Kentucky Derby 2021 Horses to Watch, Odds and Analysis

The 147th running of the Grade One Kentucky Derby takes center-stage at Churchill Downs, as 20 horses attempt to etch their name into sporting folklore.

Raced on dirt over a distance of one mile and two furlongs, the 'Derby' is the first leg of the U.S. Triple Crown which also features the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. An elite list of 13 horses have won all three races, latterly Justify in 2018.

Dubbed "The Run for the Roses," a result of the blanket of roses draped over the winner, the contest is open to three-year-old colts and fillies and boasts a prize fund of $3 million.

You can watch the Kentucky Derby live on NBC on Saturday and we've taken a look at the key contenders for this year's renewal.

Horses to watch

The market is headed by Godolphin's exciting prospect Essential Quality, the general 5/2 market leader. The three-year-old has looked a potential superstar with five wins from as many career starts. A son of Tapit, the Brad Cox-trained colt was a gutsy winner of the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland last time out, in which he defeated Highly Motivated (8/1) and there look to be very few chinks in his armour. He looks to have a good draw in stall 14 and is the one to beat.

The list of dangers are headed by Rock Your World (9/2) who is unbeaten in three starts. The Candy Ride colt has proved imperious at Santi Anita and impressed in the Santa Anita Derby last time out. Interestingly, ten winners of this race have gone to win the Kentucky Derby, including Justify in 2018.

Todd Pletcher is no trainer to big-race success and he is responsible for Known Agenda (8/1), a strapping colt who landed the Florida Derby in smart fashion last time out. Audible (2016) and Always Dreaming (2017) went on to complete the Florida Derby-Kentucky Derby double.

Hot Rod Charlie (9/1) also comes into the race on the back of a smooth win at Fair Grounds in the Louisiana Derby, defeating Midnight Bourbon (20/1) in the process. Doug O'Neill's charge also finished a 100/1 second to Essential Quality at the Breeders' Cup in November. He is a live outsider with a draw in stall nine to suit.

Kentucky Derby odds and top horse picks
Nyquist #13, ridden by Mario Gutierrez, and Gun Runner #5, ridden by Florent Geroux, come out of the fourth turn during the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 07, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. This weekend's race will be the 147th Kentucky Derby. Getty Images

Bob Baffert has been responsible for two Triple Crown winners this century in Justify and American Pharoah, but seems to lack a superstar this time around. He saddles Medina Spirit (12/1) who chased home Rock Your World in the Santa Anita Derby, but he has four and a quarter-lengths to find on that rival.

Mandaloun (16/1) represents the breeding powerhouse Juddmonte, but looks to be trainer Brad Cox's second string. A smart winner of the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds in February, he was a very disappointing sixth when favorite for the Louisiana Derby and has questions to answer.

Todd Pletcher has won two Kentucky Derby's in his illustrious training history and runs two interesting outsiders in Saturday's contest. Bourbonic (20/1) got the better of stable companion Dynamic One (20/1) in a thrilling battle in the Wood Memorial Stakes on their seasonal debuts at Aqueduct in April and both come into the race with unexposed profiles.

Other outsiders who warrant a mention include Super Stock (20/1), winner of the Arkansas Derby earlier this month and King Fury (25/1) who captured the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland last time out and has been supported by world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury who has wagered a $2,000 bet on his namesake.

Mark Casse has tasted success across the world, including at Royal Ascot and has two fascinating runners, headed by the unbeaten Helium (25/1), an easy winner of the Tampa Bay Derby and Soup And Sandwich, a good second to Known Agenda in the Florida Derby.

Big-race verdict

A notoriously tricky puzzle to solve with plenty of unexposed contenders in this year's renewal. Rock Your World and Known Agenda are solid yardsticks and they are capable of taking another step forward to capture the Grade One event.

At bigger prices, Bourbonic was impressive at Aqueduct on his reappearance, whilst Mandaloun is another player if you forgive his disappointing run in the Louisiana Derby.

However, Essential Quality could be a real superstar. He has shown on his five starts to date that he has class, but also a will to win. He stays, travels and has a smart turn of foot and he could be a legitimate contender for this year's Triple Crown. Victory in the Kentucky Derby is the first piece of the jigsaw.

Win Selection: Essential Quality 5/2

Each-Way Selection: Mandaloun 16/1

Kentucky Derby odds and analysis via

About the writer

Stephen Harris, racing editor

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts