Kentucky Derby 2021 Contenders: Final Vegas Odds and Projections for Top Horses

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMay 1, 2021

Kentucky Derby entrant Hot Rod Charlie works out at Churchill Downs Wednesday, April 28, 2021, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

The 2021 class of Kentucky Derby contenders has descended upon Churchill Downs for the 147th Run for the Roses.

After a 2020 season in which the Triple Crown's races were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Derby takes back its place as the first race of the trio.

As of Saturday morning, a 19-horse field is set to take off in hopes of starting a Triple Crown run. This year's field features some talented colts. Even the odds have been back-and-forth as we draw closer to the race. Essential Quality was the opening favorite, Hot Rod Charlie then moved up to that distinction but Brad H. Cox's horse regained its status ahead of the 6:57 p.m. ET post time.

With mere hours left to wait for one of the biggest events on the betting and horse racing calendars, here's a look at the latest odds from Vegas and projections for some of the top horses.


Post Positions and Odds

1. Known Agenda 16-1

2. Like the King 57-1

3. Brooklyn Strong 55-1

4. Keepmeinmind 53-1

5. Sainthood 43-1

6. O Besos 45-1

7. Mandaloun 40-1

8. Medina Spirit 15-1

9. Hot Rod Charlie 7-1

10. Midnight Bourbon 15-1

11. Dynamic One 45-1

12. Helium 51-1

13. Hidden Stash 39-1

14. Essential Quality 6-5

15. Rock Your World 9-2

16. King Fury (scratched)

17. Highly Motivated 16-1

18. Super Stock 46-1

19. Soup and Sandwich 30-1

20. Bourbonic 33-1

Odds and post positions via KentuckyDerby.com.

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

The closer we get to race time the gathering buzz about Hot Rod Charlie seems to be easing off. The son of Oxbow will break from the ninth gate, which hasn't produced a winner in the Derby since Riva Ridge in 1972.

The colt has emerged as one of the betting favorites despite an unremarkable record. He had a first-place finish at the Louisiana Derby (G2) in March but took third in his only other start this year at January's Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita.

Still, he was an active competitor in 2020, making five starts and earning his connections a little more than $1 million.

At the Louisiana Derby he outran two fellow Derby competitors in Midnight Bourbon (second) and O Besos (third), so we have seen him outperform some of his direct competition.

The Kentucky-bred horse is far from a lock, though. Chief among the threats to him getting the roses is Essential Quality. The Brad H. Cox-trained colt has also been lightly raced this year but took first in each of his two starts.

He has one of the most impressive showings of any horse in the field with his win at the Blue Grass Stakes (G2). After getting bumped early on, he recovered to win and posted an Equibase speed figure of 109—and has been over 100 in each of his past three races.

Also coming into the race among the favorites is Rock Your World. After not racing at all in 2020 the Hronis Racing colt has gone three-for-three in starts this year. Two wins in non-graded stakes races weren't a big deal, but his Santa Anita Derby victory turned some heads.

He edged out Medina Spirit to win the Grade I stakes race in a field that also included Pat Day Mile entrants Dream Shake and Defunded.


Projected Win-Place-Show

Win: Known Agenda

Place: Essential Quality

Show: Medina Spirit

This is the Derby. Once the horses break out of the gate, the odds won't determine a winner. There is a fairly even crop of horses at the top of the lineup, so it shouldn't be surprising if there is an upset.

One horse that seems to be getting overlooked is Known Agenda. Breaking out of the first post isn't ideal given it hasn't produced a winner since Ferdinand in 1986. That's likely the reason for his rising odds.

However, there are reasons to believe he can overcome that. Irad Ortiz Jr. will be in charge of his trip, and he leads all jockeys in wins this year by a wide margin. He's never won the Derby but has won the Jockey of the Year award in each of the past three years.

Essential Quality is an obvious pick to finish in the top three. He is the favorite for a reason and has the top-end speed to win the whole thing.

Medina Spirit is another entrant not getting enough love from the bookmakers. There's something to be said for the experience of his connections. As six-time Derby winner Bob Baffert's only horse in the race, you could do worse than betting one of the most successful trainers of all time has his horse ready for the big spot.