Kentucky Derby 2021 guide: Odds, picks, long shots

Kentucky Derby 2021 guide: Odds, picks, long shots
Photo: Scott Serio/Eclipse Sportswire

Tools & Tips to Win Big on Kentucky Derby 2021!

The Kentucky Derby has returned to its traditional first Saturday in May.

After 2020’s Derby ran in front of a fan-free Churchill Downs on Labor Day weekend, this year's Run for the Roses will go off at 6:57 p.m. EDT Saturday. NBC will carry the 1 1/4-mile American classic, which will run in front of a crowd – albeit one below full capacity – at Churchill.

Trainer Brad Cox aims to become the first Louisville, Ky., native to saddle a Kentucky Derby winner. He sends forward favorite Essential Quality (2-1 on the morning line) in addition to Mandaloun (15-1).

Essential Quality enters the Kentucky Derby with a 5-for-5 record, including prep wins this year in Oaklawn Park’s Southwest Stakes (G3) and Keeneland’s Blue Grass Stakes (G2). He will break from Post 14 under jockey Luis Saez, who also seeks a first official Derby score.

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The second favorite on the morning line is Santa Anita Derby (G1) victor Rock Your World (5-1). With a 3-for-3 record, the John Sadler trainee is lightly raced but unbeaten.

Florida Derby (G1) winner Known Agenda (6-1) and Louisiana Derby (G2) hero Hot Rod Charlie (8-1) were the two other runners assigned single-digit morning-line odds by Mike Battaglia. The prep season included a bevy of upsets, and 3-year-olds such as Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Super Stock (30-1) and Wood Memorial (G2) victor Bourbonic (30-1) are out Saturday to prove they are more than one-hit wonders.

Odds will change, of course, throughout the day leading up to post time. Track updated odds here.

Here is a look at the 2021 Kentucky Derby field (trainer and jockey in parentheses) with morning-line odds:

1. Known Agenda (Todd Pletcher, Irad Ortiz Jr.), 6-1

2. Like the King (Wesley Ward, Drayden Van Dyke), 50-1

3. Brooklyn Strong (Daniel Velazquez, Umberto Rispoli), 50-1

4. Keepmeinmind (Robertino Diodoro, David Cohen), 50-1

5. Sainthood (Todd Pletcher, Corey Lanerie), 50-1

6. O Besos (Greg Foley, Marcelino Pedroza), 20-1

7. Mandaloun (Brad Cox, Florent Geroux), 15-1

8. Medina Spirit (Bob Baffert, John Velazquez), 15-1

9. Hot Rod Charlie (Doug O’Neill, Flavien Prat), 8-1

10. Midnight Bourbon (Steve Asmussen, Mike Smith), 20-1

11. Dynamic One (Todd Pletcher, Jose Ortiz), 20-1

12. Helium (Mark Casse, Julien Leparoux), 50-1

13. Hidden Stash (Vicki Oliver, Rafael Bejarano), 50-1

14. Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Luis Saez), 2-1

15. Rock Your World (John Sadler, Joel Rosario), 5-1

16. King Fury (Kenny McPeek, Brian Hernandez Jr.), Scratched

17. Highly Motivated (Chad Brown, Javier Castellano), 10-1

18. Super Stock (Steve Asmussen, Ricardo Santana Jr.), 30-1

19. Soup and Sandwich (Mark Casse, Tyler Gaffalione), 30-1

20. Bourbonic (Todd Pletcher, Kendrick Carmouche), 30-1


TimeformUS’ pace projections show Rock Your World going out to an uncontested lead under jockey Joel Rosario, with Medina Spirit tracking in second. Favorite Essential Quality is projected to settle mid-pack, while Known Agenda is among a group of closers hoping for a hot early pace. ()

Rosario said this week that he would defer to Sadler when it comes to race strategy, while also expressing gratitude to Rock Your World’s connections for picking him to ride.

For more information on each of the Kentucky Derby’s 19 runners, visit HRN’s free past-performances page.

Kentucky Derby links

HRN’s team of writers, editors and contributors make their expert picks for the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

The Kentucky Derby field of 20 became a field of 19 on Friday when King Fury scratched. Trainer Kenny McPeek said the Lexington Stakes (G3) winner spiked a fever.

Padraic Manocchio ranks each runner in the Kentucky Derby field to see who can beat the favorite, which horses are being overvalued and which long shots could spice up the exotics. He also shows the speed figure standard that 90 percent of recent Derby winners have achieved.

Reinier Macatangay writes why he is willing to toss favorite Essential Quality and why Medina Spirit is an “X-factor." Macatangay also provides picks and wagering strategies for the Run for the Roses and identifies the three best long shots.

