The 147th running of the Kentucky Derby is back in its traditional slot in May. The race for the Triple Crown begins this Saturday at Churchill Downs with Essential Quality as the 2-1 Morning Line favorite. King Fury, the 20-1 horse named after lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, has been scratched with a fever.
Here is a breakdown of every horse in the Kentucky Derby field, suggested plays and picks.
Note: Horses, with morning-line odds, listed in order of post position.
Chris Fallica’s guide to the field
1. Known Agenda 6-1
I’ll start with the positive. If you like him, you’ll get a much better price on him now that he drew the rail. He’s run great in his two starts with blinkers, but I’m still not sold as one of the two races was a six-horse allowance where he was 3/5 and the other was a weak edition of the Florida Derby. Both were at Gulfstream and Todd Pletcher has a tendency to have his horses run bigger than usual there. He’s finished behind Derby also-rans Hidden Stash and Brooklyn Strong outside of Gulfstream. Since Ferdinand won from the rail in 1986, only two horses — Risen Star in 1988 and Lookin at Lee in 2017 managed a top-three finish, and only three others managed to finish 4th. If he can finish in the top 5, he will have run very well.
2. Like the King 50-1
He’s got three wins — two on synthetic and one on turf. This is a massive step up in competition. He’s got no shot in here and I won’t even use in the third and fourth spots in the trifecta and superfecta.
3. Brooklyn Strong 50-1
I mean, come on … This New York-bred cost $5,000 and broke maiden in a $40k Maiden Claimer at Delaware. To his credit, he did beat Known Agenda in the Remsen, which is how he got the points to be here. But he’s little more than a vanity entry.
4. Keepmeinmind 50-1
Won a G2 over the Churchill surface to break his maiden and finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as a maiden. But he’s been soundly beaten in both of his starts as a 3-year old and there isn’t much suggesting he can win. His running style could put him in the mix for the lower rungs of the super.
5. Sainthood 50-1
The second of four Todd Pletcher runners has a maiden win by a nose at Fair Grounds and a runner-up in a weak prep on synthetic. I’d be shocked if he comes close to hitting the board.
6. O Besos 20-1
Here’s your trendy closer to pick up the pieces and hit the board. I don’t know how good he is, but as a positive, he did manage a third-place finish with a bad trip in the Louisiana Derby, so he’s shown he can overcome trouble. I’ll use him in the third and fourth spots on my ticket just in case he picks up the pieces, but he’s got no speed and will be totally overbet.
7. Mandaloun 15-1
The other Brad Cox runner has been favored in all five starts and comes off a sixth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby. Following his first defeat, he bounced back in the Risen Star to run a career best figure in a romp in the Risen Star. I’m of the belief the Louisiana Derby was too bad to be true and expect him to bounce back with a good effort here.
8. Medina Spirit 30-1
I’m not sure he’s more than a pace presence. Then again, I thought the same of Authentic last year, and he went on and won. But Authentic was far more accomplished than Medina Spirit. Rock Your World put him away convincingly in the Santa Anita Derby, and Hot Rod Charlie likely would have beaten him in the Lewis if not for the trip. It’s Baffert and you never want to discount his chances, but given the number of horses I expect to be on the lead, I don’t think he’ll be around late and give Bob Baffert his seventh Derby win.
9. Hot Rod Charlie 8-1
If you have no connection to a horse, this is who you should be rooting for. There’s a great story associated with him, so just search for Hot Rod Charlie and Jake Panus and you’ll see why. He’ll likely be an underlay on the board, but he’s got a big shot here. He can win from on the lead or off the pace. Toss the debut where he ran OK and toss the two grass races. Since then, you see two wins, a loss by a neck in the Robert B. Lewis after a stumble and a loss by less than a length to Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He gets Flavien Prat, who has outridden his odds in every Derby he’s had a mount, and I’m not sure how many riders I’d rather have in the irons than him. He’s a definite player here, and the only thing not to like is an underlaid price. The fourth choice hasn’t won since Grindstone in 1996.
10. Midnight Bourbon 15-1
Trainer Steve Asmussen is 0-21 in the Derby, which is the most starters for a trainer in the Derby without a win. And my guess is Midnight Bourbon will not be giving him his first. I see him being part of the pace and just kind of going around the track without really threatening.
