Shifman: What the top Derby contenders have in common

Shifman: What the top Derby contenders have in common
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

Media members voted Essential Quality and Greatest Honour into the top two spots in the NTRA top 3-year-old poll after the two colts won Kentucky Derby points preps Saturday. Both horses turned in impressive victories, and the striking similarities between the pair don’t end there.

Winner of the Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park, Essential Quality received 37 out of the 41 No. 1 votes cast by the media members with a total of 405 points. Greatest Honour, first in the Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park, got one vote for the top spot and 336 points.

[RELATED: Ranking the best 3-year-old performances of the weekend]

Essential Quality became the first Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and champion 2-year-old since Nyquist to be victorious in his debut race as a 3-year-old. Like Essential Quality, Nyquist was unbeaten at that point in his career, and he went on to win the 2016 Kentucky Derby.

Essential Quality got an ideal trip after jockey Florent Géroux elected to race on the outside of the sloppy track and rallied from behind to secure a winning margin of more than four lengths. Jockey José Ortiz used a similar off-the-pace running style while also racing wide to guide Greatest Honour to his victory.

Both the sophomore stars are homebred sons of leading sire Tapit, who has yet to produce a Kentucky Derby winner. Essential Quality is from the Godolphin Stables of Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai, and Greatest Honour was bred and is raced by Courtlandt Farms of Don and Donna Adam.

With their recent victories, both horses have earned enough Derby qualifying points to be part of the field on the first Saturday in May. In this instance Greatest Honour is on top of the points list with 60 points, including 50 from Saturday’s win and 10 from the Holy Bull (G3). Essential Quality has 40 points, of which 30 were earned as a juvenile and then 10 more in the Southwest.

Essential Quality and Greatest Honour are also ranked 1-2 in the Horse Racing Nation Kentucky Derby contenders list in which readers are encouraged to log in and rate the top 3-year-olds on the Derby trail.

It is unlikely that Essential Quality and Greatest Honour will face each other on the racetrack until the Kentucky Derby, if all goes well over the next 60 days. Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox will send his horse next to the Rebel (G1) on March 13 at Oaklawn or the Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland on April 3. The 2013 Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Shug McGaughey will keep Greatest Honour at Gulfstream Park to run in the Florida Derby (G1) on March 27.

The 3-year-olds from the top 10 will stay in the spotlight next weekend when a pair of Bob Baffert runners, No. 3 Life Is Good and No. 5 Medina Spirit, face off in the San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita.

 Consensus top 10

 Matt Shifman's

top 10 3-year-olds

   1. Essential Quality (37)

   1. Essential Quality

   2. Greatest Honour (1)

   2. Greatest Honour

   3. Life Is Good (2)

   3. Caddo River

   4. Mandaloun (1)

   4. Medina Spirit

   5. Medina Spirit

   5. Life Is Good

   6. Caddo River

   6. Risk Taking

   7. Concert Tour

   7. Concert Tour

   8. Keepmeinmind

   8. Keepmeinmind

   9. Risk Taking

   9. Mandaloun

 10. Proxy

 10. Hot Rod Charlie


Meet Matt Shifman

Matt Shifman has been on the Horse Racing Nation staff since 2011 and currently is a Senior Writer. Matt covers Aqueduct, Belmont Park, Monmouth Park, and Saratoga in his two HRN blogs, Racing at the Jersey Shore and New York State of Racing

Matt has been a co-host of the popular weekly video show HorseCenter for many years.

Since 2012, Matt has been a voter in the NTRA weekly polls for the Top Thoroughbred and Top Three-Year-Old.

Matt is also a partner in the New York Hot List handicapping service @NYHotList where he handicaps the races on the NYRA circuit everyday. The Hot List picks are available at several ADW sites around the country.

You may also know Matt by his Twitter, Facebook, and HRN screen nameAndyScoggin.

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