By Richard Rosenblatt
Now appearing on the road to the Kentucky Derby: The Brad Cox Trio.
The Eclipse Award-winning trainer added another 3-year-old colt to his band of Derby contenders recently when Mandaloun won the Risen Star (G2) at the Fair Grounds on Feb. 13.
And he brought down the house with a 1 ¼-length victory and soared to the top of the Derby points chart over champion stablemate Essential Quality. The win was worth 50 Derby qualifying points.
Essential Quality, meanwhile, is finally set for his seasonal debut in the thrice rescheduled Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park on Saturday.
Completing the Cox trio is Caddo River, winner of the Smarty Jones and prepping for his next performance in the Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn on March 13.
If all three stay in tune, they’re likely to appear together in Louisville, Kentucky, on the first Saturday in May. Cox, from Louisville, is looking for his first Derby starter, and might just end up with three of the favorites.
For now – about 10 weeks from the Run for the Roses – Essential Quality is No. 1 again in this week’s usracing.com Derby Top 10 contenders. Mandaloun shoots up to No. 5 with a bullet, and Caddo River remains at No. 6.
The Southwest was set for Feb. 13 and postponed due to frigid temperatures, snow, and ice. It was re-set for Feb. 20, then pushed to Feb. 21. The weather looks much better and the race is Saturday.
Cox said the two-week wait hasn’t been an issue for Essential Quality, who posted two strong workouts recently at the Fair Grounds, one on Feb. 14, the latest on Feb. 20. With a 3-for-3 record, this will be the colt’s first race since Nov. 6 – 113 days.
“We’re just looking forward to getting him up there [Oaklawn],’’ says Cox.
Six-time Derby winner Bob Baffert has a pair of Top 10 Derby contenders in No. 2 Life is Good and No. 4 Medina Spirit.
The Fountain of Youth (G2) is the big Derby prep race on Saturday at Gulfstream Park, offering points of 50-20-10-5 to the first four finishers. The field is expected to feature Greatest Honour, impressive winner of the Holy
Bull (G3), Fire at Will, Prime Factor and Tarantino. The other Derby preps, with points of 10-4-2-1 to the top four finishers, are the John Battaglia at Turfway Park on Friday and the Southwest. All three races are run at 1 1/16 miles.
US Racing Kentucky Derby Top 10
[jockey from previous race listed]:
1 Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Luis Saez)
Set to ship to Oaklawn from the Fair Grounds for long-awaited 3-year-old debut … 2-year-old male champion is 3-for-3, including a win in the BC Juvenile (G1) … Posted two works since Southwest was being rescheduled three times – 5 furlongs in 1:02.40 on Feb. 14, and 5 furlongs in 1;00.80 on Feb. 20 … Trainer says two-week delay shouldn’t be an issue … Derby points and ranking: 30 (2nd) … Next start: Southwest (G3), Oaklawn Park, Saturday … Derby Future Wager Odds: 8-1.
2 Life Is Good (Bob Baffert, Mike Smith)
Big test coming up soon for one of Baffert’s most promising Derby prospects … Has won both starts, including the Sham (G3) by holding off stablemate Medina Spirit … Two recent works at Santa Anita: 5 furlongs in 1:00.80 on Feb. 14, and 5 furlongs in 59:60 on Feb. 21 … Derby points and ranking: 10 (19th) … Next start: San Felipe (G2), Santa Anita, March 6 … Derby Future Wager Odds: 7-1
3 Greatest Honour (Shug McGaughey, Jose Ortiz)
Easy Holy Bull winner in previous start, this colt should be the favorite in Saturday’s Fountain of Youth … Worked 4 furlongs in 51:20 ay Payson Park on Feb. 21 … Broke his maiden at fourth asking to close out 2-year-old campaign … Likely to continue Florida path to Kentucky in the Florida Derby (G1) on March 27 as a final prep … Derby points and ranking: 10 (16th) … Next start: Fountain of Youth (G2), Gulfstream Park, Saturday … Derby Future Wager Odds: 9-1
4 Medina Spirit (Bob Baffert, Abel Cedillo)
Worked 6 furlongs in 1:12.40 at Santa Anita on Feb. 20 … Could turn out to be steal of a deal since this Florida-bred was purchased for $35,000 … Won the Robert B. Lewis, and ran a strong second to Life is Good in his two 3-year-old races … Derby points and ranking: 14 (7th) … Next start: TBD … Derby Future Wager Odds: 25-1.
5 Mandaloun (Brad Cox, Florent Geroux)
What’s not to like about this colt after his win in the Risen Star? He finished third in the Lecomte (G3) behind Midnight Bourbon and Proxy, but beat those two in the Risen Star … Owned by Juddmonte Farms … Son of Into Mischief-Brooch, by Empire Maker … Derby points and ranking 52 (1st) … Next start: Louisiana Derby (G2), Fair Grounds, March 20 … Derby Future Wager Odds: 16-1.
6 Caddo River (Brad Cox, Florent Geroux)
Two-race win streak after running second in his first two career starts … Won Smarty Jones on Jan. 22 by 10 ¼ lengths in most recent start … Worked 5 furlongs in 59.60 seconds at the Fair Grounds on Feb. 20 – the fastest of 41 workers at the distance … Derby points and ranking: 10 (17th) … Next start: Rebel (G2), Oaklawn Park, March 13 … Derby Future Wager Odds: 15-1
7 Jackie’s Warrior (Steve Asmussen, Joel Rosario)
A record of four wins from five starts, including the Hopeful (G1) and Champagne (G1), is impressive … His lone loss came in the BC Juvenile [faded to fourth] … Like Essential Quality, the Southwest will be his first start since Nov. 6 … Worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.60 at the Fair Grounds on Feb. 21 … Derby points and ranking: 12 (9th) … Next start: Southwest (G3), Oaklawn, Saturday … Derby Future Wager Odds: 26-1
8 Risk Taking (Chad Brown, Eric Cancel)
Withers (G3) winner worked 4 furlongs in 50.06 at Belmont Park on Feb. 21, 34th of 120 workers at the distance … Won 1 1/16-mile Withers by 3 ¾ lengths after seizing control at the sixteenth pole … Derby points and ranking: 10 (14th) … Next start: Wood Memorial (G2), Aqueduct, April 3 … Derby Future Wager Odds: 15-1
9 Keepmeinmind (Robertino Diodoro, David Cohen)
In the same boat at Essential Quality and Jackie’s Warrior in having to wait it out for the Southwest … Won Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) with a last-to-first run at Churchill Downs on Nov. 28 … Derby points and ranking: 18 (5th) … Next start: Southwest (G3), Oaklawn Park, Saturday … Derby Future Wager Odds: 25-1.
10 The Great One (Doug O’Neill, Abel Cedillo)
This colt broke his maiden by 14 lengths in his fifth career start … Trainer is a two-time Derby winner, with I’ll Have Another in 2012 and Nyquist in 2016
… Worked 5 furlongs 1:01.20 at Santa Anita on Feb. 20 … Derby points and ranking: 4 (26th) … Next start: San Felipe (G2), Santa Anita, March 6 … Derby Future Wager Odds: 38-1.