A big weekend is on tap with several of the top 10-ranked 3-year-old males listed below in action.
Much attention will be directed toward the unbeaten Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Eclipse winner Essential Quality's appearance in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, but the horse I am most looking forward to seeing is Medina Spirit in the Santa Anita Derby.
Currently ranked No. 4, Medina Spirit might have the most upside of any major contender left on the Kentucky Derby trail, and he is easily the most attractive horse left on most Kentucky Derby future boards, still as high as 25-1 on some sites.
Before I take a closer look at Medina Spirit, let's take a look at this week's updated Divisional Rankings.
Older dirt males
1. Mystic Guide – Solid win in Dubai and is 2-for-2 on the season, but the Dubai World Cup field he defeated was nowhere near what we have come to expect from Dubai World Cup fields. Certainly has done enough to move into the top spot, though I am not sure how long he will stay here.
2. Charlatan – Back in California after his Saudi Cup run, he is working now after that February runner-up finish. We will see him on Kentucky Derby weekend in a stakes race at Churchill Downs, most likely the Churchill Downs (G1) at seven furlongs.
3. Knicks Go
4. Maxfield – Truth be told, he ran a fine race in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1), considering the circumstances. First start beyond 8 1/2 furlongs, shipped across country, and was beaten by just two lengths finishing third to Idol and Express Train on their home track. He likely got a lot out of this race and should be better going forward.
5. Idol – This 4-year-old colt has started only six times in his career and in his last start he won his first stakes race, the Santa Anita Handicap. Seems to have a bright future, and with the Breeders' Cup at his home base in Southern California, he might not have to leave his state to run for the rest of the season.
Next 5: Express Train, Jesus' Team, Happy Saver, Silver State, Chess Chief.
Older dirt females
1. Monomoy Girl – A showdown looms with Swiss Skydiver in the Apple Blossom (G1) at Oaklawn on April 17. In Monomoy Girl's first start this year she the job done with a two-length win in the Bayakoa (G3) at Oaklawn. She improved her remarkable record to 14 wins from 16 starts. Perhaps it was the mud, the layoff or a combination of both, but I felt like the Bayakoa was not her "A" race. Beware, this division is more open than many realize.
3. Gamine – On the work tab and will make her 2021 debut sprinting in the Derby City Distaff (G1) at Churchill Downs on May 1. In her last start, she was a dominant winner of the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. Keep an eye on the Met Mile (G1) against the boys in June as a possible target should things go well on May 1.
4. Shedaresthedevil – The Kentucky Oaks winner from last season returned with a very impressive and gritty win in the Azeri (G2) at Oaklawn, where she held off the late run of the very good Letruska. She will skip the Apple Blossom and wait for the La Troienne (G1) at Churchill Downs on April 30.
5. Letruska – A fascinating story, this mare started her career in Mexico City and ran six times, all wins. Now 12 for 17 with three graded stakes wins in this country, she is in the best form of her career and a real player in this division. When was the last time we saw this from a horse who made its first six starts in Mexico City? She will also run in the Apple Blossom on April 17.
Next 5: Sanenus, As Time Goes By, Valiance, Vexatious, Harvest Moon.
1. Essential Quality – Remains on top here, where he belongs. Remember, he is the Juvenile Eclipse and Breeders' Cup winner. He was brilliant when getting his 3-year-old campaign underway Oaklawn in the Southwest (G3) and hasn't been defeated. By winning the Southwest, one would think the next logical spot would be the Arkansas Derby (G1) over the same track, but his connections chose to avoid Rebel (G2) winner Concert Tour and instead run at Keeneland in the Blue Grass (G2).
2. Concert Tour – His Rebel Stakes win was outstanding. He had to work to secure the early lead and then was able to set reasonable fractions and have more than enough in the stretch to win geared down. We now know he can ship cross country to a track he hasn't run over and win. So far he has more boxes checked off for me than all the others but one. Also, pedigree-wise, he should relish going longer. Will go next in the Arkansas Derby.
3. Life Is Good – Joins a long list of horses from previous seasons that impressed on the Kentucky Derby trail only to be injured and forced to miss the Triple Crown events. Impressive winner of the San Felipe (G2) by eight lengths and unbeaten in three starts, he is now off the Kentucky Derby trail because of a hind-end injury. If we see him run again, it will not be until late summer or the fall at the earliest.
4. Medina Spirit – Reminds me a bit of 1997 Kentucky Derby winner Silver Charm as he has shown a lot of fight on the track and won the battle for second after being headed in the stretch of the San Felipe. Prior to that he was a game winner of the Lewis Stakes (G3) over Hot Rod Charlie at Santa Anita. Don't be surprised to see him run big this weekend and rocket up this list in the coming weeks.
