On Track With Johnny D: Horse-by-Horse Kentucky Derby Review

The 147th Kentucky Derby is in the books. Hats off to winner Medina Spirit and to his connections, including trainer Bob Baffert, who became the winningest Kentucky Derby conditioner in history. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez won his fourth Derby and second consecutive Run for the Roses at the age of 49 and cemented an already prevalent opinion that he’s riding as well as ever.


Medina Spirit’s meager beginnings struck a blow for everyone who’s ever dreamed of owning a Kentucky Derby winner. He was purchased as a yearling for just $1,000 and as a 2-year-old for $35,000, a pittance in today’s racing world. He’s proof that it can happen to you, me or our Uber driver, with some cash, a bit of luck and help from Bob Baffert and John Velazquez.


In the last few decades, what’s changed about this nearly 150-year-old race is that, since sprinters don’t qualify for entry anymore, the early pace isn’t as contentious. Riders used to be able to take hold early and save a bit for the end. Not the case as much anymore. Based on results, it appears Derby runners with designs on winning must be prominent early.


Below is a complete rundown of all Derby starters with trip notes and comments for each. The Derby’s over and we didn’t cash. But the game’s not over. Derby’s like one inning of a very long game. What we learned about each Derby horse will help us cash tickets later in the Triple Crown and throughout the remainder of the year.


#1 Known Agenda      Pletcher/I. Ortiz                     Finished 9th                 11-1

Thought this one would get a decent trip from the rail out of the new starting gate. Also, he appeared to have little speed beside him in the gate until #7 Mandaloun. That meant he wouldn’t have to be rushed out of there or else be covered by a wall of horses. He broke perfectly and jockey Irad Ortiz shook the reins and gave him a few backhanded taps with the whip to get him going. The colt did not take advantage of his early position and, before you knew it, was in 10th being maneuvered off the rail. By the first turn, he had just two horses beat. It was not the start we had hoped for. After that he just ran around the track. Perhaps, this horse had peaked in the Florida Derby? And maybe the Hallandale 3-year-old race wasn’t that deep to begin with. Anyway, a disappointing effort from this guy who seems to be an in-and-out type that will be difficult to rely upon in the future.


#2 Like the King          Ward/Van Dyke                     Finished 12th               50-1

Didn’t give this guy much chance and he lived up to that expectation. He’s probably headed for turf or back to a synthetic surface near you. He broke well, was shuffled in between horses inside and taken back a bit. He began jumping to avoid the dirt hitting him in the face and had about four horses outrun into the first turn. Once clear of the dirt, he settled down, made a decent move to about 7th, tipped outside off the turn for the stretch run but couldn’t follow through and was passed by several closers.


#3 Brookly Strong       Velazquez/Rispoli                  Finished: 15th             43-1

Did not give him a chance before the race and he did not disappoint. He broke slowly and was bumped solidly in the initial strides. He was ducking and diving (probably from kickback) by the wire the first time and into the turn he had four horses outrun. He raced along evenly until the stretch when he passed some horses to be 13th and then faded to 16th. He’s probably best aimed for New York-bred stakes races.


#4 Keepmeinmind      Diodoro/Cohen                      Finished: 7th                49-1

Thought this one had a shot to hit the board. He has outstanding 2-year-old form but hasn’t followed through at three. Blinkers were removed, probably in reaction to him being too close to the early pace and flattening out in the Arkansas Derby. Unfortunately, he absolutely walked out of the gate and was last of 19 until he began to make a move on the turn. Searching for room to run, he travelled 10-wide into the stretch. He closed well to pass many foes but couldn’t get by #10 Midnight Bourbon late and was a well-beaten 7th by a neck. This was not a bad race for him as he was one of the few in the field to close ground. He could be putting it all together again and is currently headed for Preakness. Keep an eye on him in the near future.


