Looking at Championship Series race favorites

The Triple Crown Series begins in just under three months, with the Championship Series races set to begin. Here's who is in the running ahead of the Kentucky Derby on May 1.

The quest for the 2021 Triple Crown will begin with the Kentucky Derby on May 1.

With the Prep Series winding down, it's time to take a look at the early favorites with the Championship Series races beginning on February 13. The first race is the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

The early Championship Series events will primarily be Grade II races. The Louisiana Derby on March 20 will be the opening Grade I race, with the Florida Derby taking place a week later at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach.

The Eclipse Award winner for best two-year-old was awarded recently to Essential Quality. The Kentucky-bred colt is undefeated in three races, the latest coming at the Grade III Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

That was a follow-up to a victory in the Breeders' Futurity a month earlier. Winning the Eclipse is no guarantee of three-year-old success, but recent recipients American Pharoah and Nyquist both went on to win the Kentucky Derby.

Essential Quality's next race will be February 15 in the Grade III Southwest at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The Southwest runs at 1 1/16 miles, a more comfortable distance than the 1 1/8 miles in the Grade II Risen Star.

It will be interesting to see how Essential Quality responds after three months off since the last race.

Moving up

Caddo River vaulted up the list with a blowout 10 1/4-length victory in the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn on January 22. The win was the second in four outings for the Shortleaf Stable colt, with the other two races resulting in second-place finishes.

The next race for Caddo River will come at Oaklawn, either in the Grade II Rebel on March 13 or the Grade I Arkansas Derby on April 10. There is a possibility that they decide to enter both races, but it isn't likely.

Another horse that used an impressive win to improve its ranking in the Triple Crown conversation is Greatest Honour. The Courtland Farms product outkicked the field in the Holly Bull Stakes at Gulfstream on January 30.

It was Greatest Honour's second win in a row following a second-place finish and a pair of third places where he followed Caddo River across the finish line. His trainer hasn't committed to when the next race will be, but it could come as soon as February 27 in the Grade II Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park. If not then, it will be the Florida Derby.