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Derby Dozen: A-Plus Efforts

Byron King's Top 12 on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, Presented by Spendthrift Farm.

1. Essential Quality 
Trainer/Owner: Brad Cox/Godolphin
Pedigree: Tapit Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality
Breeder: Godolphin (KY)

Although Jackie's Warrior enjoyed a tactical pace advantage in the Feb. 27 Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park, that advantage wasn't enough to turn the tables on this colt. Smartly moved off the inside early by Luis Saez, Essential Quality rated a few lengths off the pace and reeled in Jackie's Warrior, winning by 4 1/4 lengths over Spielberg. A-plus effort in improving to four-for-four in his first start at 3.

2. Greatest Honour
Shug McGaughey/Courtlandt Farms
Tapit—Tiffany's Honour, by Street Cry
Courtlandt Farm (KY)

Progeny of Tapit are 1-2 in the 'Dozen following Greatest Honour's Feb. 27 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) triumph, in which he went from looking beaten on the final turn, to an eased-up winner after rallying down the stretch. He managed this despite the short stretch in use for 1 1/116 miles at Gulfstream Park, suggesting upside over the long Churchill Downs lane at 1 1/4 miles.

3. Life Is Good Click Here!
Bob Baffert/China Horse Club and WinStar Farm
Into Mischief Beach Walk, by Distorted Humor 
Gary and Mary West Stable (KY)

This two-for-two colt continues to impress with his breezes, the most recent of which was a six-furlong move Feb. 28 in 1:12 1/5 at Santa Anita Park. A rematch with stablemate Medina Spirit, whom he beat by three-quarters of a length in the Jan. 2 Sham Stakes (G3), looms in the March 6 San Felipe Stakes (G2). So speedy and talented, he figures to be tough to beat in any race in which he can control the pace.

4. Mandaloun
Brad Cox/Juddmonte Farms
Into Mischief—Brooch, by Empire Maker
Juddmonte Farms (KY)

The Risen Star Presented by Lamarque Ford (G2) winner resumed breezing at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots Feb. 27, his first work since that Feb. 13 victory, with an easy half-mile in :50. The March 20 Louisiana Derby (G2) is likely next, where he would face familiar foes such as Midnight Bourbon and Proxy, plus some high-class shippers, including California raider Hot Rod Charlie.

5. Medina Spirit
Bob Baffert/Zedan Racing Stables 
Protonico Mongolian Changa, by Brilliant Speed
Gail Rice (FL)

After working six furlongs in 1:11 1/5 in company with unraced American Pharoah  half brother Triple Tap (by Tapit) Feb. 27, six-time Derby winner Bob Baffert confirmed him for a race against Life Is Good in the San Felipe. The Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) winner will be ridden by John Velazquez, who teamed with Baffert over the second half of 2020 with Horse of the Year Authentic.

6. Caddo River
Brad Cox/Shortleaf Stable 
Hard Spun Pangburn, by Congrats 
Shortleaf Stable (KY)

The $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) March 13 at Oaklawn Park is his next target, where he could face graded stakes winners Concert Tour and comebacking Get Her Number. That should give this one a class barometer, not that the runaway Smarty Jones Stakes winner has a lot to prove. Last year at 2 he was twice in front of Greatest Honour when they both lost seven-furlong maiden races in New York.

7. Concert Tour
Bob Baffert/Gary and Mary West 
Street Sense Purse Strings, by Tapit 
Gary and Mary West Stables (KY)

Although he didn't work as far or as fast as Medina Spirit Feb. 27 at Santa Anita, he left a positive impression. Breezing by himself, he clipped along with five furlongs in 1:00 1/5, accomplished as easily as most stakes horses breeze in 1:02. The two-turn question has yet to be answered by the Feb. 6 San Vicente Stakes (G2) winner, but that will come soon enough in the 1 1/16-mile Rebel.

8. The Great One
Doug O'Neill/ERJ Racing, Train Wreck Al Racing Stables, Niall Brennan, Tom Fritz, and William Straus 
Nyquist Little Ms Protocol, by El Corredor
Coteau Grove Farms (LA)

While the other colts in this space come off stakes efforts, he is a rare last-out maiden winner, a 14-length victor of a Jan. 23 race at Santa Anita Park. That said, two starts ago he came within a nose of beating Spielberg in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) as a maiden matched against winners. Spielberg ran second to Essential Quality in the Southwest.

9. Proxy
Michael Stidham/Godolphin
Tapit—Panty Raid, by Include
Godolphin (KY)

After a spotty race when second in the Risen Star, when he raced up close, dropped back, and then rallied--blinkers could be added next in the Louisiana Derby. He had a bullet breeze in :47 at Fair Grounds Feb. 26 for trainer Mike Stidham. Though yet to win a graded stakes, he is twice stakes-placed, previously having been the runner-up to Midnight Bourbon in the Jan. 16 Lecomte Stakes (G3).

10. Keepmeinmind
Robertino Diodoro/Cypress Creek and Arnold Bennewith
Laoban Inclination, by Victory Gallop
Southern Equine Stables (KY)

Frozen track conditions that closed the Oaklawn track for 11 days kept him out of the Southwest to await the Rebel. The Rebel won't lure types such as grade 1 winners Essential Quality and Jackie's Warrior, as the Southwest did, but the presence of Concert Tour, Caddo River, and Get Her Number should give the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) winner a challenging return test.

October 30, 2020: Hot Rod Charlie
Photo: Rick Samuels
Hot Rod Charlie gallops Oct. 30 at Keeneland

11. Hot Rod Charlie
Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing, and William Strauss/Doug O'Neill
Oxbow —Indian Miss, by Indian Charlie
Edward A. Cox Jr. (KY)
Although this half brother to 2019 champion sprinter Mitole  didn't race in February, he rises in the rankings, his form flattered by the Southwest victory of Essential Quality, to whom he was a close second in the Nov. 6 TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (G1). Even his comeback third in the Robert B. Lewis looks better after Spielberg was second in the Southwest.

12. Spielberg
SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Golconda Stables, Siena Farm, and Robert Masterson/Bob Baffert
Union Rags—Miss Squeal, by Smart Strike
G. Watts Humphrey Jr. (KY)
One race after he appeared to have been exposed as a cut below the 3-year-old leaders in an 11 1/4-length loss when fourth in the Robert Lewis, Baffert has him back in the mix. Outrun by 4 1/4 lengths when placing behind Essential Quality in the Southwest, to challenge after spotting the field a few lengths with a poor break has the Los Alamitos Futurity winner cracking the 'Dozen.