Kentucky Derby Context: Highly Motivated

April 21st, 2021 horse racing analyst James Scully attended his first Kentucky Derby in 1981. Along with a brief profile of this year’s contenders, he is providing some historical context.

In his first two-turn start, the Blue Grass S. (G2), Highly Motivated nearly knocked off Kentucky Derby (G1) favorite Essential Quality.

Highly Motivated gave way grudgingly in the final yards, finished a neck back in second, and the commendable effort provided the necessary qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby.

The Chad Brown-trained colt may be able to secure a favorable, forwardly placed trip at Churchill Downs.

Highly Motivated sprinted to the fore from the start of the Blue Grass and established a moderate pace, chased by Essential Quality. The bay sophomore hadn’t shown the way in four previous starts, but always raced within striking range, with multiple triple-digit Brisnet Early Pace ratings.

His Brisnet numbers stamp him as a legitimate contender. Highly Motivated has earned 102 Brisnet Speed figures in the last three outings, which is tied for the top number in the field, with Essential Quality and Rock Your World.

The 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby distance is the biggest question. Regular rider Javier Castellano will be up for owner Klaravich Stables.

Highly Motivated is by leading sire Into Mischief, who produced his first Kentucky Derby winner, Authentic, last year. Seth Klarman’s Klaravich Stables has had two previous starters in the Derby. Brown trained the most recent, Practical Joke, who finished fifth in 2017.

Brown was unplaced with his first four Kentucky Derby starters, but the four-time Eclipse Award winner finished second with his most recent runner, Good Magic, in 2018.

Good Magic was named champion two-year-old male, after he broke his maiden in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) with a 4 1/4-length romp at Del Mar. He dropped his three-year-old debut, when he checked in third in the Fountain of Youth (G2), but rebounded with a convincing win in the Blue Grass.

In a driving rainstorm on Derby Day, Good Magic left the starting gate at 9-1.

After he settled just behind the frontrunners during the opening stages, Good Magic got caught up in a little traffic as Justify advanced to a clear lead leaving the backstretch. Jose Ortiz angled Good Magic into the clear midway through the final turn.

Good Magic was the only contestant to throw a scare into the heavy favorite. He launched a nice move to nearly draw even with Justify entering the stretch. However, the eventual Triple Crown winner had more gears and powered away to win by 2 1/2 lengths.

Highly Motivated will enter the first leg of the Triple Crown on the upswing for Brown, who hopes to keep building upon his last Kentucky Derby experience.