Matt Shifman reviews significant trends from the Kentucky Derby’s points era and analyzes the full field, offering analysis and wagering strategies.

This week on HorseCenter, hosts Matt Shifman and Brian Zipse discuss the Kentucky Derby draw, pace projection and top long shots, then make their suggested Derby wagers.

After Essential Quality won the Blue Grass Stakes in April, Brad Cox, Luis Saez and Jimmy Bell of owner/breeder Godolphin all talked about their chances to win the Kentucky Derby for the first time. They can make their dreams a reality Saturday.

Syracuse University men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim owns “as small a piece as you can have” in Hidden Stash. Tim Wilkin writes how Boeheim became part of the ownership group of the “long, long, long shot.”

Brooklyn Strong owner Mark Schwartz called his runner’s 50-1 odds a “direct insult.” He spoke to Tom Pedulla about why he thinks his horse belongs in the Kentucky Derby.

Todd Pletcher sends out four starters Saturday in the Kentucky Derby, but his Kentucky Oaks winner Malathaat may be the best of his 3-year-olds. He and the filly’s other winning connections talked Friday about changes to the Derby points system that would provide better access to fillies.


There might not be another fan who makes a bigger bet Saturday than Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale. He told Ron Flatter how he plans to bet $4 million on the Kentucky Derby.


Churchill Downs will not fill to capacity Saturday, but there will be quite a few more spectators than the race’s 2020 edition, which was closed to the public. Matt Stahl spoke to a fan who used a scissor lift last September to save his Kentucky Derby attendance streak.


In 146 editions of the Kentucky Derby, only seven winners have come from last to first. Keeler Johnson looks back on some of the race’s notable closers, including 2009 upset winner Mine That Bird.

Other Saturday stakes

Courtesy of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, here is a look at other stakes races taking place Saturday. All times are EDT.

1:14 p.m. – $500,000 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2), Churchill Downs, NBCSN

Six-year-old Got Stormy, installed as the 6-5 morning line favorite, and Zofelle lead seven fillies and mares in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile. Trained by Mark Casse, Got Stormy, with earnings of more than $2 million and six graded stakes wins, will be making her second start in this race having finished second in 2019. A Grade 1 winner against males and females, Got Stormy opened her 2021 campaign with a nose victory over Zofelle in the Honey Fox (G3) on Feb. 27 at Gulfstream Park. The 5-year-old Zofelle, trained by Brendan Walsh, won the Marshua’s River Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream in January.

1:32 p.m. – $200,000 Westchester Stakes (G3), Belmont Park, FS1

Dr. Post, who was second to Tiz the Law in last year’s Belmont Stakes, leads a six-horse field in the one-mile Westchester Stakes at Belmont Park. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Dr. Post will be making his first start since finishing fourth in the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) at Saratoga last August. Seven-year-old New York-bred gelding Mr. Buff has 17 wins, including two this winter in the Jazil Stakes and the Stymie Stakes at Aqueduct for trainer John Kimmel.

1:57 p.m. – $500,000 Derby City Distaff (G1), Churchill Downs, NBCSN

Reigning champion female sprinter Gamine tops a field of six fillies and mares in the 35th running of the Derby City Distaff at seven furlongs. Trained by Bob Baffert, Gamine has won six of her seven starts and capped off her Eclipse Award-winning campaign with a track record-setting triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Keeneland in November. Gamine, a 4-year-old by Into Mischief, opened 2021 with a five-length victory in the Las Flores (G3) on April 4 at Santa Anita. John Velazquez has the mount from post 4. Five-year-old Bell’s the One captured last year’s Derby City Distaff in dramatic fashion, closing with a rush to nip Serengeti Empress by a nose at the wire. Trained by Neil Pessin, Bell’s the One, third behind Gamine the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, opened this year with a second-place finish in the Madison (G1) at Keeneland. She will be ridden by Corey Lanerie from post 3.

2:37 p.m. – $200,000 Fort Marcy Stakes (G2), Belmont Park, FS1 

Four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown will saddle a trio of contenders making their seasonal debuts in the Fort Marcy at nine furlongs on Belmont Park’s inner turf course for older horse. Brown sends out Rockemperor, Tribhuvan and Devamani. Multiple Grade 1-placed Rockemperor, who was second in the Manhattan Stakes (G2) last July 4, will exit post 2 under Manny Franco in search of his first graded score. Tribhuvan won an optional claimer on the same July 4 Belmont card. Devamani won the Knickerbocker Stakes (G2) at Belmont on Oct. 18. 

