Field Set For 147th Kentucky Derby, Essential Quality Favored
2021 Kentucky Derby Marks Return to May, Some Spectators Back For Live Race
Champion Essential Quality will break from position 14 for Saturday’s 147th edition of the Kentucky Derby (GI) and the undefeated son of Tapit was labeled the early 2-1 morning line favorite in the full field of 20 set to race 1 ¼ miles under the famous Twin Spires of Churchill Downs. A total of 64 horses in Derby history have emerged from the 14 hole, producing just two winners and a 3 percent win rate, Carry Back 60 years ago in 1961 being the last to do so.
“(At the post position draw) It got a little nerve wracking with both horses still to go and the rail still being out there,” Essential Quality’s trainer, Brad Cox, said. “I think it’ll be a good spot. He’s got good tactical speed that he’ll be able to get into a good position from there.”
Essential Quality, a Godolphin homebred who has won all five of his starts including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI), Breeders’ Futurity (GI) and Blue Grass Stakes (GII) last out, represents one of two first-time Derby starters this year for trainer Cox. Also jockey Luis Saez will be chasing his first official Derby victory after his mount in 2019, Maximum Security, was disqualified from the victory for causing interference during the running of the race.
Cox, who grew up just blocks from Churchill Downs on Euclid Avenue in the south end of Louisville, also sends out Risen Star Stakes (GII) winner Mandaloun, who will be ridden by Florent Geroux also in search of his first Derby win. The Juddmonte homebred son of Into Mischief drew the seven hole, which Justify emerged from before capturing the first jewel of his Triple Crown in 2018. Overall 90 horses have emerged from the seven post for a win clip of 7.8 percent.
“I’m not too nervous yet, just getting excited,” Cox said. “This week is a lot of fun and I’m really excited to be a part of it in this role.”
Second choice on Mike Battaglia’s morning line at odds at 5-1 is Hronis Racing and David Talla’s Santa Anita Derby (GI) winner Rock Your World, who is trained by John Sadler. The undefeated son of Candy Ride, who was bred in Kentucky by Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally and his wife Debbie, drew post position 14 and will carry jockey Joel Rosario, who is back in the saddle after a one-race absence. Post position 15 does well in the Derby, cranking out a 10.2 percent win rate with six winners from 59 starters. Authentic emerged from post 15 when he won last year.
Sadler has saddled four Kentucky Derby starters, including two in 2010 and none since 2014. Rosario has booted home one winner, Orb in 2013, from nine mounts.
Two-time Derby winner, 2021 Hall of Fame finalist (and likely inductee) Todd Pletcher sends out a quad squad of four this year, led by Florida Derby (GI) winner Known Agenda. The son of Curlin, who was bred in Kentucky by owner St. Elias Stable, drew the dreaded one hole, which isn’t as bad as in previous years thanks to the new complete 20-horse starting gate which replaced the old two-gate auxiliary system in 2020. Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., winless so far in the Derby, retains the mount.
“Obviously it’s not what we were hoping for,” Pletcher said. “But, of course, this is one of the things you can’t control. With the new (20-stall) gate, we’re hopeful that things will be better than they were in the past and the post won’t be that bad. He had an inside trip in the Florida Derby and he handled it very professionally.”
Pletcher’s other starters are Calumet Farm’s Wood Memorial Stakes (GII) winner Bourbonic, who will break from the far outside under Kenrick Carmouche; Repole Stable, Phipps Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Wood runner-up Dynamic One (20-1) with Jose Ortiz aboard from post five; and WinStar Farm and China Horse Club Inc.’s Sainthood, who was second in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) last out and carries Corey Lanerie for the first time from post position five.
Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing and Strauss Bros Racing’s Hot Rod Charlie is the morning line fourth choice at 8-1 and drew post position nine. The son of 2013 Preakness Stakes (GI) winner Oxbow is trained by two-time Kentucky Derby winner Doug O’Neill (I’ll Have Another, 2012; and Nyquist, 2016) and is coming off an impressive score in the Louisiana Derby (GII) in his most recent start on March 20. He was also second to Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland last year.
