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Jon White's Very Early Kentucky Derby Top 10

by Jon White

December 3, 2020

Inspired by Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW), which closed last Sunday, I have put together a very early Top 10 for the 2021 Run for the Roses. Here it is:

  1. Essential Quality
  2. Life Is Good
  3. Highly Motivated
  4. Hot Rod Charlie
  5. Keepmeinmind
  6. Fire At Will
  7. Jackie’s Warrior
  8. Caddo River
  9. Mandaloun
  10. Dr. Schivel

Essential Quality is the 8-1 favorite in the Kentucky Derby future book at William Hill Nevada. Ron Flatter reported that Monday for horseracingnation.com. Life Is Good is next at 10-1. Then there’s a substantial jump to Classier and Red Flag at 35-1 each. They are followed by Caddo River and Jackie’s Warrior at 40-1 each. Listed at 50-1 each are Dr. Schivel, Hot Rod Charlie, Keepmeinmind and Olympiad.

Life Is Good ended up being the 5-1 favorite among individual horses in KDFW Pool 1. Essential Quality was next at 8-1. Then there was a pretty big jump to Jackie’s Warrior and Highly Motivated at 18-1 each, followed by Keepmeinmind at 19-1.

Essential Quality is undefeated in three career starts. Trained by Brad Cox, the Kentucky-bred Tapit colt overcame a troubled trip to win a six-furlong maiden race by four lengths when unveiled at Churchill Downs on Sept. 4.

Stretching out to 1 1/16 miles at Keeneland in his next start, Essential Quality won the Grade I Breeders’ Futurity by 3 1/4 lengths. Affirming his quality, he then rallied from eighth to win the Grade I BC Juvenile by three-quarters of a length at odds of 3-1 on Nov. 6 at Keeneland.

Jackie’s Warrior, trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, finished fourth in the BC Juvenile as the 9-10 favorite. The Kentucky-bred Maclean’s Music colt was racing around two turns for the first time after winning his first four career starts, including Grade I victories in the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga and Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park.

Hot Rod Charlie finished second in the BC Juvenile at the gigantic odds of 94-1. He has shown dramatic improvement since having blinkers added to his equipment. He won a one-mile maiden race on Oct. 2 at Santa Anita when racing with blinkers for the first time, then defeated all but Essential Quality in the BC Juvenile.

Two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O’Neill (I’ll Have Another in 2012, Nyquist in 2016) conditions Hot Rod Charlie, whose sire, Oxbow, won the Grade I Preakness Stakes in 2013. Hot Rod Charlie is a half-brother to Mitole, who was voted a 2019 Eclipse Award as champion male sprinter.

Some may have been inclined to knock Essential Quality’s BC Juvenile victory because runner-up Hot Rod Charlie was a mega longshot and third-place finisher Keepmeinmind was a maiden.

As a maiden, Keepmeinmind finished second to Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Futurity and third to that same foe in the BC Juvenile.

But Keepmeinmind is a maiden no more. In fact, now he’s a graded stakes winner. Ninth early in last Saturday’s Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill, the Kentucky-bred Laoban colt came on in the lane to prevail by three-parts of a length as the 2-1 favorite. He was an overlay from his 6-5 favoritism on veteran oddsmaker Mike Battaglia’s morning line.

Keepmeinmind completed his 1 1/16-mile journey in 1:44.52. He recorded a modest 79 Beyer Speed Figure. But keep in mind that he previously had posted a robust 92 Beyer when third in the BC Juvenile.

