Nunnsense | KY Derby 147 Preview, Contenders and Odds

Normally, around late January to early February, I have a horse I really love and by late April, I know if that horse will win or not. But this isn’t a normal year. A few short weeks ago I was about 90% sure it would come down to just how much Life Is Good would win by. But he is currently injured and will not be running in this years Derby. So I went back to the drawing board. I knew who the logical favorite would be but I was hoping to find a horse that would be around 8-1 on Derby day. I’ve found a few horses that have a slight chance to win or a pretty decent chance to hit the board at a great value. But no matter how hard I try, I just can’t find any horse that I think can definitely beat Essential Quality. I’m usually not one to jump on the favorite unless I’m absolutely sure they will win ( ie Fusaichi Pegasus). And I’m fine rooting for the favorite this year being that he is trained by Louisville native Brad Cox.

My goal here is not to just give you my opinion on who will win but rather give you enough information to make an educated wager. Everyone wants to win money and I want to help you win.

So here are some trends and factors I like to use to make that educated decision before I wager.

  • 100 Point Prep Race – 6 of the past 7 KY Derby winners have all won a prep race where the winner receives 100 points. 6 of 7 years doesn’t seem like much of a lengthy trend but the prep race points system was initiated for the 2013 Ky Derby, so this is a pretty good predictor of the winner. Also, the 2020 KY Derby winner, Authentic, most likely would have won one if the race would have been run in May instead of being pushed back to Sept due to Covid. The horses who have won a 100 point prep race are; Hot Rod Charlie, Like The King, Known Agenda, Essential Quality, Rock Your World, Burbonic and Super Stock.
  • Beyer Speed Figures – I am a big proponent of these speed figures. In the past, if a horse had posted a speed figure of 100 or higher, I felt they had a very legitimate chance to wear the roses. Since 1992, 26 of 29 (89.6 percent) Kentucky Derby winners have entered the race with a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of at least 95. This number would be 27 out of 29 if Maximum Security had not been disqualified in the 2019 Kentucky Derby. 10 of the 21 horses entered in the Kentucky Derby have posted a Beyer of at least 95. They are, Rock Your World, Hot Rod Charlie, Medina Spirit, Mandaloun, Essential Quality, Highly Motivated, Midnight Bourbon, Dream Shake, O Besos and King Fury. Just purely handicapping on speed figures alone (Beyer and BRIS) tells me that the 2021 winner will be one of the 5 horses: Rock Your World, Essential Quality, Highly Motivated, Hot Rod Charlie or Mandaloun.
  • Post Positions – No position has produced more winners (ten winners) than post #5.  Post #10 has nine wins overall. The place to be in recent years has been anywhere outside No. 12. In reverse order back to 2008, such winners include Authentic (No. 18), Nyquist (No. 13), American Pharoah (No. 18), Orb (No. 16), I’ll Have Another (No. 19), Animal Kingdom (No. 16), Big Brown (No. 20).
  • Track Condition – If you think a muddy/sloppy track would be bad for the likely favorite, think again. Essential Quality is one of six probable starters among the expected field of 20 that own a victory over that surface. Half of the 20-horse field has raced on a wet track and only one of them lacks a top-three finish on an off-track. So these stats don’t really help us this year.
  • Winning Final Prep Race – The last horse to win the KY Derby that didn’t win his final prep race was Super Saver in 2010. The horses who won their last prep race are: Essential Quality, Known Agenda, Rock Your World, Hot Rod Charlie, Super Stock, Like The King, Helium and Boubonic.

Kentucky Derby 2021 Schedule

Date: Saturday, May 1


TV coverage: Starts at 2:30 p.m. ET

Gate and race: 6:50 p.m. ET

Live Stream: and NBC Sports app

Here are the contenders:

(In not particular order)

Essential Quality

He is the one to beat. He is undefeated (5 for 5) and will be your post time favorite. I’m guessing he will be 2-1 or less. If you know me, you know I favor the gray horses. I didn’t really like the way he ran in his last race and I started questioning if he could be beat in the derby. But then local handicapper, horse owner and friend of mine, Dave Hall, pointed out to me that he ran the worst race of his life and still won a Grade 2 race (Bluegrass Stakes) against a horse that just ran the best race of his life (Highly Motivated). After stepping back and reviewing Mr. Hall’s comments, I realize he is 100% correct. All I know is that if he runs his race, he wins. Pace isn’t a factor with him. He can win with a slow or fast paced race. It also helps that jockey Luis Saez will be riding with a purpose and looking for redemption as he was aboard Maximum Security when he was disqualified from victory in 2019.

