Written by Paul Bergeron
Life is good- or at least, a little better- for the Kentucky Derby’s leading contenders after Sunday’s announcement that presumed favorite Life Is Good had withdrawn from the race.
Life Is Good, trained by Bob Baffert, had surgery Friday for a chip in his hind ankle and will not compete in the Triple Crown, Baffert told Thoroughbred LA Radio this week.
The undefeated three-year-old was the shortest-price individual favorite ever in March’s Kentucky Derby Future Wager at 2:1. But he struggled in a six-furlong workout at Santa Anita over the weekend, prompting the decision to withdraw.
“He’ll be fine, he’ll be back,” Baffert said. “It wasn’t anything serious, but it’s enough that he’ll need some time off.”
Kentucky Derby Contenders
Breeders Cup Juvenile champion Essential Quality and Baffert’s Concert Tour appear to be the new, most-touted “horses to beat,” according to many Derby forecast lists.
This week’s buzz horse is Hot Rod Charlie, runner-up in the Breeders Cup Juvenile, who won the Louisiana Derby on Saturday at Fair Grounds with a 99 Beyer Speed Figure. He held off Proxy in the 1 3/16th mile contest that covered a mile and three-sixteenths. That race represents the longest Derby prep on the calendar.
Currently, Hot Rod Charlie sits atop the Kentucky Derby Point Standings.
Essential Quality has a 96 Best Bayer, currently third-highest among the 3-year-old Derby hopefuls. He last raced Feb. 27 and will likely go next in the Bluegrass Stakes’ (1 1/8 miles) at Keeneland on April 2. There, he’ll likely need to finish first or second to earn enough Kentucky Derby qualifying points.
Perhaps the most highly regarded “upside” horse is undefeated Concert Tour (3-0-0), which won the 1 1/16th Rebel Stakes in March at Oaklawn and will next race April 10 in the Arkansas Derby. His top Beyer is a 94.
Mandaloun, a disappointing sixth in Saturday’s Louisiana Derby, has a 98 Beyer to his credit and Medina Spirit, trained by Baffert, ran a 99 earlier in the campaign.
Top Beyer Speed Figures for 3-Year-Olds
Life Is Good (107 and 101)
Hot Rod Charlie 99
Medina Speed 99
Dream Shake 96
Midnight Bourbon 96 (twice)
Highly Motivated 96
O Besos 96
Kentucky Derby Point Standings
1 Hot Rod Charlie 110 points
2 Midnight Bourbon 66
3 Greatest Honour 60
4 Mandaloun 52
5 Concert Tour 50
tie Helium 50
tie Weyburn 50
Saturday features two other 100-point races: The Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Stakes at Turfway Park and the Grade 2 UAE Derby Meydan Race Course in Dubai.
The Jeff Ruby Steaks welcomes Gretzky the Great (trained by Mark Casse) and Hockey Dad (Doug O’Neill) among the horses that will look to punch their Derby tickets over the 1 1/8-mile course.
The UAE Derby has a $2.5 million purse and has lured many of the top trainers and jockeys. The field is dominated by horses that have raced outside the United States. Panadol is the 7:2 morning-line favorite in the 1 3/16th race.