Below are the Beyer Speed Figures for Kentucky Jockey Club winners going back to 1991 (the figures prior to 2020 are listed in the American Racing Manual, which is now digital only):

2020 Keepmeinmind (79)
2019 Silver Prospector (82)
2018 Signalman (84)
2017 Enticed (81)
2016 McCraken (86)
2015 Airoforce (87)
2014 El Kabeir (94)
2013 Tapiture (83)
2012 Uncaptured (76)
2011 Gemologist (85)
2010 Santiva (78)
2009 Super Saver (93)
2008 Beethoven (90)
2007 Anak Nakal (88)
2006 Tiz Wonderful (101)
2005 Private Vow (96)
2004 Greater Good (91)
2003 The Cliff’s Edge (94)
2002 Soto (94)
2001 Repent (92)
2000 Dollar Bill (96)
1999 Captain Steve (105)
1998 Exploit (101)
1997 Cape Town (96)
1996 Concerto (95)
1995 Ide (94)
1994 Jambalaya Jazz (90)
1993 War Deputy (90)
1992 Wild Gale (87)
1991 Dance Floor (93)


As expected, the “All Other 3-Year-Old Colts and Geldings” option was a strong 6-5 favorite in KDFW Pool 1. This option closed as the favorite at even money last year, but those who bet it did not cash.

Future Kentucky Derby winner Authentic was one of the individual horses in last year’s KDFW Pool 1, going off at 50-1. On the day that Authentic won a Kentucky Derby delayed to Sept. 5 because of the coronavirus, his odds were 8-1.

Three of the last four Kentucky Derby winners -- Always Dreaming in 2016, Justify in 2017 and Country House in 2018 -- weren’t one of the individual horses in Pool 1 of the KDFW.

If Life Is Good does get the job done on the first Saturday in May next year, Hall of Famer Bob Baffert will become the trainer of the most Kentucky Derby winners.

Authentic provided Baffert with his sixth Kentucky Derby victory. Thanks to Authentic, Baffert tied Ben Jones’ record for the most Kentucky Derby wins by a trainer.

Jones’ six Kentucky Derby winners were Lawrin (1938), Whirlaway (1941), Pensive (1944), Citation (1948), Ponder (1949) and Hill Gail (1952). Whirlaway and Citation swept the Triple Crown.

Baffert’s other five Kentucky Derby winners were Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002), American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018). American Pharoah and Justify swept the Triple Crown.

When Baffert unleashed Life Is Good in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden sprint at Del Mar on Nov. 22, the Kentucky-bred colt looked a whole lot better than good. In a dazzling performance, Life Is Good won by 9 1/2 lengths as a 3-10 favorite.

Bill Finley of the Thoroughbred Daily News reported that Life Is Good will likely make his next start in Santa Anita’s Grade III Sham Stakes at one mile on Jan. 2.

“If all is going well, it looks like the Sham will be his next race,” Baffert said. “It will give me a chance to stretch him out. Then I will decide on what’s next and look at races like the Rebel at Oaklawn.”

After Authentic earned his maiden diploma at Del Mar when debuting last year, he won the Sham by 7 3/4 lengths in his next start.

According to Finley, Baffert is looking forward to finding out more about Life Is Good, who is by Into Mischief, as is Authentic. Retired from racing after capping his career with a win in the Grade I BC Classic, Authentic is the favorite to be voted 2020 Horse of the Year.

“He’s got raw talent like American Pharoah and Justify,” Baffert said of Life Is Good. “I think Authentic had that raw talent, too. But he was just immature [early in his career]. This horse gives us something to get excited about, but they’ve got to go two turns first. I didn’t know how good American Pharoah was until he did it.”

In American Pharoah’s first career win, he received a 101 Beyer. In Justify’s first career victory, his Beyer was a 104.

Life Is Good was credited with a 91 Beyer Speed Figure for his dominant triumph at first asking. That his Beyer was not higher is one of the reasons I have him ranked a notch below Essential Quality on my Kentucky Derby Top 10. While Life Is Good received a 91 Beyer in a sprint around one turn, Essential Quality recorded a 95 Beyer in the 1 1/16-mile BC Juvenile around two turns, which is more relevant vis-a-vis the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby around two turns.

