Following the strange, pandemic-interrupted year that placed the 2020 Derby on the First Saturday in September, things are back on track with the Derby scheduled for May 1st in 2021.

This weekend, the 100 point prep races will begin with the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds Race Course. The third and final race in Fair Grounds’ Kentucky Derby prep races, the seven horse field of the Louisiana Derby will feature the top three finishers from the previous two prep races, the Lecomte and Risen Star, in Mandaloun, Proxy, and Midnight Bourbon.

Following Midnight Bourbon’s frontrunning Lecomte victory over Proxy and Mandaloun, the finishing order flipped in the Risen Star Stakes. With the addition of blinkers, Mandaloun skipped to an impressive victory over his two foes and put his name into the discussion of top Kentucky Derby contenders. The trio will face off for the third time this Saturday.

A son of champion sire Into Mischief and trained by 2020 champion trainer Brad Cox, Mandaloun has the potential to secure himself as one of the favorites for the Derby heading into the final round of prep races with a victory in the Louisiana Derby. 

Catch the Louisiana Derby on NBC Sports Network this Saturday from 6:00-7:00pm EST !

But Mandaloun isn’t the only Derby horse Brad Cox is conditioning this year. He’s also in charge of undefeated champion Essential Quality. Following back-to-back Grade 1 victories in the Breeders’ Futurity and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Essential Quality was named Champion Two-Year-Old Colt at the Eclipse Awards and stamped himself the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby. A gray son of top sire Tapit, Essential Quality currently boasts an unbeaten record of four wins in four starts.

Planning to take the Arkansas route at Oaklawn Park, plans were derailed following the mid-February arctic blast that cancelled racing at Oaklawn for nearly two weeks. Essential Quality was aiming for a return in Oaklawn’s February prep race, the Southwest Stakes, but the race was postponed on two different occasions before finally settling twelve days after the initially scheduled date. Essential Quality made the wait worthwhile by cruising to a 4 ¼ length victory in the postponed Southwest. 

With Oaklawn’s March prep race, the Rebel Stakes, falling only two weeks after the Southwest, Essential Quality was rerouted from Arkansas’s prep schedule and will make his final prep for the Kentucky Derby in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 3rd.

What is the Kentucky Derby without Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert? Baffert is back with an arsenal of talented young colts, led by speedsters Life Is Good and Concert Tour.

An impressive maiden victory in November was all it took for racing fans to start talking about Life Is Good. Similar to Bob Baffet’s 2020 Kentucky Derby winner and Horse of the Year Authentic, Life Is Good is a son of Into Mischief who started his three-year-old campaign with a victory in the Sham Stakes, the first of Santa Anita’s four Kentucky Derby prep races, in January.

After skipping Santa Anita’s February prep, Life Is Good returned for March’s San Felipe Stakes and aired by a widening eight length victory in wire-to-wire fashion. In the latest Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool, Life Is Good upended Essential Quality as the early favorite. Life Is Good is expected to make his final prep for the Kentucky Derby in the Santa Anita Derby on April 3rd.

In addition to Life Is Good, Baffert also touts last weekend’s Rebel Stakes winner Concert Tour. A son of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, Concert Tour did not debut until January of this year, but he quickly generated chatter over his impressive victory. After a hard-fought victory in the G2 San Vicente Stakes, which does not carry Derby points, Concert Tour took advantage of Essential Quality’s absence in the Rebel, shipping to Arkansas and cruising to an easy 4 ¼ length victory in gate to wire fashion. Concert Tour is expected to make his final prep for the Kentucky Derby in the Arkansas Derby on April 10th.

While Life Is Good and Concert Tour are leading the Baffert Brigade, the Hall of Famer also trains Medina Spirit. Mostly playing second fiddle to Life Is Good, Medina Spirit has finished second behind his stablemate in both the Sham and San Felipe. He had the chance to shine in Santa Anita’s February prep, the Robert B. Lewis, when battling to a gritty win in a three-horse photo finish. 

Bob Baffert isn’t the only Hall of Famer with a leading Kentucky Derby contender in his barn this year. Trainer Shug McGaughey has another great shot at the roses with Greatest Honour, who is following a path very similar to McGaughey’s 2013 Kentucky Derby winner, Orb.

A son of Tapit with a regal pedigree, Greatest Honour has more experience under his belt than his aforementioned foes and will likely enter the Kentucky Derby with seven starts. Taking four tries to break his maiden, he successfully stepped up to the stakes level when taking the Holy Bull, the first of Gulfstream Park’s three prep races, in impressive come-from-behind fashion. He replicated his effort with another late closing score in the Fountain of Youth and will attempt to sweep Gulfstream’s prep series when he takes a crack at the Florida Derby on March 27th.

Recent upset winners Helium, trained by Mark Casse, and Weyburn, trained by Jimmy Jerkens, threw their hats into the ring with longshot scores in the Tampa Bay Derby and Gotham Stakes.

Be sure to keep an eye out for Parx-based stars Capo Kane and Brooklyn Strong in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 3rd! Capo Kane, trained by Harold Wyner, was victorious in the Jerome Stakes before finishing third in the Withers Stakes. Brooklyn Strong, trained by Danny Velazquez, is looking to make his first start since winning the G2 Remsen Stakes last November.

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