Kentucky Derby 2021: Race and Betting Preview

The Kentucky Derby is finally here! The 2021 Kentucky will be Race 12 on May 1st at Churchill Downs. Post time is set for 5:57 PM CT. This Grade I race is one and 1/4 miles and has a purse of $3,000,000. The race is for three year olds and marks the first of the triple crown races. There are twenty horses in the field this year. Last year’s winner was Authentic. Let’s take a look at the rankings for everyone in this year’s field.

A loaded field of 20 can be hard to break down, but I’ve done my best to divide it into four groups: Tier 1 win contenders, Tier 2 win contenders, filling out the exotics and then the rest.

Tier 1 Win Contenders

These are my best win bet contenders. The first horse in here is Highly Motivated. He’s improved over his last few and gave Essential Quality everything he could in his last, losing narrowly in the Blue Grass. He has shown really good speed and may be primed for big performance here. At 10-1, I think he’s just as likely to win as Essential Quality at 2-1.

Hot Rod Charlie is another horse I really like. There aren’t a ton of early speed horses in this year’s derby and because of that Hot Rod Charlie may be near the front early. He should be there when the field turns for home. He looked really good in the Louisiana Derby in his last and there’s no reason to think he won’t show up again here.

Mandaloun is a horse that could have massive value. He didn’t show up in the Louisiana Derby, but he’s been training well and if we get the performance he ran in the Risen Star, Mandaloun could be wearing the roses on the Saturday. He’s lower on the rankings above because of that bad start last time out, but there’s big upside and potential value here at 15-1.

Tier 2 Win Contenders

These are horses I can see winning, but may not have the best value or might have one issue that makes me less confident in them.

Essential Quality is the favorite and deserving as the undefeated winner of last year’s Breeder’s Cup Juvenile and this year’s Blue Grass Stakes. But at 2-1 there’s no value here. There’s just two many other options that can win at much longer prices.

Rock Your World is coming off a Santa Anita Win and has looked really good in training, but he got an almost perfect trip in that one at 5-1 and that field may not have been the greatest, with only Medina Spirit in the derby from that prep. He’s only raced three times in his career and a great trip in the Kentucky Derby will be difficult.

Known Agenda was actually my favorite horse and I started looking at the derby field. Unfortunately, he drew the rail, which isn’t as bad as it would have been in previous year without the new Kentucky Derby gate, but it’s still a problem. I still like this horse and his Florida Derby win was impressive. He’ll be finishing strong, but that inside post does deter me a bit.

Soup and Sandwich was flying at the end of the Florida Derby and finished second to Known Agenda. The 19 post is just fine for him. That Florida Derby was his best outing so far, he’s very lightly raced- only three career starts and deserves a thought as a longshot to win.

Brooklyn Strong is a horse I haven’t heard anyone talk about and who really snuck into the Derby with a few other horses opting out. He ran a massive race two starts ago winning the Ramsen (where Known Agenda finished 4th), but dropped off in his last. If he returns to what he showed in the Ramsen, he is a win contender.

Filling Out the Exotics

These are horses to use in exactas, trifectas and superfectas, but that I don’t think have a great shot at winning the Derby.

Midnight Bourbon is getting a lot of attention this week and has had a jockey change with Mike Smith aboard now. He hasn’t faced this type of class much, but his style could suit well in here.

Hidden Stash has progressed well and at 50-1 could be worth a shot to fill out those exotics. He’ll be just fine making a move from that 13 post.

Keepmeinmind is another 50-1 who can hit the board at a long price. He finished 5th in the Blue Grass in his last (Hidden Stash 4th). That was a loaded race and both these horses will benefit from that race. His style fits as a late runner who can hit the board.

Dynamic One is actually a horse getting a lot of action and really was the best horse in the Wood Memorial, but got run down by Bourbonic. He has strong late speed and could find his way onto the board.

King Fury is a horse getting a lot of attention. He’s looked good in training and had a good win last out in the Lexington. I just don’t like the numbers on him too much and will l leave him off my bets.

Super Stock won the Arkansas Derby in his last with an almost perfect ride. He could struggle here with such a big field.

Like a King is a developing horse who has improved in each of his last two. His run style may be better suited for the grass.

The Rest

Bourbonic is a deep closer who will be overmatched here.

O Besos looked good running late at the end of the Louisiana Derby, could be used in exotics, but at 20-1 he’s a bit overrated.

The only reason I’ve heard for betting Medina Spirit is that he’s the Bob Baffert horse. He hasn’t been near good enough to deserve a 15-1 morning line.

Sainthood is a horse I considered for exotics early on for one reason. He had some bad luck in the Jeff Ruby in his last where he was cut off and had to take a very difficult trip, but he was really running hard late. He’s dealt with traffic before, but his numbers don’t really grade out against this field too well.

Helium is lightly raced and will be completely overmatched here.

Below are the speed figures in the last three races for each of the contenders. Since there’s 20 of them, I do understand it looks like a big mess.

I’ve ran the Apple Blossom 1,000 times in simulations. Below are the results of those races.

These races simulations are not adjusted for post position and do generally better predict in smaller fields. In a race like the Kentucky Derby, there’s much more digging needed to tell the whole story.

Quick Wrap Up and Betting Strategies

Win Bets: 15 Highly Motivated, 8 Hot Rod Charlie, 7 Mandaloun

Exactas: 17-1/4/7/13/14/19, 8-1/4/7/13/14/19

Superfecta: 17-8-14-13

This is going to be a fun one to watch! So many horses with a shot and there could be some huge payouts! Essential Quality may be the best horse, but he’s not the best value. I can’t wait for the Derby to get here.

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