite trainers of America. He has never won a Triple Crown race, so there is no time like the present. Fire At Will’s turf pedigree runs through Declaration of War, but as I have said, he has the capability to run on dirt. This past fall, he shipped into Saratoga, Belmont, and finally, at Keeneland in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (at 30/1), winning them all. Not only can this horse run and ship, but he is conditioned by a master. On tap according to Maker will be the FOY @GP. Matching up with the likes of Shug’s Greatest Honour and Saffie Joseph’s Drain the Clock. Adding some other buckaroos, should make that race a humdinger of contest. NEXT: Fountain of Youth (G2) @GP.

#9 RISK TAKING: Chad Brown has what many believe is his best chance to get to the KY Derby. Risk Taking was superb in the Withers Stakes (G3) last week, as the colt dominated the lane all the way home. Klaravich Stables puts forward an “economic” model of Thoroughbred ownership that is superb. One of these days they may come to dominate the Derby Trail. It has not quite happened like it has for turf events, but time may prove otherwise. I might prefer to retain a more accomplished jockey than Eric Cancel. Where is Irad when Brown needs him! Well, I guess he is busy winning almost every race down at Gulfstream. Time to charter the Learjet with the giant “KS” emblazoned on the side. Tabbing the Wood as his next stop seems in order. NEXT: Wood Memorial (G1) @AQU.

#10 CANDY MAN ROCKET: Last week’s Sam F. Davis (G3) was the coming out party for Bill Mott’s son of Candy Ride (ARG). He passed the test, moving from a sprint to a route in fine fashion. Now, after garnering 10pts to use towards the Derby, his conditioner has a decision to make… Keep him pointed towards next month’s Tampa Bay Derby (G2), or find another spot for him to run in? He also has Nova Rags in his keep, who did not run a poor 2nd to the winner. Having decisions may be a good thing for a seasoned trainer like Mott. He has been through this before, when he brought Tacitus to the TAM Derby, and won at some nice odds. Clearly, there is much to work out, but we may not have heard the last of this one. Stay tuned. NEXT: Tampa Bay Derby (G2) @TAM, or Florida Derby (G1) @GP.

I also considered: Bob Baffert’s CONCERT TOUR, Doug O’Neill’s HOT ROD CHARLIE and THE GREAT ONE, Steve Asmussen’s JACKIE’S WARRIOR and MIDNIGHT BOURBON, Simon Callaghan’s ROMAN CENTURIAN, and Brad Cox’s MANDOLOUN.

Join us next week as we toss the Top Ten to handicapper Sean. By then we will have some new perspectives on when and where the next group of hopefuls will be running. Good luck!

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