Kentucky Derby favorite Essential Quality brings strongest resume


Post time on Saturday is 6:57 p.m. EDT.

Kentucky Derby entrant Essential Quality is walked after a workout 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)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Horse racing could be in line for another Triple Crown bid and this time the likely candidate is an undefeated horse from a barn other than Bob Baffert’s. Essential Quality brings the most impressive resume into the 1 1/4-mile Derby on Saturday. No surprise, then, that he’s the early 2-1 favorite in a full field of 20 horses. Baffert says the Derby is Essential Quality’s to lose and he should know. The trainer guided American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018 to sweeps of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont.

The $3 million, 1 1/4-mile marquee race for 3-year-old colts is back on the first Saturday of May after being delayed to Labor Day weekend last fall because of the pandemic. About 45,000 spectators are expected at the track.

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Kentucky Derby 2021 horses, with jockey and odds from the rail out as of Friday morning:

  1. Known Agenda (Irad Ortiz Jr.), 11-1
  2. Like the King (Drayden Van Dyke), 52-1
  3. Brooklyn Strong (Umberto Rispoli), 39-1
  4. Keepmeinmind (David Cohen), 38-1
  5. Sainthood (Corey Lanerie), 28-1
  6. O Besos (Marcelino Pedroza), 34-1
  7. Mandaloun (Florent Geroux), 28-1
  8. Medina Spirit (John Velazquez), 11-1
  9. Hot Rod Charlie (Flavien Prat), 9-1
  10. Midnight Bourbon (Mike Smith), 11-1
  11. Dynamic One (Jose Ortiz), 35-1
  12. Helium (Julien Leparoux), 35-1
  13. Hidden Stash (Rafael Bejarano), 29-1
  14. Essential Quality (Luis Saez), 5-1
  15. Rock Your World (Joel Rosario), 5-1
  16. King Fury (Brian Hernandez Jr.), 24-1
  17. Highly Motivated (Javier Castellano), 11-1
  18. Super Stock (Ricardo Santana Jr.), 31-1
  19. Soup and Sandwich (Tyler Gaffalione), 21-1
  20. Bourbonic (Kendrick Carmouche), 24-1

Rock Your World is the 5-1 second choice from the No. 15 slot with Known Agenda the 6-1 third choice despite drawing the rail in the 20-horse field. Hot Rod Charlie drew 8-1 odds as the fourth choice from the No. 9 slot.

The obvious focus is on Essential Quality, the reigning 2-year-old champion who enters the Run for the Roses having won all five races and with Luis Saez aboard. His haul of graded stakes victories includes a gutsy Blue Grass victory at Keeneland on April 3 that vaulted the gray son of Tapit to the top of the Derby standings with 140 points and cemented him as the projected favorite.

He’s one of two entriestrained by home-grown trainer Brad Cox, who grew up a few blocks from Churchill Downs and will make his Derby debut trying to become the first Louisville native to win the race. The Eclipse Award winner will also saddle Mandaloun from the No. 7 post as a 15-1 choice, with the bay colt looking to bounce back from a disappointing sixth in the Louisiana Derby.

At least their starting spots are no longer an issue.

“That was more than I wanted to experience this early, but it worked for us,” said Cox.

Rock Your World, trained by John Sadler, has won all three starts this year after not racing as a 2-year-old. But he rolled to a 4¼-length victory in the Santa Anita Derby over favorite Medina Spirit, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, and looks for another marquee win.

“It’s a good post and we’re happy with it,” Sadler said.

Medina Spirit will start from the No. 8 post at 15-1 odds.

Known Agenda leads Todd Pletcher’s four-horse contingent that includes Bourbonic, who drew the outside No. 20 post, Dynamic One (No. 11, 20-1 odds), and Sainthood (No. 5, 50-1). The chestnut colt has won two of three starts this season and has three wins, a second and a third in six career starts.

Even with Churchill Downs introducing a new 20-stall starting Derby gate last fall to replace the standard 14-slot and auxiliary six-slot gates, Known Agenda has his work cut out for him to avoid being bunched inside and out of contention in a crowded field.

“Obviously, it’s not what we were hoping for,” Pletcher said. “Of course, this is one of the things you can’t control. With the new gate, we’re hopeful that things will be better than they were in the past and the post won’t be that bad.”

Hot Rod Charlie’s post draw in the middle brought a loud cheer from his contingent in the otherwise sedate setting as the colt avoided being bunched inside out of the gate. Trainer Doug O’Neill’s horse won the Louisiana Derby by two lengths and was second to Essential Quality with 110 Derby points.

“We decided we were going to give it a pump no matter what post we drew,” O’Neill said of the connections that include five 20-something former college football players. “But we’re delighted with the nine. It’s a real good post.”

Long-running family turmoil and allegations of human rights abuses against Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum are threatening to overshadow the Kentucky Derby. Dubai’s hereditary ruler owns the early favorite to win the race. The sheikh has invested millions trying to win the race for years. A victory by Essential Quality on Saturday would bring extra scrutiny on the sheikh, particularly the disappearance of his daughter. A group from the University of Louisville is seeking to have his horse banned from the Derby.

That is unlikely to happen. One of the sheikh’s daughters says she’s being held against her will, and another was abducted in England 21 years ago and hasn’t been seen since.

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