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There is a long Road to the Kentucky Derby series for Triple Crown hopefuls heading into 2021. Whether any of the precocious juvenile talents can train on into their three-year-old season from barns across America is part of what makes the qualification process so exciting.
Unlike the Breeders' Cup World Championships races, where there are "win and you're in" events, getting a horse into the Kentucky Derby is different. Instead, thoroughbred racehorses pick up points based on their performance in certain events on the track.
While the Road to the Kentucky Derby doesn't really heat up until early spring when recognized trials for the big race take place, some horses have already caught the eye with their displays. It could be worth your while reviewing the early standings before placing any futures bets.
Top of the table at the end of 2020 is Godolphin's homebred Tapit colt Essential Quality. He is unbeaten in three starts as a juvenile, represents powerful global owners and hails from the Kentucky barn of Brad Cox.
After winning a maiden at Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby, his trainer had no hesitation about pitching Essential Quality in at the deep end. It was straight into Grade 1 company at the Bluegrass State's other major track, Keeneland, for the Breeders' Futurity.
The fact that Essential Quality has back-to-back Grade 1 wins means he is bound to be favorite in the horse racing betting markets for the 2021 Kentucky Derby. Godolphin have never owned a winner of the race for the roses, but he sets the current standard with 30 points as of December 30.
Keepmeinmind was strong at the finish when twice behind Essential Quality in those top level juvenile races, but has since got a deserved win of his own. That came in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs over an extended mile.
Canadian-born trainer Robertino Diodoro will be looking to make further waves with Keepmeinmind during the rest of the Road to the Kentucky Derby. He has shipped the Laoban colt to Oaklawn Park, home of the Arkansas Derby, but will need other prep runs with a possible target being the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes before going back up to the highest level.
As Spielberg then ran third in the American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita, he picked up his first points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series. After finally winning a race and then coming fourth in the Bob Hope Stakes at Del Mar, everything clicked for him in the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity when stepped back up in distance.
Another impressive winner at that level, meanwhile, was Springboard Mile scorer Senor Buscador. A Kentucky homebred for owner Joe Peacock, the Mineshaft colt made it two from two at the Remington Park track in Oklahoma.
The way in which Todd Fincher barn inmate Senor Buscador went from last to first and thrashed a Grade 2 field by almost six lengths suggests he could well develop into a Kentucky Derby contender. He will need a strong pace, so the abundant stamina he showed at Remington can come into play but should get that in the race for the roses.
There are sure to be plenty more twists and turns on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. The series is certainly helping to build up the hype to what is still one of America's biggest sporting events.
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