Hot Rod Charlie

This is everyone’s show horse. He finished second to Essential Quality in the  Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. After that race I felt he could be my Derby hose. Then he had training issues and other horses started to improve – and he didn’t so I lost favor with him. But others got injured and Charlie finally started to improve with some consistency in his training. He worked his way back into my good graces. I feel he has the potential to finish in the top 3 but I’m guessing he fades in the stretch to 9th. With his speedy bloodline, there is a slight concern that he can get the distance. Fading this one a bit.

Rock Your World

This is the horse that I believe could most likely upset the favorite. He scares me to death because I can’t tell if he is on his way to being a superstar or not. Mainly because he only has 3 races under his belt. He definitely looks the part. With an abundance of class and stamina, it’s easy to see why he had plenty of gas in the tank when he rolled down the stretch with the lead in the Santa Anita Derby. Prior his Santa Anita Derby win he had never raced on dirt nor raced past a mile, which would have caused major question marks ahead of the KY Derby. But I feel really good about him post Santa Anita Derby. He will definitely be on my tickets for exotic bets and I may use him on top with Essential Quality.

Known Agenda

This one may be rounding into for at the right time but I’m just not sold on him as a legit threat. Mainly because it doesn’t appear his owner and trainer had faith in him. After finishing 5th in the Sam F. Davis, his owner/trainer opted to enter him in an Allowance Optional claimers race. Legit Derby contenders don’t run in an AOC as a path to the Derby. He won that and then he was entered in the Florida Derby where he won. His Beyer was a 94 which doesn’t really do anything for me to move him up as a serious threat to the favorite. I’ll pass on him. If he beats me, I’ll tip my cap and say congrats but I just can’t wager on this one. If he beats me it may be more the fact that he has the hottest jockey on his back. Irad Ortiz JR. is on fire.

Highly Motivated

I may be alone on this one but I really feel like he could finish in the top 2 or 3. In the Bluegrass Stakes when he was passed by Essential Quality in the stretch, I noticed (after watching it like 200 times) that he switched back to his wrong lead led in the stretch causing him to break his stride and momentum just enough to let the winner pass him. If he figures it out in the biggest race of his life, he could be dueling with the favorite deep in the stretch. I’ll be using him in all my exacta and trifecta wagers. I think he could be around 12-1. Great value!

Medina Spirit

I was really high on this very talented horse a while back but he hasn’t progressed to my liking. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him run a big race, because he is due for one, but I’m guessing he will finish around 6th. He looks great in his morning works and seems to love the Churchill surface.

Midnight Bourbon

He is likely a 20-1 type horse but a horse running in KY with bourbon in its name is likely to be over-bet. In his 3 races this year, he has finished 1st, 3rd and 2nd. Not sure I can use him anywhere on my tickets despite the name. Here is the video of him gettin loose on the backside.


Another Brad Cox entry. I’m hoping for great things for Brad but It appears to me that this one is going the wrong way. He finished 6th in his last start. But after returning home to Churchill, he is thriving in his morning workouts. Despite my concerns over his regression in his last race, I can’t ignore how he is training at Churchill. Great value to include in your trifecta bets. Horse for the Course?

Super Stock

I don’t think anyone saw his Arkansas derby win coming. I believe that Bob Baffert was using this race to teach his horse, Concert Tour, how to come off the pace and it cost him as Super Stock came rolling down the stretch to get the victory. He looked great in victory but he only earned a 92 Beyer speed figure. He passed the eye test but not speed figures test. I may use his in my trifecta tickets but may not.

O Besos

I feel this horse is becoming The Popular Trendy Longshot Derby Pick. I’ve seen several analysts picking him in their top 5. I just don’t see it. I hear he is training nicely and should improve but I’m not sure he improved enough to crack the top 3 for the KY Derby. Maybe include in a superfecta bet?


Another horse that may be over bet due to his name. This one is progressing nicely but might need another race or two of progressing to get a piece with this company. He ran a 89 Beyer speed figure in his last. Not good enough to win on the 1st Saturday in May.


My Longshot special. I look for him to be running late and just might get a pice of the Trifecta or Superfecta at a huge price. I may be alone on this thought but he may end up being Todd Pletcher’s best 3 year old. Love to see what he can do once he runs on non synthetic track. In his last race (G3 Jeff Ruby Stakes) he ran into traffic in the stretch, was forced to check, then he re-rallied strongly to get 2nd. If the race was longer he wins. He was clearly the best horse in that race – for what that’s worth. Great value play in exotic bets.

Like The King

Wouldn’t be shocked to see him run a nice race after sitting in a stalking position in his last but I need to see more before I have faith in him. Not sure he has the tactical speed keep pace with the big boys. And he hasn’t really faced much competition. I think best case he rallies to top 8. But would guess more like 12th. He is nice looking though.

Soup and Sandwich

Only 3 lifetime races. 2 wins and a 2nd behind Known Agenda in the Florida Derby. Finished 2nd without changing leads in the stretch is impressive but he need to mature quickly to have a shot to hit the board here. He does have the running style and tactical speed for the Derby. If he can settle and change leads in that stretch he may indeed run very big at a good price. Might consider in my exotic bets.


* from as of 4-23-21

Horse Odds Trainer Jockey
Essential Quality 3/1 Brad Cox Luis Saez
Rock Your World 6/1 John Sadler Joel Rosario
Known Agenda 8/1 Todd Pletcher Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Highly Motivated 10/1 Chad Brown Javier Castellano
Hot Rod Charlie 10/1 Doug O’Neill Flavien Prat
Medina Spirit 15/1 Bob Baffert John Velazquez
Midnight Bourbon 20/1 Steve Asmussen Mike Smith
Mandaloun 20/1 Brad Cox Florent Geroux
Super Stock 20/1 Steve Asmussen Ricardo Santana, Jr.
Caddo River 30/1 Brad Cox TBD
Sour and Sandwich 30/1 Mark Casse Tyler Gaffalione
O Besos 30/1 Greg Foley Marcelino Pedroza
Like the King 40/1 Wesley Ward Drayden Van Dyke
Bourbonic 40/1 Todd Pletcher Kendrick Carmouche
Helium 40/1 Mark Casse Julien Leparoux
Dynamic One 40/1 Todd Pletcher Jose Ortiz
Sainthood 50/1 Todd Pletcher TBD
Hidden Stash 50/1 Vicki Oliver Rafael Bejarano
Get Her Number 50/1 Peter Miller TBD

My Picks: 

Overall, I believe that Essential Quality is most likely your winner. In the event he gets upset, I believe the winner will be Rock Your World or Highly Motivated. I’m betting that Hot Rod Charlie is up there early but fades as they turn for home despite being bet as 3rd choice. Medina Spirit or Mandaloun could be horses to finish in the money at a price. Sainthood is my longshot special. I won’t decide the order for my bets until shortly before post time because post position, workout times, weather and other factors could influence my bets between now and then.

Here is how the top 20 is shaping up, with trainers and points totals:

1. Essential Quality (Brad Cox, 140 points)

2. Hot Rod Charlie (Doug O’Neill, 110)

3. Super Stock (Steve Asmussen, 109)

4. Like the King (Wesley Ward, 104)

5. Known Agenda (Todd Pletcher, 102)

6. Rock Your World (John Sadler, 100)

7. Bourbonic (Pletcher, 100)

8. Medina Spirit (Bob Baffert, 74)

9. Midnight Bourbon (Asmussen, 66)

10. Mandaloun (Cox, 52)

11. Caddo River  (Cox, 50)

12. Highly Motivated (Chad Brown, 50)

13. Helium (Mark Casse, 50)

14. Soup and Sandwich (Casse, 40)

15. Dynamic One (Pletcher, 40)

16. Sainthood (Pletcher, 40)

17. Hidden Stash (Victoria Oliver, 32)

18. O Besos (Greg Foley, 25)

19. King Fury (Kenny McPeek, 20)

20. Keepmeinmind (Robertino Diodoro, 18)

21. Brooklyn Strong (Daniel Velazquez, 10)

22. Starrininmydreams (Dallas Stewart, 4)

Out of the race are: Rebel’s Romance (June 5 Belmont Stakes); Greatest Honour (rest); Life Is Good (ankle chip); Weyburn (May 8 Peter Pan); Panadol; Crowded Trade (May 8 Peter Pan or May 15 Preakness); Proxy; Rombauer (May 15 Preakness); Drain the Clock (shorter distances); New Treasure; Hozier; Hockey Dad; Spielberg (rest); and Jackie’s Warrior (May 1 Pat Day Mile); Dream Shake (Pat Day Mile); Get Her Number; and Hozier.

* top 20 from on 4-23-21
Update – Caddo River was scratched with a high temperature on Sunday (4/25) morning.


As Always, GO CARDS!

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