From Future Stars Friday to the First Saturday in May
Courtesy of Ren Carothers (@RenCarothers)
When the Future Stars Friday card was conceived, it was as a means to showcase, on a single day, the horses we may see ascend and become the luminaries of tomorrow. We’ve seen many two-year-old Breeders’ Cup champions go on to become marquee three-year-olds. We’ve also seen many of the also-rans go on to blossom into headliners. The key is balance.
Often, precocious juveniles who beat up on their late-maturing counterparts are eventually eclipsed themselves. The truly special ones not only maintain their superiority, they develop into even more formidable athletes. With this in mind, the 2020 TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile has proven potent, with four Future Stars Friday alumni, including the top three finishers, securing a spot in that storied 20-stall gate on the First Saturday in May.
The undefeated Essential Quality, who was named Eclipse champion two-year-old colt, is the 2-1 morning line favorite in this year’s Run for the Roses. He’s answered every challenge thus far, with a perfect 5-for-5 record, among those wins, a 4-1/4 length win off the bench in a sloppy edition of the G3 Southwest. He comes into the Derby off a gutty neck score over Chad Brown’s Highly Motivated in the Blue Grass Stakes.
Should he prevail at Churchill, giving trainer Brad Cox his first Kentucky Derby win, Essential Quality would become only the third horse to have ever completed the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile/Kentucky Derby double. Only 2006’s Juvenile victor, Street Sense, and 2015’s, Nyquist, went on to win the Derby at three. Both Street Sense and Nyquist now stand for Godolphin at Jonabell Farm, home of the Darley Stallions, but if Essential Quality wins on Saturday, he’d be the first runner sporting the Godolphin blue to do it.
Making it all the more special is that he’s not only owned by the operation, but a homebred, too. As expected, he is royally bred. Essential Quality is by the prolific Tapit and out of the Elusive Quality mare, Delightful Quality, a half-sister to 2005’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies/Eclipse champion two-year-old filly, Folklore. Folklore herself has proven to have the genetic goods in the shed, sitting pretty as the granddam of Contrail, who won Japan’s Triple Crown in 2020.
A win in the Kentucky Derby would undoubtedly mean a lot to jockey Luis Saez, as well. In 2019, he crossed the wire first aboard Maximum Security, only to be, for the first time in Kentucky Derby history, disqualified from the triumph for interference in the stretch. The infraction happened when the colt seemingly spooked on the turn for home, causing a chain reaction. With the stewards’ decision, Country House was elevated to the win, along with his jockey, Flavien Prat.
Prat has a big shot to win the Derby again, this time in the traditional way, as he has the mount on the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up, Hot Rod Charlie, who has drawn post #9. Affectionally referred to as “Chuck” by his connections, which include Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing, LLC, Strauss Bros Racing, and Gainesway Thoroughbreds, the Doug O’Neill trainee pulled a shocker on the bettors that afternoon, rolling in the stretch at 94-1. Yet, when you really look at the total picture, it’s clear to see the bettors had miscalculated that day.
“Chuck” started his career sprinting, first five furlongs on dirt, then five furlongs on grass. Then they tried a turf mile. When that didn’t get him to the winner’s circle, they put him back on dirt, at a mile, with blinkers, and it was then that he actually could see his way to a win.
Additionally, the pedigree painted a picture of a horse would get better with maturation. Bob and Sean Feld saw the potential early-on, picking up colt for $17,000 as a yearling at the Fasig-Tipton February Mixed Sale. Though his sire, Oxbow, won the 2013 Preakness, was himself a son of 1998’s Breeders’ Cup Classic champion, Awesome Again, and out of Tizamazing, a full sister to the only horse to have won the Classic twice – Tiznow – he wasn’t commanding due attention. Still, the Felds felt this colt, out of the Indian Charlie mare Indian Miss, and a half brother to a then-winner of two listed stakes named Mitole, had potential.
Boy, were they right. Mitole returned to races in March and picked up where he left off, extending the win streak he had started before the time away to seven, including the G3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap, the G1 Churchill Downs Stakes, and the G1 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap. Mitole then rebounded from a third place finish in the G1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt to pick up the G1 Forego. So, when Hot Rod Charlie was led away from the ring at Fasig-Tipton’s yearling sale in October, he did so having dropped the hammer at $110,000.
The return on investment was undoubtedly impressive, but when Mitole went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and be named Eclipse Champion male sprinter, he must have looked like a million bucks – and that’s what Chuck himself, after an impressive front-end assault in the G2 Louisiana Derby, has already earned: $1,005,700 to be exact. Connections are using their high profile platform, as well, bringing attention to charities like curemelanoma.org and the Jake Panus Walk-On Football Endowed Scholarship.