Below are the final odds for Pool 1 of the 2021 KDFW:

6-5 “All Other 3-Year-Old Males”
5-1 Life Is Good
8-1 Essential Quality
18-1 Highly Motivated
18-1 Jackie’s Warrior
19-1 Keepmeinmind
27-1 Caddo River
29-1 Speaker’s Corner
30-1 Fire At Will
34-1 Hot Rod Charlie
35-1 Red Flag
35-1 Reinvestment Risk
36-1 Savile Row
49-1 Scarred
51-1 Ten for Ten
56-1 “Any 3-Year-Old Filly”
59-1 Midnight Bourbon
60-1 King Fury
64-1 Get Her Number
68-1 Sittin On Go
72-1 Dr. Schivel
88-1 Rombauer
96-1 Pickin’ Time
103-1 Super Stock


The Kentucky Derby Sire Future Wager once again was offered this year at the same time as Pool 1 of the KDFW.

In terms of sire wagering, the “All Others” option closed as the 4-1 co-favorite. Into Mischief also was 4-1, lowest odds among the 23 individual sires.

Into Mischief is the sire of Life Is Good and Highly Motivated among the 23 individual horses in KDFW Pool 1. Tapit, who closed at 6-1, is the sire of Essential Quality.

Below are the final odds for the 2021 Kentucky Derby Sire Future Wager:

4-1 “All Others”
4-1 Into Mischief
6-1 Tapit
12-1 Curlin
13-1 American Pharoah
17-1 Constitution
19-1 Uncle Mo
21-1 Frosted
22-1 Quality Road
24-1 Hard Spun
25-1 Street Sense
27-1 Ghostzapper
30-1 Not This Time
30-1 Pioneerof the Nile
35-1 Medaglia d’Oro
35-1 Tiznow
36-1 Bernardini
43-1 Union Rags
44-1 Honor Code
47-1 Candy Ride
47-1 Munnings
49-1 Liam’s Map
60-1 Bodemeister
80-1 Flatter


As I wrote last week, our horse racing fantasy league held its annual draft on Nov. 23. This league consists of nine members. Each member drafts eight horses. Our league begins each year on Thanksgiving and continues through the final Breeders’ Cup race the following year.

With nine members, there were nine horses drafted in the first round. Tiz the Law was the first overall pick. Life Is Good, scintillating debut winner at Del Mar the day before the draft, was the second pick, followed by Monomoy Girl third and Charlatan fourth.

With the fifth pick in the first round, I took Essential Quality. Completing the selections in the first round of the draft were Nashville at No. 6, Highly Motivated at No. 7, Astute at No. 8, then Simply Ravishing at No. 9.

After the first round, I took Gamine at No. 14, By My Standards at No. 23, Bonny South at No. 32, Mucho Gusto at No. 41, Shedaresthedevil at No. 50, Blowout at No. 59, then Shancelot at No. 68.

This is how our scoring system works:

--A Grade I race is worth 12, 6 and 4 points for first, second and third.

--A Grade II race is worth 8, 4 and 2 for first, second and third.

--A Grade III race is worth 6, 3 and 1 for first, second and third.

--An ungraded stakes race is worth 4 for first.

--All other races are worth 2 for first.

--All Canadian races are downgraded one level, except the Woodbine Mile, Northern Dancer Turf, Canadian International and E.P. Taylor.

--The most valuable bonus races are the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic (36, 18, 12). The other bonus races (24, 12, 8) are the Apple Blossom, Kentucky Oaks, Met Mile, Sword Dancer Stakes, Diana Stakes and all of the other Breeders’ Cup races. Since the beginning of this league, the Arlington Million and Beverly D. were bonus races. But they were not run this year. With Arlington Park’s situation rather shaky these days, I made the decision to make the Sword Dancer and Diana bonus races in 2021 rather than the Arlington Million and Beverly D.

Each league member can make two claims per month along with two “super claims.” When someone makes a claim, they must drop one horse from their stable.

One “super claim,” which is simply an additional claim to the two each month, can be made through the traditional day of the Belmont Stakes in June. The other “super claim” can be made after that.

BloodHorse’s Byron King won the 2020 FSL title. This was his sixth FSL title and fourth in the last five years.