11. Dynamic One 20-1
I had this horse in the Wood Memorial and I thought I was home, until Bourbonic got up late to beat me. I think he’s the most live of the 20-1 or higher bunch. It’s his second start vs winners and can be close to or off the pace. The draw should give Jose Ortiz options based on what he’s seeing from both sides of him. I’m usually not one to back a Pletcher horse in the Derby, but I’m using here.
12. Helium 50-1
I don’t want to let the air out of the balloon, but this one’s got no shot. He’s outclassed, likely wants no part of anything this far and his jockey, Julien Leparoux, has more Derby mounts than anyone in history without a top-three finish. Good luck. But hey, he can say he made history in that he, Essential Quality and Rock Your World created the first Derby with three undefeated starters.
13. Hidden Stash 50-1
I mentioned above Julien Leparoux doesn’t have a single “In the Money” finish from his 12 Derby mounts. Well Hidden Stash’s jockey Rafael Bejarano doesn’t have one either from his 10 mounts. The trainer, Vicki Oliver, doesn’t send out stakes winners, and this one was romped by Essential Quality and Highly Motivated in the Blue Grass. No thanks.
14. Essential Quality 2-1
The undefeated Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner is a deserving favorite, and I can’t argue with anyone that just makes one win bet on him and that’s it. He will be the 18th undefeated Derby favorite and eight of the previous 17 have won. Obviously, it’s Godolphin’s best shot at getting that elusive Derby win and Luis Saez could get in the winner’s circle after being DQ’d on Maximum Security in 2019. About the only thing not to like is the price, which will dramatically drop after Mattress Mack makes that $2M win bet. So you should look for a fixed-odds price to get around 3-1 on him. While post position 14 has not produced a winner since Carry Back in 1961, keep in mind the new starting gate will be 20 deep and not have an auxiliary gate, which created problems for those in post position 14 and 15 due to the angle. So don’t go not playing him because of the post. I’ll be using in every spot in the trifecta as a key and hope I can beat him on top, but also cash if I can’t. Six of the past eight Derby favorites have won, and eight of the past nine have finished first or second as favorite Bodemeister finished second in 2012 and favorite Tiz the Law was 2nd in 2020. Only one favorite has finished out of the money (worse than third) since 2012 — Improbable was fourth in 2019. Whatever you do, don’t play an Essential Quality/Rock Your World exacta. Only twice in the last 42 years has the Derby produced a result where the favorite won and the second choice ran second — 2016 when favorite Nyquist won and second choice Exaggerator was 2nd and 2004 when favored Smarty Jones won and 2nd choice Lion Heart was 2nd.
15. Rock Your World 5-1
He was awesome in disposing of Medina Spirit in the Santa Anita Derby and the assumption is with the scratch of Caddo River, he will have a much easier time getting the lead. But another way to look at it is that because Caddo River is out, more horses will think they be able to get the lead and the pace will be more contested. I’m a bit worried he’s going to be a bit more of an underlay as I expected, but he’s undefeated, shouldn’t have any issue with the distance and has a Derby-winning jockey in Joel Rosario. He can win and I’ll be using, but I just have this uneasy feeling about him. Also keep in mind, the second choice in the Derby hasn’t won since Super Saver in 2010.
16. King Fury 20-1 (Scratched due to fever)
Freaked in the slop at KEE to earn his place in the gate. One could do a lot worse for long shots to hit the board as he’s got two wins over the CD track, although he’s been soundly beaten multiple times by Essential Quality, as well as Hot Rod Charlie. I’ll use underneath just to be safe.
17. Highly Motivated 10-1
I’ve been on record as saying I would rather have Highly Motivated than Essential Quality coming out of the Blue Grass. Highly Motivated went to the front — not his normal running style — and still nearly held off Essential Quality. Here, with an outside draw, he’ll be able to take back, stalk and go with his preferred running style which puts him squarely in the mix. He’s clearly got the class as he easily handled Known Agenda as a maiden and nearly beat Essential Quality last out. Of course, no horse has broken from post position 17 and won. Since the inception of the modern starting gate in 1930, 11 horses have broken from post 17 and been sent off as a top-five wagering choice. The 11 horses are 0-1-2. One has to go back to Forty Niner in 1988 to find the last horse from 17 to hit the board. His jockey Javier Castellano has not had the best of luck in the Derby. From his 14 Derby mounts, only Normandy Invasion in 2013 (fourth) and Audible (third in 2018) finished better than sixth. Eight of the 14 mounts were 10th or worse. Castellano has been on a Top 5 betting choice in the Derby six times and those horses have finished 13th, third, seventh, fourth, 16th and seventh.
