Guide to Saturday's trio of 2021 Kentucky Derby preps

Guide to Saturday's trio of 2021 Kentucky Derby preps
Photo: Chelsea Durand / NYRA

Three more spots in the Kentucky Derby starting gates could effectively be clinched by Saturday night.

Aqueduct’s $300,000 Gotham Stakes (G3), Santa Anita’s $300,000 San Felipe Stakes (G2) and Tampa Bay Downs’ $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2) all award Road to the Kentucky Derby points Saturday on a 50-20-10-5 scale. Fifty points have been enough to crack the Run for the Roses field each spring since Churchill Downs instituted the points system in 2013.

Greatest Honour became the second 3-year-old last weekend to win a 50-point prep toward the 2021 Derby, rallying late to take Gulfstream Park’s Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2). His 60 Derby points have him atop the current leaderboard.

Risen Star Stakes (G2) winner Mandaloun (52 points) has most likely sewn up a Kentucky Derby berth, while last weekend’s Southwest Stakes (G3) victor Essential Quality (40) is also trending toward Louisville.

Who will climb the Derby points leaderboard Saturday? Here is a look at the day’s trio of preps. For more information on each of the three races, plus Saturday’s Santa Anita Handicap (G1), visit HRN’s free past performances page.

Gotham Stakes, 5:07 p.m. EST

When fans last saw Highly Motivated, the Chad Brown-trained runner drew off to a 4¼-length stakes victory on the Breeders’ Cup undercard at Keeneland. The Into Mischief colt makes his first start Saturday in exactly four months as 8-5 morning-line favorite in the Gotham Stakes.

The Klaravich Stables homebred Highly Motivated has won two of his three lifetime starts, with both victories going 6½ furlongs on the dirt. He will stay at one turn Saturday but stretch out to a mile under jockey Javier Castellano.

“He’s a big, strong horse,” Brown said. “Javier has come back after his races and says he should improve going further. His gallop outs have been eye-catching so that indicated that stretching out in distance won’t be an issue.”

Brown, four-time Eclipse Award winner as North America’s top trainer, seeks his first Kentucky Derby title. He already won one of Aqueduct’s 2021 Derby preps, last month’s Withers Stakes (G3), with Risk Taking, who is training up to April’s Wood Memorial (G2).

Bob Baffert is not a name usually associated with Aqueduct, but that is where the trainer sends 5-2 second betting choice Freedom Fighter. The Violence colt won on debut last August at Del Mar, then returned in February at Santa Anita off a six-month layoff and was second in the San Vicente Stakes (G2).

“I’m not really thinking Derby with him yet,” Baffert said of Freedom Fighter, piloted Saturday by Manny Franco. “He's going to have to prove himself and then we'll see where he fits in.”

The Gotham drew a field of eight 3-year-olds. Other runners of interest include a second Klaravich-owned Brown trainee in Crowded Trade (9-2), local Jerome Stakes hero Capo Kane (5-1) and another California shipper in Doug O’Neill-trained Wipe the Slate (6-1).

Here is a look at the 2021 Gotham Stakes field (trainer and jockey in parentheses) with morning-line odds:

1. Atlantic Road (Todd Pletcher, Jorge Vargas Jr.), 30-1

2. The Reds (John Kimmel, Pablo Morales), 30-1

3. Highly Motivated (Chad Brown, Javier Castellano), 8-5

4. Wipe the Slate (Doug O’Neill, Kendrick Carmouche), 6-1

5. Crowded Trade (Chad Brown, Eric Cancel), 9-2

6. Capo Kane (Harold Wyner, Dylan Davis), 5-1

7. Freedom Fighter (Bob Baffert, Manny Franco), 5-2

8. Weyburn (Jimmy Jerkens, Trevor McCarthy), 20-1

TimeformUS’ pace projections
show Freedom Fighter and Wipe the Slate dueling for the early lead with favorite Highly Motivated settling mid-pack.

Tampa Bay Derby, 5:25 p.m. EST

Three of the top four finishers from last month’s Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3), including winner Candy Man Rocket, return for the Tampa Bay Derby.