2:48 p.m. – $500,000 Pat Day Mile Stakes (G2), Churchill Downs, NBC 

Two-time Grade 1 winner Jackie’s Warrior tops a field of a dozen 3-year-olds for Saturday’s 97th running of the Pat Day Mile. Trained by Steve Asmussen, Jackie’s Warrior won his first four starts, a streak that included daylight victories in the Saratoga Special (G2), the Hopeful (G2), and the Champagne (G1). He suffered his first defeat when he finished fourth as the odds-on favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November. Jackie’s Warrior opened 2021 with a third-place finish behind Essential Quality over a sloppy track at Oaklawn Park in the Southwest Stakes (G3). Joel Rosario has the mount aboard Jackie’s Warrior from post 3. Prevalence, trained by Brendan Walsh, started his career with two impressive victories before finishing sixth in the Wood Memorial (G2) in his most recent start. Tyler Gaffalione has the mount from post 5. The Peter Eurton-trained Dream Shake comes in from California following third-place finishes in the San Felipe (G2) and the Santa Anita Derby (G1).

3:40 p.m. – $500,000 American Turf Stakes (G2), Churchill Downs, NBC

Undefeated 7-2 morning line favorite Annex along with Scarlett Sky and Palazzi, the one-two finishers in the recent Transylvania Stakes (G3) at Keeneland, top a field of 14 3-year-olds for Saturday’s 30th running of the 1 1/16-mile American Turf. Trained by Bill Mott, Annex comes into Saturday’s race off victories in the Palm Beach and Cutler Bay at Gulfstream Park. Irad Ortiz Jr. has the mount from post 4. Trained by Shug McGaughey, Scarlett Sky rallied from far back to win the Transylvania by a half-length after being beaten by a head in the Palm Beach by Annex. Joel Rosario rides Annex from post 13. Palazzi, who took the Texas Turf Mile to start his 2021 campaign, is trained by Mark Casse and will be ridden by Tyler Gaffalione from post 14.

4:31 p.m. – $500,000 Churchill Downs Stakes (G1), Churchill Downs, NBC

Eclipse Award sprint champion Whitmore looms large in a field of 13 in the 86th running of the seven-furlong Grade Churchill Downs. Whitmore, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint last fall at Keeneland, will be making his third start in the Churchill Downs. He was fourth in 2018 and fifth in 2019, which was his most recent start at Churchill. This year, Whitmore has been defeated twice by C Z Rocket at Oaklawn, first in the March 13 Hot Springs and again in the Count Fleet (G3) on April 10. Trained by Ron Moquett, Whitmore will break from post 9 and be ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr. Among the challengers to Whitmore is two-time Grade 1 winner Mind Control. Trained by Gregg Sacco, Mind Control returned from a 3 1/2-month layoff with a runner-up finish in the Carter Handicap (G1) on April 3 to begin his 2021 campaign. Irad Ortiz Jr. has the mount and will leave post 2. The Todd Pletcher-trained Basin won the Sir Shackleton at Gulfstream Park on March 27.

5:27 p.m. – $1 million Turf Classic Stakes (G1), Churchill Downs, NBC

Defending champion Digital Age and Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) winner Colonel Liam headline a field of nine older runners entered the 35th running of the 1 1/8-mile Turf Classic. Trained by Chad Brown, Digital Age will be attempting to join Divisidero (2016-2017), Wise Dan (2013-2014) and Einstein (2008-2009) as the only back-to-back winners of the Turf Classic. Digital Age, who also won the American Turf (G2) at Churchill in 2019 in his only other start over the course, will be ridden by Javier Castellano from post 6. Brown will saddle another runner in Domestic Spending. A winner of four of five career starts, Domestic Spending will be making his first start since taking the Hollywood Derby (G1) last fall at Del Mar. Flavien Prat has the mount breaking from post 5. Robert and Lawana Low’s Colonel Liam has won his past three starts on turf, following his victory in the Pegasus with a score in the Muniz Memorial Classic (G2) at the Fair Grounds. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Colonel Liam will be ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr. from post 3.

