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BLUE GRASS, SANTA ANITA DERBY AND WOOD; AT LEAST 62 CLASSIC WINS AND COUNTING

Edited Release  – Derby fans from around the globe will be on the edge of their seats Saturday afternoon as a trio of Road to the Kentucky Derby Championship Series events will give a clearer picture of the field for “America’s Greatest Race.”

  Saturday’s Road to the Kentucky Derby Championship Series action will start at 5:58 p.m. (all times Eastern) with the $750,000 Wood Memorial (Grade II) at Aqueduct featuring Grade III winner Risk Taking and undefeated Prevalence.

Approximately 30 minutes later, champion Essential Quality headlines a field of nine in the $800,000 Blue Grass (GII) at Keeneland. Finally, graded stakes winner Medina Spirit will attempt his charge to the Kentucky Derby as the headliner in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (GI).

All three races will award the Top 4 finishers points on a 100-40-20-10 scale to the May 1, $3 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (GI). Each race will be televised on NBCSN.

With the cancellation of this year’s Sunland Derby, points boost to the Jeff Ruby Steaks (GIII) and addition of the Battaglia Memorial, there was an increase of 110.5 points from 2019’s Road to the Kentucky Derby and 68 additional points than 2018. From 2013-2019 it’s taken an average of just more than 26 points to make the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby.

ESSENTIAL QUALITY MEETS EIGHT IN BLUE GRASS – Leading Kentucky Derby contender Essential Quality tops a field of nine in Saturday’s $800,000 Blue Grass Stakes (GII) at Keeneland. The unbeaten juvenile champion will make his second start of the season, rolling to a 4 ¼-length victory in the Feb. 27 Southwest (GIII) at Oaklawn Park, and regular rider Luis Saez will be up.

  The major Kentucky Derby qualifier will award points on a 100-40-20-10 basis to the top four.

  A Godolphin homebred colt by Tapit, Essential Quality has shown an affinity for the Lexington, Ky. oval, posting wins in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) and Breeders’ Futurity (GI) last fall. The Brad Cox-conditioned gray sophomore will stretch out to 1 1/8 miles in the Blue Grass, and he appears to be training forwardly in preparation. Essential Quality should be a prohibitive favorite.

  Highly Motivated returns to Keeneland after opening 2021 with a troubled third in the March 6 Gotham (GIII) at Aqueduct. After breaking poorly and being checked in traffic, the Into Mischief colt found his best stride late to miss by 1 ¾ lengths.

  The Chad Brown trainee recorded an impressive win in the Nyquist at Keeneland last fall, garnering a 102 Brisnet Speed rating for the 4 ¼-length decision, and Highly Motivated is eligible to make a serious impact if he handles the stretch out to two turns.

  Longer distances have been no issue for Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) winner and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile third-placer Keepmeinmind, but the confirmed closer will need to show more after a disappointing sixth in the Southwest following a 3 ½-month layoff. David Cohen rides for Robertino Diordoro.

  Rombauer invades for Michael McCarthy after a last-to-first win in the Feb. 13 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields. A rallying fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the late runner will pick up a new pilot in Florent Geroux.

  John Battaglia Memorial Stakes winner Hush of a Storm scratched from last Saturday’s Jeff Ruby Steaks (GIII) in favor of the Blue Grass. He will be tested for class and dirt form, but the improving colt has won three straight for trainer Bill MoreySantiago Gonzalez retains the assignment.

  Hidden Stash exits a pair of respectable performances in his first stakes attempts, finishing third in the Sam F. Davis (GIII) and second in the Tampa Bay Derby (GII). The Vicki Oliver-trained colt was beaten less than a length in the latter, and Rafael Bejarano guides the chestnut.

  Untreated will jump to stakes competition for Todd Pletcher following an 8 ¾-length maiden win at Tampa Bay Downs. Juvenile Grade III winner Sittin On Go, unplaced in his last four outings, and Oaklawn maiden scorer Leblon round out the field.

MEDINA SPIRIT HEADS FIELD OF 10 IN SANTA ANITA DERBY – Robert B. Lewis (Grade III) winner and San Felipe (GII) runner-up Medina Spirit will be the horse to beat in Saturday’s $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (GI). He’s one of two in the 10-horse field for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who will be seeking his 10th Santa Anita Derby win.

  The 1 1/8-mile race has produced 19 Kentucky Derby winners, and it’s a major qualifier awarding a combined 170 points to the top four finishers (100-40-20-10).

  Medina Spirit appears to be training forwardly, recording a five-furlong bullet workout (:59) in preparation, and two-time Kentucky Derby winner John Velazquez will be in to guide the Florida-bred Protonico colt.

