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The Kentucky Derby is back to its iconic spot on the first Saturday in May. First, run in 1875, this 1¼-mile — or 10-furlong — race for 3-year-olds kicks off the chase for the Triple Crown. To qualify, eligible horses competed on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, a series of 35 races around the world. Horses claimed points for finishing in the top four spots in those races, and the 20 horses with the most points at the end of the series gained a starting spot in this year’s Run for the Roses.

Essential Quality, undefeated in five career starts, earned 140 points in four key prep races and on Tuesday was made the 2-1 morning-line favourite by Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia after the post-position draw. The Tapit colt is trained by Brad Cox and will have Luis Saez aboard. Cox could become the first Louisville-born trainer to win the race. Saez is seeking his first Kentucky Derby win in seven tries. (Saez was aboard Maximum Security in 2019 when the colt was disqualified for interference; Saez was later suspended 15 racing days for his ride.) The ownership group of Essential Quality, Godolphin, is looking to snap its 0 for 11 record at the Derby.

“It would be the biggest accomplishment,” said Cox. “It’s been a real honour to train for such a global empire and to have a horse like this.”

Other horses at short odds include California invaders Rock Your World (5-1) and Hot Rod Charlie (8-1). Lightly raced Rock Your World has three wins in three career races, including a victory in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. Hot Rod Charlie had the second-most points on the Derby trail after hitting the board in three straight graded stakes races. Known Agenda (6-1) has been a different horse since adding blinkers; maybe he won’t know he is on the rail, a difficult spot for previous Derby hopefuls.

Post Time: Sunday, 8:57am AEST.

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THE FIELD

ODDS COURTESY OF NEDS

1. Known Agenda

Todd Pletcher, Irad Ortiz Jr., $8.50

Since Pletcher added blinkers two starts back, the Curlin colt won an optional claiming race by 11 lengths and the Grade 1 Florida Derby, a key prep race, by 2¾ lengths. His 101 Brisnet speed figure earned in that last outing is one of the highest in the field. He gets a tough draw here on the rail, a post position that hasn’t produced a winner since Ferdinand in 1986.

 

2. Like the King

Wesley Ward, Drayden Van Dyke, $41.00

His first and only race on the dirt was a maiden race in July where he finished second by 7¾ lengths. After that, he broke his maiden on the turf and has hit the board in his past three races (one a victory in the Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks) on the all-weather surface at Turfway Park. It’s possible Like the King inherited the lead in the Jeff Ruby Steaks because of a fast pace, but he also overcame a less-than-ideal trip, which the final race chart characterized as having “no speed on the far turn.”

 

3. Brooklyn Strong

Daniel Velazquez, Umberto Rispoli, $67.00

A fifth-place finish in the Wood Memorial, earning Brooklyn Strong 10 points toward the Derby, ended up being enough to get the 2020 Remsen Stakes winner into this year’s field. It’s a tough spot for this colt, having raced just once this year after sickness and frozen tracks derailed his intended schedule.

 

4. Keepmeinmind

Robertino Diodoro, David Cohen, $51.00

Keepmeinmind had a solid 2-year-old campaign for majority owner Spendthrift Farm, winning the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in November at Churchill Downs, but he has fizzled as a 3-year-old, finishing off the board in both starts this year.

He will have blinkers off for the first time since October.

 

5. Sainthood

Todd Pletcher, Corey Lanerie, $51.00

There should be no doubt Sainthood will get the 10-furlong distance. The top of his pedigree boasts Medaglia d’Oro — known for his stamina influence on Rachel Alexandra, the 2009 horse of the year — and Thunder Gulch, winner of the 1995 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes and the sire of 2001 Preakness and Belmont winner Point Given. You will also find Lemon Drop Kid on the bottom of the pedigree, winner of various graded stakes between one and 1½ miles, including the 1999 Belmont.

 

6. O Besos

Greg Foley, Marcelino Pedroza, $26.00

Third last time out in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, O Besos is an intriguing entry into the field. His sire, Orb, won the 2013 Kentucky Derby, and O Besos’s mare line is loaded with stamina, enough to fuel him for the full 10 furlongs on Saturday. His closing style could also set him up for success if there is a speed duel early. He is worth consideration on the bottom of any superfecta tickets.

7. Mandaloun

Brad Cox, Florent Geroux, $20.00

Mandaloun was trending up after his win in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes but fell flat in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby (sixth by 11 lengths). Perhaps you put a line through that race and rely instead on the triple-digit speed figure he earned in the Risen Star, but there is no getting around the fact this horse is usually on the outside, covering more distance than his rivals. He’s been listed as three- or four-wide on the turn in each of his last four races.

 

8. Medina Spirit

Bob Baffert, John Velazquez, $12.00

He always gives a solid effort — he’s finished either first or second in each of his five career starts — but didn’t have enough to hit the wire first in the Santa Anita Derby, so we are left wondering whether he will have enough to beat a deeper field here.

 

9. Hot Rod Charlie

Doug O’Neill, Flavien Prat, $9.50

The Oxbow colt, winner of the Louisiana Derby, has his work cut out for him. Only two Louisiana Derby winners have also captured the Kentucky Derby: Black Gold in 1924 and Grindstone in 1996. Hot Rod Charlie, however, is conditioned by Doug O’Neill, trainer of two Kentucky Derby winners: I’ll Have Another (2012) and Nyquist (2016).

 

10. Midnight Bourbon

Steve Asmussen, Mike Smith, $26.00

This colt has hit the board in all seven of his career starts (five of them graded stakes) and ran a respectable second to Hot Rod Charlie in the Louisiana Derby. But his front-running style should push him toward the lead early, never an ideal place if you want to end the day draped in roses.

