Kentucky Derby 2021 Contenders: Favorites, Lineup Odds After Post Positions Draw

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistApril 27, 2021

Jockey Luis Saez reacts aboard Essential Quality as they win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile horse race at Keeneland Race Course, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Lexington, Ky.  (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Darron Cummings/Associated Press

After a quick turnaround from last year, the Kentucky Derby is back with a new slate of contenders.

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed the 2020 version to September, but the Run for the Roses returns to May this year with the top three-year-old horses set to compete Saturday.

There are once again 20 competitors set to enter the race at Churchill Downs, although a few stand out based on their success entering the week. Here are the latest contenders and odds following Tuesday's post position draw. 


Post Positions (Morning Line Odds)

1. Known Agenda (6-1)

2. Like the King (50-1)

3. Brooklyn Strong (50-1)

4. Keepmeinmind (50-1)

5. Sainthood (50-1)

6. O Besos (20-1)

7. Mandaloun (15-1)

8. Medina Spirit (15-1)

9. Hot Rod Charlie (8-1)

10. Midnight Bourbon (20-1)

11. Dynamic One (20-1)

12. Helium (50-1)

13. Hidden Stash (50-1)

14. Essential Quality (2-1)

15. Rock Your World (5-1)

16. King Fury (20-1)

17. Highly Motivated (10-1)

18. Super Stock (30-1)

19. Soup and Sandwich (30-1)

20. Bourbonic (30-1)


Top Contenders

Essential Quality

It's hard to imagine a better start to a career than Essential Quality.

The gray colt is not only a perfect 5-0 in his starts, but the competition has been fierce in these events with wins in four graded races. After winning the Breeders Cup Juvenile last November, he has gone on to win the Southwest Stakes and the Blue Grass Stakes this year. 

He has also already defeated several competitors in the Kentucky Derby field with Hot Rod Charlie and Highly Motivated among those finishing behind him.

If Essential Quality performs up to expectations, there might not be anyone that can catch him. 

The biggest question marks might come from the surrounding team, including jockey Luis Saez, who was disqualified after his apparent win at the 2019 Kentucky Derby. Trainer Brian Cox is also seeking his first Kentucky Derby win, trying to become the first Louisville-born trainer to win his local race.

The No. 14 post hasn't been lucky at this race either with zero wins since 1961.

Essential Quality can change a lot of history with a big performance Saturday.


Rock Your World

Everyone is talking about the undefeated favorite Essential Quality, but Rock Your World also enters this race without a loss.

The thoroughbred has three wins in three races, including an impressive showing in the Santa Anita Derby this month. Though his limited experience put him behind other contenders in the points total, he could still just be getting started in his career.

With the pedigree of Belmont Stakes winner and Kentucky Derby runner-up Empire Maker, there are plenty of reasons to believe in Rock Your World.

One holdup could be the limited success of undefeated horses, especially those that aren't listed as the pre-race favorite:

Chris Fallica @chrisfallica

Essential Quality will be the 18th undefeated horse to be favored in the Derby. 8 of the 17 undefeated Derby favorites won. The only undefeated Derby winner not sent off as the favorite was Barbaro in 2006. Rock Your World could be the 2nd.

After beating Medina Spirit and other top horses in the last race, however, there is enough talent for a win at Churchill Downs.


Hot Rod Charlie 

It was a bizarre path to the derby for Hot Rod Charlie, a horse owned by five fraternity brothers

Alex Quoyeser said, per Danielle Lerner of the Houston Chronicle:

"I love it. We're happy to be the disruptors. We think horse racing is really fun industry that a lot of people can enjoy. The barriers to entry are tough. It has a culture of elitism and classism and expectations for personal conduct and decorum that are we think are a little bit archaic and outdated, and we are happy to be a gateway for a younger generation of owners and people to enjoy it with merriment and success."

While a win would be a great story, it wouldn't be too much of a surprise considering the talent.

Hot Rod Charlie had a slow start to his career, needing four races to get his first win, but a second-place showing at the Breeders Cup Juvenile put him on the map. Winning the Louisiana Derby showed he can take it to the next level.

With two-time Kentucky Derby winner Doug O'Neill training Hot Rod Charlie and veteran jockey Joel Rosario riding, the colt can find himself in the winner's circle Saturday.