I was so disappointed when By My Standards finished seventh in last Friday’s Grade I Clark Stakes at Churchill Downs that I’ve already cut him loose from my roster. I replaced him by claiming Grade I Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Knicks Go, who had not been drafted. I decided to snap up Knicks Go last Saturday after seeing that he had worked four furlongs in :49.80 that morning at Churchill.

The only way to claim a horse in November is to use a “super claim,” but I felt it was worth doing. I figured that if I waited until trying to claim him on Dec. 1, I’d probably have to shake for him. By using my “super claim,” I’d definitely get him.

I wrote last week that because I never did get a 2-year-old filly in the draft, I just had to hope that I’d be able to claim a good one on down the road. On Tuesday (Dec. 1), I used one of my two December claims to take a 2-year-old filly, Souper Sensational.

Trained by Hall of Famer Mark Casse, Souper Sensational is two for two. The Kentucky-bred Curlin filly, a $725,000 auction purchase by owner Live Oak Plantation, won a seven-furlong maiden race by 2 1/4 lengths on synthetic footing Sept. 26 at Woodbine. Sent off as the 6-5 favorite, she toyed with highly regarded runner-up Speightstown Shirl, who finished 9 3/4 lengths clear of third.

In Souper Sensational’s next race, she won Woodbine’s Glorious Song Stakes, also a seven-furlong affair on synthetic footing, by four lengths as a 3-5 favorite.

In Souper Sensational’s debut, her final time was 1:23.54. She was credited with a 76 Beyer Speed Figure. Her final time in the Glorious Song was a splendid 1:21.84. She improved in the Beyer department to an 86.

Souper Sensational’s 86 Beyer Speed Figure in the Glorious Song exceeds the 84 Beyer that Travel Column recorded when she won last Saturday’s Grade II Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill.

It appears to me there is a chance that Souper Sensational could be a special filly. We shall see. The plan, according to Casse, is for Souper Sensational to race at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. The goal, Casse added, is the Grade I Kentucky Oaks. That, folks, is one of the fantasy league’s bonus races.

And so it is that after not getting a 2-year-old filly in the draft, I am tickled to add the promising Souper Sensational to my fantasy roster. I dropped Bonny South, who got trounced when she finished second, six lengths behind Envoutante, in the Grade II Falls City Stakes at Churchill last Thursday.

I also made a second claim on Dec. 1, which means I have already used up my two December claims.

Performer was taken in the draft at No. 11. Firenze Fire was the No. 28 pick. King Guillermo was selected at No. 30. With all of them not available, I decided to take a shot in this Saturday’s Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct by picking up Mr. Buff and dropping Blowout. I was willing to drop Blowout because I don’t expect her to be running again anytime soon, possibly not until sometime in the spring.

Mr. Buff goes into the Cigar Mile off a convincing 3 1/4-length win against New York-breds in the Empire Classic Handicap at Belmont on Oct. 24. He recorded a 94 Beyer Speed Figure. I’m hoping that he will run an even better race in the Cigar Mile. That might happen because the Cigar Mile is at the Big A.

On the main track at Aqueduct, Mr. Buff has eight wins and three seconds from 13 starts. The last time he raced on that surface, he won the one-mile Haynesfield Stakes by a whopping 20 lengths last Feb. 22.

Mr. Buff was credited with a 106 Beyer Speed Figure in the Haynesfield. If he runs anything like that in the Cigar Mile, he can win it.

Performer’s top Beyer is a 102.

Firenze’s Fire’ Beyers this year have been 102, 86, 97, 99, 74, 101 and 96.

King Guillermo has never recorded a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure. His highest Beyer was a 99 when he won the Tampa Bay Derby last May 7. King Guillermo has not raced since finishing second to Nadal in a division of the Grade I Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on May 2.

Come on, Mr. Buff. Flex your muscles and show everyone that you are big man on campus at the Big A by winning this Saturday’s Cigar Mile!