2021 Kentucky Derby Cheat Sheet & Morning Line Odds
By TwinSpires Editorial Team, Sponsored Content
by Vance Hanson (TwinSpires.com)
1. KNOWN AGENDA (6-1) – The leading candidate among Todd Pletcher’s quartet proved much the best in the Florida Derby (G1). However, the Gulfstream prep was rather soft this year given he was the second choice off an entry-level allowance victory, and two prior stabs in graded stakes weren’t great. But he’s obviously become a much more focused competitor since adding blinkers. Record-wise he’s somewhat reminiscent of the barn’s Vino Rosso, who a few years ago wasn’t quite ready to break out in the classics but later became a champion older horse. That comparison may or may not hold in the Derby, but regardless he’s a potential underlay if anywhere near this morning line price.
2. LIKE THE KING (50-1) – Will attempt to become a longer-priced version of Animal Kingdom, who in 2011 captured Turfway Park’s leading prep on synthetic and then won for the first time on dirt in the Derby itself. Unlike that champion, this colt did try the dirt twice as a juvenile, but neither effort inspires much confidence that he’ll step up to beat the best of his generation over a surface most are more well versed at succeeding over. A nice horse who’s been well handled and spotted by Wesley Ward so far, but this is a tall order.
3. BROOKLYN STRONG (50-1) – A late arrival on the Derby picture after several with more points defected. Pulled off a mild surprise in the Remsen (G2) last fall over a sloppy track, beating a blinker-less Known Agenda, but various setbacks over the winter prevented him from running again until the Wood Memorial (G2). Ran about as well as could have been expected given his fitness disadvantage, but that turned out to be one of the weaker final preps from a speed perspective. Should move forward off the rust-shaking run, but anything more than a small share would be a surprise.
4. KEEPMEINMIND (50-1) – One of the better juveniles last season when not beaten far by Essential Quality twice, and concluded his campaign with a hard-fought victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) while still a maiden. Unfortunately, in neither start this year has he shown any advancement from that two-year-old form. Doesn’t possess much in the way of tactical speed, and overall hard to endorse given the lack of progression this spring.
5. SAINTHOOD (50-1) – Endured an awful trip in the stretch of the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3), yet still managed to close the gap late between himself and Like the King. Seems like a horse with a bright future, and certainly has the pedigree to relish this distance. However, he only debuted in January, narrowly lasted in a Fair Grounds allowance in February, and exits one of the softer final preps. This task seems a lot to ask of him at this stage, but wouldn’t blame those thinking he might be intriguing longshot fodder for the lower rungs of the exotics with a better trip.
6. O BESOS (20-1) – A son of 2013 Derby winner Orb, this locally-based colt made some serious advancement from the Risen Star (G2) to the Louisiana Derby (G2), finishing only two lengths behind ship-in winner Hot Rod Charlie while barely missing second to Midnight Bourbon. Farther up the track were the favored Mandaloun and the then higher-rated Proxy. Although both wins to date have come in sprints, he’s handled distance well to this point and the extra sixteenth shouldn’t pose much worry. A much stronger pace than he saw in either Fair Grounds stakes would seemingly help.
7. MANDALOUN (15-1) – Trainer Brad Cox’s backup to race favorite Essential Quality looked an intriguing Derby contender himself following an impressive victory in the Risen Star, but a lot of folks still have to be scratching their heads over his disappointing performance in the Louisiana Derby, where he came under a drive approaching the quarter pole and offered no response. The Derby will mark his first start as a non-favorite and longtime fans of his will be salivating over a double-digit price. Works over the Churchill strip in the lead-up to this race have been encouraging and a possible tip-off that a rebound performance could be forthcoming, but keep in mind the recent trend over the past decade has been for the rose wearers to have been among the winners of their final preps. It’s been a long time since a horse has a run as poorly as Mandaloun did in his final prep and came back to win the Derby.
8. MEDINA SPIRIT (15-1) – If Bob Baffert is to notch a record seventh Kentucky Derby win, he’ll do it in mildly surprising fashion if this colt comes out on top. An admirably consistent colt who’s never finished worse than second in five starts, he gave former Derby favorite and stablemate Life Is Good a brief scare in the Sham (G3) early in the year, and then narrowly captured the Robert B. Lewis (G3) over Hot Rod Charlie, who flattered that form in Louisiana. However, this colt was well held by Life Is Good in the San Felipe (G2) and again by Rock Your World in the Santa Anita Derby (G1). Definitely not the strongest candidate this barn has started in this race, and unless he turns out to be a Real Quiet-type, Baffert might have to wait a bit longer to snap the tie he’s in with Ben Jones as the Derby’s all-time winningest trainer.
