Kentucky Derby 2021: Race Schedule and Predictions for Top Contenders

Michelle Bruton@@michelle_nflFeatured ColumnistApril 20, 2021

Kentucky Derby 2021: Race Schedule and Predictions for Top Contenders

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Kentucky Derby is almost upon us again, and unlike last year, it will be back in its rightful spot in May as the first leg of the prestigious Triple Crown, as opposed to last year, when it was run in September as the second leg. 

    The 147th running on Saturday, May 1 will also be a return to form of the true nature of the Derby, which is almost as much about the hats, the juleps and the star-studded crowds as it is the three-year-old thoroughbreds.

    Churchill Downs won't be entirely open for business because of COVID-19, but as of April 5, organizers plan to limit reserved seats capacity to 40-50 percent and are still determining how many general admission tickets will be sold. 

    The schedule of events leading up to the most exciting two minutes in sports is as follows:

    Opening night: April 24

    Dawn at the Downs: April 25–26

    Champions Day: April 27

    Thurby: April 29

    As is customary, the fillies will run in the Kentucky Oaks race on the Friday before the Derby. 

    Everything you need to know about the Derby day schedule is below:

         

    Kentucky Derby 2021 Schedule

    Date: Saturday, May 1

    TV: NBC

    TV coverage: Starts at 2:30 p.m. ET

    Gate and race: 6:50 p.m. ET

    Live Stream: NBCSports.com and NBC Sports app

    Now let's take a look at the top contenders for this year's rose garland and predict how they will do in the Run for the Roses. 

    Odds via Sportsline.

Essential Quality (5/2)

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    On the road to the Kentucky Derby, the Brad Cox–trained colt Essential Quality is at the top of the leaderboard with 140 points. 

    The three-year-old boasts a perfect win record, having most recently taken first in the 2021 Southwest Stakes after winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, the Breeders' Futurity and at his Churchill Downs debut in September 2020, races that ranged from 1 1/16 miles to 1 1/8 miles.

    "These three impressive efforts hint classic distances will be well within reach for the classy gray colt," wrote J. Keeler Johnson of TwinSpires of Essential Quality, who will have to run 1 ¼ at the Derby. 

    It's no surprise Essential Quality leads the current Kentucky Derby odds at 5/2. With his point total and his win record, it's hard to do anything but pencil in this horse as the winner of next month's Derby. 

    Prediction: Winner

Hot Rod Charlie (6/1)

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    Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

    How can you not root for a horse named Hot Rod Charlie? This colt just crossed the $1 million career earnings mark and impressed earlier this year with a Louisiana Derby win. He also finished second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and third in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. 

    The Leandro Mora–trained horse will likely never lead the odds heading into the Derby given questions about his stamina.

    His Louisiana Derby win at 1 3/16 miles bodes well, but his lineage doesn't. His sire, Oxbow (pictured above), came from a stamina line, but his dam comes from speed.

    "Hot Rod Charlie's speedy female family is certainly cause for pause when analyzing his chances of handling the Kentucky Derby distance," wrote J. Keeler Johnson of TwinSpires. "But on the other hand, mixing all this speed with Oxbow's stout bloodlines might actually be a recipe for success."

    Prediction: Top three

Rock Your World (8/1)

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    After opening with 20/1 odds, Rock Your World has climbed to 8/1, the same as Medina Spirit. But while the top two horses in the odds, Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie, are also the top two in points heading into the Derby, Rock Your World is sixth, with 100. (And Medina Spirit is eighth, with 74). 

    Points aren't everything, and that's clearly how oddsmakers feel about Rock Your World.

    The John Sadler–trained colt just came off a Santa Anita Derby win by a 4 1/2-length margin, so even though he doesn't have as many points, he's winning the right kinds of races on the road to the Kentucky Derby. 

    Prior his Santa Anita Derby win, Rock Your World had never raced on dirt nor raced past a mile, which would have caused major question marks ahead of Churchill Downs.

    But now the dark bay colt has proved he has what it takes to win in those conditions.

         

    Prediction: Top five