The first leg of the Triple Crown is back on the first Saturday of May.
The 2021 Kentucky Derby will begin the six-week, three-race frenzy that has the potential to deliver a third Triple Crown winner in the last decade.
Essential Quality is viewed as the top contender to win all three races, starting with Saturday's 1¼-mile circuit around Churchill Downs.
A year ago, Tiz the Law came into Kentucky as the Derby and Triple Crown favorite after a win at the Belmont Stakes. He failed to follow through on that status and lost out to Authentic.
Rock Your World and Hot Rod Charlie are the top contenders to fill the role of Authentic this year. They are the only other horses listed at 10-1 or lower after the morning line odds adjusted.
Nineteen horses will go off from the starting gate at 6:57 p.m. ET on Saturday after King Fury scratched from the original entry list of 20.
Kentucky Derby Field and Odds
Odds via KentuckyDerby.com
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)
Essential Quality Backs Up Favorite Status
Betting on Essential Quality will not produce the largest payout, but it may be the safest wager when picking an outright winner.
Essential Quality won all five of his starts, and he has the best victory in the field from November's Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
The pre-race favorite will try to become the first Breeders' Cup Juvenile champion to capture the Kentucky Derby since Nyquist.
After Nyquist won the top two-year-old race in 2015, he captured two victories in the buildup to the Kentucky Derby, where he cashed in as a 3-1 favorite.
Essential Quality opened as a 2-1 favorite, and his odds have decreased to 6-5 prior to the action that may come in on him on Saturday.
Since he has a strong track record and is still above plus-value on the morning line, it makes sense to place a wager on Essential Quality.
He is coming off a win at the Blue Grass Stakes in a field that featured three other Derby horses, and he will have some experience in the saddle with Luis Saez.
Saez almost won the 2019 Kentucky Derby with Maximum Security, but he was disqualified after initially winning the race.
If he follows up on his favorite status, Essential Quality would become the first horse since Carry Back in 1961 to win from Post 14.
Hot Rod Charlie Emerges As Essential Quality's Top Contender
Hot Rod Charlie and Essential Quality have a history from the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
In November, Hot Rod Charlie took second behind the Derby favorite. After that, he took third at the Robert B. Lewis Stakes and won the Louisiana Derby.
While the win is noteworthy, the second-place mark at Keeneland is the one that matters for his Kentucky Derby contention.
Hot Rod Charlie is one of the few horses with experience racing at the front of the pack with Essential Quality, and that could benefit him in the final lengths on Saturday.
The horse trained by Doug O'Neill has a favorable starting spot in the middle on Post 9 and should break near the front with a handful of long shots around him.
If he starts well, Hot Rod Charlie could deliver the third victory to O'Neill in the last decade. That pedigree has to come into mind when looking at the top challengers to the pre-race favorite.