Flavien Prat, who was aboard Country House for the win in 2019, rides from post position nine. Post nine hasn’t had a winner since Riva Ridge in 1972 and overall carries a success percentage of 4.6 with just four winners out of 87 starters.
“We decided we were going to give it a pump no matter what post we drew,” O’Neill said of the ownership group’s audible enthusiasm after the post was announced. “But we’re delighted with the nine. It’s a real good post. And the way they load this field, it means we won’t be standing in the gate very long. They’ll put us in, then one other and we’re gone. We’re really happy with it.”
Trainer Bob Baffert, who counts six Kentucky Derby wins among his Hall of Fame credentials to remain tied with Ben Jones for the most, will give fellow Hall of Famer John Velazquez a leg up on
Zedan Racing’s Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GII) winner Medina Spirit on Saturday in search of a record seventh winner. Velazquez himself has three Derby wins on his resume – Authentic last year, Always Dreaming in 2017 and Animal Kingdom in 2011 – ad will pilot this son of Protonico, who is 15-1 on the morning line, from post position eight. Post position eight has a record of 90-8-5-5 for an 8.9 percent rate, the last winner emerging from the spot was longshot Mine That Bird in 2009.
Mike Smith, who was aboard Justify for his Triple Crown run in 2008 and also Giacomo for the Derby win in 2005, picks up the mount on Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Louisiana Derby runner-up Midnight Bourbon, who is trained by Steve Asmussen and is 20-1 on the morning line. The Tiznow colt, who was a $525,000 Keeneland September yearling in 2019, will break from post 10, which should be no problem for Smith as he was aboard Giacomo the last time the slot was represented by a winner. The ten hole, despite no recent success, carries a 10.7 win rate overall with a nice record of 28.6 percent for in-the-money finishes, the highest for any gate position.
Asmussen’s other entrant is Arkansas Derby (GI) winner Super Stock, who is 30-1 on the morning line, and will carry jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. in search of breaking both his and the trainer’s his Kentucky Derby maiden from post position 18. Super Stock, a son of Dialed In, is owned Asmussen’s father, Keith, and country music superstar George Strait’s manager, Erv Woolsey.
The complete field for the $3 million Kentucky Derby, to be run for the 147th time on Saturday, in post position order with trainers, riders and morning line odds, is:
- Known Agenda, Todd Pletcher, Irad Ortiz, Jr., 6-1
- Like The King, Wesley Ward, Drayden Van Dyke, 50-1
- Brooklyn Strong, Danny Velazquez, Umberto Rispoli, 50-1
- Keepmeinmind, Robertino Diodoro, David Cohen, 50-1
- Sainthood, Todd Pletcher, Corey Lanerie, 50-1
- O Besos, Greg Foley, Marcelino Pedroza, 20-1
- Mandaloun, Brad Cox, Florent Geroux, 15-1
- Medina Spirit, Bob Baffert, John Velazquez, 15-1
- Hot Rod Charlie, Doug O’Neill, Flavien Prat, 8-1
- Midnight Bourbon, Steve Asmussen, Mike Smith, 20-1
- Dynamic One, Todd Pletcher, Jose Ortiz, 20-1
- Helium, Mark Casse, Julien Leparoux, 50-1
- Hidden Stash, Vicki Oliver, Rafael Bejarano, 50-1
- Essential Quality, Brad Coxl, Luis Saez, 2-1
- Rock Your World, John Sadler, Joel Rosario, 5-1
- King Fury, Ken McPeek, Brian Hernandez, Jr., SCRATCHED
- Highly Motivated, Chad Brown, Javier Castellano, 10-1
- Super Stock, Steve Asmussen, Ricardo Santana, Jr., 30-1
- Soup and Sandwich, Mark Casse, Tyler Gaffalione, 30-1
- Bourbonic, Todd Pletcher, Kendrick Carmouche, 30-1
The Kentucky Derby is the afternoon’s 12th race with a post time of 6:57 p.m. ET. Fans can view the action leading up the race and the race itself on NBC 2:30 to 7:30 p.m.