Kentucky Derby Field 2021: Pinpointing Contenders from All Horses and Jockeys

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistApril 30, 2021

Kentucky Derby Field 2021: Pinpointing Contenders from All Horses and Jockeys

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The 2021 Kentucky Derby field contains 20 horses, but there are only a few three-year-olds that can actually win the race. 

    That is reflected in the odds throughout the field, as only four contenders sit at 8-1 or lower on the morning line. 

    Essential Quality comes into Churchill Downs with the best resume, including a triumph at the Breeders' Cup juvenile in November. 

    At 2-1, Essential Quality still carries value on the betting line, but his price may dip on Saturday depending on how much action comes in on him. 

    Rock Your World, Hot Rod Charlie and Known Agenda are the other top horses in the field. If you do not want to bet on Essential Quality, one of those horses is worth the winning play since only one winner in the last seven years won with longer odds than 12-1. 

Essential Quality

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Sometimes you have to go with the chalky betting pick.

    Essential Quality is by far the best horse in the field and he earned that title with five victories in five races. 

    Those victories occurred at some of the highest-profile races and at different lengths, which is key as he makes the jump to the 1¼-mile Kentucky Derby. 

    Essential Quality's jockey, Luis Saez, was in the favorite role in 2019 with Maximum Security, but an aggressive move early in the race produced a rare disqualification.

    If Saez is a bit more cautious directing Essential Quality through the course, he should be at, or near, the front on the final stretch.

    The only thing going against Essential Quality is his post position. The last winner from Post 14 was Carry Back in 1961. 

Rock Your World

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    If you want a better price on a strong horse, all you have to do is look one spot over in the post draw from Essential Quality. 

    Rock Your World is coming off a strong showing at the Santa Anita Derby in which he cruised past fellow Derby horse Medina Spirit to take first. 

    Rock Your World may not have the lengthy winning streak at top races that Essential Quality owns, but he has the advantage in the saddle. 

    Joel Rosario won the 2013 Kentucky Derby with Orb, who started in Post 15 and was the third favorite behind Verrazano and Goldencents. 

    The similarities between Rosario's lone Derby win and Saturday's race could help Rock Your World gain the edge he needs to beat out Essential Quality. 

    With Known Agenda starting on the rail and Hot Rod Charlie in the middle, Rock Your World may be in the best position to surge to the front as he works his way from the outside in. 

Hot Rod Charlie

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Doug O'Neill is the only trainer outside of Bob Baffert to win multiple Kentucky Derby titles in the last decade. 

    O'Neill went to the winner's circle with I'll Have Another in 2012 and Nyquist in 2016. He has a good chance to win another Triple Crown race with Hot Rod Charlie. 

    At 8-1, Hot Rod Charlie holds the best betting value of the four horses listed at 8-1 or lower. If you add in 10-1 Highly Motivated, there are five horses at 10-1 or lower. 

    Hot Rod Charlie took second behind Essential Quality at the Breeders' Cup juvenile, and he is coming off a win at the Louisiana Derby.

    Jockey Flavian Prat, who guided long shot Country House to the front in 2019, should give Hot Rod Charlie an edge coming out of the middle. 

    If he survives the frenetic start, Hot Rod Charlie could break to the front and pose a challenge to whichever contender emerges from the outside posts. 


    Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

    Odds and Statistics obtained from