Heading into Saturday's Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, the last of the Kentucky Derby prep races that award points on a 50-20-10-5 scale, five horses appear to have clinched invitations to the first jewel of the Triple Crown.
Beginning March 20 with the Louisiana Derby at The Fair Grounds in New Orleans, the points jump to 100-40-20-10, with more Kentucky Derby participants going to be determined.
Hectic action on Saturday
After an afternoon filled with three prep races in quick succession, a big favorite moved forward while a couple of upstart longshots also emerged as potential Kentucky Derby entrants.
In the day's last prep race, Life Is Good ran away with the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park and joined Fountain of Youth winner Greatest Honour at the top of the points standings with 60.
They are followed by Mandaloun, winner of the Risen Star Stakes at The Fair Grounds on February 13, who has a points total of 52.
Earlier last Saturday, 46/1 longshot Weyburn shocked the Gotham Stakes field at Aqueduct and most bettors by edging Crowded Trade by a nose for the win and 50 qualifying points. Weyburn was not originally nominated for the Triple Crown races, but with this victory, has now earned enough points to qualify, and his connections are likely to complete the nomination sometime this month.
A short while later, 15/1 shot Helium pulled off a similar feat in the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs. Helium was also not an original nominee, but his owners expect to pay the $6,000 supplemental nomination fee soon, and his trainer, Hall of Famer Mark Casse, indicated that they may go straight to the Kentucky Derby.
How the rest of the top 10 looks
Those top five horses are assured one of 20 spots in the May 1 Kentucky Derby, with at least 13 invitations still up for grabs from the United States-based qualifying races.
Essential Quality, winner of three consecutive points races, might have enough points with 40 to qualify, but he still isn't assured a spot. The Brad Cox-trained Triple Crown favorite is tentatively scheduled to race next in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 1.
Medina Spirit finished a distant second to Life Is Good on Saturday and will likely get another shot at him in the Santa Anita Derby on April 3. Currently with 34 points, Medina Spirit is likely to earn a Kentucky Derby invitation with any finish of fourth place or better in the race. Since the current system began in 2013, no horse with at least 41 points has failed to qualify.
Midnight Bourbon with 26 points and Proxy with 24 are looking to replicate earlier finishes in a pair of prep races at The Fair Grounds. They probably both need at least a third-place finish and the 20 points that go with it.
Along with Mandaloun, the trio have all finished in the top three in the Lecomte Stakes and then again in the Risen Star. If that happens again, all three horses are likely headed to Churchill Downs on May 1.
Rounding out the top 10 in points is Hidden Stash with 22. He was Helium's victim in the Tampa Bay Derby and came up less than a length from clinching a Kentucky Derby berth.
It was the last prep race at Tampa Bay Downs, and it's unclear at this point where he'll be entered to make a run at qualifying.