Week 5: Spielberg rises in our Derby Top Ten

Bob Baffert's Spielberg outlasted a longshot in the Los Alamitos Derby to rise to No. 2 on J.N. Campbell's Top Ten Derby List. Will he remain?
Bob Baffert's Spielberg outlasted a longshot in the Los Alamitos Derby to rise to No. 2 on J.N. Campbell's Top Ten Derby List. Will he remain?

Our Top 10 Kentucky Derby Contenders

Welcome to the fifth edition, and the last of 2020, 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, then write an overview of our selections.

With the flip of the calendar, 2-yr-olds become 3, and the Prep Schedule kicks into high gear with this week’s 1st Jan. Jerome Stakes (Listed, $150k, AQU), and the 2nd Jan. Sham Stakes (G3, $100k, SA). 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

Get a $300 Risk Free wager

Place your first single bet on any race and get up to $300 back as wagering credit if your horse doesn’t win. T&Cs apply,21+

Kentucky Derby 2021 Contenders

#1 Essential Quality: The Tapit colt is resting up right now down at Cox’s French Quarter townhouse. After going 3/3, with his last being that dominating performance mid-stretch in the BC Juvenile @KEE, he deserves it. As I have said before, I liked this Godolphin bred and owned runner so much that I would expect he will move him to training with the split Risen Star (G2) as his target. If all goes well, the Louisiana Derby? Then, it is on to Churchill. A reminder: Godolphin has won every elite race around the globe from Melbourne to Dubai to Royal Ascot - except the Kentucky Derby. Hmm…

#2 Spielberg: Bob Baffert has a bevy of young guns in his stable, and to my eye, Spielberg is the most tested. No, his performances have not been sparkling, winning by nostrils instead of number of double-digit lengths. I want my Kentucky Derby hopefuls battle-ready, and this “Highlight Horse” did it for me when he gutted out the win against a longshot last out in the Los Al Futurity. Everyone was behind Red Flag, but Baffert’s runner proved best. I am looking forward to seeing this one possibly emerge in the Robert B. Lewis (G3) 30 Jan. @SA.   

#3 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. Will Florida, Arkansas, or Louisiana be his road to Kentucky? I cannot wait…

#4 Keepmeinmind: That outing in the Kentucky Jockey Club by Keepmeinmind at Churchill Downs was stellar. Watching the replay, you will see pure acceleration and power—2 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 stand by that their combo has the potential to be one of the best in the sport. As for the son of Laoban, I am thinking his next stop is Oaklawn. Maybe a trip through the Rebel (G2) with the endgame being the Arkansas Derby (G1), but we shall see.

#5 Brooklyn Strong: Brooklyn Strong’s effort under difficult conditions in the Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct for trainer Danny Velazquez continues to impress me. A reminder: his conditioner is trying to get his horse into the record books. Vagrant (1876), Apollo (1882), Macbeth II (1888), Old Rosebud (1914), Exterminator (1918), Paul Jones (1920), Clyde Van Dusen (1929), Funny Cide (2003) and Mine That Bird (2009) are the only geldings to win the Kentucky Derby. If you did not know, a total of 115 of their type have run at Churchill since 1908. Not the best of records, but history is only as good as the moment. Wouldn't you say? In that spirit, I still maintain that this son of Wicked Strong, a Derby Trailer himself, is still extremely able, despite the one notch demotion. The story behind his trainer is just as compelling. AQU's Withers (G3) looks like the next target in early February.

#6 Hot Rod Charlie: That 2nd place finish behind Essential Quality in the BC Juvenile at odds of 94-1 was a big score. Tyler Gaffalione almost sprung a giant upset, but this isn’t horseshoes, it is horse racing. As mentioned, his conditioner Doug O’Neill has a number of options moving forward, and I would not be surprised if this son of Preakness winner, Oxbow, appeared at Oaklawn. O’Neill is not afraid to ship back East from his base in SoCal, but he also might choose to stay put. More coming…

#7 Jackie's Warrior: Jackie’s Warrior, back in the late summer/early fall, did what most have not—win the NYRA 3-yr-old division with 3 major graded wins. Although Steve Asmussen’s frontend burner finished 4th to Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile @KEE, he still is extremely talented. Maclean’s Music is a burgeoning sire, that is bred for the necessary Derby distance of a 1 ¼. Expect the HOF conditioner to have a suitable plan of attack (Southwest Stakes @OP), and perhaps, down the road, we will see a rematch with Cox’s Essential Quality. Wouldn’t that be incredible?

#8 Reinvestment Risk: I liked Reinvestment Risk for several reasons this past fall, and it starts with Into Mischief, his super sire. Though a 10th place in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile does not shine, Brown has a very talented runner on his hands. After all, his “lifetime” winnings are already brimming over $100k. His conditioner has several options ahead of him along the Derby Trail. Maybe re-emerging at Gulfstream Park for the Holy Bull and the Fountain of Youth comes into focus soon? Never underestimate the power of Klaravich Stables because they do not mess around.

#9 Life Is Good: My compatriots, Neil and Sean, continue to think highly of Life Is Good. I have not been able to join them, and I may be on the outside looking in, if Bob Baffert’s power runner enters, and summarily wins the Sham Stakes (G3) @SA this weekend. True, that was a Justify-type of maiden in his debut @DMR on 22 Nov., but I still want to wait and see. Like Todd Fincher’s Señor Buscador, I am just not quite there. I need to see a bit more. Plus, it will be interesting to see how he fairs against stablemate Medina Spirit in for the Sham (G3) this Saturday.

#10 Prime Factor: You cannot have a Derby Top Ten without a runner from Todd Pletcher’s outfit. Can you? Well, I did not have to go far. Neil and Sean may have Life Is Good, but my answer is Pletcher’s Prime Factor. Go watch his maiden at Gulfstream Park back on 12 Dec., it was a sparkling diamond! Ok, so he did not have the speed fig that LIG did, but it was still more than respectable. Look for this son of the great Quality Road to follow in his sire’s footsteps. Fountain of Youth? Florida Derby? Check and check…

I also considered: Todd Fincher’s Señor Buscador, Chad Brown’s Highly Motivated, and Peter Miller’s Get Her Number.

Join us next week as we toss the Top Ten to handicapper Sean. Keep making those lists and Happy New Year!

Kentucky Derby 2021
Advert Disclaimer
Horseracing.net is a free online resource which endeavour to provide helpful and useful content and odds comparison to its visitors. Please be advised that Horseracing.net accepts affiliate commission from the companies appearing on the site, and agreed commission levels impact the location and order in which the companies (and/or their products) are presented on the website. Any ratings that appear on this site is determined by our subjective opinion of the brand but also based on market share and reputation, each brand's conversion rates, commission paid to us and general consumer interest. Company listings on this page don't imply our endorsement. We do not feature all providers on the market. Except as expressly set forth in our terms and conditions, all statements and warranties regarding the information presented on this page are disclaimed. The information, including odds, which appear on this site is subject to change at any time.

Up to $200 sign-up bonus

New Customers Only,T&Cs apply,21 +
Bet $25,get $25
New Customers Only,21+. T&Cs apply
Get a $300 Risk Free wager
Place your first single bet on any race and get up to $300 back as wagering credit if your horse doesn’t win. T&Cs apply,21+
Up to $500 cash back bonus
T&Cs apply,21+,State Restrictions,using code 500Bonus get 10% for every $ waged in first 30 days