Mandaloun all but guaranteed for Kentucky Derby appearance

Mandaloun's success in the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds has shaken up the standings on The Road to the Kentucky Derby, but Essential Quality will aim to close the gap this weekend...

After a weekend with two qualifying races, there was some reshuffling in the Road to the Kentucky Derby point standings. With the next Championship series contest almost two weeks away, it's likely to be the last major change until the Fountain of Youth on February 27.

The big race on Saturday was the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, which brought a 50-20-10-5 points payout. It was essentially a rematch of last month's Lecomte Stakes, where Midnight Bourbon, Proxy and Mandaloun finished in the top three positions. Senor Buscador joined the party and Keepmeinmind was originally entered as well.

However, Keepmeinmind eventually scratched to enter this week's Southwest at Oaklawn, and when it was all sorted out at the end, the Risen Star had the same top three horses as the Lecomte. Mandaloun and Midnight Bourbon swapped positions, with Proxy again stuck in the middle.

In the Prep Series out west at Golden Gate Fields, the favorite Rombauer rode a late charge to victory in the 10-4-2-1 points race. Rombauer entered the El Camino Real Derby with four points and was able to inch up the rankings with the win.

Essential Quality hoping to close gap

With the 50 points for the Risen Star triumph, Mandaloun jumped in front of Essential Quality to top the standings with a total of 52 points. Essential Quality will run in the 10-4-2-1 Southwest on Saturday with hopes of adding to his 30 points. He'll have a strong challenger with Keepmeinmind on 18 points, currently in fifth place, running in the event.

Following Essential Quality in third place is Midnight Bourbon with 26 points, just ahead of Proxy's 24. Since the current qualifying system has been in place, no horse with at least 41 points has been left out of the Kentucky Derby field.

With his entry all but guaranteed, Mandaloun's handlers have a lot of flexibility in how they manage his schedule from now to the first race in the Triple Crown. The rest of the horses on the list all need at least one more top-four finish in a Championship Series race to get into the top 18 or 19 positions and gain an invitation to the Kentucky Derby.

Essential Quality, with a win at the Southwest, would get to 40 and probably have enough points to get to Churchill Downs. The next time we see Midnight Bourbon and Proxy do battle again could be at the Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds on March 20, the first of the 100-40-20-10 races.

Even a second- or third-place finish for them would almost assure that they would meet again, along with Mandaloun, on the first Saturday in May.

By the time the winner of the Rebel Stakes crosses the finish line at Oaklawn Park on March 13, the standings will look a lot different. At least five more horses will have picked up another 50 points and punched their tickets into the Derby, setting the stage for the Grade I stakes races that will establish the Triple Crown favorites.