The #4 Keepmeinmind has been long odds before, only to put in performances to remember. He ran 2nd to Essential Quality in the G1 Breeders’ Futurity at 52-1, and then, still getting no respect, put in a show dough finish at 30-1 in the Juvenile. Instead of going to the bench following that big, closing effort, he came back later that month to win the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs, and as the post time favorite, having finally gotten bettors to believe. Unfortunately, the comeback in the G2 Rebel didn’t go smoothly, with a wide trip, and while he showed some want early into the running of the G2 Blue Grass, he ultimately finished 16 lengths back of Essential Quality. Trainer Robertino Diodoro takes the blinkers back off, equipment he went without for the first two starts of his career, and hopefully, he gets a new perspective.
Keepmeinmind retains his regular rider, David Cohen, and, like last year’s Kentucky Derby champion, Authentic, is owned in part by Spendthrift Farm. Cypress Creek Equine and Arnold Bennewith are also partnered on the colt. Considering the horse has a win and a second in his two starts at Churchill Downs, and based on the work tab which sports a bullet, four furlong drill in :46 and 1, fastest of 108 at the distance, you’ve got to think it possible that he may prove aptly named, after all.
Keepmeinmind is a first crop representative of Laoban, who himself has Breeders’ Cup ped-cred top and bottom, being by 2010’s Juvenile champ Uncle Mo and out of a stakes-placed mare by 2004’s Sprint victor Speightstown, and her female family includes the likes of multiple G1W I’m a Chatterbox. As for Keepmeinmind’s broodmare sire, that’s Victory Gallop, who ran 2nd in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness of 1998, before bringing Real Quiet’s quest for the Triple Crown to a halt, a nose short from the final jewel, catching him on the wire.
The fourth Juvenile alumni contesting this year’s Kentucky Derby is Kenny McPeek trainee, #16 King Fury, owned by Fern Circle Stables, Three Chimneys, and Magdalena Racing. Regular rider Brian Joseph Hernandez is up, and so are hopes, following the colt’s dominant 2-3/4 length victory in a sloppy edition of the G3 Lexington. The Lexington was his first start since a 5th placed finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club in November, in which they experimented with blinkers. That performance followed a 7th placed finish after a troubled trip from the two hole in the Juvenile, a race in which he went off at 59-1 despite going into it off a win in Churchill Downs’ Street Sense Stakes, over eventual Arkansas Derby winner Super Stock.
Speaking of super stock, King Fury is definitely the product of some primo genetics, which explains the $950,000 price tag. The son of Hall of Famer, and Breeders’ Cup Classic champ, Curlin is out G1 winner Taris, who was third in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. Taris is a daughter of Flatter, whose own sire, A.P. Indy is also, like Curlin, a Hall of Famer with the Breeders’ Cup Classic on the resume. Being able to handle the off-going with that pedigree should come as no surprise, but it’s also possible this boy has benefited from a bit of physical and mental maturation.
Conditioning is something King Fury’s namesake, Tyson Fury, heavyweight champion of the world, knows a lot about, even if he didn’t know of the Derby hopeful himself until this week. McPeek has invited the fighter to enjoy the Derby festivities, Tweeting in part, “Come to town Big Guy, we’ve got your VIP tickets,” and the human Fury has enthusiastically accepted. From rings to winner’s circles, belts to garlands, the headlines write themselves…
And there it is: from Future Stars Friday to making headlines going into the “First Saturday in May”. As for Saturday…
From a foal crop of 21,130, a field narrowed to twenty hopefuls are set to go postward, four of them Breeders’ Cup alumni, one of them the reigning, undefeated champ. While the outcome remains to be seen, the Forecast looks mighty bright.
- May 5, 2021
Four-Time Kentucky Derby Winning Jockey John Velazquez And Breeder Of Medina Spirit Gail Rice Join As Special Guests For Breeders’ Cup’s Cocktails & Conversation Live Stream
“Cocktails & Conversation,” the weekly virtual happy hour series, returns for the fifth episode of the season on Thursday (May 6) with special guests Hall of Fame jockey, John Velazquez, and the breeder of Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit, Gail Rice; hosted by Britney Eurton and Nick Luck of NBC Sports and joined by renowned mixologist and creator of Breeders’ Cup’s official cocktails Mark Tubridy.
- May 4, 2021
Breeders’ Cup announced tickets for the 2021 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Del Mar will go on sale to the public on Friday, July 16, at Noon ET / 9:00 a.m. PT.
- May 2, 2021
Succeso Wins Sunday's Gran Premio Club Hipico Falabella in Chile and Earns Automatic Berth into FanDuel Breeders' Cup Mile
Don Mario’s 3-year-old Succeso (CHI) forged to the front with a powerful stretch drive to win Sunday’s 1 ¼ mile Gran Premio Club Hipico Falabella (G1) on the turf at Club Hipico de Santiago by 1 ¾ lengths over longshot Aucar (CHI).