With race weekend looming, Essential Quality remains a heavy favorite to win the 2021 Kentucky Derby. However, a full 20-horse field should challenge the Brad Cox-trained colt, and there's no denying that an upset could occur.
Last year's favorite, Tiz the Law, was bested by Authentic after a disqualification of Maximum Security.
With the Derby rescheduled because of the coronavirus pandemic, Tiz the Law was racing for the second jewel in the Triple Crown following a win at the Belmont Stakes. This year, the Run for the Roses is back to being the first jewel, meaning Saturday's winner will seek a second-jewel win at the Preakness later next month.
Here is the full list of entries, along with a look at the favorite and some dark horses to watch.
2021 Kentucky Derby Gate Positions and 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 KentuckyDerby.com
Essential Quality is the heavy betting favorite at 2-1 odds. This is largely down to a combination of the horse's record—undefeated in five races—favorable post draw and racing team.
Cox is an experienced trainer, and Luis Saez is a seasoned jockey. Saez nearly rode Maximum Security to victory last year before the disqualification. Cox has confidence that Saez can again take his mount to the front of the pack.
"We kind of feel like he's going to put him where he needs to be, where he's comfortable, and hopefully he can get in position, turn for home and be there at the wire," Cox said, per Matt Bonesteel of the Washington Post.
Being the favorite, though, means being a target.
Rock Your World
Essential Quality has a favorable spot in the No. 14 gate. Running right beside him, though, will be another top contender in Rock Your World. The John Sadler-trained dark bay is coming off a win in the Santa Anita Derby and is carrying momentum into the race.
This is a relatively inexperienced horse, but it has an experienced jockey in Joel Rosario, who has wins in the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes.
There's a fair chance that Rock Your World pulls off a mild upset on Saturday.
While the odds for Known Agenda aren't much worse than those for Rock Your World, a win for this horse might be a far bigger upset. This is because the Todd Pletcher-trained colt drew the undesired No. 1 gate.
"Obviously, it's not what we were hoping for," Pletcher said, per ESPN. "Of course, this is one of the things you can't control."
Inside gate positioning can be favorable in smaller races because there is less ground to cover near the inner rail. However, with a 20-horse field, it can prove difficult. Inside horses often get pinned at the onset of the race and unable to move to the front of the pack.
Still, Known Agenda, who is coming off a win in the Florida Derby, cannot be discounted.
Soup and Sandwich
As far as dark horses go, Soup and Sandwich is certainly one to keep an eye on. The Mark Casse-trained colt drew an outside position in the No. 18 gate and has been progressing nicely during race week.
"I thought it was his best day of training so far," assistant trainer David Carroll said Tuesday, per the Churchill Downs Media Office. "Helium is always wanting to do more but Soup and Sandwich doesn't want to give too much, that's just who is he is. But we're really happy with him and how he's progressing along, especially after this morning."
Soup and Sandwich took second place in the Florida Derby and is an enticing long shot at 30-1 odds.
Medina Spirit isn't quite as much of a dark horse as Soup and Sandwich but is still a relative long shot. At 15-1 odds, the Bob Baffert-trained horse may represent one of the most enticing bets in the entire field.
Baffert and jockey John Velazquez are the same pair that put Authentic in the winner's circle last year.
Medina Spirit will look to improve on a second-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby. Baffert likes his chances but believes that the favorite is likely to win.
"A lot of our horses come off the deep surface at Santa Anita and do really well here," Baffert said, per Churchill Downs Media Office "He's doing really well, but to me, it's Essential Quality's race."
Medina Spirit is a fine long-shot play, but if you're like Baffert and believe in the favorite, 2-1 odds aren't bad.