5. Hot Rod Charlie – Really handed it to the “house” horses at the Fair Grounds in the Louisiana Derby, proving much the best in the 1 3/16-mile test. Ranked No. 6 before, he has shown me enough to be placed in the Top 5. Additionally, his win sends a strong message to the others: The California based 3-year-olds are heads and shoulders the best, outside of No. 1 Essential Quality.
Next 5: Greatest Honour, Known Agenda, Midnight Bourbon, Risk Taking, Highly Motivated.
1. Travel Column – Was much the best in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2), beating the previous No. 1, Clairiere. These two have quite the rivalry going as they have faced one another in three straight races, trading wins and running one-two in all three. Next up? Another date in the Kentucky Oaks on the last day of April.
2. Clairiere – Simply had too much to do in the stretch of the Fair Grounds Oaks, still ran on well to finish a clear second to Travel Column. The nine furlongs of the Kentucky Oaks might be in her favor the next time these two meet.
3. Aunt Pearl – Finally back on the work tab, she is targeting a return on the April 30 Kentucky Oaks undercard in the Edgewood Stakes (G2). Her win last out in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf came at the expense of 13 others, five of whom were from overseas. Look for her to run overseas this season if she comes back at age 3 like she left off in her juvenile season.
4. Vequist – Will skip the Kentucky Oaks after an endoscopic examination revealed considerable congestion in her lungs following a dismal ninth-place finish in the Feb. 27 Davona Dale (G2) at Gulfstream Park, her lone start this season. I will keep her in the top five for now; she has earned one mulligan. Will point for the Acorn (G1) on Belmont Stakes day June 5.
5. Dayoutoftheoffice – The Frizette (G1) winner ran her race in the Breeders' Cup, but she couldn't hold off Vequist. Remember, she defeated Vequist in the Frizette, but that was at a mile around one turn. Wasn't ready for this weekend's Ashland (G1) at Keeneland, and if she doesn't run soon she will drop from here.
Next 5: Wholebodemeister, Crazy Beautiful, Will's Secret, Beautiful Gift, Malathaat.
1. Colonel Liam – Certainly ran well in the recent Muniz Memorial Stakes (G2) where he scored a workmanlike win by two lengths. Moves to No. 1 after Channel Maker's loss, but I still question who he has beaten. The runner-up in the Muniz, Two Emmys, never had run in a stakes and was coming off of seven straight races in the optional claiming ranks.
2. Channel Maker – He simply didn't run his best race in Dubai, where he finished eighth, beaten six lengths in the Sheema Classic (G1). Previously he ran a gallant race to finish second in the Neom Turf Cup In Saudi Arabia. He drops to No. 2 and will head back to the states and will be back racing in New York this summer.
3. Hit the Road – This guy was among the favorites in the 2019 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf but was off the board. Now better than ever at age 4, he is 2-for-2 this season after scoring the biggest win of his career in last weekend's Kilroe Mile (G1) at Santa Anita.
4. Ivar – The winner of the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) last season, he came running at the end of the Breeders' Cup Mile but was too late as he finished fourth, beaten less than two lengths. Back in training now, so look for him to return in the spring.
5. United – Won his 2021 debut with a solid win in the San Luis Rey (G3) at Santa Anita. Up next his connections will point the 6-year-old to the Charles Whittingham Stakes (G2) at 1 1/4 miles on May 29.
Next 5: Mo Forza, Zulu Alpha, Domestic Spending, Laccario, Churn N Burn
5. Mucho Unusual – Runner-up again in last weekend's Santa Ana (G3) at Santa Anita. Previously was also a runner-up in the Buena Vista (G2). She already has run in three graded stakes this season, winning the Megahertz (G3) prior to her pair of runner-up finishes.
Next 5: Civil Union, Got Stormy, Charmaine's Mia, Micheline, Going to Vegas.
1. C Z Rocket – He beat the previous No. 1 ranked Whitmore in the Hot Springs Stakes last out to get to the top of the division, but for how long? Will face his old rival for a third straight time in the Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) at Oaklawn on April 10 and divisional leadership will again be on the line.
2. Whitmore – 2020 Sprint champ ran about as well as you can ask for in his 2021 debut against C Z Rocket, and the good news is that it appears he hasn't lost a step at age 8. Has won the Count Fleet Sprint a record three times, and that's where he runs next.
4. Wildman Jack - Was fourth last weekend in the Golden Shaheen in Dubai, certainly not a bad effort. Previously, he easily won the Palos Verdes (G3), and this resume is good enough to move him to No. 4 here for now, considering graded stakes sprint wins are few and far between this early in the season.
4. Brickyard Ride - Ranked too high here? Perhaps. But see above about graded sprint wins this early in the season. His win in the San Carlos (G2) was scintillating, and he is 2-for-2 on the season.
5. Firenze Fire - Third in last fall's Breeders' Cup Sprint, he hasn't yet run in 2021 but is on the work tab and nearing a return to the races.
