There can be no doubt who the favourite for the 147th Kentucky Derby (G1) will be when the famous race returns to its first Saturday in May spot a month from now.
ESSENTIAL QUALITY, the grey Godolphin colt by the great sire Tapit, wore down a stubborn Highly Motivated to win the the 97th running of the $800,000 Toyota Blue Grass (G2) for 3-year-olds Saturday afternoon at Keeneland by a neck.
The Toyota Blue Grass was the final event of the day’s 11-race card, which featured six stakes worth $2.1 million. The Pick 5 handled a record $1,485,090, eclipsing the previous mark of $1,395,051 set on Toyota Blue Grass Day during the 2020 Summer Meet. All-sources wagering on Toyota Blue Grass Day totaled $22,723,197 to be the third-highest single day handle in Keeneland history.
Trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Luis Saez, Essential Quality covered the 1 1/8 miles on a fast main track in 1:48.50.
He earned a 97 Beyer Speed Figure according to Daily Racing Form. The victory was the fourth of the afternoon for jockey Luis Saez and his second in the Toyota Blue Grass. He rode Brody’s Cause to victory in 2016.
With the victory, Essential Quality earned 100 qualifying points toward the 147th running of the $3 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) to be run May 1 at Churchill Downs. Essential Quality has 140 points.
The Derby is limited to the top 20 point earners that pass the entry box when entries are taken April 27.
Highly Motivated picked up 40 points for second to increase his Derby point total to 50. Rombauer added 20 Derby points to boost his total to 34 while Hidden Stash picked up 10 points for fourth and a total of 32 points.
Javier Castellano put Highly Motivated on the lead out of the starting gate with Essential Quality tracking just to his outside through fractions of :23.83, :48.21 and 1:12.08. On the far turn, Essential Quality inched up to near even terms setting the stage for the stretch duel that was decided in the final yards.
Now undefeated in five starts with three of those victories at Keeneland, including the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, Essential Quality is a Kentucky-bred son of Tapit out of the Elusive Quality mare Delightful Quality. The $480,000 winner’s share increased his earnings to $2,265,144.
Essential Quality rewarded his backers payoffs of $3, $2.20 and $2.10. Highly Motivated returned $3.40 and $2.80 and finished 5½ lengths in front of Rombauer, who paid $5.40 to show under Florent Geroux.
It was another 4¼ lengths back to Hidden Stash with Keepmeinmind, Sittin On Go, Hush of a Storm, Untreated and Leblon following in order.
The $750,000 WOOD MEMORIAL (G2) was a whole lot different as Aqueduct’s premier race of the meeting and the big show for New York-based 3-year-olds ended with a massive upset.
The 96th running of the Wood Memorial, offering 100-40-20-10 Derby qualifying points to the top-four finishers, was not contested in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But BOURBONIC (Bernardini – Dancing Afleet, by Afleet Alex), making his first stakes appearance in his sixth start, ensured the 729-day gap between runnings was memorable, rallying from last-of-nine at the top of the stretch before jockey Kendrick Carmouche tipped him out and saw his charge pick off rivals one-by-one.
Trained by Todd Pletcher for owner/breeder Calumet Farm, Bourbonic was 72 to 1, coming in with a nice record at Aqueduct but a maiden claiming win and low Beyer Figures.
Bourbonic surged through the wire from the middle of the fast main track, besting Dynamic One in the final jumps to complete the 1 1/8-mile course in 1:54.49 and earn the triple-digit Derby points for the Kentucky homebred.
It marked the sixth Wood Memorial victory for Pletcher, who previously won with Eskendereya , Gemologist , Verrazano , Outwork  and Vino Rosso . Pletcher’s 55 Derby starters are a record that could soon be bolstered.
“We always felt this horse would handle added distance,” said Pletcher, who trails only Hall of Famer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons’ record eight Wood Memorial wins for the most all time. “He was able to get a perfect trip and sit back and make one late run. He was able to get there just in time. It was a big effort.
“To have any chance, I think the only way he could be successful was to stay back and make one late run,” he added. “He doesn’t have any early speed.”
The Wood Memorial – the signature race for the 126-year-old racetrack – saw a fellow longshot, 70-1 Market Maven, break sharp from the outside post and go to the lead around the near turn, going the opening quarter-mile in 24.88 seconds and the half in 50.18. Ontario-bred Weyburn, a nose winner of the Grade 3 Gotham last out, continued to pressure the pacesetter in second position, with three-quarters going in 1:14.98.
Out of the turn, Dynamic One worked to gain the edge to the outside of Weyburn at the top of the stretch, with Bourbonic still bringing up the rear.
But Carmouche said he knew his horse still had plenty left in reserve, and Bourbonic quickly erased the deficit when angled to the outside, capitalizing on the daylight under heavy encouragement by Carmouche to get up at the right time, winning for the third time in his last four starts.
“Todd asked me what I was going to do and I told him I wouldn’t move,” Carmouche said. “I was just going to sit, sit, sit, sit and hopefully get out the last quarter of a mile. I knew he would go on from there. My horse was in a good stride. Each pole I was picking them up one by one without even asking.”
The victory was Carmouche’s first Wood Memorial win and came one week after the Vinton, Louisiana native completed a winter meet campaign in which he finished second in the standings. Carmouche, who has more than 3,300 wins in his career, has never had a Derby mount.
Bourbonic, who could have been claimed for $50,000 out of a maiden race on December 6 at Aqueduct, returned $146.50 on a $2 win wager. The victory upped his career earnings to $465,800.
The son of Bernardini improved to 3-1-0 in six starts and three wins in four starts since going back to dirt after running 11th in a turf start on November 14 at Aqueduct.