 

11. Dynamic One

Todd Pletcher, Jose Ortiz, $26.00

Dynamic One sold for $725,000 as a yearling and is only now starting to live up to the promise that came with the hefty price tag. It took him four tries to break his maiden but he followed up that win with a second-place finish in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. Unfortunately, that race was slow in pace and final time, making it less impressive than it initially appears.

 

12. Helium

Mark Casse, Julien Leparoux, $41.00

Undefeated and untested (3-0-0 lifetime), Helium is coming off an eight-week layoff between starts. Plus, his connections haven’t had any success in the Derby. Casse is 0 for 8 and Leparoux is 0 for 12. Their best finish together was fourth with Classic Empire in 2017.

 

13. Hidden Stash

Vicki Oliver, Rafael Bejarano, $71.00

Hidden Stash, co-owned by Syracuse University men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim, has a pedigree loaded with horses known for their stamina. His sire, Constitution, lists Tiz the Law, who won the 2020 Belmont Stakes and was runner-up in the 2020 Kentucky Derby, among his progeny. Hidden Stash’s dam, Making Mark Money, is a daughter of Smart Strike, notable for siring Curlin (2007 and 2008 horse of the year), English Channel (Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner, run at 1½ miles on the grass) and Lookin At Lucky (2010 Preakness winner).

The chestnut colt won an optional claiming race around this oval in November. He also hit the board in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes, Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby and the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes on the road to this year’s Run for the Roses. Unfortunately, the speed figures earned in those races all fall short of par for a graded stakes event.

“I own two hairs on the tail of the slowest horse in the Derby,’’ Boeheim told the Athletic. “This would be like the 68th team in the field winning the national championship.’’

If Hidden Stash can pull off the upset, trainer Victoria Oliver would become the first woman to train a Kentucky Derby champion.

 

14. Essential Quality

Brad Cox, Luis Saez, $3.40

Essential Quality won the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland by a neck and is coming into the Derby undefeated in five starts. The morning line favourite is trying to become the third horse to pull off the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile/Kentucky Derby double. The others were Street Sense (2006 and 2007) and Nyquist (2015 and 2016). The horse to beat.

 

15. Rock Your World

John Sadler, Joel Rosario, $6.00

There were some questions about whether Rock Your World could handle the dirt after two successful tries on the turf, but the son of Candy Ride did not disappoint, winning the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby by 4¼ lengths with a superb 102 final Brisnet speed figure. That’s an impressive performance considering that his pedigree tilts more toward inherited stamina rather than speed. However, that final speed figure was earned loose on the lead in his first dirt race with eight other horses. It remains to be seen how well he will do battling traffic in a field of 20.

 

16. King Fury

Kenny McPeek, Brian Hernandez Jr., $SP.00

It took some defections for this son of Curlin to make the field, but he is an interesting entry despite a bland resume. King Fury is 3-0-0 in six career starts after winning the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes in the slop at Keeneland in April.

McPeek’s colt has only raced at 1 1/16 miles but his pedigree suggests that stretching out should be no issue. Curlin won five races between 1 3/16 miles and 1¼ miles and King Fury’s maternal grandsire, Flatter, is a son of former Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy.

 

17. Highly Motivated

Chad Brown, Javier Castellano, $9.00

Highly Motivated is arguably the fastest horse in the field, having earned three consecutive Brisnet speed figures of 102. Only Essential Quality has produced more than one triple-digit speed figure among these 20 horses. Unfortunately, all that speed hasn’t turned into a win for Highly Motivated. Brown’s brown colt hasn’t hit the wire first as a 3-year-old, and his last win was in a non-graded stakes sprint at 6½ furlongs last November.

Brown is also 0 for 5 in Derby, his best finish a second-place effort by Good Magic in 2018. Castellano is 0 for 14 in the Derby, his best finish aboard Audible in 2018 (third place).

18. Super Stock

Steve Asmussen, Ricardo Santana Jr., $21.00

Super Stock held on to win the Arkansas Derby by 2½ lengths despite a blistering pace, a bold victory considering he was never further back than two lengths off the lead. He also set a career-best pace figure to the three-quarter-mile marker, indicating another step forward could come in the next race or two. If it happens on Saturday, Super Stock could give Asmussen his first Derby winner in 21 tries.

 

19. Soup and Sandwich

Mark Casse, Tyler Gaffalione, $34.00

A lightly raced colt out of Into Mischief, Soup and Sandwich didn’t race as a 2-year-old but turned heads with a second-place finish in the Grade 1 Florida Derby. His pedigree also has a nice balance. He likely inherited enough stamina to stay the 1¼-mile classic distance from his sire line, and his mare line provides a nice boost of inherited speed.

 

20. Bourbonic

Todd Pletcher, Kendrick Carmouche, $34.00

After finishing sixth and 11th by a combined 27 lengths back in his first two races, Bourbonic added blinkers and is 3-1-0 in his last four, including a win in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial. Yet that win from behind in the key prep at Aqueduct is deceiving. Not only was the pace and final time slow for a graded stakes, Bourbonic wasn’t even the fastest horse in the race after factoring in the actual distance traveled. That distinction goes to runner-up Dynamic One, who lost by a head.

And let’s not forget, Calumet Farm put this colt up for sale for a $50,000 price tag in December via a maiden claimer, never a vote of confidence for a horse on the Triple Crown trail.

 

PICKS

17.HIGHLY MOTIVATED at $10.00

14-ESSENTIAL QUALITY at $3.40

8.MEDINA SPIRIT at $12.00

1.KNOWN AGENDA at $7.00

20-BOURBONIC at $34.00

BETS

17. HIGHLY MOTIVATED (EACH WAY)

14.ESSENTIAL QUALITY (WIN)

TRIFECTA

BOX; 1/8/14/17/20

 
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