Red Flag enters Derby picture

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The 2021 Kentucky Derby may be some way off in the distance but Red Flag pitched his name into the conversation with a taking success at Del Mar.

Red Flag’s seven-and-a-quarter-length romp in Sunday’s Bob Hope Stakes was enough to earn him a 50/1 quote in the ante-post market for the ‘Run for the Roses’ – joint-fourth choice in a market where Essential Quality is the clear favourite at this early stage.

Trainer John Shirreffs and owner Jerry Moss are familiar with this scenario. Giacomo was partnered by Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith to an upset win in the Kentucky Derby in 2003 for the owner/trainer combination that was also behind outstanding mare and Breeders’ Cup Classic heroine Zenyatta.

Red Flag and Victor Espinoza were 10/1 in the betting for the Bob Hope but they made a mockery of those odds with a decisive and fully merited success.

The $220,000 purchase was hugely impressive in his run, though his trainer admits it was somewhat unexpected given he’s far from a flash work horse at home.

“I didn’t really expect that kind of performance. I was hoping to get a placing,” trainer Shirreffs said after the race. “He broke his maiden from way off the pace and he’s been doing better and better in the mornings, but he’s not a brilliant work horse. So this was a pleasant surprise.”

Bob Baffert’s 3/5 favourite Spielberg, a $1m colt, could only manage fourth behind Red Flag at Del Mar.

The Del Mar run was over 7f and Red Flag certainly delivered hints that he’ll have few problems stepping up in distance to cover the mile-and-quarter if things progress as hoped towards The Derby next spring.

The Brad Cox-trained Essential Quality is clear favourite for the 2021 Kentucky Derby after winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland this month.

Shirreffs and Moss most famously teamed up in the past with superstar Zenyatta, winner on 19 of her 20 racecourse starts.

She became the first and still the only female horse to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2009 with a flying finish in the home straight and was agonisingly denied the follow up 12 months later after suffering a nightmare run through the race and flashing home past rivals only to run out of track in being denied a head by Blame at the post.

Giacomo remains the sole American Classic winner trained by Shirreffs from his base in California, though he and Moss will be dreaming of further glory after Red Flag’s Del Mar romp.

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