Jockey Luis Saez rides Essential Quality to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile horse race at Keeneland Race Course, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
- The Kentucky Derby is Saturday at Louisville’s Churchill Downs
- Unbeaten Essential Quality is the favorite
- Who provides the top betting value in the Run for the Roses?
They have been running the Kentucky Derby since 1875, but despite a long history each of the last three runnings have been unique.
In 2018 Justify became the 13th Triple Crown winner, and second in 40 years. Two years ago Maximum Security was disqualified and Country House awarded the victory. It was just the second DQ in Derby history. Last year Authentic won the Derby, in September. The long history of running on the first Saturday in May was altered because of COVID-19.
What does 2021 have in store? Since the conclusion of major prep races several contenders including Concert Tour have been taken off the Derby path. That has led to the top choices seeing their odds decrease. Kentucky Derby betting sites offer lots of ways to play. Another defection could take place anytime, and that’s why if you really like a horse, locking in a price now makes sense.
Let’s look carefully at the field and consider where there is betting value.
2021 Kentucky Derby Odds
|Horse||Odds at William Hill|
|Rock Your World||+450|
|Hot Rod Charlie||+1000|
|Like The King||+2500|
|Soup And Sandwich||+2500|
Odds as of Apr 27
Two factors that make the Kentucky Derby difficult to handicap are the distance and weather. While breeding and recent form can help, it is difficult to guess which horses want to run a-mile-and-a-quarter. Nobody in the field has run that far. Furthermore, weather in Louisville is variable. Forecasts say there is about a 20-percent chance of rain. How horses handle a damp, sloppy, or muddy surface vary.
A terrific day of racing culminates with the Run for the Roses at 6:57 EST. NBC has television coverage.
When the pomp and circumstance end and the horses are loaded into the gate, where do you want your money? Let’s evaluate many of the top candidates and see if we can find someone that offers value.
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The Favorite: Essential Quality
There is something to be said about consistency. Essential Quality has won all five of his races, and the last three produced almost identical speed figures. He has won at different tracks, various distances, in several different pace scenarios, and in both good and bad weather. He has been the Derby favorite since winning the Breeders Cup Juvenile in November.
Trainer Brad Cox earned the Eclipse Award for top conditioner in the country last year, and breeder/owner Godolphin is the family stable of the Maktoum’s. The rulers of Dubai got into racing to win the world’s biggest races. The Kentucky Derby has alluded them over three decades in the business, but the Blue Grass Stakes has not.
If there is a criticism of Essential Quality, it is his consistency. While good enough thus far, usually horses improve as they get older. It is possible the same race he has run several times will win the Derby. However, what if someone else takes a big jump?
Top Contenders: Rock Your World, Known Agenda, Hot Rod Charlie, Highly Motivated
If you don’t like the consistency and conventional path Essential Quality has taken to get to Louisville, maybe Rock Your World makes sense. His dirt racing debut came in the Santa Anita Derby.
After going two-for-two on turf, he certainly took to the new surface in Los Angeles. Rock Your World also has early speed, and this isn’t the typical Derby field that projects as an early cavalry charge. That said, how much confidence do you have in a horse’s second try on dirt?
Unlike Rock Your World, who didn’t miss a beat when switching to dirt, Known Agenda needed a change. Trainer Todd Pletcher put blinkers on the well-bred son of Curlin two races ago and it has paid dividends. Two wins later including the Florida Derby, now Known Agenda is plenty popular. Known Agenda did get stuck on the rail after this morning’s draw though.
While Vinnie Viola, who owns the NHL’s Florida Panthers and his stable also controls Known Agenda, has plenty of top-notch horses with Pletcher, a repeat of the Florida Derby may not be enough. His speed figures look a little light.
Hot Rod Charlie has an old-school look. He was given time to find himself as a two-year-old, and needed four races to get to the winner’s circle. His first victory came in October, and he followed it up with a runner-up performance in the Breeders Cup. Last time out he won the Louisiana Derby.
Hot Rod Charlie’s trainer Doug O’Neill has twice won the Kentucky Derby. His win last time out, at a mile-and-three sixteenths, is as long as any horse in the field has prospered at, and the speed figure is nearly as strong as anyone else has produced.
If you are of the belief that Essential Quality is the clear-cut top choice, Highly Motivated should interest you too. He ran pretty well as the runner-up in the Blue Grass, after a third-place performance in New York’s Gotham Stakes in March. His lone victory aside from against maidens came in November’s Nyquist Stakes.
Why bet on Highly Motivated with Essential Quality in the field? The price. A lot can happen with a very full field, and he only lost to his rival by a neck in Lexington a month ago.
Longshots: Medina Spirit, Midnight Bourbon, Mandaloun
If he had not gotten injured, Life is Good would have been among the Derby favorites. Medina Spirit ran pretty well against him a couple of times.
Medina Spirit was second in the Santa Anita Derby, and that has been his story. Two wins, but three runner-up performances in five tries. Having six-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert in your corner is a major plus when it comes to Triple Crown races. Baffert at a price is even more appealing.
Midnight Bourbon and Mandaloun both exited the Louisiana Derby won by Hot Rod Charlie. Midnight Bourbon finished second, and he’s always in the mix. In seven career races, he has hit the board each time and won twice. Trainer Steve Asmussen has won more races at Churchill Downs than anyone else.
If you can give a mulligan to Mandaloun beating only two horses last time out, the rest of his form looks strong. He was the favorite in that race because of three victories in his first four starts including beating Midnight Bourbon in the Risen Star Stakes. He has a victory at Churchill Downs, and like Essential Quality, he is trained by the red hot Cox.
Kentucky Derby Best Bet
While it’s possible that Essential Quality is the clear-cut best horse, there is enough reason to doubt that to seek a better price. Twice Pletcher has won the roses, and Known Agenda’s dad loved races like this. Since adding blinkers he has been terrific, and the long stretch at Churchill Downs should be perfect for a horse who wants to be close enough to stay competitive and make a big charge to the wire.
Pick: Known Agenda (+1200)