Bill Mott trains Candy Man Rocket, a Candy Ride colt who stalked the pace three-wide in the Davis before taking over in mid-stretch and winning by a length. He has won two of three career starts and is the 2-1 morning-line favorite for the 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby under jockey Junior Alvarado.

“Candy Man Rocket is a deserving favorite,” said trainer Saffie Joseph Jr., who takes aim at that graded-stakes winner Saturday with three of his own entrants.

“A lot of the others have shown glimpses of ability, but I think they would have to run their best race ever to win. It seems like there are a lot of horses in there with two or three starts, so it looks like it is wide-open.”

One of those runners looking Saturday for a stakes breakthrough is Hidden Stash (4-1), a Churchill Downs allowance winner. Vicky Oliver trains the son of Constitution, who closed from eighth to finish third in the Sam F. Davis.

Both of Hidden Stash’s victories have come under jockey Rafael Bejarano, with whom the colt reunites Saturday. Hector Diaz Jr. piloted the BBN Racing runner in the Davis.

Other runners of note in the 12-horse Tampa Bay Derby include Sam F. Davis fourth-place finisher Boca Boy (15-1), Woodbine stakes winner Helium (6-1) for trainer Mark Casse and Gulfstream Park maiden winner Promise Keeper (8-1), trained by Todd Pletcher.

The last runner to pull off a Tampa Bay Derby/Kentucky Derby double? That would be Street Sense in 2007 for trainer Carl Nafzger.

Here is a look at the 2021 Tampa Bay Derby field (trainer and jockey in parentheses) with morning-line odds:

1. My Liberty (Maria Mejia, Tomas Mejia), 30-1

2. Super Strong (Saffie Joseph Jr., Antonio Gallardo), 8-1

3. Candy Man Rocket (Bill Mott, Junior Alvarado), 2-1

4. King of Dreams (Juan Avila, Samy Camacho), 20-1

5. Boca Boy (Cheryl Winebaugh, Angel Arroyo), 15-1

6. Awesome Gerry (Saffie Joseph Jr., Hector Diaz Jr.), 15-1

7. Moonlite Strike (Saffie Joseph Jr., Daniel Centeno), 20-1

8. Hidden Stash (Vicky Oliver, Rafael Bejarano), 4-1

9. Unbridled Honor (Todd Pletcher, Julien Leparoux), 20-1

10. Helium (Mark Casse, Jose Ferrer), 6-1

11. Promise Keeper (Todd Pletcher, Luis Saez), 8-1

12. Sittin On Go (Dale Romans, Roberto Alvarado Jr.), 20-1

TimeformUS’ pace projections
show jockey Luis Saez taking Promise Keeper to the lead, followed closely by Boca Boy and Candy Man Rocket.

San Felipe Stakes, 5:45 p.m. EST

The San Felipe Stakes looks on paper like a battle of the Bafferts, although there are a few other intriguing options.

Life Is Good (4-5) headlines the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe after posting wins in his first two starts under jockey Mike Smith. The Into Mischief colt took Santa Anita’s Sham Stakes (G3) two months ago by only ¾ of a length over fellow Bob Baffert trainee Medina Spirit (7-2), who he faces again Saturday.

Medina Spirit won the Robert B. Lewis (G3) in his next start. Jockey John Velazquez, who scored last year’s Kentucky Derby for Baffert aboard Authentic, flies into Southern California to assume the mount.

The Great One (4-1), runner-up in December’s Los Alamitos Futurity (G2), returns to the Kentucky Derby trail for trainer Doug O’Neill after breaking his maiden in January. Impressive local debut winner Dream Shake (5-1) and Lewis runner-up Roman Centurian (8-1) add to the seven-horse field.

You do not have to look far to find a horse to pull off a San Felipe/Kentucky Derby double as Authentic accomplished the feat in 2020.

