Handicapping the Favorite - Essential Quality
In the second installment of our four-part Kentucky Derby Preview here at VegasInsider.com, we’ll focus on Essential Quality and Mandaloun, the two runners trained by Brad Cox who also happen to be his first two horses he’s ever entered in the race, Helium and Soup and Sandwich, both from the Mark Casse barn and Ken McPeek’s horse King Fury.
Kentucky Derby Runners to Watch
Soup and Sandwic
Most Popular Kentucky Derby Handicapping Resources
Kentucky Derby Contender - Essential Quality
The undefeated, two-year-old Eclipse Award winner Essential Quality comes into this Derby a solid and deserving if not heavy favorite, with his final price likely to be somewhere in the 3-1 range.
While the best thing people can often say about a horse is that they’ve done nothing wrong, Essential Quality has done everything right, starting with his maiden win in a sprint over the Churchill surface from far back.
Essential Quality was right on top of an easy pace in his next start, the G1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland and parlayed that trip into a handy victory by over three lengths.
Sent off as the second choice in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile behind heavy favorite Jackie’s Warrior, Essential Quality ad regular rider Luis Saez managed to work out a brilliant trip towards the back of the pack, never losing much ground, before swinging out in the stretch to mow them all down and sewing up a championship in the process.
Essential Quality’s sophomore debut was delayed two weeks when weather in Arkansas forced the postponement of the G3 Southwest at Oaklawn not once but twice. Over a sloppy track at Oaklawn, he was quickly moved to the middle of the course by Saez from his rail draw and despite racing wide throughout the mile and sixteenth affair, kicked in nicely on the far turn to win by over four lengths.
The G2 Blue Grass back at Keeneland would prove to be Essential Quality’s toughest race to date. With an apparent lack of speed on paper, Essential Quality was forced to use his tactical speed for the first time since his second start. Sitting just off Highly Motivated through easy fractions, the champ moved up on the turn and battled with his rival for over a quarter mile before wearing him down in the final strides to win by a neck, the shortest win margin in his five-race win streak.
Essential Quality has trained beautifully since his score four weeks prior to this and wrapped up his major work with a five furlong move in 1:00 2/5 at Churchill on Saturday 4/24.
New Players: $200 Sign Up Bonus
Kentucky Derby Contender - Mandaloun
Mandaloun enters Derby 147 off the worst effort of his career, a sixth-place finish in the G2 Louisiana Derby.
Mandaloun took his two starts in 2020, a maiden sprint at Keeneland and an entry level allowance/optional claimer at Churchill going seven furlongs.
Cox stretched Mandloun out for the first time six week later in the G3 Lecomte at the Fair Grounds. Drawn outside in the field of eight, Mandloun was wide throughout as the 4-5 favorite but managed to battle on to be third.
Blinkers were added for the G2 Risen Star over the same course and Mandaloun responded nicely. Drawn in post 10, he once again raced wide but this time managed a solid stretch rally to win by just over a length in his best race to date.
In that Louisiana Derby, another wide trip awaited. He was closer to a much faster pace on a quicker Fair Grounds surface than he had seen in his prior two starts and he folded his tent at the head of the stretch before rider Florent Geroux just hand-rode him through the stretch to a sixth-place finish as the 6-5 favorite.
Mandaloun will be looking to buck major history as no horse has won the Derby having finished off the board in their prior start since Needles in 1956. He’ll also be doing it with six weeks between races. He has been training, in my opinion, best of all for this at Churchill, wrapping his major work with a strong five furlongs in 1:00 on Saturday 4/24 at Churchill.
Kentucky Derby Contender - Soup and Sandwich
Florida-bred Soup and Sandwich went unraced as a two-year-old before making his debut for the Hall of Fame-bound Casse in a state-bred maiden sprint at Gulfstream which he won from just off the pace by over seven lengths in late January.
Four weeks later, Soup and Sandwich shipped to Tampa Bay Downs for an entry level allowance/optional claimer going two turns. Again, he sat just off the pace before moving to the leaders on the far turn and drawing off to win by nearly three lengths.
Soup and Sandwich jumped into the deep end of the pool in the G1 Florida Derby. Forwardly placed throughout from post 8, he was part of a contested if not fast pace and was in front going down the backstretch. On the turn, eventual winner Known Agenda came calling and eventually drew off to win by almost three lengths. Soup and Sandwich battled on nicely to finish a clear second.
Soup and Sandwich worked a leisurely half-mile in :50 on Friday 4/23 at Churchill. He’ll be ridden by Tyler Gaffalione, his fourth different rider.
Kentucky Derby Contender - Helium
Helium began his career north of the border at Woodbine last September with a virtual gate-to-wire win on their synthetic surface by over three lengths going seven furlongs.
Helium returned three weeks later in the Display at the same trip and came from a sat a bit off the pace before exploding on the turn to win by a comfortable four-plus lengths.
Nearly five months later, Helium returned for what would be his only start of the year and on dirt when he upset the G2 Tampa Bay Derby. Breaking from post 10, Helium raced wide in mid-pack before launching a bid on the far turn to grab the lead at the top of the stretch. He was able to survive a late rally by Hidden Stash, holding that one at bay after a battle in deep stretch by three-quarters of a length.
Helium concluded his major Derby preparations with a half-mile in :49 4/5 on Friday 4/23 at Churchill. Julien Leparoux has the mount.
Kentucky Derby Contender - King Fury
King Fury has made six starts in his career and all of them have come at the mile and a sixteenth distance. After an impressive maiden win at Churchill during Derby week in his debut last summer, King Fury beat just one home bin the Breeders’ Futurity before coming from mid-pack to take the Street Sense beneath the twin spires just three weeks later.
Less than two weeks later, King Fury tried the B.C. Juvenile and failed to fire his best shot, finishing seventh after some minor traffic trouble on the far turn. McPeek added blinkers for the G2 KJC, his seasonal swan song. Keyed up much more than usual in the early going, King Fury was on the lead going down the backstretch before fading in the lane to finish fifth.
King Fury, sans the blinkers, has made just one start this year and it was his best effort to date. With 20 points to the winner on the line in the G3 Lexington at Keeneland in the slop just three weeks prior to the Derby, he waited at the back of the pack in a race where the pace really heated up. He made a rail-skimming move under rider Brian Hernandez, Jr. on the far turn then drew off to a near three length score.
On Saturday 4/24, King Fury worked five furlongs in 1:00 1/5 at Churchill.
Who is the Big A?
VegasInsider.com Horse Racing expert Anthony Stabile provides his "Stabile's Seven" rankings throughout the Kentucky Derby prep trail.
Anthony “the Big A” Stabile can be heard regularly on the Horse Racing Radio Network from 3-6:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday and 3-7:00 p.m. ET Thursday and Friday.
Tune in on Sirius 219, XM 201 or streaming live at horseracingradio.net. He also is a contributor on NYRA-TV as the co-host of Talking Horses and a backup racetrack announcer. Follow him on Twitter @TheBigAStabile