18. Super Stock 30-1
His Arkansas Derby seemingly came out of nowhere and it will take an even bigger effort to compete here. He does draw outside and that should at least give him a traffic-free path to make one big run and pick off as many as he can. He can’t win, but third or fourth is doable. Maybe he can be the seventh horse at least 30-1 since 2013 to crack the trifecta.
19. Soup and Sandwich 30-1
Tyler Gaffalione riding for Mark Casse in the Derby. Where have we seen that before? Gaffalione has certainly had an eventful three years with his three Derby mounts. In 2017 he rode the one-eyed horse, Patch, from the far outside post. In 2019, he was on War of Will, who was nearly knocked to the ground by Maximum Security, who was later DQ’d. Last year, he finished last on South Bend. Soup and Sandwich’s two wins came against two and five horses. He can get away with his front-end running style vs those fields, but not here. He’s a pace factor and that’s it. Plus, there’s no way the Derby Gods will allow a horse named Soup and Sandwich to win the Derby.
20. Bourbonic 30-1
Was nowhere vs MSW company, broke maiden for 50k, couldn’t beat an allowance field and then lit up the tote at 73-1 in the Wood. Sounds about right as both of the main NY preps — the Gotham and the Wood — produced really fluky results. Really hard to make a case for in any fashion and post race we’ll still be saying the last Wood winner to win the Derby was Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000.
Fallica’s suggested plays
Here are some suggested plays. I’ll use a $1 base for the exotic wagers and you can hit the repeat wager button as your budget allows. Good luck!
Doug Kezirian’s pick
Hot Rod Charlie (9)
The conversation starts with Doug O’Neill, who’s trained two Kentucky Derby winners within the last decade. Some analysts are also comparing Hot Rod Charlie to one of those Derby winners, “I’ll Have Another”. Hot Rod Charlie needed four starts as a two-year-old to break his maiden and seemingly has found its groove. That includes a second- and third-place finish, in addition to winning the Louisiana Derby.
Anita Marks’ pick
Win = Essential Quality (14)
Win, place or show = Known Agenda (1)
Win, place or show = Rock Your World (15)
Win, place or show = Highly Motivated (17)
Exacta Box = Essential Quality, Known Agenda, Rock Your World, and Highly Motivated
The theme of this Derby is the parody and one can make a case for several of the horses in the Derby to win as it’s very wide open. The favorite is Essential Quality. He is 5 for 5 this season and his jockey is Luis Saez, the same jockey who was DQ’s riding Maximum Security, so could this be a redemption ride. Four of his wins came in Graded Stakes company running for Derby points, so he’s battle tested as well. He’s clearly the horse to beat, he should be the favorite, I think the only question with him is that he hasn’t run a super fast race yet.
Known Agenda is a beautifully bred horse who put it all together last time to win the Florida Derby. He gets Irad Ortiz to ride, who has really established himself as the best rider in the country. Also has the same trainer (Todd Pletcher) and owner (Vinnie Viola) as 2017 Derby Winner Always Dreaming.
Rock Your World is undefeated in three starts, though the first two were on turf. He was switched to dirt for the Santa Anita Derby out west and won very impressively, earning the highest Beyer Speed Figure (100) of any horse in the field. Ownership picked up Joel Rosario to ride, who had ridden him in his debut race but not in his last two races. He has early speed which is a plus, but I have to wonder about a horse coming into the Derby off 3 races.
Highly Motivated gave Essential Quality everything he wanted last out in the Bluegrass Stakes, but got beat by 1/2 a length after a long stretch duel. He’s by Into Mischief, a sire that has replaced Tapit as the leading stallion in North America, and sire of last year’s KY Derby winner Authentic. Similar to Authentic, I think there are some questions about whether this horse can get the 1 1/4 distance. Of course, Authentic proved he could last year but his sire tends to produce more sprinter/miler types.
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