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Odds and Ends

Early Kentucky Derby Lookahead with Important Dates to Bookmark

by Tom Collins - Spotlight Sports Group
Updated On: November 8, 2021, 3:47 pm ET

The Kentucky Derby, the first leg of the Triple Crown, is a race that every jockey, trainer and owner has a burning desire to win. Victory in "The 'Run for the Roses" on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs almost guarantees legendary status.

While there is a long way to go until the final field assembles for America's greatest race, the 2021 Breeders' Cup World Championships not only showcased the best current equine talent in the juvenile ranks but also provided bettors and horsemen with valuable clues for next year's leading Grade 1 contests, including the Derby.

The $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile has long been considered a leading Derby trial and the winner regularly heads the Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool, an opportunity for bettors to wager on their likely Derby winner in advance. The pool is available from 12pm ET on Thursday, November 25, 2021 until 6pm ET on Sunday, November 28, 2021.

Despite automatically gaining favoritism, only two horses (Street Sense, 2007 and Nyquist, 2016) have ever completed the double since the first running of the Juvenile in 1984. Will the Bob Baffert-trained Corniche, who triumphed at Del Mar, become just the third colt to win both races? Here we analyze what happened in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, review some of the leading players and highlight the key dates on the road to the Kentucky Derby.

What we learned in the Juvenile

Bob Baffet may be in the media for all the wrong reasons these days but he still boasts one of the strongest teams of two-year-olds in the US and was represented by three horses - Pinehurst, Barossa and Corniche - in this year's Juvenile.

Despite Baffert’s three-pronged attack, all the talk prior to the race was about Grade 1 Champagne Stakes winner Jack Christopher for trainer Chad Brown. However, the 8-5 morning line favorite had to be scratched with less than 24 hours to post due to a shin injury. Important Kentucky Derby questions - notably a worry about the longer Juvenile distance - were left unanswered.

His defection left the path clear for Corniche, a son of Quality Road, who was able to track across to the rail from an unfavorable draw in post 12 under 'Big Money Mike' Smith. From the moment he hit the first turn in possession of an uncontested lead, the writing was on the wall for his ten rivals. We had seen this race pan out before.

The 7-5 favorite clocked an opening quarter mile in 23.03s and drew clear for a final time of 1:42.50s over a mile and sixteenth under a motionless Smith, who recorded his 27th Breeders' Cup win. Corniche’s final time compared favorably with Good Magic, who won the 2017 running of the Juvenile (when it was last held at Del Mar) in 1:43.34s, but was slower than Echo Zulu in the Juvenile Fillies earlier on the card.

Corniche entered the race with proven course form (broke his maiden in a sprint at Del Mar in September) and stamina for the trip courtesy of his three-and-a-quarter-length romp in the Grade 1 American Pharoah at Santa Anita. But we learned that he can overcome a tough post, which was made more impressive given the short run to the first turn at Del Mar. His early speed will stand him in good stead at Churchill Downs.

The $1.5 million purchase earlier in the year also confirmed that he can run quickly from the outset and sustain his effort over a mile and a sixteenth, which would give you hope that Corniche will get the longer distance (1 ¼ miles) next May in the Kentucky Derby, a race that is regularly dominated by speed horses.

However, we already knew that Corniche had what it takes to beat runner-up Pappacap and fifth-placed finisher Oviatt Class, who finished second and third respectively in the American Pharoah on their previous starts. Beating up the same opposition, even at Grade 1 level, tends to dampen enthusiasm when those rivals lack star quality at this stage of their career.

So, what are we yet to find out about Corniche? The questions of most importance are: Will we definitely see Corniche at Churchill Downs? And, if so, under the tutelage of which trainer?

Baffert has been banned from running horses in the Kentucky Derby for two years by Churchill Downs and for Corniche to take part, it appears that he will have to switch barns. Due to his trainer's suspension, Corniche has also relinquished the 30 qualifying points, which would usually guarantee a post, that he would have otherwise earned in the American Pharoah and Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Leading Kentucky Derby contenders

Over 100 horses are currently quoted in the Futures market for the 2022 Kentucky Derby, a list that will be steadily whittled down to a maximum of 20 runners before the showpiece event next May. Away from 2021 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Corniche and the aforementioned Jack Christopher, here are four standout contenders who could play a major role.

Commandperformance

Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Owner: Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable
Career record: 3:0-2-0

This $220,000 purchase failed to win on his first three juvenile starts, but it is worth noting that trainer Todd Pletcher immediately upped him to Grade 1 level after his runner-up finish in a maiden special weight on debut at Saratoga.

Commandperformance, a sizeable gray colt by Union Rags who finished fourth in the Juvenile, will relish the step up in trip on the Kentucky Derby trail next year and could be seen in a prep like the Tampa Bay Derby.

Winning Map

Trainer: Bob Baffert
Owner: HRH Prince Sultan Bin Mishal Al Saud
Career record: 1:1-0-0

It's hard not to get excited about this son of Liam's Map after his four-and-three-quarter length win on debut at Santa Anita in October, although he will likely have to switch barns to compete at Churchill Downs if he proves himself to be a leading player in the spring.

