By Sean Morris

Kentucky Derby Rankings: Movement after the Risen Star

By Sean Morris
A pair of Bob Baffert horses still top Sean's top ten Derby Contenders
A pair of Bob Baffert horses still top Sean's top ten Derby Contenders

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Welcome to the twelfth edition of our weekly HorseRacing.net rankings for the 2021 “Run for the Roses” - The Kentucky Derby. Each week, the team will post their top ten contenders for the race with one of us writing up their reasoning for their current standings. This week it is the turn of our in-house handicapper to update us on their thoughts following the Risen Star Stakes and El Camino Real Derby...

Join us along the Derby Trail and 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
  • Greatest Honour
  • Medina Spirit
  • Life Is Good
  • Mandaloun
  • Caddo River
  • Keepmeinmind
  • Risk Taking
  • Highly Motivated
  • Proxy
  • 2 March 2021

Neil

  • Essential Quality
  • Medina Spirit
  • Life is Good
  • Greatest Honour
  • Mandaloun
  • Caddo River
  • The Great One
  • Risk Taking
  • Spielberg
  • Rombauer
  • 2 March 2021

Sean

  • Life Is Good
  • Medina Sprint
  • Essential Quality
  • Hot Rod Charlie
  • Mandaloun
  • Greatest Honour
  • Jackie's Warrior
  • Proxy
  • Dream Shake
  • Collaborate
  • 2 March 2021

#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, and he followed up that performance with a gritty win in the G3 Robert B. Lewis. His win in the Robert B. Lewis was by no means visually impressive, but he set a wicked pace and was still able to gut out the victory over some talented 3-year-olds. He basically finished on even terms with Life Is Good in the Sham and has a more convincing distance pedigree than his stablemate, but as of now I still can’t justify putting him ahead of that one.

#3 Hot Rod Charlie:  He was a little disappointing in the Robert B. Lewis since he could only get third after sitting a good trip, but for now I’m keeping him entrenched in the No. 3 spot on this list. He showed me so much as a 2-year-old, particularly with a stunning placing in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile when he shipped cross-country and was the first to attack a scalding pace, and his last race was likely just a prep for bigger things. His trainer Doug O’Neill knows how to handle a Derby winner and I’m going to keep the faith, at least for one more start.

#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 Mandaloun:  This one was bounced out of this list following a mediocre run in the G3 Lecomte, but that proved to be a hasty decision as he came back with a much-improved effort to win the G2 Risen Star. The track was speed-favoring at Fair Grounds on the day of the Risen Star, but I still believe Mandaloun ran really well and earned a 98 Beyer that puts him among this crop’s best. Perhaps most importantly, his breakthrough victory came going 1 ⅛ miles, so it would seem we have a true stayer on our hands.

#6 Greatest Honour:  He hasn’t yet run as fast as the others around him on this list, but he’s passed the proverbial eye test with flying colors. Greatest Honour is going to need to step his game up after beating a lackluster bunch in the G3 Holy Bull, but I believe he has the makeup to do just that. Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey tends to bring his horses along slowly, though this one is getting good in a hurry.

#7 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, though 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.

#8 Proxy:  He’s now twice been overshadowed in Derby preps at Fair Grounds, but this guy is quietly developing into a very nice 3-year-old. His runner-up performance behind Mandaloun in the Risen Star came back legitimately fast, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him continue to progress with added ground. Any further improvement from him and he’ll be shooting up this list in no time.

#9 Dream Shake:  I don’t know that he actually has time to make the Derby since he just debuted on February 7 at Santa Anita, but my word was he impressive in his first start, drawing off to an easy victory and earning a 96 Beyer for the effort. The real kicker is that pretty much nothing was expected in that spot as he was sent off at 20-1, so imagine what he might be capable of when his connections get serious with him. This one could be the next Justify.

#10 Senor Buscador:  I made a knee-jerk reaction with Mandaloun after the Lecomte and I’m not going to make that same mistake with Senor Buscador following a disappointing effort in the Risen Star. As previously mentioned, the track in the Risen Star was intensely speed-favoring, so this guy had little chance to make an impact on the finish from the back of the pack. One start prior he unleashed one of the most devastating late kicks you will see in the Springboard Mile and I’m going to give him one more chance to prove he belongs on the Trail.

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