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Recent Form for 2021 Kentucky Derby Top Contenders – Essential Quality, Rock Your World, Highly Motivated & More

Dave F.

by Dave F. in Horse Racing

Apr 28, 2021 · 8:45 AM PDT

Kentucky Derby
John Velazquez rides Authentic as they lead the pack into turn one in the 146th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
  • Saturday’s Kentucky Derby is expected to begin just before 7:00 pm EST
  • The best way to pick the winner is by examining the top contender’s most recent races
  • Who has the top form entering the Run for the Roses?

Sometimes we overthink things. Sure coaches are going to examine every detail they might encounter during a game, but more often than not the team with the best players wins. Very frequently, what we saw yesterday, and last week, and last year, is relevant to what is going to happen next. There are many horse racing sites that give you an opportunity to wager on the Kentucky Derby. So who should you bet on?

Let’s look closely at the last several races for the top contenders, and see where that leads us.

2021 Kentucky Derby Odds

Horse Odds at William Hill
Essential Quality +200
Rock Your World +450
Known Agenda +900
Highly Motivated +900
Hot Rod Charlie +1000
Medina Spirit +1600
Super Stock +1600
Mandaloun +1600
Bourbonic +2000
Dynamic One +2000
Soup and Sandwich +2500
Midnight Bourbon +2500
King Fury +3300
Like The King +3300
Helium +3300
O Besos +3300
Brooklyn Strong +4000
Hidden Stash +4000
Sainthood +4000
Keepmeinmind +5000

Odds as of Apr 28

A lot gets made of the conditions at Churchill Downs. It is certainly true some horses like the track better than others. Those who have run well in Louisville before are more known commodities. That said, what have you done and who have you done it against are the best barometers for choosing a Derby winner.

There are a lot of ways to wager on the Run for the Roses and that’s why our guide to Derby betting is a valuable resource. If you find a horse who may not win, but could be close, you can make money correctly utilizing that horse.

So who is running the best right now? Let’s look at several contenders.

Essential Quality

He is five-for-five with four graded stakes victories and won his debut at Churchill Downs. That’s a pretty flawless resume. The first of the stakes wins were the Breeders Cup Juvenile. Often the best two-year-olds are just the horses who have developed the quickest. That doesn’t seem to be the case here. Essential Quality won a key Derby prep race last time out.

The win in the Blue Grass Stakes followed a victorious three-year-old debut in the Southwest Stakes. He has shown versatility, winning just off the pace, as a deep closer, and navigating vastly different pace scenarios. Most of his victories were on fast race courses, but he prospered in the slop in February too.

Essential Quality can win the Kentucky Derby if he continues doing exactly what he has thus far.

Rock Your World

Like Essential Quality, Rock Your World is unbeaten. On the flip side, his path to the Kentucky Derby is unorthodox. He began his career by winning a sprint race on turf in January, beat four horses in a mile grass event in February, and made his dirt debut in the Santa Anita Derby a month ago.

There is no doubt that his win last time out is big. That said, he was never tested. Now he faces a bigger and stronger field. To a large degree, he is the mystery horse in the field of Kentucky Derby odds. It is weird for that type of entrant to be among the favorites.

Rock Your World can win the Kentucky Derby if he indeed loves dirt racing and can match or better his Santa Anita Derby performance.

Known Agenda

If we are measuring Derby horses on their last two races, Known Agenda looks as good as any of them. If you take all of his races, the early ones weigh down his candidacy. Since trainer Todd Pletcher put blinkers on Known Agenda, he has looked special.

Known Agenda won one time in three races as a two-year-old. His 2021 debut was an ugly fifth where he encountered some traffic as the favorite in a stakes race at Tampa Bay Downs. His optional claiming win on February 26 was dominating, and the Florida Derby score shouts loud and clear “look out.” That said, he has one quality win, and has lost to several horses in this field (just not while wearing blinkers).

Known Agenda can win the Kentucky Derby if Pletcher found the answer, and blinkers make him the best horse in the field.

Hot Rod Charlie

Similar to Known Agenda, Hot Rod Charlie seemed to have a moment when it all clicked. As the favorite in three maiden races, two on turf, he hit the board only once and didn’t come close to winning. However, in October he notched his first victory, and out of nowhere finished second to Essential Quality in the Breeders Cup Juvenile. This year he was close in a stakes race at Santa Anita and won the Louisiana Derby.

While he clearly turned the corner, until last time out he hadn’t beaten Kentucky Derby caliber horses. Each of his last three races make him a factor in Louisville. A repeat of March at Fair Grounds may get him to the winner’s circle.

Hot Rod Charlie can win the Kentucky Derby if in fact, the level of competition in his last race turns out to be really high, and in fact he has figured it out at the perfect time.

Highly Motivated

With two wins in five career starts, trainer Chad Brown really eased Highly Motivated into racing. Each of his first three starts were in sprint races including November’s Nyquist Stakes.

As the calendar shifted years, Brown patiently gave Highly Motivated time to grow. He finished third going a one-turn mile in the Gotham Stakes. His two-turn debut came against Essential Quality, and he missed by a neck in the Blue Grass.

It is unclear whether the Blue Grass was a terrific two-turn debut or in fact, he doesn’t really want that long a distance. He also was allowed to be alone on the lead and set his own tempo in Lexington. That is unlikely to happen Saturday.

Highly Motivated can win the Kentucky Derby if Brown has patiently handled him, and now he is sitting on the best race of his career.

Medina Spirit

This isn’t your typical Bob Baffert pricey horse. Purchased for just $35,000, his first three races were terrific. Medina Spirit won twice, and suffered a close loss to Life is Good, who would have been among the Derby favorites if he wasn’t injured.

Medina Spirit’s last two races are both second-place performances. He lost to Life is Good by eight lengths in March, and then as the favorite in the Santa Anita Derby was easily beaten by Rock Your World. Looking strictly at his running lines, he is always competitive, and the price is perfectly reasonable.

Medina Spirit can win the Derby if we close our eyes and blindly believe in Baffert. That has been a good formula recently.

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