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Derby Details 2021 Edition 6

Berkley Farm trained Admiral’s War Chest wins the Maryland Million 2015 and 2016

Derby Details 2021 Edition 6

“And the Nominees Are…”

by Tom Carley

February 8, 2021

While this phrase is most often linked to the Academy Awards, they emerge in the racing world each February. This is because the early nomination period for the 2021 Triple Crown races ended on January 23 and was released late last week.  Horses not yet nominated can still be nominated at a cost of $6,000 compared to the early nomination fee of $600.  Because of this cost differential, most three-year-olds with Derby hopes are nominated in this early period.  Future horses can be nominated at a cost of $6,000 compared to the early nomination fee of $600.  Last year there were 347 total nominations from all three nomination periods.    

Nomination Summary

The early nomination period featured 326 nominations.  This is about equal with last year’s figure.  The list of equine nominees is quite long, so I will summarize that list here.  I can provide them– as well as past performances for the nominees– just feel free to email me at  


Almost one third of the early nominations (108 out of 326) are trained by one of four trainers.  This continues the trend of large barns making up about 40% of the Derby field.  While some feel this reflects the rich-get-richer status of the sport, it should be noted that the big trainers typically encourage all the owners of three-year-olds that have shown the slightest amount of talent to nominate.  This reflects these trainer’s belief in their training ability to develop these young runners.  Because of the late nomination fee premium, the trainers believe it is their fiduciary duty to encourage owners to nominate early in case one of the prospects runs well enough in a March or April Derby prep race.

Battle of the Sexes

Last year, a female horse named Swiss Skydiver not only entered, but won the Preakness Stakes, the third jewel of the Triple Crown (traditionally it is the second jewel).  History has shown us that few females have won a triple crown race.  Three fillies have won the Derby in the 146 prior editions.  Motivated by Swiss Skydiver’s win last year, 13 owners have nominated their fillies to the 2021 Triple Crown races.  

Other Notable items 

I will not go into a lot of detail in analyzing the list as this would result in a 12 page column.  I will just highlight the following notable items:

  • 5 horses based in Japan were nominated.  This continues a trend of increased interest in the Kentucky Derby among Japanese horsemen.  
  • A notable omission from the nomination list is the Chad Brown trained Reinvestment Risk.   This horse ran second to Jackie’s Warrior in two major two-year-old prep races last year.

Weekly Developments   

Sunday marked the career debut of the Bab Baffert trained Bezos. This horse has been hyped by the media as the next best Derby horse even though the horse has not yet been in a race.  Baffert did break a curse of over 100 years in 2018 when Justify won the Kentucky Derby after not having raced as three-year-old.  Bezos was so well thought of that in the most recent Kentucky Derby Futures Betting Pool, he was bet down to odds of 24 to 1 even though he had never run in a race.  In the debut going 6 ½ furlongs, he broke well but slowed at the top of the stretch running 7th.  Since he has no Derby points, Bezos must now race in a major Derby prep in order to hope to obtain the needed Derby points.,  He also is in a barn of at least 3 other Derby contenders so he will have to race against his barn mates in future prep races.  

It was announced over the weekend that Spendthrift Farms has bought a 50% interest in Keepmeinmind.  This horse won the Kentucky Jockey Club last Fall at Churchill Downs.  He is in training at the Fairgrounds and will run next Saturday in the Risen Star. This speaks volumes about a horse’s perceived potential when someone is willing to buy an interest in the racehorse. Presumably, these purchases are at a cost much higher than the pro rata amount in which the horse was originally acquired for and it signifies that the investor believes the horse can run well in future races. 

Recap of Prep Races

Sam Davis Stakes

The Sam Davis Stakes was run last Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs.  Most handicappers thought the race was wide open and a case could be made for 5 different horses. Todd Pletcher trained two of the entrants and Known Agenda, runner up in the Remsen Stakes was sent off as the favorite.  The race was run at an even pace and in the end, two Bill Mott trained horses ran first and second.  Candy Man Rocket, stretching out to try two turns for the first time (off a single race) followed his maiden victory in his last race (and second career race) and won in very impressively fashion.  Nova Rags made an impressive stretch run to finish 2nd.   

Takeaways from the race:

The media has not mentioned much about Bill Mott’s stable.  However, it appears his barn has at least a couple of good three-year-old prospects.  The Tampa Bay Downs prep races have not been historically important for producing a Derby winner, but with the competition in Florida, it gives barns who are based at Gulfstream a good place to run their “B” prospects. 

Trainer Todd Pletcher has started off the Florida prep season surprisingly poor.  Last week, Prime Factor was very disappointing in the Holy Bull Stakes after being sent off as the favorite and now Fletcher has had the favorite fail to perform well in the Sam Davis.  Later in the day he also failed to win the Withers at Aqueduct with a horse his owner had paid $1 million for.

Withers Stakes

The Withers Stakes was run Saturday at Aqueduct.  The race shaped up to be a duel between Capo Kane, upset winner of the Jerome Stakes, Overtook, a $1 million purchase trained by Todd Pletcher and Eagle Orb, who had run second in the Jerome Stakes. Chad Brown entered a horse named Risk Taking, who had only won his maiden race, but it was at 9 furlongs.  Risk Taking was sent off as the favorite and ran a tactical style and took the lead in the stretch and won the race.  Overtook ran second and Capo Kane ran third. 

Takeaways from the race:

Risk Taking is trained by Chad Brown and while the horse is 2 for 2 since being equipped with blinkers, Brown still left the horse in New York.  Brown had taken his best Derby prospects to Florida.  It will be interesting to see where the barn runs him next.

Risk Taking showed tremendous stamina as he looked very strong galloping out after the race.

Eagle Orb has now faltered in two straight preps.  I really do not see him as a strong Derby threat.

Celebrity Links to Derby Prep Races

Jan Sinatra, co-owner  of Sinatra Thoroughbreds, sent me a text when she read last week’s column and pointed out in the Robert Lewis Stakes there was a horse named Spielberg and a  horse who ran 2nd in the Holy Bull named Tarantino and asked about the connection to Hollywood.  I honestly had been so focused on the races that I did not notice this. I did some further research looking for a celebrity connection to this year’s Triple Crown races.

Looking at Spielberg’s past performance, I found the following:

Spielberg (who is named after the Hollywood Director) had won the Los Alamitos Futurity late last year.  Running second that day was a horse named The Great One, named after hockey player Wayne Gretzky.  My memory told me I had seen Gretzky’s name before linked to a horse.  A horse named Gretzky the Great ran in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf.  I do not believe the latter will be on the Derby trail based on the fact all 3 of his wins have been on turf.  Spielberg was contested for the lead in the Robert Lewis with a horse named Parnelli after racecar driver Parnelli Jones. 

I took this exercise further and looked at other Derby Preps.  A horse named Joe Frazier (named after the boxer) finished off the board in the Springboard Mile, a race that does not award Derby qualifying points, yet has historically delivered some horses to the Oaklawn prep races.

I did further research when the nominee list was released and found the following three-year- old horses named after celebrities:

Bezos – Names after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.  He is considered a major contender for the Derby.

Geshwin – Named after the famous composer.

Laker Mamba  – Named after basketball player Kobe Bryant.

Naismith – Named after the inventor of basketball.

Garoppolo  – Named after San Francisco 49’er quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

Sonic Brees  – Named after Saints quarterback Drew Brees.  He is in the Doug O’Neil barn and has not raced since running 3rd in the Best Pal Stakes last year.

Fauci  – Named after the Director of National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases.

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