Here is a look at the 2021 San Felipe Stakes field (trainer and jockey in parentheses) with morning-line odds:

1. Life Is Good (Bob Baffert, Mike Smith), 4-5

2. Dream Shake (Peter Eurton, Joel Rosario), 5-1

3. Medina Spirit (Bob Baffert, John Velazquez), 7-2

4. None Above the Law (Peter Miller, Flavien Prat), 30-1

5. The Great One (Doug O’Neill, Abel Cedillo), 4-1

6. Govenor’s Party (Daniel Franko, Mario Gutierrez), 50-1

7. Roman Centurian (Simon Callaghan, Juan Hernandez), 8-1

TimeformUS’ pace projections
show Smith and Life Is Good trying to wire the field, with Velazquez and Medina Spirt close behind.

Derby preps on TV

TVG will broadcast all three of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby preps. Christina Blacker, Britney Eurton and Todd Schrupp will anchor coverage from Santa Anita, home of the San Felipe, while Gabby Gaudet will report live from Tampa Bay Downs for the Tampa Bay Derby.

Fox Sports and the New York Racing Association will also show all three Kentucky Derby preps on “America’s Day at the Races,” airing from 5-6 p.m. on FS2.

Derby prep links

While the North American Road to the Kentucky Derby takes center stage Saturday, two points-paying Derby preps were run this week in Europe. Godolphin homebred Highland Avenue took a stakes race at Kempton Park in London while American-owned and bred filly My Generation upset a stakes race at Dundalk.

In other Derby trail news, Pool 4 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager opened Friday. Individual betting interests who will be in action Saturday include Candy Man Rocket (30-1), Dream Shake (30-1), Freedom Fighter (30-1), Highly Motivated (20-1), Life Is Good (4-1), Medina Spirit (30-1), Roman Centurian (50-1) and The Great One (50-1).

The Gotham Stakes on Saturday offers a clash between top trainers Bob Baffert and Chad Brown. Matt Shifman looks at all eight runners.

Ontario-bred Weyburn tries the Kentucky Derby trail Saturday in the Gotham for trainer Jimmy Jerkens. Rob Landry of owner Chiefswood Stable told NYRA’s notes team that the Canadian Triple Crown is also in play for later in 2021.

Laurie Ross and Ashley Tamulonis go head-to-head handicapping the Tampa Bay Derby. Ross likes Promise Keeper to earn trainer Todd Pletcher his fifth Tampa Bay Derby in the last nine years, while Tamulonis thinks Hidden Stash can improve on his Sam F. Davis Stakes result.

Reinier Macatangay also thinks Promise Keeper is an attractive win or place bet in the Tampa Bay Derby, at least at the right odds.

Ross and Tamulonis also go head-to-head handicapping the San Felipe Stakes. Both handicappers land on the same superfecta topped by trainer Baffert’s duo of Life Is Good and Medina Spirit.

Authentic, Pioneerof the Nile and Point Given are among Baffert-trained colts who have won the San Felipe Stakes. Keeler Johnson ranks all seven of the trainer’s winners in Santa Anita’s penultimate Kentucky Derby prep race.

Life Is Good and Medina Spirit both crack the top five of Chip Gehrke’s Division Rankings for 3-year-old males. See which other sophomore standouts make the list.

On this week’s edition of HorseCenter, hosts Shifman and Brian Zipse analyze this weekend’s Kentucky Derby preps and pick the Santa Anita Handicap.

Other Saturday stakes

Courtesy of the NTRA, here is a look at other graded-stakes action happening Saturday across the U.S.

2:18 p.m. EST – $100,000 Challenger Stakes (G3), Tampa Bay Downs, TVG

The Bill Mott-trained Modernist seeks his first victory in more than a year when he breaks from the outside post in a field of five for the Challenger Stakes going 1 1/16 miles. Modernist won the Risen Star Stakes (G2) last February but has not started since finishing fifth in the Peter Pan Stakes (G3) last July 16.

4:02 p.m. EST – $200,000 Tom Fool Handicap (G3), Aqueduct, TVG

Gold Square’s Wendell Fong will look to make the grade in Saturday’s Tom Fool Handicap, a six-furlong sprint for older horses. Wendell Fong provided trainer Natalia Lynch – previously an assistant and exercise rider for Jeremiah Englehart – her first career win last out with a neck score in the six-furlong Fire Plug on Jan. 16 at Laurel Park. Lynch helped prepare the 5-year-old son of Flat Out, previously trained by Englehart, for a winning career debut in December 2018 at Laurel. She was also along for the journey with Wendell Fong through a win in the 2019 Gold Fever at Belmont in a campaign that ended with a prominent fifth in the Woody Stephens (G1) at Belmont and a 10th in the Amsterdam (G2) at Saratoga.

