Down to the wire in The Championship Series

Medina Spirit and Essential Quality are among the horses looking to qualify for the Kentucky Derby this weekend as three major 100-40-20-10 point contests are set for April 3.

The next-to-last day of Kentucky Derby prep races is an active one, with three 100-40-20-10 point contests taking place on April 3. Two of the races feature horses that are assumed to have accumulated enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. After this trio of races are completed, just one 100-40-20-10 race will remain.

Wood Memorial snapshot

Gotham Stakes upset winner Weyburn is the featured entry in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Park in New York City. He overcame 46/1 odds in the 50-20-10-5 race at Aqueduct on March 6 to earn enough points to earn an invitation to the first race in the Triple Crown on May 1.

At the time of his victory, Weyburn was not yet nominated for the Triple Crown races, so his connections had to pony up a $6,000 late fee to solidify his eligibility for the series that begins with the Kentucky Derby. Weyburn isn't the favorite in the early odds at 5/1, but he's shown that isn't much of a factor for the Jimmy Jerkens-trained colt.

There are four other prep race winners in the Wood field, but they are all in 10-4-2-1 contests. Risk Taking, the early favorite at 2/1, Brooklyn Strong, Capo Kane and Candy Man Rocket will all need to finish no worse than third to have any chance of running at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

Can Essential Quality be beaten?

Keeneland Racecourse is the site of the $800,000 Blue Grass Stakes. The clear favorite at 1/2 odds in the early line is the unbeaten Essential Quality, who was last seen winning the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park on February 27.

The Brad Cox-trained Triple Crown frontrunner only has 40 qualifying points because he hasn't competed in a race with more than a 20-8-4-2 point scale. That changes dramatically on Saturday at a track where he won a pair of Breeders' Cup races in the fall.

Two other horses in the field at the Blue Grass have prep race wins, but Hidden Stash is second to Essential Quality with 22 points without a prep victory. Keepmeinmind and Hush of a Storm are the winners in the field, but it's doubtful any of them will be able to stay with the favorite.

Without Life Is Good, it's all Medina Spirit

The only entry in the Santa Anita Derby with any prep wins to their credit is 9/5 favorite Medina Spirit out of Bob Baffert's deep stable of horses. He won the Robert B. Lewis Stakes on January 30 and has 34 qualifying points.

Bob Baffert will introduce Defunded into the Kentucky Derby mix
Bob Baffert will introduce Defunded into the Kentucky Derby mix

The best of Baffert's Kentucky Derby hopefuls was Life Is Good, winner of the Sham Stakes and San Felipe Stakes over Medina Spirit. Unfortunately, he's currently sidelined with an injury and will not race again until later in 2021.

Roman Centurian was beaten by Medina Spirit in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes and the San Felipe Stakes, while Dream Shake also finished behind the Santa Anita Derby favorite in the San Felipe. For either one to challenge for a win, they'll need to find something different than what they've offered so far.

Baffert is introducing Defunded to the prep series after an impressive six-furlong maiden-breaking effort at Santa Anita on March 6. He'll be taking a step up in distance to nine furlongs and class in the Santa Anita Derby, but Baffert has a way of springing major surprises.

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