(CBS Local)- After occupying a different place in the calendar last year due to the pandemic, the Kentucky Derby is back in its normal spot, the first Saturday in May. This year’s race will also see the return of fans to both the infield and the grandstands at Churchill Downs. Track officials announced in early April that about 15,000 fans will be allowed in the infield while the grandstand will be kept to reserved seating at 40-60% capacity.
The favorite heading into Saturday is Essential Quality (2-1), trained by Brad Cox with jockey Luis Saez aboard. The gray colt, sired by Tapit, has won each of the five races he’s started thus far in his career beginning with the Maiden Special Weight race as part of last year’s Kentucky Derby undercard. Since the turn of the calendar to 2021, the colt has run to wins at the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park and Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. The downside for Essential Quality is he drew the 14th position at Tuesday’s draw. The last winner from that spot was Carry Back in 1961 and the last horse to finish in the money from there was Impeachment who finished third in 2000.
Right behind Essential Quality in the odds is Rock Your World (5-1) who enters as a bit more of a wild card coming off an impressive (4 1/4 lengths) win over Medina Spirit in the Santa Anita Derby. The son of Candy Ride, Rock Your World debuted on January 1 at Santa Anita in a six furlong turf race which he won by 1 3/4 lengths before posting a more impressive 2 1/4 length win at the Pasadena Stakes in February.
He has three wins in three starts, but has run just once on dirt thus far (Santa Anita Derby). The two horses will be side by side out of the gate as Rock Your World starts from post 15, the spot last year’s winner, Authentic, came from. Trainer John W. Sadler has never had a Derby winning horse, he’ll hope to change that this year with 2013 Derby winning jockey Joel Rosario taking the ride.
Known Agenda, trained by two-time Derby winning trainer Todd Pletcher, sits in behind those top two horses with 6-1 odds as of Wednesday. The chestnut colt impressed with a strong run down the back stretch to win the Florida Derby by 2 3/4 lengths in late March. The son of former Preakness Stakes and Breeder’s Cup Classic winner Curlin, Known Agenda has seen improved performance since his team put blinkers on prior to the Florida Derby. Eddie Olczyk, who will be on the broadcast Saturday, said last week that he’s leaning towards the Pletcher trained horse.
“If the Derby was tomorrow, I would be in the direction of Known Agenda,” Olczyk said. “He won the Florida Derby and seems to be coming into his own since he put blinkers on.
Pletcher’s horse was a bit unlucky at the draw as well, getting the position on the rail where the last horse to win was Ferdinand in 1986. Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. will be looking for his first Derby win to add to a long list of accolades. Known Agenda isn’t Pletcher’s only shot at winning the Run for the Roses this year, he’s got four horses in the field. Known Agenda has the best odds followed by Dynamic One (20-1; 11th post), Bournbonic (30-1; 20th post) and Sainthood (50-1; 5th post).
Hot Rod Charlie (8-1) trained by Doug O’Neill has the fourth-best odds at the moment. The product of former Preakness winner Oxbow, he finished second to Essential Quality in November’s Breeder’s Cup Juvenile before finishing third at the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita in January and then taking the win in the Louisiana Derby in March. However, handicapper Hank Goldberg told SportsLine that he is fading the horse due to some training problems.
“He went wire-to-wire in the Louisiana Derby, and I don’t know if he can repeat that or not,” Goldberg said. “They’ve had a training problem there because Doug O’Neill has been suspended and the price is too steep.”
Adding to the concern for Hot Rod Charlie is his post position. He drew the nine post Tuesday and it’s been 49 years since a horse last won from that spot dating back to Riva Ridge in 1972. He does have the benefit of jockey Flavien Prat who won the 2019 Derby aboard Country House after Maximum Security was disqualified.
Highly Motivated, trained by Chad C. Brown and jockeyed by Javier Castellano, rounds out the top five of the odds going off at 10-1. The bay colt won the Nyquist Stakes at Keeneland last November, beating out Known Agenda before finishing third at the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct and second at the Blue Grass Stakes to Essential Quality. Brown has never had a Derby winning horse and in order for Highly Motivated to become the first, he’ll have to do what no horse has ever done: win from the 17 post.
One of the other big questions entering the race is whether or not trainer Bob Baffert can break the all-time record for most Kentucky Derby wins by a trainer. Baffert’s entrant, Medina Spirit, entered the week tied for the third-best odds at (8-1) with Rock Your World but has since dropped to 15-1 as bettors have taken a liking to other horses instead. The dark bay colt enters the Derby with a win and a pair of second place finishes to his name in 2021, taking the Robert B. Lewis Stakes in January before finishing second at the San Felipe Stakes in March and the Santa Anita Derby in early April.
At 15-1, he has the sixth best odds of the horses in the field. He’ll be starting next to Hot Rod Charlie in position number eight where Mine That Bird won from back in 2009.
The 147th running of the Kentucky Derby is set for post time at 6:50 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, May 1.
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