#5 Sainthood              Pletcher/Lanerie                    Finished: 11th              43-1

Didn’t care much for him going in. He broke Ok and then drifted right toward the space cleared by #4 Keepmeinmind’s tardy break. He bumped a bit with #3 Brooklyn Strong, righted himself and raced clear of the inside pack. He backed off a bit approaching the wire when pressured by #7 Mandaloun. Into the first turn, he had solid position on the rail in 6th. In a glorious, rail-skimming, trouble-free journey this colt and jockey Corey Lanerie made it to the stretch unscathed. Off the turn, they were outrun by #6 O Besos and through the stretch had no answer as they faded. Absolutely no excuse.


#6 O Besos                  Foley/Pedroza                        Finished: 5th                42-1

Thought he would run well and included him in our ‘Exotic Bombs’ Derby preview section. He finished a clear 5th, four and one-half lengths behind favored #14 Essential Quality. He broke well enough, gained room when #5 Sainthood shifted right a few strides out of the gate. Was squeezed a bit when #7 Mandaloun angled down toward the rail. Found the rail just behind the early leaders. Was inside and had about half the field outrun into the first turn. Maintained his mid-pack position, inside, clear, in the two-path down the backside and approaching the far turn. On the turn he moved around and by rail-runner #5 Sainthood to mount his stretch run. Under strenuous urging, he did his best in the lane but couldn’t gain on the leaders. He finished 5th, about five and one-lengths behind. A fine effort, for sure. He’s a real trier.


#7 Mandaloun            Cox/Geroux                            Finished: 2nd               27-1

We thought he might run well and included him along with winner #8 Medina Spirit and 6th-place finisher #10 Midnight Bourbon in the ‘Also Could Run Well’ section of our Derby preview. Going in, his main drawback was a puzzling effort (or non-effort) in the Louisiana Derby. Trainer, jockey and horse seemed unfazed by the poor performance as the colt worked very well leading up to the Kentucky Derby. In the Derby, he broke cleanly and jockey Geroux hustled him to establish a fine early position. Under the wire for the first time, Mandaloun was sitting fourth on the rail in a perfect spot.  Down the backside, the colt followed #8 Medina Spirit, while comfortably in hand. The two Casse runners #19 Soup and Sandwich and #12 Helium also were in close attendance. Into the turn, he split a tiring #19 Soup and Sandwich and leader #8 Medina Spirit and launched his attack. He appears to have drawn even with #8 Medina Spirit at the top of the stretch but couldn’t maintain any advantage. Overall, a nice trip and a solid effort.


#8 Medina Spirit                     Baffert/Velazquez      Finished: 1st                12-1

Sometimes it’s better to be ‘lucky’ than ‘good.’ Medina Spirit’s 2021 Kentucky Derby victory is what happens when ‘lucky’ meets ‘good’ with a dash of Baffert magic. When #15 Rock Your World was eliminated at the start of the 147th Kentucky Derby, Medina Spirit took control of the race without serious pressure, responded to jockey John Velazquez’s expert handling and once again refused to be passed by anyone when it counts. It’s on to the Preakness, where he might find front-end pressure more intense and that will challenge him more than his relatively comfortable Derby flight.


#9 Hot Rod Charlie                 O’Neill/Pratt               Finished: 3rd                6-1

We ranked this colt as one of the ones that could win this race. He didn’t disappoint. He broke cleanly and was asked a bit by jockey Flavien Pratt to show speed. Following #8 Medina Spirit and positioned just between #7 Mandaloun and #12 Helium, the colt drifted from the nine-hole down to two paths from the rail. Under the wire the first time he was comfortably positioned in fifth-place, one path off the rail. Down the backside he remained in that position, comfortably cruising along in fifth behind the leaders and just in front of a wide #14 Essential Quality. Into the turn, #14 Essential Quality began his move on the far outside and Hot Rod Charlie began his run on the inside. Neither had a straw in their paths and they continued from there into the stretch as a team. ‘Charlie, grudgingly, never let the favorite by.