9. HOT ROD CHARLIE (8-1) – His close second-place finish to Essential Quality in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at odds of 94-1 have turned out to be not a fluke at all. While unsurprisingly a tad short in his Robert B. Lewis comeback, he only lost by a neck to Medina Spirit. Last time, he showed versatility in style when sent to the lead by Joel Rosario in the Louisiana Derby and held on well to win the 1 3/16-mile test by two lengths over what some considered at the time to be the deepest pool of potential Derby talent. Trainer Doug O’Neill obviously knows how to get a horse ready to win this, having done so with both I’ll Have Another and Nyquist. Concerns include the fact the Louisiana Derby has historically produced a disproportionately small number of Kentucky Derby winners, plus the game of musical jockeys aboard this colt continues with Rosario off and Flavien Prat on.
10. MIDNIGHT BOURBON (20-1) – Has attracted some of positive reviews for his morning work as well as social media attention for some of his backstretch antics. Arguably the best of Steve Asmussen’s two prospects, he toppled Mandaloun with a front-running victory in the Lecomte (G3), then took a backseat to that rival in the Risen Star. Cold on the board for the Louisiana Derby, he nonetheless outran a couple more favored rivals while just holding second behind West Coast invader Hot Rod Charlie. The primary concern appears to be the fact he’s lost ground in the final furlong of his last two starts, suggesting that perhaps 1 1/4 miles might not actually prove his cup of tea despite being a son of Tiznow. He’ll be prominent much of the way, with two-time Derby winner Mike Smith up for the first time, and it’ll be interesting to see how much he has left for the final quarter-mile.
11. DYNAMIC ONE (20-1) – Regally-bred colt descends from the undefeated Hall of Fame mare Personal Ensign and is by Belmont S. (G1) winner Union Rags, so stamina abounds in his pedigree. Certainly peaking at the right time after a belated maiden win two back and a strong second to an unheralded stablemate in the Wood Memorial, but those can also be viewed as weaknesses. The Wood itself was completed in slower time than the Gazelle (G3) for fillies earlier on the card, so on paper it’s hard to love the longshot hopes of their protagonists here. Although a potentially good horse down the road (perhaps at Belmont time), he doesn’t seem quite fast enough to like for more than a small share at this point.
12. HELIUM (50-1) – Undefeated from three starts, he’s taken an unconventional road to Churchill Downs by turning in just a single prep — the Tampa Bay Derby (G2). It must be close to a century since a horse has won the Derby off so little prep work. Besides the concerns about him being able to buck that kind of history, the two Tampa Bay Downs preps this winter were both slow affairs in the eyes of most speed figure makers. Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Hidden Stash certainly didn’t flatter the form when losing the Blue Grass (G2) by 10 lengths. Proven on dirt and synthetic, and bred to like turf, too, this colt gives trainer Mark Casse a lot of options for the for the future. However, a victory here would rank right up with recent stunners from Country House, Mine That Bird, and Giacomo.
13. HIDDEN STASH (50-1) – As noted above, he brings some of the same flaws into the race as Helium. Though he’s run more often than that rival this term, it’s hard to believe with conviction the Derby winner will have come out of either Tampa Bay Downs prep given how slow both events were this year. A subsequent 10-length drubbing by Essential Quality in the Blue Grass will be hard for him to overturn in this massively tougher race.
14. ESSENTIAL QUALITY (2-1) – He’s been the Kentucky Derby favorite since capping a three-for-three juvenile championship campaign at the Breeders’ Cup, and he’s maintained his perfect record through two starts this spring. Dynamite winner of the delayed Southwest (G3) in the slop, he followed up with a harder-fought triumph in the Blue Grass. Backers will see the glass half-full and think that’s the kind of race he needed coming into the Derby (and perhaps he wasn’t fully cranked to deliver his best that day). Detractors will start to wonder if he’s really that much better than some of these despite his lofty record. Truthfully, he doesn’t stand out too much over this group on paper, and a fairer win price might be more around 3-1 or 7-2. He should be within striking range throughout, though, and the race still goes through him.
