By Richard Rosenblatt
Essential Quality has won ‘em all so far, and so it’s no surprise horse racing’s rising star is the 2-1 morning-line favorite for the $3 million Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs on Saturday.
The 3-year-old gray colt trained by Eclipse Award winner Brad Cox drew the No. 14 post in Tuesday’s post-position draw and will attempt to become the 10th undefeated Derby champion. The son of Tapit is owned by Godolphin, the worldwide racing operation of Sheikh Mohammed seeking its first Derby win.
Essential Quality will be ridden by Luis Saez, who finished first aboard Maximum Security in 2019 only to see his horse DQ’d to 17th for interference.
With a record of 5-0, including a narrow victory in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) on April 3 in his most recent start, Essential Quality sits atop the Derby points leaderboard with 140.
Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Rock Your World is the 5-1 second choice in a full field of 20 3-year-olds going 1 ¼ miles in the Run for the Roses. Trained by John Sadler, he lines up next to Essential Quality in post 15.
Florida Derby (G1) winner Known Agenda is the third choice at 6-1 after drawing the dreaded No. 1 post. Known Agenda is one of four Derby starters for Todd Pletcher. His others are Dynamic One (20-1, post 11); Sainthood (50-1, post 5); and Bourbonic (30-1, post 20).
Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Hot Rod Charlie is at 8-1 and the only other horse with single-digit odds. Six horses are at 50-1 – Like the King, Brooklyn Strong, Keepmeinmind, Sainthood, Helium and Hidden Stash.
Derby favorites have fared well since the field began to be selected by a qualifying points system in 2013. Six straight favorites won from 2013-2018 before favorite Improbable finished fourth in 2019 – after Maximum Security was DQ’d and runner-up Country House was declared the winner. In 2020, 7-10 favorite Tiz the Law was second to Authentic.
That brings us to Bob Baffert, who will send out Medina Spirit at 15-1 as he seeks a record-setting seventh Derby victory. The Hall of Famer’s lone entry in the field drew the No. 8 post.
For those who consider post positions, the most successful post is No. 5 with 10 winners since the use of a starting gate in 1930. Pletcher’s Always Dreaming is the most recent winner from post 5, taking the 2017 Derby.
There have been only two winners from the 14 post – Carry Back in 1961 and Middleground in 1950.
The draw had some anxious moments for Cox. Three posts were still open, including the rail, and Essential Quality was still in the mix. But Known Agenda got the inside post, and Essential Quality got the 14.
“I was nervous I was feeling some anxiety,’’ Cox said. “That was nerve-racking. I didn’t really want to be in the one hole, but overall, we’re pleased with the 7 for Mandaloun and the 14 for Essential Quality.”
Pletcher, who will have Irad Ortiz., Jr. aboard Known Agenda, was not thrilled with the post.
“There’s no question that’s not the post we want, but I think it’s a little less of a disadvantage with the new starting gate [one gate for all 20 horses],’’ he said. “We’ll try to work out the best trip we can, the shortest trip around, and hopefully get a clean run around there.”
As for his other three entries, he said he would have like to see Bourbonic inside but added that the posts for Sainthood and Dynamic One are fine.
Second choice Rock Your World will be ridden by Joel Rosario.
“The good thing about him is he doesn’t have to have the lead,’’ Sadler said of his unbeaten colt (3-0). “He has a trouble-free style. He can stalk. He can stalk and he has tactical speed and carry the long distance.”
Hall of Famers Steve Asmussen and Mark Casse each have two horses in the field as they look for their first Derby win. Asmussen will saddle Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Super Stock and Midnight Bourbon; Casse sends out Tampa Bay Derby (G2) Helium and Soup and Sandwich.
Post time for the Derby is approximately 6:57 p.m. ET and will be televised live by NBC Sports.
According to Churchill Downs, about 15,000 spectators will be allowed in the infield, with reserved seating options in the stands between 40-60% capacity – about 45,000 people. COVID-19 restrictions will be in place, including mandatory wearing of masks.
|St. Elias Stable
|Like the King
|Drayden Van Dyke
|M Racing Group, LLC
|Cypress Creek LLC and Bennewith, Arnold
|CHC, Inc. and WinStar Farm LLC
|Gregory D. Foley
|Bernard, L Barret, Tagg Team Racing and West Point Thoroughbreds
|Juddmonte Farms, Inc.
|Zedan Racing Stables Inc
|Hot Rod Charlie
|Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing, LLC and Strauss Bros Racing
|Repole Stable, Phipps Stable and St. Elias Stable
|D. J. Stable LLC
|Victoria H. Oliver
|BBN Racing, LLC
|Rock Your World
|John W. Sadler
|Hronis Racing LLC and Talla Racing LLC
|Fern Circle Stables and Three Chimneys Farm, LLC
|Klaravich Sables, Inc.
|Ricardo Santana Jr.
|Woolsey, Erv and Asmussen, Keith
|Soup and Sandwich
|Live Oak Plantation
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.