4:25 p.m. EST – $225,000 Hillsborough Stakes (G2), Tampa Bay Downs, TVG

On Saturday, Magic Attitude will try to launch an even better 4-year-old campaign in the Hillsborough Stakes at 1 1/8-miles on the Oldsmar turf course. After trailing early, Magic Attitude took off in the stretch, sweeping to victory against her four rivals to win the Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1) last September. She followed that up with a strong third-place performance in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes (G1), also for 3-year-old fillies, Oct. 10 at Keeneland.

4:55 p.m. EST – $200,000 Florida Oaks (G3), Tampa Bay Downs, TVG

Trainer Arnaud Delacour, who will saddle Magic Attitude in the Hillsborough, is seeking his first triumph in the Florida Oaks when he sends out Lael Stables homebred Be Sneaky. Yet to race on grass, Be Sneaky is 1-for-3, with a second-place finish at Tampa Bay Downs in the Suncoast Stakes on Feb. 6 in her most recent start. The daughter of Into Mischief broke her maiden at Laurel Park last October.

6:10 p.m. EST – $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3), Oaklawn Park, TVG

Juddmonte Farms' two-time winner Sun Path was installed as the 5-2 morning line favorite in the field of eight 3-year-old fillies signed on to compete in the 1 1/16-mile Honeybee, which offers 85 points (50-20-10-5, respectively) to the top four finishers toward the Kentucky Oaks. Trained by two-time Kentucky Oaks-winning conditioner Brad Cox, Sun Path was an emphatic 12-length winner of a Dec. 18 allowance event at Fair Grounds. The Munnings filly attempted stakes company in the Silverbulletday but settled for a fourth-place finish after a wide trip throughout the race.

6:52 p.m. EST – $200,000 San Carlos Stakes (G2), Santa Anita Park, TVG

Jay Em Ess Stable’s graded stakes winning Extra Hope will cut back in distance off of five consecutive routes as he heads a field of nine older horses going seven furlongs in Saturday’s San Carlos Stakes. Recent seven-furlong allowance winner Exaulted steps into stakes company for the first time, 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Storm the Court tries a new game and recent California-bred stakes winner Brickyard Ride, lightly raced Tigre Di Slugo and reformed claimer Loud Mouth all rate good chances in a race devoid of a dominant favorite.

7:26 p.m. EST – $400,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1), Santa Anita Park, TVG

Trainer Michael McCarthy’s Smooth Like Strait heads a deep and competitive field of 10 older horses in Saturday’s Frank E. Kilroe Mile. A winner of the opening day Mathis Brothers Mile on Dec. 26, Cannon Thoroughbreds’ homebred Smooth Like Strait is a head away from three consecutive graded stakes wins and merits top billing in a close call over recent lights-out Grade 3 winner Hit the Road. With a strong local contingent in place, the Kilroe has also attracted five quality eastern shippers, headed by Chad Brown’s Flavius, Todd Pletcher’s Social Paranoia and Mark Casse’s Ride a Comet.

8 p.m. EST – $400,000 Santa Anita Handicap (G1), Santa Anita Park, TVG

Godolphin’s unbeaten homebred Maxfield heads ups Saturday’s Santa Anita Handicap, which has attracted a field of eight older horses. Trained by Brendan Walsh, Maxfield, a 4-year-old colt by Street Sense, rallied from far back to win the Mineshaft Stakes (G3) by 3¼ lengths at Fair Grounds under Florent Geroux, who will be back aboard Saturday. A Grade 1 winner in his second start at age 2 in October 2019, Maxfield has three graded victories to his credit.

Top Stories

A wet track Saturday morning at Oaklawn threw Brad...
We will know the top 20 3-year-olds in line to mak...
The Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby  is the las...
Arcadia, Calif. With his six Kentucky Derby victor...
Today’s list of Saturday selections only covers fo...