15. ROCK YOUR WORLD (5-1) – The third and final of the unbeaten colts in the field enters as Southern California’s top prospect following a decisive, wire-to-wire victory in the Santa Anita Derby, which happened to be his first race on dirt as well as his first beyond a mile. He didn’t take it easy up front, either, setting a strong pace that included internal fractions of :46 for a half-mile and 1:10.60 for six furlongs. By Candy Ride and out of an Empire Maker mare, the extra furlong he’ll be asked to negotiate here doesn’t figure to be a problem. Whether he’s allowed to run this field off their feet seems unlikely, though, and the strong possibility of additional pressure from more seasoned rivals will force him to earn a fourth straight win. Also note he was a late debuter on New Year’s Day; just because it took a Triple Crown winner (Justify) to end the “Curse of Apollo” doesn’t mean a juvenile foundation isn’t generally better to have come Kentucky Derby time.
KING FURY (20-1) – SCRATCHED Beat Super Stock in the Street Sense S. at Churchill Downs last fall, but otherwise his juvenile form left much to be desired. However, a winter rest and the new year seems to have brought out much better in this strongly-bred son of Curlin, who showed a terrific turn of foot down the backside and on the far turn of the Lexington (G3), which he wound up dominating by nearly three lengths. Granted, the hot pace of the race and the slop apparently worked to his advantage, but it’s quite possible he’s turned the corner in general. In the same boat as Helium with only prep going for him, but in his favor it was a more recent one and a relatively quick performance. An intriguing longshot for Kenny McPeek, who’s started some capable horses in this race before, including 1995 runner-up Tejano Run.
17. HIGHLY MOTIVATED (10-1) – Among the top one-turn juvenile specialists last year, the Chad Brown trainee has developed nicely this season. A slow start and rust limited his effectiveness in the Gotham (G3), but he came right back in the Blue Grass and gave Essential Quality a tremendous fight despite conceding two-turn experience to the gray champion. Definitely the swiftest and most talented of the Brown colts that were aiming to qualify for this race, there’s still some question whether a mile and a quarter is going to be ideal for him. Although by Into Mischief, his broodmare sire earned his signature win in the seven-furlong Carter H. (G1). His tactics likely change here, too, given he and Essential Quality were either first or second all the way around the track at Keeneland, and much more speed is signed on for this.
18. SUPER STOCK (30-1) – Had only a victory in a restricted 5 1/2-furlong stakes last August to his credit from seven previous starts when he scored an upset in the Arkansas Derby (G1) three weeks ago. In retrospect, he perhaps needed that run in the Rebel (G2) for fitness purposes, and everything fell into place in the Arkansas Derby when Caddo River and Concert Tour wore each other out. His juvenile form wasn’t bad by any stretch, but certainly suggested he was cut or two below the top players in the division. Given the limited depth of the Oaklawn field and modest time, his situation perhaps hasn’t changed all that much. Definitely an improved colt, though, and many won’t be afraid to use him in their exotics.
19. SOUP AND SANDWICH (30-1) – Out of all 20 runners he was the last to make his first appearance at the races (Jan. 28), though he’s certainly made the most of limited opportunities from the narrow window of time available. Although he beat only modest fields in his first outings, he held well after contesting the pace to finish a clear second in the Florida Derby. However, as noted above, this year’s Gulfstream fixture was hardly a vintage renewal in terms of depth, and both that and the relatively less foundation he brings into the race would seemingly work against him in this far more difficult spot. A type that likes to race up close, he’ll also need to work out a trip from post 19 and avoid getting caught wide into the first turn.
20. BOURBONIC (30-1) – Turned in the biggest shock in Wood Memorial history at 72-1, leading a Todd Pletcher-trained exacta with Dynamic One, who many feel ran the better race and is the horse to take out of the Wood if you had to choose one. There wasn’t much notice the son of Bernardini would run that well. While obviously bred to get better with distance and maturity, there were valid reasons why he graduated in the maiden claiming ranks, laid low by winning a starter allowance, and then took a road trip to Parx to test the first-level allowance waters. Certainly didn’t have much help pace-wise in the Wood over a slow, deep surface that didn’t seem to agree with the presumed favorites in the field, so in that respect the expected stronger pace of this race could be beneficial. Overall, though, it was seemingly a down year for the Wood, and both a repeat here and a ninth tally in the Kentucky Derby for the famed Calumet Farm would be another shock.