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LOUISVILLE, KY – Godolphin homebred Essential Quality drew post 14 and was named the 2/1 morning line favorite for Saturday’s $3 million Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs.
The undefeated Brad Cox trainee will attempt to join Street Sense and Nyquist as the third Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) champion to take the following year’s Run for the Roses.
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After saddling zero Derby runners of his own through 2020, Cox would become the first Louisville native to win The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports if either Essential Quality or the Juddmonte Farms homebred #7 Mandaloun (15/1) comes home first on May 1.
Essential Quality broke his maiden on debut over the Churchill Downs main track last September before winning the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, both held at Keeneland. He returned in late February to win the Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park before returning to Keeneland to capture the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) last time out.
“It got a little nerve-wracking with both horses still to go and the rail still being out there,” Cox said of Essential Quality’s name not being drawn until very late. “I think it’ll be a good spot. He’s got good tactical speed that he’ll be able to get into a good position from there.”
Jockey Luis Saez will ride for the fifth straight start as he seeks his own personal redemption: in 2019, Saez was aboard Maximum Security, the original Derby winner who became the first horse to ever be disqualified for causing interference.
Kentucky Derby Contenders Pedigree Analysis: Essential Quality
Mandaloun won 3 of his first 4 starts including the Risen Star Stakes (G2) at Fair Grounds, but he faltered last out in the Louisiana Derby (G2) and faded to sixth as the 6/5 favorite. His connections likely believe that his lone off-the-board finish was a fluke and Florent Geroux will remain the only race rider the son of Into Mischief has ever known.
“It ended up working out very well, drawing post 7,” Cox said. “He’s a horse that, like Essential Quality, has a tactical advantage and can put himself where he needs to be.”
Trainer John Sadler’s undefeated #15 Rock Your World (5/1) brings his multi-surface talents to his first race away from his southern California base at Santa Anita Park. After debuting January 1 with a turf sprint victory, he stretched out his talent successfully in the mile-long Pasadena Stakes over the grass, then shocked the racing world with a gate-to-wire romp in the Santa Anita Derby (G1).
While the draw may force jockey Joel Rosario (aboard for his debut) to navigate an off-the-pace trip in his second try on dirt, his first 2 victories came after closely stalking the early leaders.
“It’s a good post,” Sadler said. “We’re happy with it.”
Kentucky Derby Contenders Pedigree Analysis: Rock Your World
Four members of the “Todd Squad” will enter the gate trying to give trainer Todd Pletcher his fourth Derby victory, though #1 Known Agenda (6/1) is the only one given a fighting chance on the morning line. Even then, his rail draw has many bettors reconsidering his place on their tickets.
“Obviously, (the rail draw is) not what we were hoping for, but of course, this is one of the things you can’t control,” Pletcher said. “With the new (20-stall) gate, we’re hopeful that things will be better than they were in the past and the post won’t be that bad. He had an inside trip in the Florida Derby and he handled it very professionally.”
Known Agenda’s career form had a rollercoaster appearance before adding blinkers 2 starts back, then romped by 11 lengths against optional claimers at Gulfstream Park. He returned a month later to win the Florida Derby (G1) and keeps both the hood and Irad Ortiz Jr. for the Kentucky Derby.
Kentucky Derby Contenders Pedigree Analysis: Known Agenda
#20 Bourbonic (30/1) and #11 Dynamic One (20/1), Pletcher’s 1-2 finishers in the Wood Memorial (G2), join the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) runner-up #5 Sainthood (50/1) (never worse than second in 3 starts) as the barn’s other hopefuls.
Kendrick Carmouche’s first Derby mount will come on Bourbonic, Jose Ortiz’s sixth try will be aboard Dynamic One, and Corey Lanerie will Sainthood’s fourth jockey in as many starts.
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen’s pair of entries might be longer shots on the morning line tote, but that’s exactly why #10 Midnight Bourbon (20/1) and #18 Super Stock (30/1) are attracting attention.
“We did well (with each draw),” Asmussen said. “The perfect spots.”
Midnight Bourbon, winner of the Lecomte Stakes (G3) and never off the board in 3 Fair Grounds-based prep races, will have “Big Money” Mike Smith in the saddle for the first time, while the barn’s top jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. stays aboard Super Stock following their last-out Arkansas Derby (G1) victory together.
Kentucky Derby Contenders Pedigree Analysis: Midnight Bourbon
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