Kentucky Derby Entries 2021: Horses in the Field Best Suited for Churchill Downs

Michelle Bruton@@michelle_nflFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2021

Kentucky Derby hopeful Known Agenda works out at Churchill Downs Tuesday, April 27, 2021, in Louisville, Ky. The 147th running of the Kentucky Derby is scheduled for Saturday, May 1. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

With Tuesday's post position draw, we now have as much information as ever to evaluate this year's field ahead of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. 

This year marks the 147th running of the Derby, which moves back to its traditional spot as the first leg of the Triple Crown and on the first Saturday in May, after being moved to September in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (It was the only one in 90 years that the race has not been held on its traditional date.)

In 2020, there was no paid attendance at Churchill Downs; this year, a limited number of both reserved seating (40-50 percent of capacity) as well as general admission seating (15,000 general admission infield tickets, about 25-30 percent of capacity) will be sold. 

The horses, too, have arrived at Churchill Downs, one of if not the most important tracks these three-year-old Thoroughbreds will ever run. And Churchill Downs brings with it its own set of unique features these horses will have to navigate, from its 1¼-mile dirt track to a new 20-horse starting gate this year that replaces the old 16-horse gate with a four-horse auxiliary gate attached. 

Even horses that have racked up plenty of points at other races on the road to the Derby can slip up at Churchill Downs. Let's take a look at the horses that are primed for success on Saturday as well as the Vegas favorites. 


Kentucky Derby 2021 Post Positions, 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

Odds via SportsLine 


When we think about which horses are primed to perform well at Churchill downs, we typically think about the previous distances they have run and their experience running on dirt.

But we can't forget about the weather. 

The Weather.com forecast for Louisville on Saturday currently calls for sunny skies with a high of 73 and a low of 53, which would be absolutely perfect Derby weather. It would also be a break from the last four races run at Churchill Downs in May, which have all featured rain.

If it does rain on Saturday, which horses are better prepared to withstand the elements? As Jon Hale of the Louisville Courier Journal points out, these horses have been lightly raced on the road to the Derby, and we don't have a lot of info on how they perform in rain. 

However, it's no surprise that Vegas favorite Essential Quality should do just fine even if conditions get a bit muddy. The Feb. 27 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park turned sloppy, but Essential Quality still ran to a 4¼-length victory.

Daily Racing Form @DRFInsidePost

Essential Quality looking good https://t.co/0eWxthnEtW

All of Essential Quality's races have been on dirt, and while he has never run the Derby distance of 1¼ miles, he did win the 1-mile G2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 3. 

John Mucciolo of TwinSpires.com wrote that Essential Quality "surely acts like a colt who will thrive with more distance." As he points out, the gray colt posted Brisnet Speed numbers of 98 and 102 so far in 2021.

"The 1¼-mile distance at Churchill Downs on May 1 should pose no problem for the talented sophomore," Mucciolo said. 

Hot Rod Charlie, another Vegas darling, is also primed for a successful weekend at Churchill Downs. The recent addition of blinkers should only help him. "He has shown the versatility to run well from off the pace, as he did in the Breeders' Cup or on the front end like he raced at Fair Grounds most recently," Mucciolo wrote.

So far this year, Hot Rod Charlie has taken first at the Grade 2 TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby, a 1 3/16-mile dirt race he ran on March 20, and third at the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (1 1/16 miles and also dirt) in January). 

Prior to April 3, it would have been difficult to say how another potential Derby winner, Rock Your World (5-1), would have fared at Churchill Downs. That was the Santa Anita Derby, and it was the dark bay colt's first race on dirt and also past a mile. 

George Allan Bryant @Bryant_HRD

Watch gallop out on Rock Your World. 3rd start versus battle tested Medina Spirit and is till green switching leads down lane. https://t.co/GSSO5EJDUN

However, it didn't seem to matter, as Rock Your World took the Santa Anita Derby with a 102 Brisnet Speed rating. According to James Scully of TwinSpires.com, that is "tied for the top last-out figure in this year’s Kentucky Derby."

Though he is not among the favorites in this field, Brooklyn Strong would seemingly have no problem on a muddy Churchill Downs track. He posted the best speed figure of his career when he won the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes on Dec. 5 on a sloppy track.  

With skies expected to be blue and clear on Saturday, however, it's hard to think any horse in this field can beat out Essential Quality, who is perfect in his career.