Next 5: Extravagant Kid, Mischevious Alex, Chateau, Sleepy Eyes Todd, Flagstaff.
1. Gamine – Surprised to see her entered this weekend in the Grade 3 Las Flores over fix furlongs at Santa Anita for her 2021 debut. If things go well this weekend the next race will be the Derby City Distaff (G1) at Churchill Downs on May 1. I believe she might be the best sprinter, male or female, in the country. If all goes well in the Derby City, look for her to stretch out again in the Met Mile against the boys in June.
2. Bell's the One – Makes her seasonal debut in this weekend's Madison (G1) at Keeneland, but this one came up very tough. She will face off against several expected stars in this division, chief among them Sconsin and Kimari. Was last seen running third in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint last fall.
3. Frank's Rockette – Winner of three graded stakes last season, she started 2021 off with a win in the American Beauty Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Will likely run next in the Carousel at Oaklawn on April 10.
4. Merneith - Won the Santa Monica (G2) last out and was previously third in the La Brea (G1) in December. Looks like she is finally realizing her potential for trainer Bob Baffert. In light training, she is not expected back until at least May.
5. Kimari - Finally makes her long-awaited graded stakes debut on the dirt, and she will be tested like never before. Was super impressive in the Spring Fever Stakes at Oaklawn, her 4-year-old debut. Was more than four lengths clear of the runner-up, Casual. Now she runs against some of the best in this division in this weekend's Madison at Keeneland.
Next 5: Sconsin, Venetian Harbor, Pacific Gale, Amy's Challenge, Wildwood's Beauty.
With just four major Kentucky Derby preps left, some fans have decided on their “Derby” horse, and more will wait until all the preps have been completed. With Life is Good now off the Kentucky Derby trail because of injury, many are looking for their new Kentucky Derby horse. What about Medina Spirit?
Life is Good's stablemate will inherit favoritism in this weekend’s Santa Anita Derby. But with or without Life is Good, Medina Spirit always was going to be a major player for me in this weekend’s race, and more important, on the First Saturday in May.
Purchased for $35,000 from the Ocala Breeder’s Sales 2-year-old in training last year by Amr Zedan, Medina Spirit is sired by Protonico, who won graded stakes in 2014 and 2015. Protonico was owned by Zedan's friend, Oussama Aboughazale, and both come from a city in Saudi Arabia called Medina, hence the name Medina Spirit.
After winning his maiden last December, Medina Spirit took on his highly regarded stablemate, Life is Good, in the Sham Stakes (G3) in early January at Santa Anita. Medina Spirit ran second that day, but it was how he ran that caught my eye. Life is Good appeared to be on his way to an easy win, but Medina Spirit never gave up his chase and closed well to be beaten by less than a length. Some will say Life is Good was geared down; I saw it differently.
Next out in the Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, Medina Spirit grabbed the early lead and was never really afforded a breather down the backstretch. With recent Louisiana Derby winner Hot Rod Charlie laying five lengths back in fourth, Medina Spirit did all the heavy lifting that day and, turning for home, it looked like he might concede the lead to his rival. But Medina Spirit showed me something again as he refused to give in again. This time he had two horses to the outside ready to pass but Medina Spirit simply wouldn’t let them get by. In fact, toward the wire he started to edge clear. Those two others who pressed Medina Spirit that day? They finished 20 lengths back.
Make no mistake, battles like this will serve him well. I wrote a few weeks ago that Medina’s Spirit’s grit on the race track reminds me very much of Silver Charm on his road to the 1997 Kentucky Derby. In short, Medina Spirit doesn’t like to lose and has a ton of fight in him. This trait shouldn't be taken lightly, and not all horses display this on the racetrack.
Last time out in the San Felipe against Life is Good, he was beaten by eight lengths, but for me that didn’t tell the full story of the race.
I saw a horse in Medina Spirit who received a questionable ride into that first turn, one in which he served as Life is Good’s escort to clear the lead for his stablemate as he was ridden in a straight line past that first turn to float the other speed in the race, The Great One, wide, losing valuable ground. Did it cost him the win? No. Life is Good wasn't going to lose the race. But still, I came away with the feeling that the race was handed to him on a silver platter.
Medina Spirit again impressed me with this race. Watch him closely. Matching strides with Dream Shake down the backstretch, Medina Spirit again battled in the stretch and never gave in, putting away that rival to be the clear runner-up.
What makes the race all that more remarkable is that Medina Spirit was treated for a slightly entrapped epiglottis that was found when he was endoscoped after the San Felipe.
I was high on Medina Spirit before we lost Life is Good to injury, and I think after this weekend, more fans will warm up to this guy. Remember, you can still find him as high as 25-1 on some sites. I suggest you get your wagers in before Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby, because with a win there, those odds will look like a gift and will drop substantially.