- All meaningful prep races for the 2021 Kentucky Derby have been completed
- Essential Quality is the favorite by default
- By doing your handicapping early, lock in the best Run for the Roses value now
Most years the roughly nine-month run-up to the Kentucky Derby whittles down the field, and handicappers by mid-April have honed in on one or two or three primary contenders.
This is not most years. Between injuries and inconsistent results in prep races, the Run for the Roses feels more wide open than in recent memory.
The latest Kentucky Derby odds are indicative of a race where just one favorite, Essential Quality, has done as expected, while upsets and defections have muddied up the field.
With uncertainty comes opportunity. Let’s look at the latest odds from horse racing sites, and consider where we can find betting value.
2021 Kentucky Derby Odds
|Rock Your World||+550|
|Hot Rod Charlie||+1000|
|Drain The Clock||+2000|
|Soup and Sandwich||+2500|
Odds as of Apr 12 at William Hill
Odds at Churchill Downs have shifted following Saturday’s Arkansas Derby. Concert Tour seemed poised to be the favorite in Louisville, and maybe the pace of the race was too hot, but he didn’t look good. Super Stock’s win certainly makes him a factor.
Because Concert Tour can not be regarded as an A option, even without running Essential Quality and Rock Your World have seen their odds cut. What makes futures fun is how value can change before the main event takes place. Last week you could have had Essential Quality at what now seems to be a bargain.
On the flip side, there is currently value on just about any horse who you can make a legitimate excuse for a less-than-perfect last race. Concert Tour didn’t need to win in Arkansas. He should still run in Kentucky. Did he purposely save some in the tank for May, and in the process make his odds more enticing?
It is also important to remember that the major preps are run at a mile and an eighth. Of course, the Kentucky Derby is a mile-and-a-quarter. Roughly half the time there is rain during the Derby. Who wants the distance, would benefit from wet footing, or just seems to be peaking at the right time?
Let’s break down some of the best options, and debate who should get serious consideration for a wager.
Favorites: Essential Quality
Before the NCAA Tournament the Joe Lunardi’s and Dick Vitale’s of the world debate analytics versus eye test when it comes to Big Dance bubble teams and individual team seedings.
At five-for-five in his career, and with a two-year-old title on his resume, it reasons that Essential Quality would rank highly for advanced handicappers and those who pick using feel.
What’s to knock? He has seemingly gotten better each time on the track, culminating with a victory in the Blue Grass Stakes, a top-notch Kentucky Derby prep.
Here’s the issue. Essential Quality might be Gonzaga. They always look good, yet don’t inspire confidence. Two-year-old champs are like preseason NIT winners, they don’t often win the ultimate crown. Red hot trainer Brad Cox has the deserving favorite, but he doesn’t have the feel of unbeatable or even extremely likely. Interestingly, the odds indicate the same thing.
Top Contenders: Rock Your World, Concert Tour, Super Stock, Hot Rod Charlie, Highly Motivated
Here’s how screwy this year’s field is. Rock Your World is an unquestioned top option despite running one career race on dirt. So exactly how good was his Santa Anita Derby?
After going two-for-two on turf, his dirt debut was a dandy. Rock Your World also has early speed, among a field that doesn’t seem to have a ton of early kick. There is a lot to like, but the price is short for a horse who has raced once on the surface.
An unbeaten horse trained by Bob Baffert is the formula for low odds and a big shot at winning on the first Saturday in May. What about three-for-four and coming off a subpar effort? Concert Tour looked great in The Rebel.
That performance made him big chalk in the Arkansas Derby. However, he weakened down the stretch, while Super Stock came charging.
So do you give Concert Tour a mulligan? He didn’t need the race, probably was looking ahead, and went a little fast early. That said, what about Super Stock? Hall of Fame trainer Steven Asmussen has seemingly won every major race except the Kentucky Derby. This horse is owned by his dad, Keith. Super Stock has two wins in eight races, but is usually close, and obviously in great form right now.
Hot Rod Charlie is a throwback. The way Derby horses used to be developed was to get your feet under you, build some experience, and peak in the spring. He needed time as a two-year-old to mature, finished last year strong, and this year has taken major steps.
There is no question that trainer Doug O’Neill knows what he is doing. A Kentucky Derby winner twice, Hot Rod Charlie is following the old but true formula. If he takes another step in May, he could end up in the winner’s circle.
Highly Motivated ran pretty well as the runner up behind Essential Quality in the Blue Grass, after a solid third in New York’s Gotham Stakes in March. His lone victory against winners came in November’s Nyquist Stakes.
If you really like Essential Quality, Highly Motivated is a reasonable contender to win, or at least run well. That said, he got an ideal pace in the Blue Grass, and it is unclear whether he wants an extra eighth of a mile.
Longshots: Bourbonic, Known Agenda, Medina Spirit
If you predicted Bourbonic’s Wood Memorial, hopefully you are sitting on a pile of cash going into the Kentucky Derby.
The win at 72/1 came after a second-place performance at PARX, not exactly the big leagues of racing, in a low-level allowance optional claiming event. With trainer Todd Pletcher and a big effort last time out, Bourbonic is worthy of a second look.
Pletcher has another option that feels even more viable. Florida Derby winner Known Agenda has won two straight races since adding blinkers. He has been a completely different horse since the equipment move seems to have focused him.
Florida Panthers’ owner Vinnie Viola’s St. Elias Stable usually works with Pletcher and has a lot of top-end horses. Another positive step in Kentucky and Known Agenda will be right there at a nice price.
Medina Spirit has run five times, winning twice and finishing second the other three times.
His second-place finish against Life is Good, who would have been a heavy Derby favorite if not for an injury, is kind of the story of his career thus far. He was second in the Santa Anita Derby, and while he probably isn’t going to win, leave Baffert at double-digit odds on the board at your own peril.