#10 Midnight Bourbon           Asmussen/Smith        Finished: 6th                13-1

Pre-Derby opinion of this one was tempered by the fact that he had lost ground in the late stages of both of his recent races. However, we thought he might run well enough to hit the exotics. The addition of Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith seemed a positive sign from the connections. In the Derby he broke cleanly, but soon was jostled by #11 Dynamic One and #9 Hot Rod Charlie. He also was squeezed some between #12 Helium and #9 Hot Rod Charlie. All that was minor, and Smith seemed comfortable with his early position in the clear, leading the second flight of runners. On the first turn Smith permitted his mount to move to the outside about four paths wide. Down the backside he held that position in 12th while traveling wide. Into the turn, when the real running began, Midnight Bourbon gradually improved so that by the end of the turn he split horses and angled out for the drive. From there he was able to make little gain against the leaders but held closing #4 Keepmeinmind safe for 6th place. It seems as if Smith’s plan was to allow his mount to relax on his own early and to ask him to run late. He responded, but the leaders weren’t coming back to the field and he wasn’t quite good enough.


#11 Dynamic One                   Pletcher/J. Ortiz         Finished: 18th              45-1

We listed Dynamic One as part of our ‘Exotic Bombs’ section. He was a ‘bomb’ all right, finishing ahead of only the grossly overmatched #19 Soup and Sandwich. He broke well in the Derby, bumped with #10 Midnight Bourbon, was rank and had to be wrangled off heels while in 13th place.  Under the wire the first time he still was anxious to run but had settled down a bit. He entered the first turn widest of all while losing position. Approaching the far turn, he was asked to ‘go’ but responded ‘no’ and that was the end of his afternoon.


#12 Helium                             Casse/Leparoux          Finished: 8th                38-1

Didn’t like this one’s chances going into the race. He broke well and showed speed to angle over from his outside post position. He was outrun by #8 Medina Spirit from the inside and was quick enough to establish a position between and among a trio of early leaders. By the wire first time, jockey Leparoux had eased his mount back off the leaders into third place. Two-wide into the first turn in fourth, alongside #7 Mandaloun, Helium raced in a perfect spot. Out of the final turn, Helium was unable to keep pace with #9 Hot Rod Charlie and #4 Essential Quality and they both pulled past him. In the lane, jockey Leparoux did not abuse his vanqiuished mount and settled for 8th place. This was the colt’s fourth lifetime race. He’s got speed and talent, but he’ll likely require shorter distances for his best.


#13 Hidden Stash                   Oliver/Bejarano         Finished: 14th              39-1

Had a flawless early beginning under jockey Bejarano but had to be steadied off heels beside #3 Brooklyn Strong near the finish first time around. That left him in front of just three runners. He travelled wide into and around the first turn. Down the backside and into the far turn, Bejarano was able to move inside to the two path. Out of the turn ‘Stash briefly had to avoid a fading #19 Soup and Sandwich, but he was unable to gain ground.


#14 Essential Quality             Cox/Saez                     Finished: 4th                3-1

We thought he was the ‘One to Beat’ in this race but that he was not invincible. Out of the Louisville gate he broke well but in a few strides was hammered by #15 Rock Your World who, in turn, had been bothered by #17 Highly Motivated. The bumping caused this one to lose both focus and early position. Jockey Saez moved his colt to the outside and gradually improved position to be sixth under the wire the first time. Around the first turn he travelled well, but about four to five paths wide. Into the far turn Saez asked this one to move and the colt responded affirmatively. They cruised to within about two lengths of the leader while about six-wide. Coming out of the turn #9 Hot Rod Charlie moved alongside the favorite and gained an advantage. Through the stretch that pair dueled for third place, Essential Quality never passing that foe and never gaining ground on the first two finishers. All things considered; he ran pretty much as advertised. A solid horse but not a superstar. Things didn’t go his way in the race and his advantage wasn’t great enough to overcome the adversity.


#15 Rock Your World             Sadler/Rosario                       Finished: 17th              5-1

What happened to Rock Your World just after the break for the 147th Kentucky Derby affected not only him but the entire race result. A few jumps after the start, Rock Your World was molested mainly by #17 Highly Motivated and a bit by #14 Essential Quality when they created a ‘Rock Your World’ sandwich. That Rock Your World wasn’t quick enough to be up inside the pair was his fault, but the entire incident can be blamed mostly on #17 Highly Motivated. It was the end of the race for Rock Your World, who we were ‘Against’ going in because of his inexperience. The elimination of Rock Your World effectively negated the only other ‘quality speed’ horse in the race. Eventual winner #8 Medina Spirit made a comfortable lead he never relinquished. Had Rock Your World enjoyed a fair start, he definitely would have applied pace pressure to #8 Medina Spirit early, possibly enabling others to close ground. When that didn’t happen, the entire race complexion changed.


