Saturday is the most important single day of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series, with races in three corners of the country. New York City, Tampa and Los Angeles are all locations for this weekend's contests that will each decide another entrant in the first race of the Triple Crown.
Greatest Honour, with a victory in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream last week, took the lead in the qualifying points race with 60. Mandaloun with 52 is next, with both of them having likely secured an invitation to the Kentucky Derby. With his thrilling victory in the Southwest Stakes, the undefeated Essential Quality has 40 points, which is probably enough even if he isn't entered in another race.
All of the other horses in the hunt for a Derby berth still have work to do. Some will be able to qualify without winning one of the 15 remaining qualifying races, but a victory in any race that awards 50 or 100 points will ensure entry into the Kentucky Derby.
Three races that will shake up the standings
This week's trio of races are the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs, and the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita. All three award points on a 50-20-10-5 scale and have at least three legitimate Derby contenders in their fields. Every race also features at least one winner of a previous qualifying race.
The $300,000 Gotham Stakes will be contested over 1 1/16 miles and is headlined by Capo Kane, winner of the Jerome Stakes and third-place finisher in the Withers Stakes, both at Aqueduct. Freedom Fighter and Highly Motivated are expected to provide stiff competition in their Derby prep race debuts.
The $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby, the final prep race at Tampa Bay Downs, features two entrants with prep race wins. Sittin On Go won the very first points race of the season back in September at the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs. A month ago, Candy Man Rocket defeated a spirited field on the same Tampa Bay Downs track in the Sam F. Davis Stakes.
In the $300,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, trainer Bob Baffert will run two entrants in a seven-horse field that features five true contenders and is the deepest of the weekend's prep races. Life is Good, the Sham Stakes winner, and Medina Spirit, who beat a stellar field in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, will face serious pushes from three other Triple Crown contenders.
Roman Centurian, The Great One and Dream Shake haven't had the race success of the Baffert-trained entries but could make things interesting. With Life is Good racing at 1 1/16 mile for the first time, it could leave the door open for a late charge if the heavy favorite fades down the stretch.
With three major races in one day, the point standings will look a lot different on Saturday night. There hasn't really been a surprise in the first two 50-20-10-5 races, except for Greatest Honour having to make a late charge to win the Fountain of Youth. That could change with the deep fields and lack of entrants from the top of the point standings.