1. Essential Quality
Trainer/Owner: Brad Cox/Godolphin
Pedigree: Tapit —Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality
Breeder: Godolphin (KY)
Oaklawn Park‘s weather-related postponement of the Southwest Stakes (G3) until Feb. 27 delayed the champ’s return but likely won’t impact his preparation much toward the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1). His training has gone uninterrupted at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. The April 3 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) or April 10 Arkansas Derby (G1) is likely to follow the Southwest.
2. Fire At Will
Mike Maker/Three Diamonds Farm
Declaration of War—Flirt, by Kitten’s Joy
Troy Rankin (KY)
He faces an arduous task in the Feb. 27 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park, shifting to dirt in his return since winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Presented by Coolmore America (G1T) Nov. 6. Though dirt is not new to him—he won the off-the-turf With Anticipation Stakes last summer in the slop—he did not beat the likes of Greatest Honour and Prime Factor in that race.
3. Life Is Good
Bob Baffert/China Horse Club and WinStar Farm
Into Mischief —Beach Walk, by Distorted Humor
Gary and Mary West Stable (KY)
This speedster is pointed to return in the March 6 at Santa Anita Park in the San Felipe Stakes (G2), a race Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has won seven times, including last year with eventual Derby winner Authentic . Promising challengers await him, such as Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) runner-up Roman Centurian and 14-length maiden winner and fellow Derby Dozen member The Great One.
Brad Cox/Juddmonte Farms
Into Mischief—Brooch, by Empire Maker
Juddmonte Farms (KY)
Based at Fair Grounds, where he was third in the Lecomte Stakes (G3) before a blinkers-added Risen Star Presented by Lamarque Ford (G2) victory, he likely returns in the March 20 TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) there. The Louisiana Derby figures to draw more out-of-state interest than the Risen Star, with California-based Robert B. Lewis third-place finisher Hot Rod Charlie among those under consideration for the 1 3/16-mile race.
5. Greatest Honour
Shug McGaughey/Courtlandt Farms
Tapit—Tiffany’s Honour, by Street Cry
Courtlandt Farm (KY)
The Holy Bull Stakes (G3) winner is the anticipated favorite for the Fountain of Youth, a race Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey previously won with Orb and Code of Honor—colts who would later run first and second in the Kentucky Derby in 2013 and 2019, respectively. Several of those that chased this 3-year-old across the wire in the Holy Bull are expected back, plus Fire At Will and other new shooters.
Greatest Honour remains ranked at No. 5 in this week’s Derby Dozen
6. Medina Spirit
Bob Baffert/Zedan Racing Stables
Protonico —Mongolian Changa, by Brilliant Speed
Gail Rice (FL)
The Robert B. Lewis winner was given a stiff six-furlong workout in a bullet 1:12 2/5 by Baffert Feb. 20 at Santa Anita. Spotting workmate Heels Up, a stakes-placed 3-year-old filly, a couple of lengths, he finished on even terms, though he came under pressure to catch up. Not as brilliant as some others in the ‘Dozen, but his tenacity should carry him a long way on the Triple Crown trail.
7. Caddo River
Brad Cox/Shortleaf Stable
Hard Spun —Pangburn, by Congrats
Shortleaf Stable (KY)
When freezing temperatures and cold rolled into Arkansas earlier this month, Cox shipped him from Oaklawn to his division at Fair Grounds in warmer New Orleans, a move that has kept the Smarty Jones Stakes winner on schedule to start in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn March 13. He’s posted two works at Fair Grounds while Oaklawn has been shuttered, including a bullet five furlongs in :59 3/5 Feb. 20.
8. Concert Tour
Bob Baffert/Gary and Mary West
Street Sense —Purse Strings, by Tapit
Gary and Mary West Stables (KY)
In contrast to Medina Spirit’s in-company breeze Feb. 20 at Santa Anita, Baffert gave this colt an easier half-mile solo breeze that morning, having just run Feb. 6 when taking the San Vicente Stakes (G2). Going comfortably, he smoked the distance in :47 1/5. Now comes his first route test and a showdown with Caddo River in the Rebel. Preparation mirrors that of the Baffert-trained Nadal from last year.
9. The Great One
Doug O’Neill/ERJ Racing, Train Wreck Al Racing Stables, Niall Brennan, Tom Fritz, and William Straus
Nyquist —Little Ms Protocol, by El Corredor
Coteau Grove Farms (LA)
His 14-length maiden win Jan. 23 was a beauty, an encore performance after a close second in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) for two-time Derby-winning trainer Doug O’Neill. The answer to whether that win was the result of improvement or a class drop should be answered in the San Felipe, where he and Life Is Good figure to be among those duking it out.
10. Jackie’s Warrior
Steve Asmussen/Kirk and Judy Robison
Maclean’s Music —Unicorn Girl, by A. P. Five Hundred
J & J Stables (KY)
Like Essential Quality, he has been training in New Orleans toward the Southwest—meaning he dodged the cold and snow that blanketed the Arkansas track. A three-time graded winner last year at 2, he weakened to fourth around two turns in the 1 1/16-mile TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (G1) at Keeneland Nov. 6, though with the excuse of chasing furious splits.
Tapit—Panty Raid, by Include
The Lecomte and Risen Star runner-up gives Godolphin two in the ‘Dozen, joining top-ranked Essential Quality. This colt has a powerhouse pedigree, being by Tapit and out of Panty Raid, an Include mare so classy and versatile that she won graded stakes on dirt, turf, and synthetic as a 3-year-old in 2007. Her daughter, Micheline, has notched three stakes victories for trainer Mike Stidham, including over 1 5/16 miles on turf.
Robertino Diodoro/Cypress Creek and Arnold Bennewith
Laoban —Inclination, by Victory Gallop
Southern Equine Stables (KY)
The Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) winner slips a position due to missed mid-February training caused by a snow-covered, frozen Oaklawn racetrack. As a result of lost training, trainer Robertino Diodoro is skipping the Southwest with him to await the Rebel. This colt already has 18 Derby qualifying points—should he pick up a manageable 25 points in a pair of Derby preps, he should make the Derby based on the point cutoffs of recent years.