  Baffert will also be represented by Defunded, who faces a serious class and distance check following a six-furlong maiden special weight victory on March 6. Mike Smith rides Dialed In gelding.

  Dream Shake was outfinished by Medina Spirit in the latter stages of the March 6 San Felipe, winding up more than 10 lengths behind the now-sidelined Life Is Good in third, but the Peter Eurton-trained Twirling Candy colt was making only his second start. A sharp debut maiden scorer in early February, Dream Shake is eligible to show more after his initial stakes experience, and leading rider Flavien Prat picks up the mount.

  Roman Centurian failed to make an impact when fourth in the San Felipe, but the impressive maiden scorer ran well when posting a head second in the Robert Lewis two starts back, edging third-place finisher Hot Rod Charlie by a nose. That rival came back to win the TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (GII), and Roman Centurian is a rebound candidate for Simon Callaghan on Saturday.

  The Great One figures to be a pace factor from post 9 following a weakening fifth in the San Felipe. The Doug O’Neill-trained colt earned back-to-back 101 Brisnet Speed ratings for a nose second in the Los Alamitos Futurity (GII) and a 14-length maiden win. The son of Nyquist will try to show more with Abel Cedillo.

  Rock Your World will try dirt after opening his career with a pair of turf wins, including a 2 ¼-length triumph in the Feb. 27 Pasadena. Umberto Rispoli will be up for John Sadler. Sham Stakes (GIII) third Parnelli adds blinkers following a disappointing fifth in the Robert Lewis.

  Ottothelegend invades for Steve Asmussen after a convincing maiden special weight at Oaklawn Park in early March. The Uncle Mo colt relished the stretch out to two turns in his second career outing, and Mario Gutierrez will take over the reins. Law Professor is another last-out maiden winner trying stakes competition, graduating by a 2 ½-length margin on March 5, and Kent Desormeaux picks up the mount for Michael McCarthy.

  Expected longshot Back Ring Luck completes the lineup.

CROWDED TRADE GIVE BROWN SOLID ONE-TWO PUNCH IN WOOD –Following a one-year absence from the calendar, the $750,000 Wood Memorial (GII) at Aqueduct on Saturday packs quite a punch. The 1 1/8-mile Road to the Kentucky Derby prep has attracted arguably its most interesting field in years, and the Chad Brown-trained Risk Taking and Crowded Trade could both play a big role.

  The proven router of the two at this stage, Risk Taking has won back-to-back races over the Wood’s track and distance, including the Feb. 6 Withers (GIII) by a decisive 3 ¾ lengths. The less-experienced Crowded Trade, though, displayed great promise when dueling Weyburn to a nose in the one-mile Gotham (GIII) last month in only his second lifetime start.

  Godolphin has the current Kentucky Derby (GI) favorite in juvenile champion Essential Quality, and could have yet another entry for the classic after Saturday if the similarly undefeated Prevalence steps up in his stakes debut. The son of Medaglia d’Oro, who belatedly debuted at Gulfstream in late January, has been a facile winner of both starts by a combined margin of 11 ½ lengths.

  “He’s quick, so with that kind of speed, he should be prominent in the race,” trainer Brendan Walsh said. “He hits me as a horse who can handle any kind of surface.”

  The aforementioned Weyburn was a game, 46-1 upset winner of the Gotham in his first start in three months and outside the maiden ranks. The son of Pioneerof the Nile was produced from an A.P. Indy mare, so the colt has the pedigree to handle the extra furlong rather well on Saturday. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens is on record thinking Weyburn perhaps a stronger candidate for the Belmont Stakes (GI) in June rather than the Kentucky Derby.

  Brooklyn Strong, who captured the track-and-distance Remsen (GII) in December, has dealt with several setbacks over the winter that have prevented him from starting since the Remsen. However, the New York-bred has won three of four for Parx-based trainer Danny Velazquez.

  Candy Man Rocket, who captured the Sam F. Davis (GIII) at Tampa Bay Downs in February, looks to rebound from an awful run in the Tampa Bay Derby (GII) in which he finished 11th of 12 as the 8-5 favorite. Trainer Bill Mott won the last running of the Wood in 2019 with Tacitus.

  Todd Pletcher, who has won the Wood five times since 2010, will saddle the longshot duo of Dynamic One and Bourbonic. The field is rounded out by another Parx shipper, recent allowance winner Market Maven.

  The Wood Memorial’s top four finishers will earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points of 100-40-20-10, respectively.

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