Kentucky Derby 2021 Horses: Contenders and Race-Day Overview for Entire Field

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMay 1, 2021

Horses work out as the sun rises at Churchill Downs Friday, April 30, 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 Kentucky Derby has long been known as the "most exciting two minutes in sports." And those two thrilling minutes have almost arrived once again.

On Saturday evening, the 2021 Kentucky Derby is set to take place at Churchill Downs, and one of the 19 horses in this year's field will emerge victorious in the Run for the Roses. After last year's race was postponed to September because of the coronavirus pandemic, things are a bit more normal this year, especially considering a limited number of spectators will be allowed to attend the event.

Essential Quality has been the betting favorite all week during the lead-up to the Derby. Will the colt live up to expectations, or will he end up falling short as another horse reaches the finish line first?

Here's the full lineup for this year's race, along with a breakdown of the top contenders to win.


2021 Kentucky Derby 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. n/a (King Fury was scratched)

17. Highly Motivated 16-1

18. Super Stock 46-1

19. Soup and Sandwich 30-1

20. Bourbonic 33-1

Odds via KentuckyDerby.com.


After winning his first five career races, Essential Quality enters the Kentucky Derby looking to keep his unblemished record intact. If he's successful, then he'll become the 10th undefeated horse to win the Run for the Roses.

However, there's some strong competition throughout the field. Rock Your World is also undefeated, albeit with only three races on his record. Horses such as Hot Rod Charlie, Known Agenda, Medina Spirit and Midnight Bourbon are also likely to be among the top contenders.

So while Essential Quality is the favorite to win, it's far from a given that he's going to.

"Essential Quality is a deserving favorite, but I think it's a wide-open race," trainer Todd Pletcher said, per Beth Harris of the Associated Press.

Pletcher has four colts in this year's 19-horse field, including Known Agenda. While Known Agenda is the best of those four horses, he also has a tough starting position, as he'll be breaking from the No. 1 gate on the far inside. It's a spot that trainers typically don't want to see drawn for their horse during the week of the race.

But Known Agenda is a strong horse and is coming off two straight victories, including a win at the Florida Derby in March. So he could end up jumping out to a big start and establishing his position near the front of the field at the beginning of the race.

Essential Quality and Rock Your World will be tough to beat, though, as the horses are set to start side by side in the Nos. 14 and 15 posts. They will be neck-and-neck at the start, and they could potentially still be that way when they make it to the finish line.

Medina Spirit will have an opportunity to make history for longtime trainer Bob Baffert. After winning with Authentic last year, Baffert is now tied with Ben Jones for the most all-time Kentucky Derby victories with six. Medina Spirit will have a chance to break that tie if he can race to victory.

Like Pletcher, Baffert believes this year's Derby could go a number of ways.

"The Derby this year is pretty wide open," Baffert said, per Jason Barr of KGUN 9. "You don't have that really dominant horse. You have Essential Quality who is undefeated. He's a nice horse. You don't have Justify or American Pharoah. Or, maybe we might see one we don't know about. But going in, they're all pretty close together."

Jockey John Velazquez will be riding Medina Spirit, and he'll also be looking to win his second straight Kentucky Derby after he rode Authentic to victory in September.

While it's clear these horses should be among the top contenders, potentially any of the longshots could be in store for a surprise performance and may upset the favorites. And that's part of what makes the Kentucky Derby so exciting.