5:37 p.m. – $200,000 Sheepshead Bay Stakes (G2), Belmont Park, FS2

Magic Attitude headlines a field of six graded-stakes winners in the Sheepshead Bay for older fillies and mares going 1 3/8 miles over the inner turf course at Belmont Park. Trained by Arnaud Delacour, Magic Attitude, a 4-year-old bay daughter of Galileo, won last year’s Belmont Oaks (G1) after racing six times in France. She finished third in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) at Keeneland last October. Magic Attitude will try to improve upon her seventh-place finish in her 2021 debut on March 6 in the Hillsborough (G2) at Tampa Bay Downs. Always Shopping, trained by Todd Pletcher, won both the Via Borghese and the La Prevoyante (G3) at Gulfstream during the winter, and then finished second in the Orchid (G3) on March 27. Antoinette, second in last year’s Belmont Oaks, captured the The Very One (G3) at Gulfstream on Feb. 27 for trainer Bill Mott.  

9:10 p.m. – $100,000 Senorita Stakes (G3), Santa Anita Park, TVG

Eleven 3-year-old fillies will go to the post in the Senorita Stakes at one mile on turf at Santa Anita. California-bred Closing Remarks is the 5-2 morning line favorite off her second-place effort by a nose the Providencia (G3) on April 3 for trainer Carla Gaines. Making her 2021 debut is Madone, who won three grass races in California last year before an eighth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Keeneland.

Kentucky Derby preview

From Churchill Downs’ communications department:

Godolphin’s undefeated homebred Essential Quality has been installed as the 2-1 morning line favorite in a field of 19 3-year-olds for Saturday’s 147th running of the Grade 1, $3 million Kentucky Derby with $1.86 million going to the winner.

Trained by Louisville, Ky., native Brad Cox, who never has saddled a Kentucky Derby starter, and to be ridden by Luis Saez, Essential Quality will attempt to become the first reigning juvenile champion since Nyquist in 2016 to win the Run for the Roses, which highlights a 14-race program that begins at 10:30 a.m. (all times EDT).

The Kentucky Derby will go as the day’s 12th race with a 6:57 p.m. post time. NBC will provide live coverage from 2:30-7:30 p.m.

Essential Quality is perfect in five starts in a career that began on Derby Day 2020 with a four-length victory in a six-furlong maiden race at Churchill Downs on Sept. 5. Following that victory, Grade 1 victories followed in the Breeders’ Futurity and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland to cement the Eclipse Award for the son of Tapit.

This year, Essential Quality won the Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park over a sloppy track and then the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland. Essential Quality will break from post position 14.

In addition to Essential Quality, Cox will have one other runner in the starting gate: Juddmonte’s Mandaloun (15-1). Winner of the Risen Star Stakes (G2), Mandaloun will be ridden by regular pilot Florent Geroux and break from post seven.

Second choice on linemaker Mike Battaglia’s morning line at 5-1 is undefeated Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Rock Your World.

Trained by John Sadler, Rock Your World has won all three of his starts with the first two coming on grass. Joel Rosario, who won the 2013 Kentucky Derby on Orb, has the mount Saturday and will break from post 15.

Third choice at 6-1 is Known Agenda.

Winner of the Florida Derby (G1) in his most recent start, Known Agenda is trained by Todd Pletcher, who will be seeking his third Kentucky Derby victory. Irad Ortiz Jr. has the mount and will break from post position 1.

Pletcher will have three other runners in the gate: Bourbonic (30-1), Dynamic One (20-1), the 1-2 finishers in the Wood Memorial (G2), respectively, and Sainthood (50-1). Kendrick Carmouche has the mount on Bourbonic and will break from post 20, Jose Ortiz will be aboard Dynamic One and break from post 11, and Corey Lanerie has the mount at Sainthood and exit post five.

Hot Rod Charlie is the fourth choice at 8-1.

Trained by two-time Kentucky Derby winner Doug O’Neill, Hot Rod Charlie captured the Louisiana Derby (G2) in his most recent start and closed 2020 with a runner-up finish to Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Flavien Prat, winner of the 2019 Kentucky Derby on Country House, has the mount and will break from post nine.

One other trainer will be seeking to add his Kentucky Derby win total, and it would be a record-breaker.

Bob Baffert is tied with Ben Jones for most Kentucky victories with six and he will shoot for No. 7 with Medina Spirit (15-1).

Runner-up in the Santa Anita Derby in his most recent start, Medina Spirit will be ridden by three-time Kentucky Derby winner John Velazquez and break from post 8.

Another rider trying to add to his Kentucky Derby victory total is Mike Smith. Smith, a two-time winner including the most recent Triple Crown winner Justify, has the call on Midnight Bourbon (20-1) for trainer Steve Asmussen.

Runner-up in the Louisiana Derby, Midnight Bourbon will break from post 10.

Asmussen will have one other entrant in the race: Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Super Stock (30-1) who is owned by his father, Keith Asmussen, and Erv Woolsey. Ricardo Santana Jr. has the mount on Super Stock and will break from post 18.

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