Kentucky Derby 2021: Prize Money Purse, Latest Vegas Odds Payouts and More

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistApril 30, 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

The 2021 Kentucky Derby takes center stage Saturday as horse racing's Triple Crown season provides the American sports calendar with another step toward normalcy.

After being moved to September last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, which marked the first time since 1931 the Derby didn't kick off the Triple Crown slate, the Run for the Roses is back in its usual slot on the first Saturday in May featuring an impressive field of three-year old contenders.

Let's examine all of the important details for the 147th running of the storied race. That's followed by a look at the field and a breakdown of a couple horses worth keeping an eye on.


Race Information

Where: Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky

When: Saturday, May 1, at 6:57 p.m. ET

Watch: NBC

Live Stream: NBC Sports Live

Prize Money: $3 million purse ($1.86 million to winner)


Field and Odds

Kentucky Derby @KentuckyDerby

Post Positions for the 147th #KyDerby https://t.co/Qj3jv0KY6B


Horses to Watch

Favorite: Essential Quality

Essential Quality started on the path toward becoming the Kentucky Derby favorite by winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in November, and he's gotten progressively stronger from there with statement wins in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes and Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes.

The gray colt has showcased the ability in different ways, both from on the pace and a little off, and he withstood a serious challenge from Derby counterpart Highly Motivated during the stretch run of the Blue Grass last time out. Having those experiences tends to help against elite Triple Crown competition.

"He's very adaptable," trainer Brad Cox told reporters. "And it's exactly what you want to see with a horse in the Kentucky Derby, as far as I'm concerned."

Essential Quality's chances are also helped by the fact this year's Derby doesn't feature an overwhelming early-speed horse. There shouldn't be anybody pushing the pace too hard in the early furlongs, which is good news for all of the strong closers, including the favorite.

He's not unbeatable despite his unblemished mark of five wins in five starts so far, and the relative strength of this year's field is an additional hurdle, but he's still the horse to beat on Saturday.


Long Shot: Helium

It's rare for a horse to arrive at Churchill Downs for the Derby with an undefeated record and then get saddled with 50-1 morning-line odds, but that's the case for Helium, who's unbeaten in three starts.

Helium hasn't been dominant in his victories—his best Equibase speed figure is a modest 94—but he's trended in a positive direction every start and is coming off a triumph in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby. That's enough to at least warrant some attention in the Triple Crown opener.

Trainer Mark Casse is confident the horse still has some untapped speed, which could make him a factor despite the significant uptick in the level of competition.

"A lot of people are looking at Helium because he won the Tampa Bay Derby. He's faster than what you saw in the Tampa Bay Derby," Casse said.

Jockey Julien Leparoux will have to make a quick decision whether to make a push for the lead or settle toward the back in order to make a move for the rail. Helium likely doesn't have the stamina to sustain being four- or five-deep from the inside for multiple turns and still have enough for a late kick.

In a field without an early front-runner, it may be best to surge early and hope a slower pace can allow him to secure a wire-to-wire upset.


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