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Derby Details 2021 Edition 7

Happy equines enjoying a “snow day” at Berkley Farm

Derby Details 2021 Edition 7

Weather, Weather, Everywhere

by Tom Carley

February 18, 2021

The weather around this country turned rough last weekend as a late season storm dumped snow and ice from Texas to the East Coast.  This resulted in several key cancellations that effect the Derby horses and human participants.  Not only were prep races cancelled, but also many horses missed training days.  This could affect the preparations of some of the key horses on the Derby trail.    


Trainers know that each year they will lose training days due to the winter weather.  While most trainers set up winter stables in Florida to avoid this, others simply look at the lost training days as a part of the game.  A few extra days of rest helps horses heal those little nagging aches and pains that crop up with strenuous training. When you look at an entire campaign lasting from fall of the horse’s 2-year-old year to May of their 3-year-old year, a few missed days will not affect the horse much.  However, the storms of last weekend combined with late week storms this week have resulted in some dramatic changes to the Oaklawn stakes race schedule.

Oaklawn Park Stakes races

The 3-year-old stakes race schedule at Oaklawn is unique to begin with.  There are four prep races run at Oaklawn compared to three at most race tracks.  Last year, Oaklawn permanently moved back the start of its meeting a few weeks resulting in the first prep race, The Smarty Jones, being moved one week back from its previous date to Martin Luther King Day.  The major Derby prep, the Arkansas Derby, is always held three weeks before the Kentucky Derby.  This leaves little room to adjust the calendar forward in the event that racing days are forced to be cancelled.  The second prep race, the Southwest Stakes, is always run on President’s Day with the third prep, the Rebel Stakes, being run between the second and fourth preps giving 4 weeks between the second, third and fourth prep races.

The storm that came in last weekend allowed the Fairgrounds to run their prep race on Saturday, but forced Oaklawn to cancel its Saturday, Sunday and Monday race cards.  The Southwest Stakes was originally rescheduled to be run on February 20th.  On Tuesday of this week, the forecast showed a large storm coming into Hot Springs on Thursday.  Oaklawn management decided to move the Southwest Stakes from February 20 to February 27.  A summary of these events is as follows:

Race Original Date Date to be run  Days from last race

Southwest Feb. 15 Feb. 27 36 (from Sm. Jones)

Rebel March 13 March 13 14

Arkansas Derby April 10 April 10 28

Keep in mind that most trainers like to have 30-45 days between races for their horses.  The emerging trend has seen some horses run the Derby with as little as 2 and maybe 3 prep races.     

This is going to cause some horses to be forced to wheel back and race again on 14 days rest in order to earn the necessary Derby qualifying points.  The Arkansas contingent has several leading Derby contenders including:  , Keepmeinmind, Caddo River, Essential Quality and Jackie’s Warrior.   This is a major training hurdle that has just been thrown at trainers.  Solving this dilemma is not as easy as it grows more complicated for the following reasons:

Keepmeinmind   is the least effected as he already has Derby points and is the only Derby horse in his stable.  He could run the Southwest and if he picks up 10 Derby points could either run in the Louisiana Derby March 20 to get his last few needed points (this is a 100 point race) and then have 6 weeks rest until the Derby.  He could also skip the Rebel and run the 2nd and 4th Araknsas prep.  This might be risky (if the horse does not earn 20 points on Feb. 27) as Baffert will send horses to Arkansas in March as he has too many prospects to all run in California and Baffert has proven to ship to Oaklawn for the last two preps.

Caddo River and Essential Quality are trained by Brad Cox.   While he would not want to separate these two, keep in mind that he also trains Mandaloun, who last week got 50 points winning the Risen Star at Fairgrounds. Cox will want to separate these three horses until Derby Day if at all possible. Considering Godolphin owns Essential Quality– as well as Proxy (who ran 3rd and 2nd in the two Fairgrounds prep races)– they will probably be separated and Essential Quality will likely race in Arkansas or maybe return to Keeneland where he is undefeated and run in the Bluegrass Stakes

How the trainers handle the rescheduling of these races will be a key to their Derby performance. I will visit this week in future weeks.

Weekly Developments   

This week marked the return of jockey Javier Castellano to riding.  He is a leading jockey and surprisingly has never won a Kentucky Derby.  He does not have a Derby mount yet.  He has shown no effects from his minor surgery to clean up some cartilage.  I usually give a nod to the horse Castellano rides in the Derby. 

Trainer Bob Baffert announced the next prep races for two of his leading horses.

Life is Good is considered the leading Derby contender and will race again March 6 in the San Felipe Stakes.  The horse will stay at home in California.   Freedom Fighter will ship to New York and run in the Gotham.   I expect Baffert to ship three other horses to the Arkansas prep races beginning in mid-March.

The third Kentucky Derby Futures Pool was held last weekend.   Surprisingly the ALL OTHERS betting interest was the lowest price at odds of 3 to 1.  Remaining horses of interest were as follows:

Horse Final Odds

Life Is Good   7 to 1

Essential Quality   8 to 1

Greatest Honour   9 to 1

Considering there are usually 20 betting interests in the Derby, I just do not feel it is worth the risk of a horse getting hurt between now and the Derby to ever accept odds of less than 20 to 1 on a horse.  Typically a Derby favorite is about 5 to 1.  These odds are just too short given the uncertainties.

Life is Good was actually 7 to 1 in pool #2 and 5 to 1 in pool #1.  Support for him seems to be declining.

Recap of Prep Races

Last week there was only one major Derby prep race.  The Risen Star Stakes was run last Saturday at the Fairgrounds.  Most handicappers thought the race would come down to the first 3 finishers of the LeCompte Stakes. The handicappers were correct as Brad Cox trained Mandaloun, who had run third in the first Fairgrounds prep and won very convincinglyGodolphin owned Proxy ran second.   The winner of the LeCompte Stakes, Midnight Bourbon, ran third last weekend.

Takeaways from the race:

Trainer Brad Cox now has three of the top 10 Derby prospects.  He might have to run one of these horses at tracks other than Oaklawn or the Fairgrounds.

Godolphin will have two horses in the Kentucky Derby.  This has not been done since 2009.  Proxy is impressing more each time I see him race.  He could be a Derby sleeper.

The top 3 finishers all look like real Derby contenders to me.  They get the distance easily and are getting faster each race.   

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