Kentucky Derby 2021: Highlighting Early Contenders Ahead of Triple Crown Race

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistApril 21, 2021

Jockey John Velazquez riding Authentic, wins the 146th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

The Kentucky Derby is back in its traditional home on the first Saturday in May. 

The race at Churchill Downs kicks off a competition for the Triple Crown that will last the usual length instead of being spread out over a few months, like it was in 2020. 

Essential Quality should come into the Kentucky Derby as the favorite to win the Triple Crown. The horse trained by Brad Cox has five consecutive first-place finishes. 

The list of contenders behind Essential Quality was weakened a bit when Bob Baffert opted to keep Concert Tour out of the Kentucky Derby. Baffert will bring Medina Sprint to Churchill Downs as his only horse in the field. 

Undefeated Rock Your World could be the top challenger to Essential Quality, and a few others could emerge in the buildup to May 1 since it is a large field. 


Top Contenders

Essential Quality

Essential Quality is the horse everyone will be talking about in the days prior to the Kentucky Derby.

The three-year-old colt won the Breeders Cup juvenile in November and then went on to capture the Southwest Stakes and Blue Grass Stakes. 

The pair of victories allowed Essential Quality to top the Kentucky Derby qualification points chart. He was 30 points ahead of Hot Rod Charlie.

Trainer Brad Cox has quite the resume, with four triumphs in Breeders' Cup races and a pair of Kentucky Oaks victories, but he has not gone to the winner's circle at the Kentucky Derby yet. 

Essential Quality gives Cox the best chance to win on the first Saturday in May, and the horse will likely enter the race as the odds-on favorite. 


Rock Your World

An argument can be made that Rock Your World carries the best victory into the race from his April 3 win at the Santa Anita Derby. 

The horse trained by John Sadler outlasted Medina Sprint and Dream Shake to land his third consecutive win. Medina Sprint and Dream Shake are expected to be in the Kentucky Derby field. 

Rock Your World has two fewer victories than Essential Quality, and he may be listed higher on the odds chart because the likely favorite owns a Breeders' Cup win.

Sadler is also looking for his first Kentucky Derby win as a trainer. He has not had an entry in the race since 2013 and has had four horses enter in his career. 

Rock Your World has not competed against Essential Quality, so we do not have an idea as to how they would race against each other. 

In some years, potential Kentucky Derby favorites go head-to-head in the Santa Anita Derby and Arkansas Derby to give us a glimpse into how the May race plays out. 

However, Rock Your World does have experience against Derby-level competition from Santa Anita, which should make him a bit more comfortable on the track.