#16 King Fury                          McPeek/Hernandez   Finished: Scratched


#17 Highly Motivated            Brown/Castellano      Finished: 10th              11-1

We thought this guy had a chance to win the race. Well, not only did he not win, but he could be considered the race’s villain for his part in an early collision that occurred several strides out of the gate when he sideswiped #15 Rock Your World and ended his afternoon. Following the bumping incident, Highly Motivated found a comfortable spot two off the rail in ninth under the wire the first time. Eighth down the backside, about seven lengths from the leader, Highly Motivated was moving well. Asked to advance on the turn, he moved to within about a length behind #14 Essential Quality and #9 Hot Rod Charlie as they turned into the stretch. However, from that point home he could not follow through and faded in the stretch.


#18 Super Stock                      Asmussen/Santana    Finished: 16th              34-1

Broke cleanly, showed good speed to find a comfortable position in seventh, in the three-path, under the wire the first time—a real accomplishment from the 18 hole! He maintained a comfortable speed down the backside and into the far turn. At that point the real running began, and he didn’t quicken with the best of his foes. He just wasn’t good enough.


#19 Soup and Sandwich         Casse/Gaffalione        Finished: 19th              27-1

Away alertly, he moved up to chase the early pace from the outside in third. He hung with the big boys until the real running started and then hit the brakes and dropped back. Rumor is that he bled in the race.


#20 Bourbonic                                    Pletcher/Caramouche            Finished: 13th              30-1

He broke well and darted toward the inside while in the back of the pack where he had only #4 Keepmeinmind outrun under the wire the first time. He maintained that lagging position until approaching the far turn when jockey Caramouche attempted to move up along the rail but was stymied by #1 Known Agenda and #13 Hidden Stash. Bourbonic steadied briefly and dropped back to last. He then stayed on the rail and closed well enough to pass some horses late.



Go ahead and chisel this on my tombstone: He had ‘em all…but in the wrong order. Again.


That’s how this 147th Kentucky Derby felt to me—that we mostly were correct in our assessment of the competitors, predicted how the race would be run and who would finish in the money. Unfortunately, in our final analysis, we didn’t anticipate a scenario where #15 Rock Your World would be hampered at the start, permitting #8 Medina Spirit to enjoy an uncontested lead. Had we considered that development you can be certain #8 Medina Spirit would have appeared ‘on top’ of more than a few tickets. The question is whether or not we would have relegated favorite #14 Essential Quality to fourth? Probably not.


Ultimately, we were correct more often than we were wrong. Just not ‘correct’ enough. We ranked #14 Essential Quality as the ‘One to Beat.’ He was and he ran well. We listed #1 Known Agenda, #9 Hot Rod Charlie and #17 Highly Motivated as ‘Ones That Might Do It.’ We were incorrect on two of them that didn’t fire as well as we had predicted.


The ‘Also Could Run Well’ grouping proved an understatement as #7 Mandaloun was second, #8 Medina Spirit the winner and #10 Midnight Bourbon sixth.


We were ‘Against’ #15 Rock Your World and still believe he wouldn’t have run well even if he hadn’t been mugged coming out of the gate.


‘Exotic Bombs’ didn’t explode because closers had no impact on the race but #6 O Besos did manage fifth at 42-1. #11 Dynamic One was a big mistake and didn’t fire and King Fury scratched.


Now, we head to Pimlico for the second leg of the Triple Crown. It’s a rapid turnaround for horses and humans alike. In this space next week, we will deliver our annual horse-by-horse Preakness analysis and, hopefully, this time we’ll have ‘em all in the correct order!


Race On!

On Track With Johnny D: Horse-by-Horse Kentucky Derby Review

On Track with Johnny D |