Seems like Authentic just won the Kentucky Derby. The reigning 2020 champion gets shortchanged as his victory came on the first Saturday in September rather than May. It was the only year in the history of the storied race when a prep race for the following year was on the same day as the Kentucky Derby race, itself.
Hall of Fame trainer, Bob Baffert, who sent Authentic to the winner’s circle last year, looked like he might return in 2021 until the last few weeks. Life is Good was the superstar in his barn and seemed unbeatable until he sustained a minor leg injury that took him out of training for about sixty days. And, Concert Tour was all the buzz in Twitter-ville…until he wasn’t. His subpar performance in the Arkansas Derby left Baffert & Co. scratching their heads. After the race, I expected jockey Joel Rosario to jump ship and agree to ride Hot Rod Charlie for trainer Doug O’Neill. He did not. O’Neill immediately named California-based jockey Flavian Prat to ride Hot Rod. Unfortunately, after Concert Tour’s work on Saturday, Baffert decided to skip the Kentucky Derby with the colt and aim for the Preakness. That decision left Rosario without a mount and Baffert with only one Derby contender, Medina Spirit.
Word of Rosario’s availability spread quickly and resulted in a very deserving jockey losing his Kentucky Derby mount. Umberto Rispoli had won the G1 Santa Anita Derby aboard Rock Your World for trainer John Sadler. However, the connections immediately “spun” him for Rosario, who had only been aboard the colt for his maiden victory. Yes, Rosario has Derby experience. He is 1-9 in the race. Rispoli does not. But Rock Your World is a push-button front runner and that is not Rosario’s typical riding style. Rosario is uber talented, and has an uncanny ability to time a move to the finish line. But Rispoli rode two flawless races on this contender. Such is life in horse racing.
Jockey Joel Rosario
The aforementioned contenders, Rock Your World, Hot Rod Charlie, and Medina Spirit, are definitely live in this race and should be fairly low odds when the gates open. However, the favorite will be the undefeated Brad Cox trainee, Essential Quality. His jockey, Luis Saez, retains the mount and is coming off an unbelievable hot streak at Keeneland. Great combo. Hot horse. Hot jockey.
It is a well-known fact that Essential Quality does not like to lose. His gutsy performance in the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland turn heads from coast to coast. He battled trainer Chad Brown’s contender, Highly Motivated, until the bitter end, and prevailed like the fighter we all know and admire. Do not leave this horse out of your wagers on May 1st. Not prudent.
In my opinion, Highly Motivated is also a must-use in the exotics. Chad Brown is an astute horsemen who primarily runs and dominates on turf. He rarely runs a horse in the Derby, and would not send Highly Motivated out to finish at the back of the field.
One final top contender who must be respected is Known Agenda. The Curlin colt is trained by Todd Pletcher and will be ridden in the Kentucky Derby by Irad Ortiz, Jr. Both Pletcher and Ortiz have had a hot hand recently. Ortiz was aboard for Known Agenda’s last two races…both wins. Known Agenda bested Greatest Honour in the Florida Derby. He is the real deal.
In this group of twenty contenders, the favorites tower over the rest of the field. Yes, some long(er) shot will probably sneak into the exotics as one or more of the favorites could get a terrible trip. If so, I would expect it to be Mandaloun for Brad Cox, or perhaps one of the two Asmussen contenders. He sends out Midnight Bourbon and Super Stock. The latter is partially owned by Asmussen’s father. Worth a mention are Soup and Sandwich, another Pletcher trainee, and Like the King for Wesley Ward.