His dominant gate-to-wire victory created belief that he might be the new superstar in California and further improvement could be unlocked once he goes two turns.

Rattle N Roll

Trainer: Kenneth McPeek
Owner: Lucky Seven Stable
Career record: 4:2-0-1

This deep-closing colt showed his inexperience on his first two career outings in the summer of his juvenile year before winning a maiden special weight at Churchill Downs over a mile and a sixteenth. He repeated that sweeping effort in the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders' Futurity and was considered a leading player in the Juvenile before suffering a setback.

Rattle N Roll's running style suggests the Derby distance will play to his strengths and he's already won around the track.

Cyberknife

Trainer: Brad Cox
Owner: Gold Square LLC
Career record: 2:0-2-0

Breeders' Cup Classic-winning trainer Brad Cox is sure to unleash a stack of talented Derby contenders before May, but this son of leading sire Gun Runner could be the best of the lot.

Following an incident in the upper stretch, Cyberknife was disqualified and placed second after crossing the wire in front on his first start at Churchill Downs. And perhaps he was caught out by the six furlongs on his second outing at the Louisville track. His future lies in routes.

Dates for the calendar

Saturday February 5, 2022
Gulfstream Park will host the Holy Bull Stakes, which received a downgrade to Grade 3 status last year but has been won by 1994 Kentucky Derby winner Go For Gin and 2006 Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. Tiz The Law, who won the 2020 Belmont Stakes, won last year's edition for trainer Barclay Tagg. Qualifying points (10-4-2-1) are available for the first four finishers.

Saturday February 19, 2022
The Risen Star Stakes is yet to officially produce a Kentucky Derby winner, but that may change if this year's runner-up Mandaloun is vaulted into first place following the disqualification of Baffert's first-past-the-post Medina Spirit. Subsequent Breeders' Cup Classic winners Gun Runner and Mucho Macho Man feature on the roll of honor. The Fair Grounds contest is the first to offer 50 qualifying points to the winner.

Saturday March 5, 2022
Another official prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby is the Fountain of Youth Stakes, which is run over a mile and a sixteenth at Gulfstream Park. Tim Tam (1958), Kauai King (1966), Spectacular Bid (1979), Thunder Gulch (1995) and Orb (2013) all won this race prior to their Kentucky Derby successes. Trainer Shug McGaughey has won the Fountain of Youth three times in the last nine years.

Saturday March 12, 2022
Keep an eye out for three bona fide trials across the country. Aqueduct will host the Gotham Stakes, which was won by the great Secretariat in 1973 en route to his Kentucky Derby victory. However, a drought of 47 Gotham contenders that have competed in the Derby without success since 1980 has followed.

The Tampa Bay Derby has gained popularity as a Kentucky Derby trial since the turn of the century with Street Sense (2007) and Super Saver (2010) participating in this race before winning "The Run for the Roses". Todd Pletcher's leading three-year-old might run here.

Authentic, who won the 2020 Kentucky Derby, earned the bulk of his qualifying points in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita. Given Bob Baffert has won this race on eight occasions, most recently with Dirt Mile champion Life Is Good, perhaps this will be the spot where we see the return of Corniche.

Saturday March 26, 2022
Black Gold (1924) and Grindstone (1996) are the only two colts to have won the Kentucky Derby after running in the Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds. However, recent stars Gun Runner and Hot Rod Charlie have used this stepping stone to great success. A valuable 100 points are gifted to the winner.

Saturday April 2, 2022
With five weeks to go before the Kentucky Derby, qualifying races held on the first Saturday in April will be sought after. Sunny's Halo (1983), Smarty Jones (2004) and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah (2015) used the Arkansas Derby as their final start before heading to Churchill Downs.

While 15 subsequent Derby winners, which include Northern Dancer (1964) and Big Brown (2008) have come from the Florida Derby. Maximum Security would have added his name to that list in 2019 had he not been disqualified from the Derby due to interference rounding the homebend. 

Saturday April 9, 2022
Connections opting for a shorter four-week turnaround may look towards the Wood Memorial, Blue Grass Stakes or Santa Anita Derby on this date. All three trials offer a maximum 100 points to the winner and have produced numerous Kentucky Derby scorers. Perhaps the Santa Anita Derby is the main draw with 17 horses competing in the west coast event before achieving glory at Churchill Downs the following month.

Saturday May 7, 2022
Three-year-old colts will have their date with destiny at Churchill Downs in the 148th Kentucky Derby. Long-term plans come to fruition, aspirations are realized and a star is born in the fastest two minutes in sport. The winning horse, draped in a garland of red roses as he enters the winning circle, will forever be remembered for this day.

Tom Collins - Spotlight Sports Group

Tom Collins is a handicapper and reporter for the Racing Post and Spotlight Sports Group. This article was supplied exclusively to NBC Sports Edge by Spotlight Sports Group, a leading content and media business specializing in horse racing, sports betting, and fantasy sports. Spotlight Sports Group engages millions of people directly through Racing PostPickswise and Fantasy Alarm. Please visit spotlightsportsgroup.com for more info.