2021 Kentucky Derby: Choosing the Best Picks Among Top Contenders

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistApril 29, 2021

Kentucky Derby entrant Essential Quality waits to work out at Churchill Downs Thursday, April 29, 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

Five horses sit at 10-1 or lower on the Kentucky Derby morning line.

The list of top contenders is longer than it was in September, when Authentic, Tiz the Law and Honor A.P. were the talk of Churchill Downs. 

Essential Quality is filling the role occupied by Tiz the Law in 2020, and it is hard to debate his favorite credentials with him coming off five consecutive victories. 

Rock Your World, Known Agenda, Hot Rod Charlie and Highly Motivated appear to have the best shots at ending Essential Quality's winning streak. 

Since 2012, seven of the eight Derby winners closed with 12-1 odds or lower. Country House in 2019 was the only long shot to win in that stretch, and he earned first after pre-race favorite Maximum Security was disqualified. 

Based on the track record at Churchill Downs, one of the five three-year-old horses sitting at 10-1 or better should cross the finish line first. The challenge is determining which member of the quintet will break away from the pack.


Kemtucky Derby Lineup and Odds


Best Picks

Essential Quality 

The conversation about Derby favorites has to start, and it might even end, with Essential Quality. 

The morning-line favorite was the most dominant thoroughbred in the buildup to the Kentucky Derby with victories at the Southwest Stakes and Blue Grass Stakes. 

Essential Quality's two victories in 2021 came after he captured the Breeders' Cup juvenile in November, a win that finished off a perfect 2020 with three triumphs in three months. 

The horse trained by Brad Cox did not gain an advantage in the post draw, as he was placed in post 14 directly to the left of Rock Your World. 

Essential Quality and Rock Your World should eventually break free from the horses on the outside since there are four at 20-1 or longer starting from posts 16 to 20. 

If he benefits from the pace set by a long shot on the outside, Essential Quality will not have to expend all of his energy in the opening straight. 

Essential Quality has a jockey advantage with Luis Saez, who got close to winning the Derby in 2019 aboard Maximum Security. 

If Saez has learned from the move that disqualified Maximum Security, he could ride the pre-race favorite to the winner's circle.


Hot Rod Charlie

Hot Rod Charlie could be in the perfect position to sprint to a victory.

He will not face the difficulty along the rail that Known Agenda will, and he does not have to work from the outside in, like Essential Quality and Rock Your World. 

Hot Rod Charlie is coming off a win at the Louisiana Derby in which he outlasted Midnight Bourbon and O Besos, both of whom are Derby starters. 

It is also worth noting that the Doug O'Neill-trained horse took second behind Essential Quality in the Breeders' Cup juvenile in November. 

He has two fewer races on his resume, but he has only ever finished in the top three.

If Hot Rod Charlie comes out of the starting gate fast, he could pull ahead of the other favorites and use his experience in other top races to remain ahead. 


Statistics obtained from KentuckyDerby.com.