By Sean Morris

Sham 1-2 impress in our Road to the Derby Top Ten

By Sean Morris
Bob Baffert trains the top two horses in the latest HorseRacing.net Kentucky Derby Contenders rankings according to our in-house handicapper
Bob Baffert trains the top two horses in the latest HorseRacing.net Kentucky Derby Contenders rankings according to our in-house handicapper

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Welcome to the latest in our weekly HorseRacing.net rankings for Kentucky Derby horses. Each week Neil, J.N. and myself will rank our current top ten horses and one of us with write an overview of where we are and the changes from the previous week.

This week it is the turn of me - our in-house handicapper - and it is fair to say that I was fairly impressed with the two Baffert horses that finished 1-2 in the Sham over the weekend...

All of our Top Ten's are 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
  • Spielberg
  • Fire At Will
  • Keepmeinmind
  • Midnight Bourbon
  • Life Is Good
  • Jackie's Warrior
  • Hot Rod Charlie
  • Prime Factor
  • Moonlite Strike
  • 19 January 2021

Neil

  • Life Is Good
  • Jackie's Warrior
  • Senor Buscador
  • Essential Quality
  • Highly Motivated
  • Medina Spirit
  • Vequist
  • Midnight Bourbon
  • Mandaloun
  • Spielberg
  • 19 January 2020

Sean

  • Life Is Good
  • Hot Rod Charlie
  • Essential Quality
  • Jackie's Warrior
  • Never Surprised
  • Senor Buscador
  • Midnight Bourbon
  • Highly Motivated
  • Brooklyn Strong
  • Reinvestment Risk
  • 19 January 2020

#1 Life Is Good:  There were some anxious moments in the final sixteenth of a mile in the G3 Sham, but I think his narrow margin of victory belies exactly how well he ran that day. That race was every bit the encore fans of his were anticipating after a generationally great debut victory, and you can forgive him for tiring in deep stretch given the massive pace he carved out. Having already cracked triple digits on the Beyer Speed Figure scale in just his second start, he’s established himself as the fastest of this crop and is still oozing with upside.

#2 Medina Spirit:  The wise guy in me wanted so badly to jump this one immediately to the No. 1 spot following his runner-up finish in the Sham. He basically finished on even terms with Life Is Good and has a more convincing distance pedigree than his stablemate, but as of now I can’t justify him leapfrogging the horse that just beat him. He ran his eyeballs out in the Sham and like Life Is Good it was only his second career start, so at this juncture it’s safe to say there’s very little separating this Baffert pair.

#3 Hot Rod Charlie:  Obviously this one requires some explanation since I have him ahead of Essential Quality, who beat him in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but I thought this horse ran the better race in that spot as he was the first to attack that scorching pace and nearly held on to win. Also, while Essential Quality had home-field advantage in the Juvenile and was already a G1 winner over the track, Hot Rod Charlie had to ship cross-country for the race off just a maiden win. It was a courageous effort to say the least, and one I think sets him up well for a fruitful 3-year-old campaign.

#4 Essential Quality:  Take nothing away from your Juvenile victory, who got a very good trip in the race but ran quite well in his 2-year-old swan song, which all but assured him a year-end championship. Right now I have the runner-up from the Juvenile slightly higher, but there’s no denying this guy has an abundance of talent and one of the world’s best trainers in his corner, Brad Cox. We know he’s precocious, but I believe he’s going to be heard from again as a sophomore.

#5 Jackie’s Warrior:  We’ve already seen the top two finishers from the Juvenile, and now we arrive at the horse I picked to win that race. Everything about Jackie’s Warrior screamed Juvenile winner to me, but unfortunately he was done in by an unreasonably fast pace and finished fourth. I thought he lost nothing in defeat given the circumstances, however as a son of Maclean’s Music I think his ceiling is somewhat limited, which is why I have Hot Rod Charlie and Essential Quality ahead of him.

#6 Never Surprised:  He’s yet to run on dirt (which may seem problematic considering that’s the surface the Kentucky Derby is run on), however he has ample pedigree for the main track and has shown a world of talent on turf through two career starts. Expect him to switch surfaces over the winter at Gulfstream Park, where he will likely solidify his status as a Derby contender for trainer Todd Pletcher.

#7 Mandaloun:  This one hasn’t run a truly fast race yet, at least not compared to the others on this list, but he’s a perfect 2-for-2 for Brad Cox and most recently won a seven-furlong race under the Twin Spires. I think this Juddmonte homebred is only going to get better with added ground.

#8 Highly Motivated:  A brilliant sprinter so far for trainer Chad Brown, Highly Motivated is unproven beyond 6 ½ furlongs. That should change in a hurry, though, as he turned in a devastating performance in the Nyquist on the Breeders’ Cup undercard and looks destined for bigger and better things. His pedigree isn’t without some stamina, and I trust Brown to stretch him out effectively over the winter.

#9 Keepmeinmind:  Your third-place finisher from the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He’d be higher on this list if not for his last race, which oddly was a win in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs. It may seem counterintuitive to punish him for a win on the local strip, however he was all-out to beat a vastly inferior group and regressed sharply speed figure-wise. He could go either way at this point.

#10 Reinvestment Risk:  He followed a promising maiden win at Saratoga with a pair of runner-up finishes to Jackie’s Warrior in the G1 Hopeful and G1 Champagne before bombing last out in the Juvenile. His last race was ugly, but he’s trained by Chad Brown and it would be folly to write him off after one lousy effort given the ability he’s shown thus far. He’s skating on thin ice, but he deserves a spot on this list for now.

Kentucky Derby 2021

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