For the second Kentucky Derby prep race in a row, Keepmeinmind is a scratch, this time out of the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park coming up on Saturday.
The winner of the 2020 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and fifth place horse in the Road to the Kentucky Derby standings previously scratched from the Risen Star Stakes on February 13.
The departure from the field of such a quality contender diminishes its stature a bit, but there are still plenty of strong Derby candidates in the 1 1/16 mile race that was postponed twice due to weather.
The field is headlined by Essential Quality, second in the derby qualifying point standings, and an early 6/5 favorite. The Brad Cox trained colt has a record of 3-3-0-0 and his last race was a win in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, where he picked up 20 points to run his total to 30.
Essential Quality is considered by many horse racing prognosticators as a top Triple Crown contender. The Southwest awards points on a 10-4-2-1 basis, so a win would leave him on the verge of gaining an invitation to the Kentucky Derby. Luis Saez has been the jockey for the colt's two stakes wins, but Essential Quality did not demonstrate exceptional speed in either.
Another top favorite is Jackie's Warrior, whose last race was also the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, where he finished 3 1/4 lengths behind Essential Quality in fourth place. The colt, trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, led at the beginning of the stretch but was overtaken, with Hot Rod Charlie and Keepmeinmind finishing second and third respectively.
It was a disappointing finish for Jackie's Warrior, and he'll be hoping to make amends in the Southwest Stakes.
It will be interesting to see if the long layoff for the top two horses in the field has an impact on their performances. If so, legendary trainer Bob Baffert's Spielberg will be there to take advantage. Spielberg's 7-2-1-1 record has been inconsistent and his early 6/1 odds reflect that uncertainty.
He won the Los Alamitos Futurity on December 19 by a nose over The Great One but stumbled to an ugly fourth-place finish in his last race in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on January 30. Both of Spielberg's wins have come after races in which he finished third and fourth, so if the top two favorites show some rust, he has a chance to show he can contend for a Derby berth.
Long shot underdogs
There doesn't appear to be a serious contender among the other four horses entered in the Southwest. Saffa's Day, a second Asmussen entry at 15/1, won in his last outing in a maiden race at Oaklawn Park on January 22. His record of 4-1-0-0 is unimpressive and he doesn't seem to be able to stay up with the horses that are serious contenders for a spot in the Derby.
At 12/1, Santa Cruiser might be worthy of a look, but he'll need to be handled better by jockey Richard Eramia than he was in a dismal seventh-place finish at the Risen Star. He also finished fourth in the Lecomte Stakes behind three legitimate Derby hopefuls.