Who is the best three-year-old male entering the second half of 2021?

Profile Picture: Rowan Ward

July 5th, 2021

The 2021 Triple Crown season is over, but the three-year-old season is still in progress. With three different winners of the Triple Crown races and major summer three-year-old races like the Haskell (G1), Travers (G1), H. Allen Jerkens (G1), and Belmont Derby (G1) to go, it is the right time to ask:

Who is the best three-year-old male in the country?

It's a complicated question, but if anyone's up for answering it, you are!  So, let's get into it:

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Du Jour wins the American Turf Stakes 2021 (Photo by Coady Photography/Churchill Downs)

Du Jour: The sophomore turf division really gets hot in the summer, but the major prelude to that action is the American Turf (G2) on Derby Day, a race won by Du Jour. Du Jour had yet to race in stakes company before that, but he had won two straight leading into his tilt in the American Turf, in which he rallied from midfield to win by a confident 1 1/2 lengths. Moved from Bob Baffert's barn to that of Bill Mott for an East Coast campaign, and invited to the Belmont Derby, this son of Temple City currently leads the American turf division and will get the chance to take the next step against rising American stars and tough overseas invaders alike.

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Drain the Clock wins the Swale Stakes (Coglianese Photos/Lauren King)

Drain the Clock: He has yet to to anything at all wrong. His only off-the-board finish came when an iron broke in the Jean Lafitte S. last year, but in seven other starts? He has six wins and a second-place finish when trying 1 1/16 miles in the Fountain of Youth (G2). He marked himself a sophomore sprinter to watch in the Swale (G3), and after the route try has gone on to win the Bay Shore (G3) and then the Woody Stephens (G1). In that last race, he wore down the ultra-game and ultra-talented Jackie's Warrior. He hasn't failed a test at one turn, and three-year-old dirt sprinters are going to need to beat him if they want to be the best.

Essential Quality: He was the two-year-old champion. He came into the Kentucky Derby (G1) undefeated, after a romping win in the Southwest (G3) and a grittier outing in the Blue Grass (G2). He didn't come out of the Derby undefeated, but he fell only a length short after a tough start and a wide trip. His class prevailed in the Belmont S. (G1), as he kicked on three wide nearing the half, encroached on the leading pair around the far turn, dueled with Hot Rod Charlie, and edged clear in the final sixteenth to win by 1 1/2 lengths. With nothing but good races in his career and proof he can stay all the way to a mile and a half, the past has been golden but the future may be even brighter.

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Hot Rod Charlie winning the Louisiana Derby (G2) (Photo by Jamie Newell/TwinSpires)

Hot Rod Charlie: He has come a long way from being that plucky last-out maiden winner who finished less than a length behind Essential Quality as a 94-1 shot in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1). In every race since, he has looked like a horse who just keeps running to his company. Though he stumbled out of the gate, he still got the worst of a three-way win photo behind Medina Spirit in the Robert B. Lewis (G3), before dominating the Louisiana Derby (G2). He didn't win a classic, but he looked good in both of the ones he tried. He battled on between horses to cross the wire third in the Kentucky Derby, then defied the breakneck pace he helped set in the Belmont by continuing to battle with the fresher Essential Quality well inside the final furlong. 

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Medina Spirit (right) winning the Robert B. Lewis (G3) (Photo by Benoit Photography)

Medina Spirit: What do we know about Medina Spirit? Less than usual for a horse who crossed the wire first in the Kentucky Derby. He was a consistent presence on the California spur of the Kentucky Derby trail, winning the Lewis in a blanket finish and piling up seconds in the Sham (G3), San Felipe (G2), and Santa Anita Derby (G1). Though the Bob Baffert trainee stayed on to cross the wire first in a game Kentucky Derby effort, a positive test after the race has sent shock waves through the sport and cast understandable doubts on what his Derby performance means. He passed a pre-race test before the Preakness (G1), set the pace through most of it, but was overhauled in midstretch and finished a flattening third behind Rombauer and Midnight Bourbon.

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Mandaloun (Photo by Coady Photography)

Mandaloun: Mandaloun looked like a rising star in New Orleans, after a third-place finish in the Lecomte (G3) and then a cozy win over Proxy and Midnight Bourbon in the Risen Star (G2). But after a sixth-place finish with no clear excuse, some wondered whether he'd be able to bounce back in the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Brad Cox kept the faith, and he was rewarded. Mandaloun stalked the pace, switched outside Medina Spirit nearing the three-eighths, kept trying all the way home but could not get past Medina Spirit. However, after Medina Spirit's positive post-race test, there is still a strong chance that Mandaloun may be named the Kentucky Derby winner. Mandaloun came back well in the Pegasus S. despite having to take back early and rally into a moderate pace. He took over in upper stretch and held off a re-rallying Weyburn in the Haskell prep.

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Rombauer wins the Preakness Stakes May 15, 2021. (Photo by Bill Denver/Maryland Jockey Club)

Rombauer: Horses who win the El Camino Real Derby over the Golden Gate Tapeta don't always move on to become major threats in the three-year-old dirt division. But when Michael McCarthy knows what he has, watch out. Though Rombauer was a well-beaten third to Essential Quality in the Blue Grass, that race was a genius prep for the Preakness; it proved Rombauer could ship, proved he could handle dirt against good three-year-olds, and proved he could sit a bit closer to the pace than he had been. That had him perfectly primed to romp in the Preakness, where he rolled past pacesetting pair Midnight Bourbon and Medina Spirit to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Though he was no match for Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie in the Belmont, he still finished third and should benefit from shorter trips this summer.


Who is the best three-year-old male of 2021, so far?