“Sometimes the worst thing you can have is a hot hand in January and February,” Pletcher said. “We were hoping something would come together and we always thought he had potential to step up. It was good to see him do it.”
Dynamic One, ridden by Jose Ortiz, was also making his stakes bow for Pletcher and garnered the 40 qualifying points by topping Crowded Trade by 1 1/4 lengths for runner-up honors.
Owned by Repole Stable, Phipps Stable and St. Elias Stable, Dynamic One broke his maiden at fourth asking in his previous start going the Wood Memorial distance on March 7 at the Big A. The Union Rags colt, a $725,000 purchase at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, handled the step up in class.
“The one thing we were concerned about is if he made the lead he might idle a little bit,” Pletcher said. “Jose said he tried to time it as well as he could and he was hoping the leader would carry him to the wire more than he did. It was another step forward for him.”
**At Santa Anita, with fans returning on a restricted basis this weekend for the first time in over a year, 8,246 on-track attendees witnessed a tremendous day of racing on Saturday, as the 84th running of the Grade I, $750,000 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby highlighted a 12-race program that produced all-sources pari-mutuel handle of $24,282,400–the largest Runhappy Santa Anita Derby Day handle since 2007.
The Runhappy Derby, which was carded as Saturday’s eighth race, was taken by Hronis Racing’s Rock Your World (Candy Ride (Arg) – Charm the Maker by Empire Maker) , who was making only his third start and his first on dirt. Trained by John Sadler and ridden in gate to wire fashion by Umberto Rispoli, the 3-year-old colt by Candy Ride powered to a 4 ¼ length victory over Bob Baffert’s Medina Spirit and paid $12.40 to win.
Bred in Kentucky by Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally and his wife Debbie, Rock Your World picked up 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points and will thus try to become the 19th horse to exit the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby and go on to win the Run for the Roses on May 1 at Churchill Downs.
The Grade II, $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks, carded as race six, went to the Richard Mandella-trained Soothsay, who made a bold move heading into the far turn under Flavien Prat and prevailed by a half length over Baffert’s Beautiful Gift. Owned by Claiborne Farm, Perry Bass II, Ramona Bass and Adele Dilschneider, Soothsay paid $10.40 to win and she collected 100 Kentucky Oaks qualifying points, which puts her in the gate for the “Filly Derby” on April 30 at Churchill Downs.
KENTUCKY DERBY POINTS
Rank Horse Points Owner(s) Trainer Non-Restricted Stakes Earnings
1. Essential Quality 140 Godolphin LLC (Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum) Brad Cox $2,210,000
2. Hot Rod Charlie 110 Roadrunner Racing (Greg Helm), Boat Racing LLC (Eric Armagost, Dan Giovaccini, Reiley Higgins, Patrick O’Neill & Alex Quoyeser) & Strauss Bros Racing (Bill Strauss) Doug O’Neill $962,000
3. Like the King 104 M Racing Group LLC (Mickey Gonzalez) Wesley Ward $164,500
4. Known Agenda 102 St. Elias Stable (Vincent Viola) Todd Pletcher $461,100
5. g-Rebel’s Romance (IRE) 100 Godolphin LLC (Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum) Charlie Appleby $510,000 Career: $549,879
6. Rock Your World 100 Hronis Racing LLC (Kosta & Pete Hronis) & David Michael Talla John Sadler $510,000
7. Bourbonic 100 Calumet Farm (Brad Kelley) Todd Pletcher $400,000
8. Greatest Honour 80 Courtlandt Farms (Donald & Donna Adam) Shug McGaughey III $366,240
9. Medina Spirit 74 Zedan Racing Stables Inc. (Amr F. Zedan) Bob Baffert $290,000
10. Midnight Bourbon 66 Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC (Ron Winchell) Steve Asmussen $430,000
— Life Is Good 60 CHC INC (Kit Ng) & WinStar Farm LLC (Kenny Troutt) Bob Baffert $240,000
11. $-Weyburn (Ont-C) 60 Chiefswood Stables Limited (Robert & Mark Krembil) Jimmy Jerkens $215,000
12. Mandaloun 52 Juddmonte Farms Inc. (Garret O’Rourke, Administrator) Brad Cox $270,000
13. Concert Tour 50 Gary & Mary West Bob Baffert $720,000
14. Highly Motivated 50 Klaravich Stables Inc. (Seth Klarman) Chad Brown $271,000
15. $-Helium 50 D J Stable LLC (Leonard Green) Mark Casse $255,492
16. $-Panadol 40 Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum Salem bin Ghadayer $240,000
17. Soup and Sandwich 40 Live Oak Plantation (Charlotte C. Weber) Mark Casse $161,000
18. Dynamic One 40 Repole Stable (Mike Repole), Phipps Stable & St. Elias Stable (Vincent Viola) Todd Pletcher $140,000
19. Crowded Trade 40 Klaravich Stables Inc. (Seth Klarman) Chad Brown $135,000
20. Sainthood 40 WinStar Farm LLC (Kenny Troutt) & CHC Inc. (Kit Ng) Todd Pletcher $47,000
21. Rombauer 34 John & Diane Fradkin Michael McCarthy $260,500
22. Proxy 34 Godolphin LLC (Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum) Mike Stidham $160,000
23. Hidden Stash 32 BBN Racing LLC (Ann Braxton Lynch) Vicki Oliver $130,000
24. Dream Shake 30 Exline-Border Racing LLC (Ryan Exline & Justin Border), SAF Racing & Richard Hausman Peter Eurton $126,000
25. O Besos 25 L. Barrett Bernard, Tagg Team Racing & West Point Thoroughbreds (Terry Finley et al) Greg Foley $116,000
~with files from Keeneland/NYRA/Santa Anita