Spot Plays for the Kentucky Derby card and 2000 Guineas

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

April 30th, 2021

The Kentucky Derby (G1) is back where it belongs in 2021, on the first Saturday in May, and as expected, the entire 14-race card at Churchill Downs is tremendous.

We have thoughts on a couple of undercard stakes and the Derby, but we'll first give a quick nod to the first English classic of the season — the 2000 Guineas (G1) at Newmarket, which you can watch and wager on at Saturday morning.

Newmarket, Race 5: 2000 Guineas (G1), 10:40 a.m. ET

This is a fascinating edition where Coolmore and trainer Aidan O'Brien, who start three, might take a backseat to other worthy foes.

We like #7 Master of the Seas (6-1) for Godolphin and trainer Charlie Appleby to follow up on his recent course-and-distance win in the Craven (G3). He was bottled up and crowded for much of the race, before finally getting clear run and scoring by three parts of a length.

It perhaps could have been a more emphatic score with a smoother trip, but nonetheless, the addition of blinkers appears to have helped the Dubawi colt stay focused and use his energy efficiently.

Proficient on both Newmarket courses, he'll also benefit from the expected fast ground.

The ground was seemingly on the softer side of the official "good" when Master of the Seas lost the National (G1) at The Curragh to #13 Thunder Moon (5-1) by two lengths last fall.

Thunder Moon's inside burst to victory was eye-catching, but he didn't reproduce it over Newmarket's Rowley course the following month in the Dewhurst (G1).

While he could fare better here, he's been attracting a lot of support overseas, and, thus, Master of the Seas is preferred on top from a price standpoint. These two will be in our exacta play.

Churchill Downs, Race 9: American Turf S. (G2), 3:40 p.m. ET

Trainer Chad Brown has won this race three times, but he brings an unconventional candidate into this race in #1 Excellent Timing (10-1), who nonetheless could live up to his moniker when he makes his turf debut in this congested 14-horse field.

Although he's been facing New York-breds exclusively to this point, his placement here is intriguing, he has tactical foot to avoid getting buried down on the hedge from the inside post, and he's got the pedigree to take to the grass.

By 24% turf debut-winning sire Not This Time, his dam is a half-sister to the multiple Grade 3-winning turf performer Inexplicable.

Churchill Downs, Race 10: Churchill Downs S. (G1), 4:31 p.m. ET

#7 Shashashakemeup (12-1) has hit his best stride since joining trainer Peter Miller via the claim box last October.

Although he dropped his first two starts for the barn, finishing second to Silver State in a track-and-distance allowance was no disgrace given what that rival has done since, and an early stumble in the Palos Verdes (G3) two back proved costly when placing behind the talented Wildman Jack.

The four-year-old got a quick pace and picked up the pieces in a six-furlong allowance at Oaklawn a few weeks ago. With a little help up front here, he might be able to do the same at a price over a seven-furlong trip that might be more suitable for him.

Although his overall record is no great shakes (pardon the pun), a lot of effort was wasted trying to make Shashashakemeup an effective two-turn horse early in his career.

He's won two of five on this strip, with the three losses coming against the aforementioned Silver State, C Z Rocket, and Rushie. All of them are stellar horses who would be among the betting choices here had they been entered.

Churchill Downs, Race 12: Kentucky Derby (G1), 6:57 p.m. ET

1st: #14 Essential Quality (2-1) perhaps got the final prep he needed to toughen him up when having to fight to overtake Highly Motivated in the Blue Grass (G2) four weeks ago.

The undefeated juvenile champion has encountered no serious hiccups in his preparation or training, and on the form remains the horse this race goes through.

The price is obviously an issue, with a massive plunge from "Mattress Mack" threatening to keep his odds down in the 2-1 range. He's not worth backing to win at that price, given he doesn't possess a huge edge over this field. If he happens to float up to 3-1 or higher, he'd be worth a play.

2nd: #9 Hot Rod Charlie (8-1) would be worth a win play if anywhere around his morning line odds, given his proximity to Essential Quality in last fall's Breeders' Cup and his strong run in the Louisiana Derby (G2) for two-time Derby-winning trainer Doug O'Neill.

Versatile in style, he has taken as big a step from ages two to three as any horse in the field. Minor quibbles include the longish six-week gap since his last start and yet another jockey switch that raises questions about why he hasn't inspired much loyalty up to this point.

3rd: #16 King Fury (20-1) looked like a vastly improved and blossoming-at-the-right-time type of horse in the Lexington (G3) three weeks ago.

I loved his acceleration into contention, though it was surely aided to some extent by the pace in front of him and sloppy footing he might have liked a lot more than his rivals.

I expect him to run a lot better than he did against some of these in the Grade 1s at Keeneland last fall, but as a win candidate I'm taking a reserved view, as he's only had one race this year.

No horse in nearly a century has won the Derby with that limited amount of prep work.